The Love Connection (Reposted Here)

heart handsToday (August 30), our pastor preached an awesome sermon entitled, The Love Connection, from 1 John 4:7-10.  He pointed out that God has shown us the standard of true love in all of our relationships.  He also described the three forms of love to which the New Testament refers:  eros-erotic love intended for a husband/wife relationship, phileo-brotherly love is a give-and-take sort of love, and, agape-selfless, unconditional love that God has demonstrated to us (Romans 5:8; 8:31-39).  All three have their proper place and operation in our lives.  However, Pastor Blaine pointed out, agape love keeps the other two forms of love in a proper balance and under proper control.  Agape says, “I want what is best and right for you regardless of whether I get anything out of it or not.” This, of course, is what Jesus modeled in His sacrifice for us–for everyone.

A conversation between Peter and Jesus, to which the pastor referred in his sermon, speaks volumes to us as we consider our own walk with Christ as well as our community life.  We find the conversation recorded in John 21.

After breakfast Jesus said to 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.
Once more he asked him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved that Jesus asked the question a third time. He said, “Lord, you know everything. You know I love you.” Jesus said, “Then feed my sheep.

As a background to this conversation, we need to understand that this is the first time that Jesus and Peter have been face-to-face since Peter denied Jesus just before His crucifixion.  You can imagine that Peter is wondering how things will go as they sit down together for breakfast by the lake that morning.  He was anxious to be with the Lord, because he jumped out of the boat they were in to quickly get to shore, but we’re not told that he and Jesus immediately connected.  After they had all eaten, Jesus spoke to Peter.

It is interesting to note the words Jesus used for our English word, “love,” in this passage.  In the first two questions, Jesus used the word “agape” signifying the deepest, most selfless love that can be expressed.  He asked, “Peter, do you love me with a deep, selfless, unconditional love?” To both questions Peter answered, “Lord, you know that I love you like a brother (phileo).” When Jesus asked Peter the third time, “Peter, do you love me?” He used the word “phileo”…”Peter, do you love me like a brother?” Being grieved that the Lord asked him a third time, Peter confirmed that he indeed loved the Lord like a brother (phileo).  Jesus, in each of his comments to Peter’s responses, told him to feed and care for the sheep.  Jesus was restoring Peter to relationship and kingdom purpose with this conversation.  There are a few lessons we can learn from this conversation that applies to our own faith journey and the context of our small groups.

1.  Jesus was calling Peter to the deepest love commitment possible…agape.  Peter was, in honesty and transparency, expressing the level of love commitment he was currently able to give…phileo.  Jesus affirmed him in that level of commitment.  This reminds us that Jesus deals with us wherever we are.  He understands our hearts even better than we, ourselves, do.  We must be genuine with Him and commit fully at our current level of maturity with a heart that is longing to grow.

2.  Each of us in the small group context are at different levels of spiritual maturity and different degrees of love commitment to Christ.  Part of authentic community is being transparent about that and having a desire to grow.  Foster that transparency by being genuine about your desire to love Christ more and sharing the struggles that keep you from where you are wanting to be.

3.  Jesus challenges us to more.  There is a reason that Jesus started with a challenge to Peter’s love commitment.  Jesus knew Peter’s heart completely.  He didn’t ask the questions to find out information.  He asked the questions to reveal to Peter where his heart was.  Jesus wanted to challenge Peter to agape level commitment.  What’s more, Jesus knew that was the place to which Peter would grow.  In John 21:18, Jesus described the ultimate level of commitment to which Peter would rise.  He described what most scholars agree is the death of a martyr.  Jesus always wants to challenge us to growth in our faith.  He sees what we can become and He calls us to fulfill that potential.

4.  Our small groups are a context for challenge.  As we share our stories and make ourselves vulnerable and accountable, we develop community in which we experience challenges to grow spiritually…either by observation of the grace of God at work in another person or by their act of speaking truth into our lives.  Either way, we are challenged to never stay the same.

5.  Jesus’ final words to Peter that morning were, “Follow me.” That is the most basic definition of being a disciple.  Following Christ is the bottom line.  Jesus knew that the only way Peter could grow in his love commitment and be successful in kingdom activity (feeding sheep) was to keep his eyes on Him.  We must be Christ Followers, not just “Christians.”

6.  Our small groups have, as their ultimate purpose, development of disciples–Christ Followers.  We do that simply by following Him and encouraging one another in doing so.

If you want to measure the success of your small group, don’t measure it against the standard of size, length or frequency of meetings, or even how well everyone meshes.  Measure the success by whether or not people are being challenged, supported and encouraged to grow in following Jesus with a deepening love commitment.  How does that look?  It will look a little different for every person and every group.  But one thing will be common to all:  moving toward agape love for Christ and for one another.

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