In the closing chapter of Johns Gospel the Lord Jesus challenges Peter with the question that ought to ring loudly and continually in our ears, "Lovest thou me more than these?" (Jn 21.15). The question may be regarded as a suitable ending to the fourth Gospel, but it is also truly a suitable ending to the group of four Gospels.
These were written that we might have an accurate account of the life of the Lord Jesus, that His teaching might be clearly set out, and that the account of His death and resurrection would be faithfully put on record. But, important as these are, the records of the Gospels are set out for another vital reason - so that we would love Him. That was the vital issue which Peter had to face - not the question of what he had done for the Lord but, rather, whether he loved Him more than "these". The question, "What are these?", is not answered. Each of us has to define "these" in our own lives so that we can genuinely seek to give Him the undivided love that is His due. Consideration of our spiritual heart condition is vital.
The condition of Israel at the end of the book of Judges was very low indeed. It is not difficult to understand the reason. The cause of the weakness that beset Israel, seen in 1st Samuel, was also that of divided affections. The first chapter of the book reveals this in the home of Elkanah who had two wives, Hannah and Peninnah. He was well meaning but could not bestow undivided love on either of his two wives. "Hannah" means "grace" and "Peninnah" means "red pearl". Hannah would seem to have had spiritual beauty, whereas Peninnah appears to have had physical attractiveness. Elkanahs heart was pulled both ways: one by what was spiritual and the other by what was natural. A home with divided affections was a home of tears and heartbreak.
But not only Elkanahs home! The whole nation suffered from the same malaise. There were some who loved the Lord, but the majority had little affection for Him. Just as there would be tears and heartbreak in Elkanahs home, so there were tears and heartbreak in the nation. The disastrous defeat in the battle against the Philistines and the loss of the Ark would cause great genuine sorrow to those who cared for the Ark after its return (1 Sam 7.1).
The exhortation of Samuel prior to the great revival victory over the Philistines was, "Return unto the Lord with all your hearts" (1 Sam 7.3). This was necessary, and the idols must be put away. This problem remained and the hearts of the people had to be touched. Their affection for the Lord had dimmed. Samuel was acutely aware of it as were the people. But when they had obeyed the instruction to "prepare your hearts unto the Lord, and serve him only" (1 Sam 7.3) they testified and declared, "We have sinned against the Lord" (1 Sam 7.6). Now, in a right condition to do battle with the enemies of the Lord, they were able to accomplish a mighty victory.
When the people desired a king, Samuel again had to warn them to "serve the Lord with all your heart" (1 Sam 12.20). Years later, when Absalom rose in rebellion against David, the news that came to the king was that "The hearts of the men of Israel are after Absalom" (2 Sam 15.13). At this critical moment the heart condition of the people was wrong. They had set aside David, the king who had served them and led them so well despite his one great failure, and placed their hearts on Absalom. Once again their affections had been divided and tragedy was the result.
And so the issue that faced Israel also faced Peter, and rings in our hearts down through the centuries. As has already been noted "these" will not be uniform in the life of everyone. Elkanah had forged links that could not easily be broken; Israel had known defeat that caused them to turn to idols; Davids throne was challenged because the people valued that which was of the flesh and not of God. The same forces are with us today waiting to trip us up. Let us never, therefore, forget the question spoken by the Lord after the triumph of resurrection, "Lovest thou me more than these?".