He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you” (John 21:17, esv).
Can you feel the tension and heartache in Peter’s and Jesus’ last recorded interaction? And can you see the resolution that resulted? Jesus went hard after Peter’s undivided love.
In the background was the fact that Peter did deny Jesus, and it’s clear he was very defeated about that failure. Peter had thought Jesus was his first and only love, but he needed to recognize that other things were more important to him. The point in question was not about the quality or depth of the love; it’s about competing loves.
When Jesus asked Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” (v.15), He was challenging everything that was comfortable and familiar—the fish, the nets, the boats, the water, and the people that came with that life.
But when Jesus reduced the question to “Do you love me?”, He was confronting Peter’s competing loves. It’s as if He was saying, “You said you would never deny Me, but as soon as it got unpopular, you went down like a rock. When it cost you something and you were afraid, you ran for the hills.” Jesus pressed Peter to the point of grief over his sin—the condition of heart that precedes repentance. The outcome He desired for Peter had been reached. God uses the same approach with each of us.
Loves compete when something—anything—becomes more important to us than Christ. It could be a wrong attraction; more often it’s an interest that is not wrong. It’s not wrong to love gardening. It’s not idolatrous to look forward to some time away with your family hiking this summer. But when something gets a higher priority in our lives than Jesus Christ, it’s a competing love. There can be no rival thrones that threaten Jesus’ place of supremacy.
Sometimes God ordains grief and suffering to pry from our kung fu grip anything that threatens His rightful rule. When something has to change, God allows a crisis to expose and eliminate our competing loves. Often He appoints pain to incinerate their influence. All competing loves must bow before the throne of Jesus Christ as Lord.
In Peter’s case, church history records he was eventually crucified—upside-down, because he didn’t feel worthy to die in the same manner as Jesus. By the time of his death, Peter was the humble, courageous man that he wasn’t as a young fisherman. Distracting loves had been silenced. God’s sanctifying work had been accomplished.
What is competing with Christ for first place in your life? The enemy’s strategy is to divide and conquer by inciting your competing loves. And Jesus is persistent about eliminating rival affections. He will keep asking, “Do you love me more than these?” until you can answer with a surrendered heart.
Spirit of God, move upon me as I put myself in Peter’s place and hear You ask, “Do you love me more than these?” Lord, I give You permission to confront and eliminate any competing loves. I bow before Your absolute sovereignty. Help me reflect upon the suffering of Jesus for my forgiveness so that I can begin again and hear the words “Follow Me.” Give me eyes to see Your Son as glorious and worthy of all that I would lay before His throne. In Jesus’ name, amen.