Being a friend - Chester Cook

In these days of so much talk about mysterious codes and secret messages contained in the Bible, I thought I would reveal one of the secret mysteries in the final teaching of Jesus Christ, recorded in the Bible.

There is a passage of scripture in John 21:15-17, where Jesus is speaking to Simon Peter. In the passage, Jesus asks Peter three times, "Do you love me?" The question sounds simple enough, but there is more to the verses than meets the English eye.

In the original Greek language, there is a play on the word love that the English is unable to translate. The passage, in context, is a post-resurrection account and a follow-up to the three denials of Jesus by Peter in the High Priest's courtyard prior to the death of Jesus. While this has its own sermon, it is not the mystery coded in the Greek.

The first time Jesus asks Peter, "Do you love me?" Jesus uses the word "agapao," which means, unconditional love -- a total commitment for the well-being of another.

Peter does not hesitate and replies, "Lord, you know I love you." But, hidden in the English mistranslation for love is the word "phileo," which means friend, mutually conditional love. Peter, even after all that he has witnessed, can't say, "Lord, you know I 'agapao' you." Peter falls short of total commitment.

The Jesus asks the same question a second time, "Do you agapao me?" Peter replies again with the same reply, "Lord, you know I phileo you."

And a third time, Jesus asks Peter, "Do you phileo me?" Only on the third attempt, Jesus changes the word to "phileo," love or friend love. Peter grieves and replies, "Lord, you know I phileo you."

The mysterious secret code that is hidden in the Greek text is an essential principal that every disciple must learn and follow. While being a friend is good, and practical to most relationships, it will never be enough to be a follower of Christ.

Being a friend is utilitarian, and is a give-and-take association. If you don't feel comfortable, you can dismiss the other person and break fellowship. But, this is impossible for a Christian believer. Because agapao never quits, fails or abandons. It perseveres.

To truly be a follower of Christ, it takes agapao. Followers of Christ must be able to love unconditionally, and give themselves for the well-being of others. Christians must make a willful commitment to be agape, regardless of the circumstance or situation.

Christians must give unilaterally, not expecting anything in return. Jesus said, "This is agapao, that a man give his life for his friend."

The ultimate demonstration of covenant agapao is self-sacrifice.

Christians must love "even their enemies." Christians must follow the example of Jesus Christ and demonstrate their love, even if others want to crucify them. This was Jesus' crime, he "agapao" loved God and others with all his being, and wasn't afraid to say it or show it.

Sadly, most of us are like Peter. Our selfish definition of love places "I" at the center of the universe. If "I" don't benefit from the relationship, then "I" don't want to participate. If "I" don't want to love someone or "I" don't want to want to care for someone, then "I" will reduce the relationship to a mutually beneficial friendship, or write it off completely.

Peter had to learn to "agapao" before he could become the true disciple of Jesus Christ. Peter had to learn to agapao before he could "feed the lambs."

If you have any comments on this column, please contact me at chaplain@airportchapel.org.