What Does Greater Devotion to Jesus Get You? Thinking Through John 21:15-19.

If we are more devoted to Jesus than others, we should get more privileges, right? Or perhaps we don’t want to compare ourselves to others. If we are more devoted to Jesus than we were five or ten years ago, there should be advantages, right? The following conversation between Jesus and Peter will help us discover what a greater devotion to Jesus does, and does not, get us. So here we go:

After breakfast Jesus asked Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?”
“Yes, Lord,” Peter replied, “you know I love you.”
“Then feed my lambs,” Jesus told him.
Jesus repeated the question: “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
“Yes, Lord,” Peter said, “you know I love you.”
“Then take care of my sheep,” Jesus said.
A third time he asked him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
Peter was hurt that Jesus asked the question a third time. He said, “Lord, you know everything. You know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Then feed my sheep.

John 21:15-17 (NLT)

We might wonder what “these” refer to when Jesus asked Peter “do you love me more than these.” One possibility, since Peter had just been fishing, is “do you love me more than these things?” that is, this fishing gear. It could be “do you love me more than you love these disciples?”. Or it could be “do you love me more than these other disciples love me?”. This last possibility is seen by many Bible scholars as the best given that Peter always seemed to be first among the disciples. He was the one who asked to walk on water with Jesus, he was the one who at first refused to have his feet washed by Jesus, he was the first to say he was willing to die for Jesus.

Let us consider what Jesus did, and did not, say to Peter:

Jesus did not say to Peter “if you love me more than these then why did you deny you knew me when I was arrested and put on trial?”

Jesus did not lecture Peter about he should have done, or what he could do better moving forward. There was no interrogation. Jesus did not even mention Peter’s sin against him. But the fact that Jesus asked three times by a fire “do you love me?” would have reminded Peter of the three times he denied Jesus by a fire.

The message was clear; Jesus had not forgotten, but he had forgiven.

Jesus did say “feed my lambs, take care of my sheep, feed my sheep.” Jesus forgave and was ready to move forward in their relationship.

Greater devotion to Jesus does not get us greater forgiveness. Greater devotion to Jesus does open up the opportunity to move forward in forgiveness already granted.

Jesus did not say “since you love me more than these, then I will love you more than these.”

Jesus said “feed my lambs, take care of my sheep, feed my sheep.” Jesus called Peter to this task, not out of greater love for Peter, but out of great love love for all the sheep.

Jesus also said, “follow me.” Follow where? In the path of the shepherd, in the path of the Good Shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep. If you love me more than these, then love them just as I do!

Greater devotion to Jesus does not mean we will be loved more by Jesus. It does mean we will love more like Jesus.

Jesus did not say “since you love me more, you will get special treatment.”

It is natural to think that if we love Jesus more than others, or more than we used to, then we should be rewarded with greater privileges. If we pray more, read the Bible more, do more religious things, and become better followers, we should receive a more privileged place, right?

Jesus said “feed my lambs, take care of my sheep, feed my sheep.”

Greater devotion to Jesus does not lead to greater privilege, it leads to the privilege of greater service.

Jesus did not say “since you love me more, you will get more power and authority.”

Jesus said “feed my lambs, take care of my sheep, feed my sheep.”

Jesus used a verb meaning “shepherd” which some may jump on as a reason to claim power and authority. After all, sheep need the shepherd to guide them to better pastures. The shepherd knows best, right? But it is translated here as “take care of” and in some other translations as “tend” since it should be taken more as caring for the sheep and being responsible for them, rather than ruling over them.

In fact Jesus pointed out the kind of power and authority Peter would enjoy in the future:

“I tell you the truth, when you were young, you were able to do as you liked; you dressed yourself and went wherever you wanted to go. But when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and others will dress you and take you where you don’t want to go.” Jesus said this to let him know by what kind of death he would glorify God. Then Jesus told him, “Follow me.”

John 21:18-19 (NLT)

You might think that Jesus, in establishing the Kingdom of God, would have called together powerful people and instructed them to grab after more power for the sake of the Kingdom. That’s how empires work. That’s not how Jesus works.

Jesus told Peter to “follow me.” Yes, Peter was called to be a shepherd, but he was called to remain a sheep, following the path of the Good Shepherd in the way of the cross, in the way of putting the needs of others first.

Greater devotion to Jesus does not mean greater power and control over others, it means greater opportunity to care for others.

Jesus did not say, “since you love me more, everyone should be just like you.”

Jesus did not say “create a community of Jesus-loving-Jewish-fishermen,” but “feed my lambs, take care of my sheep, feed my sheep.”

Peter would go on to discover that the sheep were all quite different from each other, especially so once it became clear that non-Jews were invited into the Kingdom! The sheep were people from all different kinds of backgrounds and situations. Some were rich, some poor, some Jewish, some not, some were male, others female, some were Pharisees and some were Romans.

Peter’s role was not to make everyone just like him, but to help everyone live out the Kingdom pivot in their lives, in their context, just as he was doing in his own.

In my years of being a pastor, a shepherd, and we are all shepherds to someone, I’ve discovered that the sheep are all quite different. Some of the sheep vote conservative, some liberal, some are introverted, others are extroverted, some have easily trusted the medical professionals, some have not, some think the government should provide more care for people, others thing the government should play a lessor role in our lives, some think abortion is the taking of life, some think abortion can be a means of health care, some drink only tea, some enjoy Guinness, some like long sermons, some don’t like sermons at all, some love the Bible, some have great difficulty making any sense of it, some are straight, some are gay, some are well off, some are not far from poverty. Jesus did not say “make everyone be like you,” but “feed my lambs, take care of my sheep, feed my sheep.” That means all of them. Even if we are not called to vocational ministry, we have the opportunity to take care of people who are different, and think different, from us.

In my years of being a shepherd, I have been grateful for sheep that have been different, and who have helped me to see things from different perspectives. Sheep can shepherd shepherds! In fact the sheep depend on the shepherds being sheep and following Jesus.

Greater devotion to Jesus does not give us the right to strong-arm people into becoming just like us, it means serving people, all people, helping them become more like Jesus even if they are nothing like us.

Do we love Jesus more than ever?

I hope we do, but it does not give us greater forgiveness, love, privilege, power, or make us the shining example of what following Jesus looks like.

Greater devotion to Jesus does give us the opportunity to move forward in forgiveness, and a greater opportunity to love.

Jesus asks us as he did Peter, “do you love me.” If so, let us commit to loving and serving others.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s