Oklahoma Conference of the United Methodist Church

The test of love


When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, "Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?" "Yes, Lord," he said, "you know that I love you." Jesus said, "Feed my lambs." (John 21:15 NIV)



A few years ago my wife and I headed to North Carolina to attend a meeting of the denomination’s Council of Bishops. We flew from Oklahoma City to Cincinnati, Ohio, where we connected with our flight to Asheville, N.C. Our trip was uneventful until we were preparing to land at our final destination.

The captain of the aircraft made this startling announcement: "Ladies and gentlemen, I’m sorry to inform you that our landing gear will not deploy! We will be forced to return to Cincinnati, to make an emergency landing. The flight attendant will instruct you on how to brace yourself in the crash position before we land!"

In that moment my entire life flashed before me. The people on the tiny plane were in shock, many of them sobbing. We had no choice but to follow the instructions of the stewardess and learn the technique that would hopefully save our lives.

As we circled the airport, we saw firetrucks and ambulances ready to follow us down the runway. All other incoming and outgoing air traffic had been halted.

In that scary moment, my wife turned to me and asked, "Bob, do you love me?"

I was so nervous; I don’t remember exactly what I said, but I’m sure it was something like "Yes, dear, I love you."

Then she asked if I had anything else to share with her.

Anything else I might have said seemed insignificant at that point.

So I simply answered, "No, dear."

At the time the question was very serious, but today I can’t help smiling as I reflect on it and how God brought us safely through a rough landing.

In a similar way, in the Gospel of John, we find the risen Lord testing the sincerity and love of his disciple Simon Peter. As much as Peter professed his loyalty to Jesus, he ran when Jesus most needed him, and he denied Jesus three times (John 18:15-27) prior to the crucifixion.

In this touching scene from John 21, Jesus breaks through Peter’s superficial feelings and establishes a love that would be needed in the days, months, and years to come.

Three times Jesus repeats the phrase, and each time he asks if Peter loves him. Peter becomes more and more upset.

Could it be that Jesus is mindful of the three times Peter denied him? Indeed, there is a definite purpose for Jesus questioning Peter this way.

The basic problem is not Peter’s miscalculation of his spiritual stamina, but rather his faulty relationship with the Savior who conquered death.

Jesus wants Peter to demonstrate an impartial, selfless, and constant love. The questioning of Jesus brings out the fact that Peter is placing a limit on how much he loves Christ.

We, too, place limits on our love and devotion as Christian disciples. And, just as he did with Peter, Jesus comes to us and questions us, over and over and over again, asking if we indeed love him as we say we do.

We are tested so many ways, and each trial or test gives us a clear indication of how much we love Jesus.

When you are upset and want to "get even" with the world, isn’t Jesus standing nearby, asking if you love him? When you place boundaries on your spiritual life, fail to give your all for God’s church, is not Jesus asking how much you love him?

As with Peter, Jesus seeks in you a transparent, sincere, and constant love, not something you turn on and off like a faucet.

Perhaps you cling to some hidden motive that blocks you from fully loving Jesus, or you foolishly think that following Jesus will bring you personal success, eminence, achievement, and reward.

Your reward comes in the denial of yourself, the proclamation of your love to Christ, and the demonstration of that love in everything you do! Strive for that, and you also will be able to answer, "Yes, Lord, I love you!"


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