So when they had eaten breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me more than these?”
There comes a time in everyone’s life when a decision must be made. Jesus asks us the same question He asked Peter. He says to us, “Do you love Me more than these?” When times are going well, when things are smooth and seem orderly, we respond, “Yes, Lord, I certainly love You more than these.” But sometimes a very bad situation comes along, and we must decide if we indeed love the Lord more than anything and anyone.
You might be asking the question, “To what is Jesus referring when He says ‘these?'” For His question to us, the word ‘these’ refers to any thought, any deed, any person, any set of circumstances, anything at all. It is possible for us to fall into the trap of misplaced allegiance. Misplaced allegiance means that you will side with a person or thing or idea before you will side with what is right, what is holy, what is of God.
Loyalty is a noble trait, but if that loyalty makes you choose anyone or anything other than the Lord God, then it is time to abandon that loyalty. Sometimes that is painful for us, but we have a responsibility to choose: what or whom do we love more? What or whom do we put first in our life? As situations present themselves to us, as we develop friendships or personal habits, our loyalties and allegiances may actually become a barrier to Christian service. The Christian life often requires difficult choices, which may include the will and ways of the Lord over what is comfortable and easy for us.
For example, if you were asked if God’s will should be done in your life, if Jesus Christ has first place in your heart, habit would compel you to say, “Of course.” But what if tomorrow, it became apparent that a choice had to be made between God’s will and, let’s say, your job or your friend or your own life? Standing for what is right, for what God wants, is not always pleasant or convenient, but God has a purpose. It is in those moments that we discover if our devotion to the Lord and His will is genuine or merely lip service.
Peter had abandoned Jesus when Jesus needed him most. Later, he denied that he even knew who Jesus was. The reason? Peter chose personal comfort, an attitude of fear, and self above the Man to whom he’d pledged his undying allegiance not long before. Peter had to be confronted, and Jesus asked him point-blank, saying in essence, “Peter, it’s time to choose. It’s now or never. Do you love Me, truly love Me? Is that love deep enough to abandon everything and everyone that will try to come between you and Me? It’s your choice to make. What will you choose?”
Jesus asks that of us today. My responsibility as a pastor is to seek the Lord above all else, and to confront sin head-on in the church, even when it is painful. Occasions arise when the shepherd of the flock must fight off the wolves, and sometimes that is hard to do. Read the story of Achan, in the seventh chapter of Joshua. Achan disobeyed the orders of the Lord, and the entire army and nation of Israel suffered. Joshua fell on his face before the Lord, crying and begging to know what was going on. God gave Joshua the reason for the failure, saying in
Jesus confronted Peter, and He confronts us. Not only is my responsibility as a pastor to confront the “accursed thing” of sin when it rears its ugly head, but it is the responsibility of every believer to do the same, when they see it in themselves, as Peter did, and when they see it in the Church, as Joshua was compelled to do. Our love toward Christ, a love which He is seeking in us, does not invite anger and hatred toward those who choose a different path. Rather, that love should enable us to love them. This love, though, should demonstrate itself through respect and patience for others, a gentle leading, not by word but by action. By showing characteristics of malice, irritation or rage when confronting sin, you are not presenting Jesus effectively to the world around you. But make no mistake, God is not a tolerant God, condoning sin, trading what is right and righteous for the sake of personal feelings; still, He continues to exercise patience and longsuffering toward man. (Recall the encounter of Jesus and the woman at the well. Jesus plainly stated the woman’s sin, but lovingly encouraged her to turn her heart toward Him. In essence, He asked her if she, too, would be willing to love Him [and what He represented] more than her sin.)
We are beginning 2006. How can we grow our individual congregations, how can the Lord’s work proceed, how can we be in the right standing with God, if we allow anything to come between us and the Lord? Hard decisions must be made, and if we are unwilling to make them, then we shall surely perish. This perishing is not exclusive to eternity. It also includes falling beneath the weight of those enemies we face on a daily basis: fear, doubt, sin. Now is the time to confront those things detrimental to the cause of God, those things that caused Jesus to suffer and die on that cross for us. You see, life is more than about self. Your life is about others.
This call is sent to everyone: pastors and parishioners, leaders and layman alike. Jesus is asking you personally, “Do you love Me more than these?” How will you answer Him today? It is time that we put any and all ungodly ways behind us, it is time we break the cycles of normalcy and the business-as-usual routines through which we walk daily, in our vain efforts to achieve the elusive grace and peace that only comes from God. Now is the time we must truly begin living for Christ in deed and thought, not just in word. Words are small, temporary, and arrogant. But through action, we prove who and what we really are.
Peter made his choice, and it was right; he told Jesus that he chose Him. It was a lifelong commitment, in private and in public. If you are unwilling to do the same, the Lord cannot use you, this usage by Christ being one of the greatest rewards for the child of God. That God would use such imperfect and weak individuals, and give them His own grace and strength to serve Him, is truly remarkable. But the greatest disservice to yourself, the world, and to God is to live hypocritically, to say with your words what you are unwilling to do with your life. Do not be deceived; God is not mocked. Whatever a man sows, He also will reap. If you sow against God, you will reap God’s wrath. But if you sow with God, you will reap the all the blessings God has to offer.
Do you love Him more than these? Choose this day whom you will serve.
Chris Keeton is Pastor of Westwood Church of God (Independent) in Ashland, KY.