“Lovest thou me? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my sheep.” (John 21:16).
Christ’s own people need to be fed by men he has called to pastor his flock. It still amazes me at how Jesus told them simply to feed his sheep. I thought, “Is that all?” With the whole “Christians are getting spiritually fat and need to work it off” messages I have heard that just does not seem right.
But we have learned that Christ is the spiritual food and drink of His flock (John 6:35). Sheep need guidance into fertile and nutritious pastures (Psa. 23:5; Ezek 34:14). God’s people must be constantly directed and escorted to Jesus Christ the Good Shepherd by his teaching in the scriptures and Holy Spirit working in and through his shepherds (John 15:26).
Later in his writings, Peter echos the command of Christ to the “under-shepherds” of his day, “Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly, not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; neither as being lords over God’s heritage, but being examples to the flock.” (1 Pet. 5:2-3). This is one of the most direct biblical commentary’s we have on Christ’s command. Peter tells these elders that it is a blessing not a burden to feed God’s people. There was a reason he needed to say that. To “feed the sheep” is the shepherds loving response to Christ. They should not feel sluggish but ready and eager to serve. The ministry of the shepherd is to lead by example and not by dictatorship. They are to excel at serving. They are not busy telling people what to do, but showing them how to do it.
“I know” you think, “it sounds good on paper but in reality pastoring people is difficult.” There is no doubt about it, but we must do it for love of Christ despite what people do.
As pastors we are not to do things from constraint. The word for constraint here in Greek describes a person who feels burdened by sickness or looking for relief from trouble. Understandably, pastors become drained and even “sick of” people and ministry with all its daily challenges. It is easy to forget whom we serve when we feel unappreciated. We are reminded, “And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men, knowing that of the Lord ye shall receive the reward of the inheritance: for ye serve the Lord Christ.” (Col. 3:23-24). So if we take the Apostle Paul’s words and use them in light of what Peter is teaching he is telling us to feed the flock heartily, literally out of your very soul with the certainty you serve the Lord Jesus Christ not human beings.
Gill says, feeding the flock, “should be done with all a man’s heart and soul, and should spring from pure love to Christ; for no man is fit to feed Christ’s lambs and sheep but those who sincerely love him.”
When pastors become weary they can make the mistake of looking for their reward elsewhere. They look for recognition, power and even wealth. This was the great fault of the Pharisees (Matt. 6:1-6; Matt. 23; Luke 16:14). Christ calls its hypocrisy. It is amazing instead of feeding the sheep they will begin to feed off the sheep which is forbidden by scripture (Ezek 34:10). There is a fair warning here from Christ and he does not coddle us when he says, “they have their reward” over and over again. (Mt 6: 2, 5. 16). That’s what they want, that’s all they will get and yelling, “Lord, Lord” in eternity will not save them from God’s payback for their sin.I
I realize we have all been in a job we hated at one time and we begin to feel unappreciated and underpaid. The ministry needless to say is the toughest job in the world. Yet Peter exposes the pitfalls of doing ministry for money or recognition. The minister of the gospel and those who labor for the church show Christ they love him by feeding and tending to, “his people and the sheep of his pasture.” (Ps. 110:3).
A.W. Pink comments, “It is only those who truly love Christ that are fitted to minister to His flock! The work is so laborious, the appreciation is often so small, the response so discouraging, the criticisms so harsh, the attacks of Satan so fierce, that only the “love of Christ”—His for us and ours for Him—can “constrain” to such work.” Is this not a reminder why and for Whom we do what we do. We serve others for Christ. We do it because we love him.
That clears it up.
You have no business in ministry if you do not love Christ. Some presume they love Christ because they are in ministry, but that means nothing. If a pastor stays in this lethargic, lazy condition the quality of ministry, or spiritual nurture he administers will be not only be soured but it will be as though the people are served a low grade, stale, spiritual food. They will be made to eat something other than the bread of life! Christ will contend with you on this. Christ cries out, “Give them to me!” or even better “Come unto me!” (Mt. 11:28).
The energy with which the shepherd works is directly connected to their love for Christ and the awareness that Christ is among the flock that is among us (Col. 1:27-29). I realize the most sincere pastor becomes weary, and they may make the mistake of looking to other things for their reward or other ways of making things happen in the place where they pastor, so they feel successful in their endeavors. This is a terrible mistake. Christ never promised pastors they would have great success or large congregations. Some do, most don’t. Christ desires their faithfulness not their fame (1 Cor. 4:1-2).
They forget that their positions may be that of a shepherd but they are only sheep themselves and as such need to look as much and even more to Christ.
After the miracle of the great catch in John 21 Jesus calls to them, “Come and dine.” (Jn. 21:12). From this we draw the analogy that the fisherman catch the fish and Jesus feeds the fisherman with his own stash of fish. Christ made them fish for breakfast that had nothing to do with the fish they caught. It is like Jesus is saying, “I still have meat that you know nothing about.” (John 4:32). I gave you the fish out there and I cook the fish here. I don’t need your fish I have my own. I will feed you, you will not need to feed me. This reminds me when God says, “If I were hungry, I would not tell you, for all the world is mine and everything in it.” (Psa. 50:2). It seems Christ is demonstrating that our ministry is not about performing and appeasing men but it is all about how much you love Jesus. Jesus insists that there is nothing that you accomplish that I have not given your the power to produce. Thus shepherds feed the sheep and Christ feeds the shepherds.
Christ had no problem showing his first shepherds affection (John 13;1). Christ will give you dear pastor, all the love, attention and joy you need if you will come and dine with him. There is coming a time where every good and faithful servant will receive praise from God. (1 Cor. 4:5). Faithful shepherds see the opportunity to help others as though they were helping, feeding, clothing and visiting Christ himself (Mt. 25:31-46). We ought to see his face in the faces of our congregations. It should be our prayer that we ask God for the strength we need to serve for the sake of Christ and our love for him.
© 2011 Stephen S. Gibney Soul Health Care. Updated 2017
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