If you grew up in church or have been studying the Bible for awhile now, you are probably familiar with the conversation Jesus and Peter had in John 21:15-19. This took place after Jesus had risen from the dead, and He was hanging out with His disciples on the beach. After eating breakfast together, Jesus asked Peter three times if he loved Him. Peter got a little offended that Jesus kept asking him the same question, probably assuming Jesus wasn’t buying his answer. Most Bible teachers say the three questions corresponded to Peter denying Jesus three times after Jesus had been arrested. Perhaps that’s true, but I think there’s more to be gleaned from this story.
Notice what Jesus says to Peter after each of his answers. Jesus asks, “Do you love me?”, and Peter responds, “Absolutely! Of course I do! You actually already know that I do!” Jesus doesn’t just smile and accept Peter’s confession. Instead, He follows up each and every one of Peter’s answers with a command. Jesus tells Peter to “feed My sheep”. In other words, Jesus is saying, “If you truly love Me Peter, go and serve those who believe in me. Care for them, nurture them. Do for them what I have done for you.”
It’s a theme that Jesus visits often in His teachings. In the story of “The Sheep and the Goats” (Matthew 25:31-46), Jesus makes it plain that those who truly love Him are the ones who provide food for the hungry, water for the thirsty, shelter for the homeless, clothing for the poor, care for the sick, and company for those in prison. If we love Him, we will feed His sheep; we will do what Jesus commanded us to do.
It seems to me the fact that Jesus followed up every affirmation of love from Peter with a command means Jesus was saying to Peter that love is active. Love isn’t something that simply “is”; love “does”. True love is active. It is more than words on someone’s lips. It is more than a compelling idea. If we love Jesus we will feed His sheep. We will do the things He commanded us to do. Saying you love someone means very little. Living your life in such a way that you demonstrate your love for them says everything! Proclaiming our love for Jesus means very little until we demonstrate it to be true.
At the time Jesus asked Peter if He loved Him, Peter wasn’t doing much. He had gone back to being a fisherman, the same man he was before He had met Jesus. I think the conversation between Christ and Peter was Jesus saying to Peter that it was time to use the gifts God had given him. It was time for Peter to start living his life being obedient to Christ and doing all the things Jesus had taught Him during their time together. Jesus didn’t need to hear Peter tell Him he loved Him three times. He simply needed Peter to understand that love is more than words. Love does. If we truly love Jesus, we too will feed His sheep.