No Greater Love
"I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete. This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends….”
June 1, 2018, Words By: Kris Rocke, Image By: “Friendship… A Gift Of God” Mani Babbar Photography (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
The ancient Greeks had four ways of talking about love. The highest, most idealized form was “agape,” which is divine love. It is the gold standard of love. The other forms of love were assumed to be lower, human or natural loves: “Storge” is the love of a parent. “Eros” is sexual or erotic love. “Phileo” is the love of a friend.
Throughout the Gospel of John, and particularly in this week’s passage, Jesus connects agape and phileo in a way that gets at the heart of the Gospel message. Jesus reveals something none of us – certainly not the ancient Greeks – dared to imagine. He reveals that the ultimate form of divine love (agape) is an expression of (phileo). “No one has greater love (agape) than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends….”
Jesus reveals that God is friend, not foe. This, I believe, is the “joy” in the heart of Jesus that makes our joy complete (v. 14)!
Jesus brings this teaching full circle when he comes to Peter in the resurrection (John 21:15-19). It’s a familiar story. He asks Peter three times, “Do you love me?” And three times Peter replies, “Lord, you know that I love you.”
In the first two questions Jesus uses the word agape. “Do you agape me?” Strangely, Peter replies, “Lord, you know that I phileo you.” The third time Jesus goes with Peter’s word and asks, “Do you phileo me?” Again, Peter answers, “Yes Lord, I phileo you.” Peter courageously uses the word phileo throughout the entire exchange.
Some commentators have suggested that Jesus uses “agape” the first two times in order to lift the bar of love high, reminding and perhaps even reprimanding Peter for having failed at the gold standard of love. The third time Jesus lowers the bar to phileo to meet Peter where he’s at, offering a love that is more attainable for the flawed Peter.
I don’t buy it.
What if Jesus is not lowering the bar at all? What if we are witnessing the rise of Peter into what Jesus has just demonstrated on the cross and what he’s been teaching the disciples all along? What if Jesus himself is witnessing Peter come alive to the greatest of all loves? “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”
For my money, we are watching the transformation of Peter and the utter joy of Jesus in what’s happening. Peter is discovering the friendship of God and his own capacity for friendship. And this is exactly what Peter becomes, a true friend. In the end, he is crucified upside-down on a cross for his dear friend Jesus.
I can think of nothing more urgent than the call to Gospel friendship – the kind that insists that even our enemies are friends. In Christ there are no enemies – none, not one! This is the Gospel. It is the sacred center of the universe. It is the joy of Jesus that makes our joy complete and keeps this great world spinning!
Start the drumbeat. Everything we have said about the Friend is true. The beauty of that peacefulness makes the whole world restless.
(This Word from Below was originally published in 2015)
Executive Director | Street Psalms