Wednesday, July 23, 2008

FEED MY SHEEP

The title of this article is "Feed My Sheep".
As you may know, in Luke 21 the Lord Jesus told Peter several times: "Feed My Sheep".
Of course Jesus did not have those wooly animals in view. Jesus used the word sheep as a picture of the people of God. The sheep represented people for whom the Lord Jesus suffered and died on the cross. Peter had to feed these people spiritual food. But before the disciples were sent out to feed the sheep of Christ, Jesus first fed them. This is a general principle that God applies to all of us: "We get fed first, before we can give others the spiritual food they need". Jesus said to them:

"Come and Dine" (John 21:9-14)

Let me backup to the beginning of this story. The disciples were back in Galilee some time after Jesus' resurrection. Then Peter decided to go fishing. Six other disciples joined him. They fished all night and caught nothing. In the morning Jesus stood on the shore, and Jesus said to them: "Cast the net on the right side of the ship, and ye shall find". Then they cast the net on the right side of the ship, and miraculously there were so many fish in the net that they could not haul the net into the ship. So they knew that the one on the shore was Jesus. Peter could not wait. He dove in the water and swam to shore to be with Jesus. Then the other disciples came, dragging the net with fishes to the shore.

Now we read in John 21, beginning at verse 9,

John 21:9
As soon then as they were come to land, they saw a fire of coals there, and fish laid thereon, and bread.

Where did those fish and bread come from?

Obviously, Jesus brought them.

John 21:10
Jesus saith unto them, "Bring of the fish which ye have now caught."

John 21:11
Simon Peter went up, and drew the net to land full of great fishes, an hundred and fifty and three: and for all there were so many, yet was not the net broken.

John 21:12
Jesus saith unto them, "Come and dine". And none of the disciples durst ask him, "Who art thou?" knowing that it was the Lord.

John 21:13
Jesus then cometh, and taketh bread, and giveth them, and fish likewise.

John 21:14
This is now the third time that Jesus shewed himself to his disciples, after that he was risen from the dead.

Jesus fed them the bread and fish that were on the coals of fire. On a previous occasion when Jesus fed the 5000, He fed them bread and fish. Sometime later when He fed the 4000, Jesus fed them bread and fish. And now in John 21, Jesus fed the disciples bread and fish.

Do you think that bread and fish is always a nutritious meal?

Spiritually it is. The bread is spiritually representing the Lord Jesus Christ, who is the Bread of Life that is broken for us. When we read or hear the Word of God, spiritually we partake of the Lord Jesus. But the fish is spiritually representing people. Remember, Jesus said: "Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men".

Why does the bread come in combination with the fish?

It is God's pleasure to work through people to carry the Gospel message. God's rule of operation is that "Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God". When people bring us messages from the Word of God, we are being fed first, and then we can give others the spiritual food they need.

Then after they had dined, Jesus singled out Peter and He asked him:

"Simon, Lovest Thou Me?" (John 21:15-17)

John 21:15
So when they had dined, Jesus saith to Simon Peter, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me more than these? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my lambs.

John 21:16
He saith to him again the second time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my sheep.

John 21:17
He saith unto him the third time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? Peter was grieved because he said unto him the third time, Lovest thou me? And he said unto him, Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee. Jesus saith unto him, Feed my sheep.

Why did Jesus address Peter as "Simon, son of Jonas"?

The name Jonas is the same as Jonah, which means "dove". A dove is frequently pointing to God the Holy Spirit. Notice that the word "son" is in italics, which means it is a suggestion from the translators. Jesus could have addressed Peter as Simon Barjona, which means Simon son of Jonah, but Jesus did not use that surname. Jesus said "Simon, of Jonah". Peter was not in actuality a son of the Holy Spirit, but Jesus indicated hereby that Peter was made alive spiritually by God the Holy Spirit. Like any other true believer, Peter was born again; Peter had received a new soul from God the Holy Spirit, which means he was a son of God.

And then Jesus asked the crucial question: "Simon, lovest thou Me more than these?"

Do you love Me more than these other disciples love Me?

Simon, is it really true that you love Me?

Let us not forget that Jesus is God. Jesus knew the heart of Simon Peter better than Peter could know himself. The Lord Jesus was not curious about the answer to this question; He knew the answer before Peter could give it because He knew Peter's heart.

Then why did Jesus ask the question?

It was not for His benefit, but for our benefit. The Lord Jesus is asking each one of us: "Lovest thou Me? Is it really true that you love Me? Did you examine yourself how much you love Me? It is very important and necessary that you love Me. Does it show in your actions? Don't trust your hollow promises that you will lay down your life for Me, like Peter said it the night before his betrayal. Can you show that you love Me by simply keeping My commandments day in and day out? Can you show that you love Me by loving your fellow man for My sake?" This is what Jesus is asking us.

