φίλει ἐμὲ for now


I once had a professor who took great pleasure in whining about all the short comings of the Christian Church. “Christianity,” he often complained, “is a very nay-saying religion.”  He went to great lengths to illustrate how negative and oppressive the Church has been throughout history. It’s curious, but I can hardly remember him ever saying ‘yea’ to anything.

I believe there is, however, something to be learned from these sorts of people. For some reason, whether it be valid or invalid, a significant portion of the world has accumulated a great abundance of animosity directed toward the Christian Church. Of course, we might find it pleasant to focus primarily on the ungrounded reasons for this hatred, or the fact that Satan hates the Church and so it is most natural for his dominion to hate it too, but I find myself convinced that there is also some truth—and perhaps even more than we’d like to admit—in the accusations others lay on the fallen Body of Christ. I think a particular favourite of secularists today is the ‘self-righteousness’ or ‘holier than thou’ conviction. It seems the modern image of a Christian is that of a highly judgmental and proud individual who finds self-worth in following a set of moral principles, or even a set of mere rules, more closely—as that individual perceives it—than anyone else.

I need hardly mention how this image is the product of an unbelievably scrutinising world, the sort of world that perpetually scours the Church for flaws and inflates them to no end—in short, a ‘nay-saying’ world. As Shakespeare observed, “The evil that men do lives after them; / The good is oft interred with their bones” (Julius Caesar III.ii.74-5). Vice is always more quickly made famous among mankind than virtue. But we must nonetheless consider why the Church suffers from this vice, even if it is not as severe as the world may exaggerate it to be.

The most evident cause I see is the same thing that keeps all the secularists out of the Church in the first place—fear.  We Christians often fail to realise from the start that if you don’t store up treasures here on earth, you will end up without any treasures here on earth—it’s that simple. A virtuous scholar who spends his life honestly pursuing the truth rather than outputting bizarre liberalism for the sake of acquiring fame and admiration will most likely end his life without either of those treasures; a mother and father who devote their lives to raising children and loving their family rather than pursuing prestige and fulfilment in the work place or elsewhere will probably never have that fulfilment; and a lonely custodian who does nothing more than clean up and offer an understanding smile to the occasional passerby will probably never acquire anything valuable on this indifferent earth.

Human beings are very attracted to the idea of becoming poor for love’s sake, but they don’t like poverty itself. And so the last temptation of a disciple of Christ is to find fulfilment in ‘religious merit’.  Once a man is striped of everything he thought he owned and is left naked with nothing but a Bible in his hand, he begins to clutch that Bible and exhibit a possessiveness over it that has only been intensified by being frustrated. But as he stands there, trembling in the fear that he has just thrown away everything of value that he ever knew, he has arrived at the precise moment when his sacrifice ought to be consummated. After all, he didn’t become poor merely for the sake of being poor, but in order that he might become rich. So he is demanded to let go and realise that even his sacrifice is worth nothing in itself, for only the blood of Jesus can save him—and so indeed he has become poor merely for love’s sake. But for some reason, this is among the most terrifying moments of the human experience.  This is when we start to realise that the phantasmagorical Jesus-dream we’ve been chasing for so long better be more real than the very beating of our hearts, for all that we are is resting on it.

In John 21:15-7 Jesus asks Peter three times, “Do you love me?”  The Greek word that he uses the first two times is ἀγαπᾷς, meaning “Do you love me unconditionally?”  But Peter responds each time with, “yes, I φιλῶ you”, meaning “yes, I am fond of you”, or “yes, you are a friend to me”.  So the third time, Jesus asks “Do you φιλεῖς me?”, meaning “Am I a friend to you?”  And then something strange happens. The scriptures say that Peter was upset because Jesus had asked him three times “Do you φιλεῖς me?”  But this isn’t what Jesus did; Jesus first asked Peter twice if he loved him without limits—that is, if he loved him enough to give up everything for his sake—but it’s as if Peter never even heard this calling.

14 thoughts on “φίλει ἐμὲ for now

  1. Thank you for bringing up this truth. I think that any follower of Christ does have that fear sometimes when they focus on what they might have given up in order to sacrifice their life and desires for Christ. At the same time, I beleive that love is intricately connected to sacrifice and that Christ taught us what real love is, which is very different and unique from what the world teaches us. The world teaches that love is about self fulfillment, happiness, ease, etc. Christ teaches us that sacrifice is the ultimate expression of love and it is only through that kind of love that we ever receive God’s eternal gifts.

  2. I read the first few paragraphs soon after your posting and found myself “carrying around” with me the truth that we do at times judge others out of some misplaced disappointment with our own lot in life. Our flesh dies a hard death. It was good to have that pointed out. Now as I am better absorbing your last point-thank you for accessing the original Greek for us–I am further blessed.

