He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me?” Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, “Do you love Me?” (NASB)
How do you express your faith? Is it evident mostly through the great Christian causes you support? Your local church? The Fellowship of Christian Athletes? Operation Christmas Child? Eight Days of Hope? I love to support all of those ministries in various avenues of serving and giving. But are they the front line expression of my faith?
It’s something I have to be reminded of all too often: The expression of my faith must be focused on the Christ whom I claim to serve, the only One who can truly change my life. And my world.
Some time ago, I was at a Christian retreat in a nearby state park. I had been encouraged and motivated by other team members as we met to pray and prepare for the weekend. Even more importantly, their lives and their witness for Christ had dared me to turn a mirror on my own heart and analyze my walk with Christ.
Service born of passion
At the camp, a friend read aloud “Service of Passionate Devotion,” the June 19 daily entry in My Utmost for His Highest, the classic book of devotions by Oswald Chambers (1874-1917). His point was that our first devotion must not be to a cause, but to Christ.
Chambers began with John 21:16: “Lovest thou Me? … Feed My sheep.” Here’s the context in NASB:
He said to him again a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” He said to him, “Shepherd My sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me?” Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, “Do you love Me?” And he said to Him, “Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.” Jesus said to him, “Tend My sheep.” (John 21:16-18)
Then Chambers made this observation: “Jesus did not say, ‘Make converts to your way of thinking, but look after My sheep, see that they get nourished in the knowledge of Me.’”
Now, we can certainly take that conversation between Jesus and Simon Peter as a challenge to engage in active Christian ministry – teach Sunday school, feed the homeless, go of a mission trip, clean the church. Clearly, those are good things – caring for the body of Christ and for the world beyond the church.
Rooted in love
But it is imperative that we perceive discipleship, i.e. serving Christ, as an act rooted firmly in our adoration of Jesus Christ, not in adherence to a belief or a creed or an act of service.
That is to say we serve others because first, we love Christ. To serve others is the natural byproduct of loving Christ. That “first love” – our love for Christ – defines what it means to be a disciple. Love comes first.
These days, it seems to me that we too often substitute creedal belief for personal belief, and that’s why so many are devoted to causes and too few devoted to Jesus Christ. We seem to shy away from being devoted to Jesus – we might be labeled as fanatics or Bible thumpers. Jesus Christ is a source of deep offense to the sophisticated and politically correct worldview of our day because the world rejects His eternal and unchanging truths. Our Lord’s first obedience was to the will of His Father, not to the needs of men; the saving of men was the natural outgrowth of His obedience to the Father.
If I am devoted mainly to the cause(s) of humanity, I will soon be exhausted and come to the place where my faith will falter. But if I first love Jesus Christ personally and passionately, I can serve others in the proper context. Oswald Chambers called it “passionate devotion” to Jesus Christ. Love comes first. It is both the secret and the strength of a Christ follower’s life.
What conviction. What challenge. Where is our commitment – to a cause or to the Christ?