Candid Jesus: “The Surprising Truth About Love”


After appearing to his disciples in Galilee and making them breakfast on the beach, Jesus has a “candid conversation” with Peter – a conversation that lovingly restores him after his three-fold denial of Jesus on the night before he was crucified. And on this Mother’s Day, Jesus’ conversation with Peter can teach us a lesson as well: a lesson about what love – real love – actually looks like. 

1. How Do You Know if You Love Someone? (John 21:15) 

- After breakfast, Jesus challenges Peter with a probing question to start the conversation: “Do you love me more than these?” He was likely taking Peter back to the night he denied Jesus, when he boasted that his loyalty would outlast that of the other disciples. 

- But Jesus’ question also points to one that we might all ask of ourselves at some point: How do you know if you love someone? If we think about it, there are a couple of ways we can point to: 

a. Sacrifice – Real love will always include some level of sacrifice – a willingness to give up what I want in order to bring happiness, fulfillment and wholeness to the one I love. 

b. Sorrow – Sorrow is the cost of loving someone; if we give our hearts to someone we love, we will naturally feel pain when they’re hurting, and deep pain if we lose them. The sorrow we feel is a direct measure of how much we love them – even if we don’t fully realize it before we lose them. 

2. Love is Complicated (John 21:15-17) 

- During the conversation, Jesus asks Peter three times, “Do you love me?” Jesus starts with the Greek word for love, agape – the deepest, most sacrificial love there is. Peter responds with, “Yes, Lord, you know I love you,” using a different Greek word for love, phileo – the love of a brother. Twice Jesus asks, “Do you agape me?” and Peter responds, “Yes, I phileo you.” Finally, Jesus shifts his question to, “Do you phileo me?” and Peter, again, with sadness, replies “Yes, Lord, I phileo you.” 

- Jesus is actually showing Peter beautiful grace here. Phileo is a different kind of love from agape – and agape is the kind of love Jesus will need from Peter for him to fulfill his calling as a leader of his church. But Jesus is willing to work with the love that Peter has at the moment, knowing it will grow as Peter serves him and experiences more and more of Jesus’ agape moving forward. 

- Love is complicated – mostly because it’s never as “pure” as we’d like it to be. The surprising truth about love is that you can love someone and still fail them and hurt them – as Peter knew well. Conversely, as Jesus showed Peter, you can also choose to keep loving someone who has hurt you deeply. That kind of (agape) love frees both the giver and the recipient to love through the pain. 

3. Love Can Grow (John 21:18-19) 

- Interestingly, Jesus wraps up the “surprising conversation” with Peter by predicting that Peter would one day be martyred as his follower. There’s a subtle message for Peter behind that prediction: 

“Although your love for me is imperfect now, it will grow to stand up to the tests and trials to come.” 

- We tend to think of love as something that’s best when it’s “fresh” and new – something that tends to fade over time. But real love – agape love – actually grows over time through trials and tests, failures and hurts. If the commitment is real, the love will grow into something beautiful for a lifetime. 


These passages may provide additional insights related to the subject of this week’s message. All verses are NLT unless otherwise noted. 

Psalm 86:15; Mark 12:29-31; John 13:34-35; 1 Corinthians 13:4-7; 1 John 4:7-20; 1 Peter 4:8 

Video of the Week: Agape/Love by the Bible Project 


1. “Love” is an odd word in English, because it can refer to many different things. In your experience, what meaning does the word “love” most often have when used in “candid conversations”? 

2. What are the potential pitfalls of the word “love” having several different meanings in our language? 

3. “Real love will always include some level of sacrifice.” Why is that statement true? Do you think that most people today would agree with it? 

4. Read John 21:15-17 again. Does knowing that Peter responded to Jesus’ question (“Do you love me?”) each time by using the word phileo (brotherly love) instead of agape (total, sacrificial love) surprise you? Why or why not? 

5. What difference do you think it would make if more people understood the “surprising truth” that you can love someone and still fail and hurt them – and that you can choose to love someone who has failed and hurt you? 

6. How should knowing that Jesus used the word agape whenever he talked about love change our perspective on his commands for us to “love one another,” “love your neighbor,” and “love God”? 

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