When Jesus appeared to the disciples after the resurrection, He imparted one final lesson. It began when He asked Peter whether he loved Him. He posed this question to the disciple three times, and every time Peter answered yes. In turn, Jesus responded each time, “Feed My lambs—tend My sheep—feed My sheep” (John 21:15-17).
The word for love that Jesus uses here is the Greek agape, indicating selfless, sacrificial, unconditional love. This kind of love says, “If you despise me, I will give to you. If you reject me, I will still give to you. And if you hurt me, I will keep on giving to you.”
Yet when Peter answered Jesus, he used a different word for love. Each time he pledged his love to Christ, he used the word phileo, indicating brotherly love. This kind of love is mutual—it receives as well as gives. Peter was saying to Jesus, in essence, “As You give to me, I’ll give to You.”
That response wasn’t sufficient for Jesus. It’s why He answered Peter each time, “If you love Me, feed My sheep.” He was saying, “My people need help, Peter. Tend to them. Feed them. Give your life for them.”
Jesus was commissioning Peter to a giving life. He knew the disciple was up for it because in the preceding weeks Peter had been broken deeply. What Jesus tells him next describes the very crux of the giving life— brokenness: “Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.’ (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) And after saying this he said to him, ‘Follow me’” (John 21:18-19).
With this final teaching, Jesus led Peter from a blessed life to a broken, giving life. In so doing, He handed Peter the very keys to the kingdom. Pain, anguish and sorrow awaited Peter in the giving life God laid out for him. Yet, as John’s gospel tells us here, even Peter’s death brought glory to God.
You and I may not get to do what we want in this life but we can have a life that reflects the glory of our Lord’s giving nature. By giving your all for others with agape, you may find yourself being poured out painfully, like communion wine. But in doing so, you will become others-centered, powerful, influential—and the world will see the difference. Your giving life will reveal God’s own glory—a witness to the world of His generous, loving nature.