Such similar words could be uttered by lovers in this month of hearts. But such words were not uttered by one lover to another, rather these words were uttered by our Lord Jesus Christ as recorded in John chapter 21 verses 15 to 17.
The story is quite a familiar one among Christians, but I believe we cannot fully grasp the full meaning of the chapter if we do not closely investigate the meanings of the words that Jesus used.
The story goes like this as Jesus and Peter were having dinner, Jesus asked Peter if he loved him to which Peter replied “Yes” and then Jesus told him to “feed my lambs.”
Afterwards Jesus again asked Peter the same question to which he replied in the affirmative and then Jesus told him again to “Feed my sheep.”
Jesus asked Peter again the third time the same question. However the verse says that “Peter was grieved” and instead of replying in the affirmative, he simply told him “Lord thou knowest.” To which Jesus replied, “Feed my sheep.”
Most people believe that Peter was grieved because Jesus asked him three times if he loved him. But I doubt if that is the case.
Most Bible commentators have no idea on the words “ . . . More than these” however some good ideas has been suggested. Most likely, Christ could be referring to the fishes that Peter caught since before dinner, Peter caught a multitude of fishes. Other commentators suggest that Christ was asking Peter if he loved him more than his previous way of life which was fishing. Nevertheless, whatever Jesus was referring to, he was certainly asking the measure and intensity of the love of Peter for him.
The key to understand the passage is to take a close look at the word “Love” as used by Jesus.
At the first instance, when Jesus asked Peter if he loved him, the word used by him is the koine greek word “agapao.” In other words the intensity or weight of the love that Jesus was talking about is a pure or ideal kind of love, such love that would be willing to die for another person. In other words Jesus was asking Peter if he loved him so much to the extent that Peter would die for him.
Peter answered him “Yea Lord, thou knowest that I love thee.” The word used here by Simon Peter is the greek word “Phileo” which only refers to a love with a lesser degree than agapao. Phileo is the word used for “brotherly love.” Christ asked Peter if he loved him to the extent that he is willing to die for him, but Peter replied in the negative by offering only “brotherly love.”
Jesus Christ asked Peter the second time, using the same word “Agapao” to which Peter replied with the same answer using the word “Phileo.”
However the third time Jesus Christ asked Peter if he loves him, instead of using the word “Agapao” Jesus used the word “Phileo.” In other words Jesus Christ even questioned the brotherly love that Peter has for him. Jesus Christ was asking “Peter, are you sure that you even love me as a brother.”
So here we see the most obvious reason why Peter was grieved. Peter was not grieved because he was asked by our Lord three times if he loved him. He was grieved because even the “brotherly” love that he offered was questioned by the Lord Jesus Christ. Peter humbly replied “Lord, thou knowest.”
In all of the three instances after asking Peter his commitment of love, Christ always ends the conversation with Feed my lambs once and feed my sheep twice. He was telling Peter that it is not enough that you say you love. You must demonstrate your love by action. That is to feed His lambs and the sheep. The lambs and sheep here being referred to are the followers of Christ.
The message for us is, do you we truly love Christ, that we are willing to give up our lives for him? We live in a free country and we are free to worship God. But what if we are tortured for our faith? Are we willing to die for the name of Jesus Christ?
But to prove our love for him, we do not have to be tortured for our faith. All we have to do is demonstrate our love for him by being a good example to other Christians, discipling them and helping them grow in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.