  3. You good, kind man! Thank you for this, it has been the Sabbath morning discussion here in our household.

    One of our roommates lost someone very close to him last night and asking him to help me with the Greek in this article (biblical Greek being one of his passions) and going on to reading the article and the following discussion has been the easing of the tears for the first time.

    Thank you so very much.

  4. I love this story, sir. Your writing is very clear and beautiful.

    By way of full disclosure, I should admit to you that I am an atheist–but… I am not “that” kind of atheist. In fact, one of my best friends has charitably described me as a “full Gospel atheist.” (as has Dear Mrs. Emeron–who most definitely is woman of deep and abiding faith) He further, and perhaps with even more Christian Charity, draws the distinction between an atheist and an anti-theist. Even further, he insists that most atheists, so-called, are firmly of this second category–in this, he may be correct, I am not sure, for I am hardly a man of the world. Even more further, furtherer… he insists that this anti-theism is a religion in and of itself; in this I believe he is dead on.

    Whether or not there is a God would not change the clear fact that we are “wired,” so to speak, for faith (there is ever-growing scientific evidence for that) And it is my contention, and has been my observation, that when that “hole,” for want of a better term, in our hearts, or minds, if you will, is not filled with that for which it is designed to be filled, all manner of insanity will often ensue. People in such a condition end up believing in all sorts of nonsense–not the least of which is responsible for much human suffering–in the former eastern block, to give a ready example.

    I therefore often caution people like me–as well as cautioning myself–to take great care regarding any unprovable worldly beliefs into which they may unwittingly fall. Belief is meant for God, not economic or political theories or unrepeatable scientific events.

    Therefore, I am happy to pray with and for my Christian friends. I am happy–very thankful–if and when they pray for me. Saying grace at each and every meal helps me to see my fortune for what it is. And of course, He and His Son figure greatly in my published work for any number of reasons, not the least of which is that… well… how can 4000 years of liturgical tradition not colour, in fact completely fill in, all aspects in the whole of our culture–if not all of creation.

    I was once a man of deeply held faith. I miss it. And truth be told, I dearly hope I am wrong and my Christian friends are right. I mean this with complete sincerity, and with all the humility I can muster, which I hope I have here conveyed.

    Your writing, and your faith, is quite beautiful. Please do keep it up; and, if you have time, please do keep in touch.

    • Thank you for your comment. You may be interested in some of my apologetics, which can be found under “The Omnipotent” and the “ALUC” category, if you haven’t seen them already. The former of these is more accessible and makes for an easy read, but the latter is, in my opinion, more interesting than the former and more thorough.

      As to the distinction between atheism and anti-theism, I think you raise an interesting notion. I was just recently reading a biography of the atheist poet and writer, Percy Bysse Shelley, and was surprised by how congenial I found him to be as a person (or as a person, through the lens of the biographer). His atheism hardly seems to have affected much else about him. There’s certainly no sense in rejecting the whole of a legacy that an individual leaves behind on the grounds of a single flaw, even one so fundamental as atheism.

      However, what a man does, believes, and thinks to be true should be coherent and unified. I say ‘should’, but we both know that people have to go through many stages in life, during some of which, they will inevitably contradict themselves. Just as conflicting theories are tolerated in physics for the ultimate goal of reconciling them, so do people have to tolerate confusion for periods of time, with the ultimate end of discovering the truth. Ultimately, being on the fence is not a satisfactory answer to life’s questions, but it’s part of the process.

      In any case, thanks for sharing a bit of your story. I’ll be praying for you, that God may guid your heart, mind, and soul.

      • Those are some prayers I will cherish. Thank you for keeping in touch. I have begun reading your noted articles. So far I am enjoying them greatly.

        I especially like the fact that, although you include citations, that your references are better to be described as “inline code,” so to speak. I have long thought that scholarly writing suffers greatly from “multiple inheritance,” to use OOP parlance.

        This is much appreciated as I am not a humanities scholar. When I found it necessary in my schooling to write such a paper, which would, of course require a bibliography, I found the paper would be more accessable, as you say, to all readers if I avoided this practice; and whereas bibliography was of course required in such writing, the way one quotes and explains the material makes all the difference. To write a statement as though it were ones own conclusion and then to include the caveat “(Wossname, 2, 123)” always did seem disingenuous to me.

        Much better to identify clearly ones own conclusions as opposed to the conclusions of others. Plus, we have the added bonus then of properly introducing a reader to the writers we have read.

        In any case, there is, I believe, rather a movement these days in scholarly writing to be more clear, particularly in this way I describe.

        Plus, I really appreciate this type of writing because I am not at all a scholar of the humanities. My background is in the sciences and the only reason I am seen to be otherwise is that I fell in love, so many decades ago, with a “humanities girl,” if you will.

        In any case, thank you for your writing, and for your prayers. They are to be cherished.

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