Do You Love Me?
The answer is sometimes in the silence
By Mikulas Pavlik
One day as a pastor I became involved in an argument at a hot church board meeting.
The majority of board members were agitated and speaking in raised voices. But one man was just sitting there quiet, making no response to the issue under discussion. “Why are you so silent?” I turned and asked him. “We would like to hear your opinion about this problem.” “Well,” he replied, “silence can also be a reply and an opinion.”
Is that true? Can silence sometimes be an opinion or a reply?
When I read the story of Jesus’ encounter with His disciples and other people after His resurrection, I am struck by the fact of how little is said.
As a boy I used to listen to Gospel readings in church. And I can remember thinking: Why did Jesus not make some kind of a festive speech after His resurrection? Why did nobody ask Him about the other world? How did it happen that He was resurrected from His grave?
If I were interested in these details, surely the disciples must have been much more so. But we find no such questions from them. If something was said, it was usually Jesus who spoke. But even that is very rare.
A Time for Silence
In John 21 we read about an important meeting by the Sea of Tiberias. The disciples, shivering from the night’s cold, tired and discouraged, noticed Jesus standing on the shore, and swiftly went to Him.
“Bring some of the fish you have just caught,” Jesus said (verse 10).* But “none of the disciples dared ask him, ‘Who are you?’ They knew it was the Lord” (verse 12).
Can you imagine that we would meet with Jesus and be as silent as they? My impression is that we are more accustomed to talking than to being silent. Isn’t it easier for us to do something, say something, than just spend quiet time with Jesus?
This meeting by the sea is so strange! The apostles rush to Jesus, warm themselves by the fire, and . . . are silent! It is enough that they are with Jesus. Nobody asked anything.
It was the same on the Mount of Transfiguration; nobody asked anything. Neither of Moses nor of Elijah. All were silent, simply enjoying their time with Jesus. “Lord, it is good for us to be here” (Matt. 17:4). It seemed as though what they were experiencing ruled out any questions, any need to talk. As if what they were feeling could not be put into words. To be with Jesus was itself an answer for everything.
Doesn’t this also happen between people who are in love? Isn’t silence sometimes the art of love for a couple? As preachers, part of our job is to work with words—preaching, giving Bible studies. We learn rhetoric. Yet nobody taught me how to be silent.
Have you ever tried to be alone with Jesus and be silent in quiet realization of His presence? Just to experience that you are loved, that He is with you, and that He knows everything about you? No need to prove anything, no need to say anything. Didn’t you feel that words would only spoil the atmosphere? That words would only take something away from it?
If our relationship with God does not have this intimate dimension, then something important is missing. I would love to experience a morning like this with Jesus. To experience His silent presence, when silence speaks louder than the most eloquent words. It’s about time to reintroduce this intimate dimension into our relationship with God. So that our prayers, our sermons, our whole ministry might become a genuine, live meeting with Christ.
A Time for Words
The breakfast that morning did not end in silence, however. Into the silence Jesus asked one question: “Do you love Me?” (see John 21:15).
He asks Peter, but the echo reaches me as well: “Do you love Me?” Peter’s heart stops beating! He expected anything but an intimate and disturbing question. Jesus asks, “Do you love Me?” And the answer to this question is the most important prerequisite of our ministry, and the most important prerequisite of Christianity.
Jesus asked Peter, “Do you love Me?” And we should notice that it’s only when He is assured of Peter’s love that He commissions him into ministry: “Feed my lambs” (verse 15).
The order is crucial. If you do not love, you cannot serve. If you serve without love, you may fulfill your personal ambitions, maybe your desire for power, but not Christ’s mission. Too often in history, a ministry without love becomes a “sanctified” form of oppression and autocracy.
Today we are symbolically invited by Jesus to join Him at the shore of the Sea of Tiberias. He has prepared fish and bread for us. And He invites us to the quiet moment with Him. “‘Come and have breakfast.’ None of the disciples dared ask him, ‘Who are you?’ They knew it was the Lord” (verse 12).
We also know that Jesus is the Lord, otherwise we wouldn’t be doing what we do. But that is not enough. Jesus asks one more question: “Miki Pavlik, do you love Me?”
This is such a confusing, embarrassing question. For me, as for Peter. I would prefer if Jesus said: “Mikulas Pavlik, do you go to church? How many people do you prepare for baptism? How many committees are you a member of?” I would love to show Jesus my work sheet. Something I am good at, something that can be measured. I want to tell Him what I have achieved.
But Jesus does not seem to listen to me: “That’s not what I am asking. I ask you another question: Do you love Me?”
“Lord, I am a pastor; editor-in-chief; departmental director; union president; division secretary; seminary principal; I conduct successful evangelistic campaigns; I work with the youth; I planted a new church . . .”
“I appreciate that, but that is not what I’m asking. My question is: Do you love Me?”
The Question That Keeps Me Awake
Do I love Jesus? That’s the question that wakes me up at night. I do not have the courage to say yes. I feel like Peter. I am speechless. I understand that this question is too serious, too important to answer casually, in an impromptu manner.
How can we love God? Since early childhood I have been taught to obey God, respect Him, fear Him. But to love Him? Only very few have taught me that.
But Jesus is persistent in asking this question—again and again: “Do you love Me?” It’s not easy for me to answer it, just as it was not for Peter. And if I did not have the assurance that Jesus loves me, that He loved me first, I would never be able to say, “Yes, Lord, You know that I love You.”
*All Scripture quotations in this article are from the New International Version (NIV).
Mikulas Pavlik is president of the Czecho-Slovakian Union, with headquarters in the Czech Republic.