Today we will continue in our study of three-word phrases from the lips of our Savior, which are recorded in the Gospel of John. In this study, we find Three Searching Words for the Conscience“Lovest thou me?” (John 21:15).

These words are directed at Peter, that impetuous disciple who had thrice denied knowing Christ. Jesus posed this question to Peter three times. Why did Jesus ask Peter, “Lovest thou me?” I believe that Jesus gets right to the heart of the matter.

First of all, Love is the Greatest Commandment – When Jesus was confronted with the question of what was the great commandment? Notice His response, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment” (Matthew 22:37, 38). Jesus continued to say that the second was like unto the first, “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself” (Matthew 22:39). Jesus summarized the Ten Commandments in one word – love. Paul declared in Romans 13:10, “Love is the fulfilling of the law.” The truth is that all of our sin problems are, at their core, love problems. We simply don’t love God, and we don’t love others as we should. All defects in obedience issue from a defect in love. There is no duty to which true love does not incline, nor sin from which true love does not restrain. Peter acknowledged this when he responded to the question, “Lovest thou me?” While the Lord posed the question using the strongest term for a deep, selfless, abiding love; Peter responded with a much weaker, less fervent word for love.

Secondly, Love is the Greatest Characteristic “And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity” (I Corinthians 13:13). Charity is love in action. When we speak of ‘charitable contributions’ or ‘acts of charity,’ we are speaking of things done freely for the benefit of another. This is love in action. When we are saved, we are immediately indwelt by the Spirit of God. One of the great endeavors of the Holy Spirit in my life as a believer is to reproduce in me the character of Christ. Paul tells us in Galatians 5:22-23 that, “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.” As Paul lays out for us the fruit of the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of a believer, he begins with, “love.” Love is first and foremost on the list for all other fruits are an outflow of love.

Finally, Love is the Greatest Constraint“For the love of Christ constraineth us; …Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God” (2 Corinthians 5:14, 20). As the great Apostle Paul traveled across the miles preaching the gospel, enduring the difficulties and heartaches which were his lot, the thing which sustained him through it all was his love for God and lost men. Love will cause you to do gladly what you would do for no other reason. All other motivations will fade and cause us to lose our zeal, only love for God and love for others will sustain us in a life of service. As Paul wrote to the Church at Thessalonica, his great desire was to prepare them for the return of Christ. Notice in his prayer for these believers what his request was, “And the Lord make you to increase and abound in love one toward another, and toward all men… To the end He may stablish your hearts unblameable in holiness before God… at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thessalonians 3:12,13). Love for God will motivate us to fashion our lives to be prepared for the Lord’s return.

What searching words for the conscience – “Lovest thou me?” Am I obedient to the Greatest Commandment? Is my life marked by the Greatest Characteristic? Is my service motivated by the Greatest Constraint?

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Craig Burcham, GSBC Faculty

Bro. Burcham served as the Chairman of the Bible Department at Golden State Baptist College before answering the call to pastor the Mountain Vista Baptist Church in Sierra Vista, AZ. Pastor Burcham travels each week to teach the next generation at GSBC. Before coming to GSBC, he served as a missionary with his family in Japan for several years and then pastored in Missouri.