Lent allows us an opportunity to slow down and reflect on the events leading up to Jesus’ death and resurrection. For a long time, I had head knowledge of the events of Christ’s Passion. Only recently have I began to have heart knowledge of these events.
Jesus loves you. Do you know that? Do you understand it?
In his book No Greater Love: A Biblical Walk Through Christ’s Passion, Edward Sri defines agape love as “outward-looking, seeking what is best for the other person and even willing to suffer and sacrifice for that person’s good.” (p.5) Parents experience this type of love for their children. I love my own children more than I ever imagined possible and I would do anything for them!
In our relationships with others, though, we have a different kind of love. Phileo love is what most of us feel for those around us. It’s an affection, a friendly love. It’s relational. It’s conditional. I may love a particular friend for a season, but if something happened and we had a falling out, I probably would no longer feel that affection for the person.
Jesus loves everyone agape. He sacrificially loves every person created by our Father in heaven who has walked, walks, or will walk this great earth. He doesn’t require their love in return. He came down from heaven to lay down his life to pay for our sins. All of us! He paid for the sins of those who know him, but deny him!
Christ invites us to be transformed and to have agape love. But he’s willing to meet us where we are. We witness this invitation in a beautiful exchange between the resurrected Christ and Peter, the apostle who previously denied Jesus during his Passion. Jesus asks Peter, “Do you agape me?” and Peter responds, “Yes, I phileo you.” For a second time, Jesus asks Peter the same question and Peter replies in the same manner. Finally, Jesus asks Peter, “Do you phileo me?” and Peter affirms this. (You can read this exchange in John 21:15-17)
Jesus invites Peter to love him with an unconditional, sacrificial love. Peter, perhaps remembering how he denied Christ, knows his heart hasn’t been transformed to love Jesus agape and offers up what he knows he can give: phileo. Jesus accepts this, coming down to Peter’s level and inviting him in. Later, Peter had the opportunity to show his heart transformation from phileo to agape love when he was martyred for his belief.
Do you love Jesus with an agape love? If not, it’s okay. Even Peter, a close friend of Jesus and founder of the Church, wasn’t there. Show your phileo love and pray for the Lord to transform your heart to agape.
Jesus doesn’t just want us to love him in this manner; he invites us to model him in our love for all creation. He laid down his life not just for his friends and family, but for his enemies as well. It’s a lot harder for us to imagine loving our enemy with an agape love. On our own, we’ll never achieve it. Christ is our Strength. Through him, our hearts can be transformed.
Check out this article for another view on agape versus phileo love.