Portrait of a Team Killer (Matt 26:48, John 21)

Finally, after a long hard week at work you settle down to enjoy a few brief moments of gaming with your online friends.  The need to mow the lawn in the morning hangs over your head along with a variety of other errands that will eat away at your weekend, but right now all that matters is the joyous leisure activity that awaits you as you hear your console powering up.  Your game loads (and probably updates), your friends join your party, and you perform a few final tweaks to your load out before starting your first match.  The rest of your squad list populates with unknown gamers from around the world, the countdown commences, and now it’s time.  It’s finally time to have some fun… Until you hear that tell-tale sound of grenades landing at your feet.

With just enough time to pan the camera towards your recently spawned teammates you can identify the culprit immediately.  He’s the one cackling like a maniac in your headset while jumping on your head.  Your team explodes, the team killer gets booted off your team to go ruin someone else’s match, and you just spotted your adversaries a small lead to start the match.  But regardless of whether this match ends in a likely defeat or a rousing victory, the sophomoric actions of your former teammate can really get under your skin.  What is this guy’s problem?  With the limited amount of time you have to enjoy gaming with your friends, why did he have to come along and ruin it?  What is this guy’s story?

Whether you are playing the Division and getting gunned down by a former comrade in the Dark Zone for a piece of loot, or maybe your Halo match was just foiled by the prank listed above, there is a larger lesson to be gained from this experience.  And as we shall see from our reading in Matthew and John, there is an inherent danger in trusting any form of loyalty that does not have the right components at it’s core.  Let’s begin in John 21, where a peculiar exchange between Jesus and Peter sheds some light on this subject.  On the surface, Jesus asks Peter three times if he loves him, and Peter responds three times by responding that he does, with the verse recording that he was grieved by the request on the third time.  What a curious conversation.  It is not typical for Jesus to repeat himself, and since John felt the need to record this conversation we should feel certain that there is value in understanding it.  So why would Jesus ask the same question three times in a row?

I have heard it taught that this was because Peter denied Jesus three times, and now Jesus is affirming his restoration three times.  But Peter’s response on the third time is not that of relief, but of sadness. And to understand this I will have to ask you to join me in a critical dive deeper into the text, into the original Greek that this was translated into English from.  In the English language we have the very generic word love, which can be applied to everything from French fries,  a child, a spouse, or a sunset and while the word “love” is the same the implication clearly varies based on use.  I love my family and would give my life for them without a second thought, but though I also love French fries I do not plan to sacrifice anything beyond $1.50 on their behalf anytime soon.  Our English word love has many definitions, and it is the context that helps us understand it’s meaning.  The Greek language, however, is not so limited, and had many different words for “love” that each have a very clearly defined usage.  Here are a few examples:

Eros – Affectionate love, typified as a romantic love

Storge – Family love, as between parents and children

Phileo – Friendly love,  typically between equals

Agape – Preferential love,  used for the love of God towards man and man towards God

So now that we have done our introductory Greek lesson for the month, let’s gaze a little deeper into the subtext between Jesus and Peter and what was really being asked here.  The first time Jesus asks the question, he asks Peter if he “Agape” loves him.  Peter’s response?  That he “Phileo” loves him.  Did you catch that?   Jesus asked Peter for the preferential love that has it’s basis in God, and Peter responds with a friendly love that has its basis in human feelings.  This exact same sequence is repeated in the second question from Jesus to Peter, but then the third time something different occurs, and we will understand why Peter is torn by this question on the third go round.

The third time Jesus asks “Do you love me?” He uses the “Phileo” form of love, the lower class version of love.  And at this we see the distraught response from Peter as he sadly asserts for the third time that the caliber of love he carried for Jesus was less than what was desired.  So now for the big question… Why does this matter so much?  Why isn’t Jesus satisfied with the level of love Peter was offering?  The answer may surprise you, and it is revealed in a selection of text that you may be familiar with, but have  never looked at this deeply.  The answer lies with one of the most infamous team killers of all time… Judas Iscariot, the betrayer of Christ.

In Matthew 26 we get the account of Jesus and his betrayal by one of his own, a member of his own team.  But it is the actual betrayal event itself that reveals the duplicitous and easily manipulated danger of the love Jesus was dissatisfied with.  When we read the text in English we see that Judas  informs the soldiers with him that he would identify the Christ with a kiss.  But in the original Greek, the actual word used is not kiss, but, you guessed it, “Phileo”. And just to save you time, it is recorded the exact same way in the account of Mark and Luke as well, that Judas chose to betray Jesus by means of “Phileo” love.  And this is why Jesus simply cannot accept this level of love from Peter or any of us.  Because is is too easily faked, too deceitful to trust, and proceeds from emotion and outward display instead of from the Spirit of God within us, which is the root of the “Agape” love he is seeking.

This preferential love would be the only kind that would lead Peter where Jesus explained his path would carry him, as the remainder of John details.  Agape love, preferential love from God’s own heart, would one day lead Peter to pick up a cross of his own, a far cry from the Phileo love he currently carried that led him to deny Jesus three times a few days prior.  Phileo love is what team killers are capable of both possessing and displaying, but it will always favor its own interests and needs at the expense of others as Judas and Peter demonstrated in Matthew.  

Honestly, I shouldn’t have been surprised that my team mate betrayed me while playing the game:  he was arbitrarily assigned the color Blue and grouped in with me and my friends simply by random chance.  We had nothing more in common than a shared color of uniform, and a similar random twist of fate would have placed him in the opposing color of Red where he would have likely done the exact same thing to a different set of squad mates.  The issue wasn’t in his behavior, but in my false assumption that our shared enemy gave us a common goal and a reason to co-exist and work together the same way my existing squad of loyal friends had been doing.  But his level of commitment to me and my comrades was only at the surface level, and once the game started his true colors and destructive agenda were manifested.

The team killer in the group of disciples who followed Jesus was not revealed by his lack of friendliness or brotherly love, but by the lack of this “agape” preferential love that is only in our hearts when God reaches in and places it into the hearts of His children.  It is this love that Jesus was asking Peter for, the only love He will accept, and this love that He is asking us to offer both Him and all those around us.  He knows all to well the deceitful nature of any love that is less than this.  

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