Feed My Sheep 5: For the Love of Christ

 “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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Feed My Sheep 1: The Love of God For His People

“Jesus saith unto him, ‘Feed my sheep.’ “(John 21:17).

You cannot appreciate this passage until you see it in the light of the dereliction and wreckage of the eleven remaining members of the apostolic “flock” before, during and after the passion of Christ.

They were prayer-less and clueless.

By the time Christ the Great Shepherd is hanging on the cross, the sheep, his disciples were spiritually bankrupt, afraid and lost. Christ the good shepherd laid down his life for his scattered sheep and would gather them in his awesome redemption.

They were as sheep going astray (1 Pet. 2:25). Isaiah prophesied not only of his original apostles but, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned everyone to his own way” (Isaiah 53:6a). The idea of sheep going astray sounds so innocuous and cute, but the brutal truth is that because of our wandering far from God, “the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.” (Isa. 53:6b). While sheep can represent the people of God, sheep also represent the repulsion we have for God and his ways and that the desire to sin can be so strong that even after one is a child of God we can wander in the wrong direction and must be brought home time and again.

Yet the Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep (Heb. 13:20), says to his people, “I have loved you, saith the LORD.” (Mal. 1:2).  Why? Why does he love the sheep? He explains, “God wasn’t attracted to you and didn’t choose you because you were big and important—the fact is, there was almost nothing to you. He did it out of sheer love…” (Deut. 7:7-8Message).

Christ loves his people. It is an everlasting love (Jer. 31:3). It is a love from eternity and a love that lasts for an eternity.  This is because God’s love is a Trinitarian love, a love that preexisted veiled in such mystery in the Godhead- that theologian’s pen runs out of ink, the best worshippers run out of words, and angels run out of tears when you attempt to describe it. Jesus says, “For thou lovedst me before the foundation of the world.” (John 17:24).  Jesus said, “As the Father hath loved me, so have I loved you: continue ye in my love.” (John 15:9). We share in a love that is as eternal as God himself, a quality of love that is the same love the Eternal Father has for the Eternal Son and there is no end to it. “He hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love! Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will.” (Eph 1:4-5). Ceaseless praise for eternity could not fathom such love!

It is an undying love, yet a love that died for us. The Bible says he loved them to the end (John 13:1) and he proved that love by his death on the cross (Rom 5:8).  It is a complete love and his relationship with his disciples was one characterized as love, “love one another; as I have loved you.” (John 13:34).  Imagine a life described as Divine Love. Imagine being around Christ in whom is God’s love expressed! Jesus says again, “For the Father himself loveth you, because ye have loved me, and have believed that I came out from God.” (John 16:27). His people are defenseless to his love. They melt and are wooed by it!

It is an otherworldly love. “Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God.” (1 John 3:1). The phrase “manner of love” (potapēn agapēn) refers to country or race. So it can be asked, “What foreign kind of love is this” (Wuest).  It cannot be found in any nation, tongue, kindred, or tribe. It is heavens love! It is a foreign kind of love, as foreign as heaven shores are to earth’s oceans. Fpor us to understand this love it had to be translated for us to understand and there only language or anaology that could capture it was in the cross of Jesus. It was God’s love interpreted to us!  If you would understand God’s foreign love, you must understand the alien truth of justification by faith in Jesus Christ and his saving work on the cross.

“Upon that cross of Jesus mine eye at times can see, the very dying form of One who suffered there for me! And from my stricken heart with tears two wonders I confess: the wonders of redeeming love and my unworthiness.”

God calls his true shepherds to focus on the real covenant love of God found in their Shepherd Christ that has predestined a people, His sheep to come home.  It is that wonderful, yet terrible cross that keeps our hearts warmed with gratitude and affection! How the rod and staff of the cross should comfort and lead God’s people!  Jude says to, “Keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life.” (Jude 1:21).  How wonderful is his love, may it have over our being absolute sway! May we be encouraged to constantly look for his mercy and saty in the sphere of  his love by those who claim to feed the sheep of God!  The people of God in their hearts and their pastors from their pulpits should, “set it always before them, to keep it constantly in view, to exercise faith on it, firmly believing their interest in it; as also to meditate on it, give themselves up wholly to the contemplation of it, and employ their thoughts constantly about it, which is the foundation of all grace here, and glory hereafter…” (Gill).

(c) 2011 Stephen S. Gibney Soul Health Care Ministries

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