When Jesus had the post resurrection love talk with Peter on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, the language to English readers reads like this:
Jesus: Peter, do you love me?
Peter: Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.
Jesus: Feed my lambs.
Jesus: Simon son of John, do you truly love me?
Peter: Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.
Jesus: Take care of my sheep.
Jesus: Simon son of John, do you love me?
Peter: (hurt, because Jesus asked him a third time - Do you love me?) Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you."
Easy peasy, right? What in the world did Jesus not get about Peter's answer?
Jesus' word for love was not the word Peter was expressing to him in return.
Jesus' word, agapao, means, to be elementary...love love. As in a love that loves someone expecting nothing in return. Agapao treats its object with respect and does things for the one loved for the loved ones benefit, not their own.
Jesus was simply asking Peter, "Do you love me enough to love me more than what I can do for you?"
Peter's word, phileo, means to like like. Or to have a personal affection or fondness for someone. It's highly subjective, a feeling of attachment, based on the loveliness or attractiveness of an object. If you like like something, it's because you find qualities in the object which appeal to you. It's a warm and fuzzy feeling towards someone, but it's purely relative. It doesn't consider doing for the other, but rather what the other can do for you.
Not to be hard on Peter, because Peter did get it. Eventually. He figured out the difference and his like like turned to love love. But at that moment, he was in the moment. He was talking to his friend who, the last time he saw him he was dead. I imagine his mind may have raced with the possibilities and excitement of having a friend such as one who could do what Jesus did - and what it would mean for Peter.
Do you agapao me? Yes, Lord, I like like you (and I'm wondering how in the world I'm going to be able to tell people I know the guy who raised himself from the dead).
Do you agapao me? For crying out loud, Lord, yes, I like like you! (The boys and I have to organize, we have to start planning how we're going to explain this).
Jesus knew Peter wasn't getting it....yet.
Do you phileo me? Yes, Lord, I like like you (Finally, we're on the same page! Now, how can we use your power to advance our agenda?)*
Peter would eventually get the difference. It wouldn't be a definition in his head, but the will of his heart. He would go from having head knowledge only of what it means to love another like a brother and hopefully there's something in it for me - to a surrendered man who would love others more than he loved himself, especially, and most importantly, Jesus.
Here are some of the things Peter later said using agapao. (I would imagine feeding human sheep and lambs were hard lessons in learning the difference between love words):
"Though you have not seen him, you agapao him...agapao one another deeply, from the heart...agapao the brotherhood of believers....whoever would agapao life and see good days must keep his tongue from evil and his lips from deceitful speech...agape each other deeply because agape covers over a multitude of sins..."
In all of Peter's recorded words after that post resurrection breakfast, Peter uses agape or its variation 9 out of 11 times.
In the end, Peter got what the difference between love love and like love is.
He went from admiring Jesus and the warm and fuzzy feeling he got being around him, to loving Jesus more than himself.
What about you? If you're like me, each day, heck, each hour can be different. I like like the things about Jesus that make me feel good. But it's really, really, really....really hard for me to love love like Jesus love loves me.
So very, very hard.
But he's equipped me with the ability. Peter knew it. He figured it out and he told us.
"His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness....For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, LOVE." (the agape kind).
I'm sure if Peter could have had a do over, that breakfast conversation on the beach would have been first on his list.
Jesus: Peter, do you agapao me?
Peter: Yes, Lord, I love love you.
(The two places where Peter does not use agape are 1 Peter 1:22 - sincere love for your brothers - and 1 Peter 3:8 - love as brothers).
Agapao is love rooted in the mind and will of the subject and it means to value, esteem, prize, treat as precious. While generally it may have a less personal or emotive connotation than phileo, it does not signify a love of lesser quality or one totally devoid of feeling. For example, it described the love one had for his benefactor, not personal fondness but appreciation or respect. Such love entails the treatment of things with value or respect, and consequently, action which is done for the benefit of that object. Theologically, it represents God's action in sending His only Son to die for the world. Between sinful man and holy God there was no phileo to speak of. Rather, God placed such value upon mankind, showed such estimation of him, that though he deserved nothing but rejection and wrath, God sacrificed His one and only Son, Jesus Christ, for man's salvation. This was done for man's good and solely because God, the subject, accord him this wholly underserved value. In some contexts, however, phileo and agapao evince no discernible difference in meaning and are quite synonymous (John 5:20; 16:27; 1 Corinthians 16:22; Rev 3:19).
Phileo - personal affection, fondness for something, often the love of friends. It is a highly subjective feeling of attachment or amity which is based upon the loveliness or attractiveness of an object. One loves something in this way because he finds qualities which appeal to him and create a warm and personal fondness for that object.
Keyword study bible NIV; Lexical aids to the New Testament
*I am being very tongue in cheek here, I do not know what Peter was thinking, this is only unsanctified speculation, based on my own ungodly thinking and the observation of religion's take on God's commands throughout church history. I will ask Peter when I meet him someday - "What were you thinking when you saw your friend alive?"
Maybe his answer will be like mine. At first, I like liked him, than I like loved him, and for the rest of my life I sought to love love him.