One of my favorite places on the planet is a tranquil, quiet cove on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee. It’s a serene place of natural beauty, a sacred spot for worship and contemplation. It’s the site of the Church of the Primacy of Peter at Tabgha. And it’s my favorite place because of what happened there. You know the story, even though you may not be familiar with the name of the church that has been built on this location. This church marks the supposed spot where, one morning after the Resurrection, Jesus reminded Peter about what love, deep love, is.
I have wondered if that place was in the back of Peter’s mind when he wrote his first letter to the “elect exiles” throughout Asia Minor. In beautiful, descriptive (almost poetic) language Peter encouraged them to, among other things, love one another deeply (1 Peter 1:22; 2:17; 3:8; 4:8). As he wrote, did Peter have a flashback moment to that northern shore of Galilee?
Called to Love
Following Jesus’ resurrection Peter decided to go fishing (John 21:3). What mixed emotions churned in Peter’s heart we can only surmise as he fished, unsuccessfully, with his fellow disciples. But Jesus knew, and the next morning stood on the shore waiting to mend Peter’s broken heart, in a scenario strangely similar to his first calling of Peter (the great catch of fish, Luke 5:1-11). In a sense Jesus called Peter a second time here. After breakfast, Jesus took Peter aside and three times asked Peter if he loved him. Upon Peter’s three-fold affirmation of his love, Jesus issued the command to tend his sheep. Loving service was the criterion by which Peter was restored and recommissioned to his rightful place of leadership as an apostle.
Peter was at Jesus’ side during his earthly ministry watching the Lord lovingly serve. He saw him touch a leper; feed hungry masses; notice overlooked widows; accept worship from prostitutes, the unclean, and the outsider; cry over Jerusalem and his dead friend Lazarus; go the full extent of love by washing the feet of his disciples; and much more. Peter experienced several “high-water marks” with the Lord (Matthew 14, 16, 17; John 13), but this intimate moment in John 21, walking side by side away from the rest, was perhaps one that Peter revisited time and again. He’d had a good number of years to ruminate on these final earthly words of Jesus. Of all the things Jesus could have said to him, loving service was what seemed to matter most. The Lord wanted to be sure that Peter knew that deep love extends itself in service. And Peter may have drawn on that memory to teach others to love one another deeply. Interestingly, the Greek words for love and their derivatives, which Peter used in his epistle—phileo and agapao—are the same words Jesus spoke to him on that north shore. And they are words we need to hear today.
As a Bible college student almost 50 years ago, the definition of agape love that I still recall is that it does what is best for the other person. Love does.
We met author and Honorary Consul for the Republic of Uganda to the United States Bob Goff a few years ago. His book Love Does accompanied us, so we asked if he’d sign it. He autographed the inside cover: “Dear Mark and Carla, so fun to meet you! Keep loving people the way Jesus did! Bob.” A friend said of him, “It’s hard to put into words what is different about him. But Loves Does says it all. Where you and I may want love and feel love and say love, Bob reminds us that love does things” (from Love Does). The world wants love, feels love, says love . . . but the follower of Christ does love . . . that’s the distinctive difference. Loving service is our command, just as it was Peter’s.
This “doing” kind of love looks like our friend Cyndi. She exudes the joy of the Lord and loves deeply. Her husband, Paul, a dear friend, passed away a few years ago. She had already lost her teenage son to suicide and her twin sister suddenly to an illness. Within the last year her father passed on. She recently came to visit us with her new husband, Mark, (we had the privilege of “tying the knot”) who also lost a son to suicide. Both boys were the same age and took their lives about the same time. That’s a bond no one would covet, but it certainly did bind Mark and Cyndi together. A few months ago they took in a homeless, alcoholic young man who had been a friend of Cyndi’s son. The young man’s father had passed away the year before, compounding the grief he still felt for losing his good friend, Cyndi’s son. They have sheltered him, provided for him, helped him get sober, stood for him at court hearings, and helped him get a job and a car. That’s deep love on a sacrificial level, and most of us aren’t typically called to love like that, though we need to be ready to.
Mostly, though, loving deeply is just a daily doing. As I was trying to get this article written, we had wave after wave of friends and family cross our threshold, several more than once, during a three-week period. Around 60 precious souls came to our home on nine different occasions. Some needed counsel, some needed connection, some needed care and compassion, some needed celebrated, some just needed a comfortable bed. In the middle of it all, I had surgery. On the one hand, it was not a sacrifice for us; on the other hand, it did take me away, I thought, from what I felt I needed to be doing with my time . . . writing. Instead God was writing, yet again, on my heart, reminding me of what deep agape love is—a love that does.
There is no biblical record of Peter revisiting that cove on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee. I wonder, though, if he did. “Place” can be a powerful reminder. Perhaps Peter needed that place to be encouraged, again, to love and love deeply, so that he could remind the exiles and us. That’s what that place did for me. So deeply was my heart convicted when I stood there for the first time. Lord willing, next year I will stand there yet again. And I will recall the tender words of our Lord to Peter, words that forever speak of a deeper love—for him who gave all for me because of love, and of loving service to those whom he entrusts to my care.
Piano teacher, secretary, women’s programming director, home stager—these are some of the hats Carla Scott of Webb City, Missouri has worn over the years. Carla is the director of Women of Hope, a ministry to widows at College Heights Christian Church. The hat she has worn consistently, and the one she loves the most, is that of wife to Mark, mother to four, and grandmother to 14.