And then Jesus said to Simon Peter:

"Feed My Lambs" (John 21:15, Matthew 19:13-14)

John 21:15
So when they had dined, Jesus saith to Simon Peter, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me more than these? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my lambs.

Jesus said: Feed My little ones. They are not your lambs; they are mine. You have them only for a few years and then they have grown up and do their own thing. But now, while they are young, they depend on you completely. They trust that you are feeding them the right stuff. Now, in these early years, they are so pliable and so vulnerable. Feed My little ones the Word of God, and don't feed them garbage. Feed them slowly and systematically so that they do not choke on their food.

Perhaps you remember that children were brought to Jesus. Let me read to you from Matthew 19:13,

Matthew 19:13
Then were there brought unto him little children, that he should put his hands on them, and pray: and the disciples rebuked them.

Matthew 19:14
But Jesus said, Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven.

When Jesus said: "for of such is the kingdom of heaven", Jesus indicated thereby that all believers are spiritually represented by little children. Therefore, when Jesus said to Peter: "Feed my lambs", Jesus was not only referring to children under the age of 10, but Jesus referred to new believers as "lambs". Adults who are new in the faith are also "lambs". Jesus commissioned Peter as the elder of His flock first of all to feed the lambs of Jesus, to feed them gently, to feed them the Word of God, to bind up the broken ones, to care for their hurts and to defend them against wolves.

When we project into the future, and when we look at our children, we see that they are going to be worse off than any of us adults. They are stepping into a world that has drifted further and further away from the Lord Jesus Christ. They are stepping into a world that has become much more dangerous for their spiritual well being than when we were young. This world has many worldly enticements. That is nothing new; those have always been around us. But today there are so many more false gospels around. We must train our children well, that they be solidly entrenched in the Word of God. And every week we must pray: "I hope to have another week to teach them".

Then Jesus said to Peter:

"Feed My Sheep" (John 21:16-17, 1 Corinthians 11:26)

John 21:16
He saith to him again the second time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed (Lit: Shepherd) my sheep.

John 21:17
He saith unto him the third time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? Peter was grieved because he said unto him the third time, Lovest thou me? And he said unto him, Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee. Jesus saith unto him, Feed my sheep.

In verse 16 Jesus said: "Shepherd My sheep". Then in verse 17 Jesus said: "Feed My sheep". "Peter, tend the flock of God". Jesus is clearly commissioning Peter as the elder of His flock, as the Undershepherd of His flock, as the overseer of His flock, to take care of the spiritual needs of the flock of Jesus. "Peter, if you love Me, shepherd My sheep and feed My sheep at all cost, even if it costs you your life". Jesus changed Peter's profession from fishing to shepherding. Jesus appointed Peter to be a Pastor and teacher. But after a few decades Peter died.

What then?

Who would then shepherd the flock of Jesus?

Well, it is obvious that the Lord Jesus not only commissioned Peter to this task of shepherding His flock, but this assignment was also given to all those elders and Pastors and teachers who have been given this task after Peter. The Lord Jesus was about to leave this world, so now He appoints others to minister to His people.

For how long is this assignment to the elders to feed the flock of God?

Do we find anywhere in the Scriptures a verse that terminates the task of the elders to give the Word of God?

No! On the contrary. When Christ finalized the command to celebrate the Lord's Supper He said in 1 Corinthians 11:26,

1 Corinthians 11:26
For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord's death till he come.

How long do we continue to celebrate the Lord's Supper?

Till He come!

And the task of the elders to show the congregation the meaning of the Lord's Supper must continue till Christ comes again.

Three times did Jesus ask Peter: "Simon, of Jonas, lovest thou Me?"

Peter was not grieved because he was insulted that Jesus questioned his love three times. Peter was grieved because he was reminded of that terrible night when he denied his Lord three times in the courtyard of the high priest. But now three times Jesus reinstated Peter as the Undershepherd of His flock.

Why did Jesus single out Simon Peter in John 21?

It is because Peter was at that time the spokesman for that group of disciples. Peter was the leading elder of that group. Jesus singled out Peter, because Peter would later speak about this same command from Jesus in an address to the elders of the churches. We find in 1 Peter 5:1,

An Instruction to the Elders (1 Peter 5:1-3)

1 Peter 5:1
The elders which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder, and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed:

1 Peter 5:2
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;

1 Peter 5:3
Neither as being lords over God's heritage, but being ensamples to the flock.

Peter is not speaking to the elders in age, but to men who have been elected, and appointed, and ordained to teach and preach the Word of God. Peter says that he too is such an elder, and that he is a witness of the sufferings of Christ. He has seen the sufferings of Christ. Not only Peter, but also all of us who have become saved are witnesses of the sufferings of Christ. We have seen it, not with our physical eyes, but with the eyes of faith. We too, like Peter are partakers of the glorious New Heaven & New Earth.

Then Peter recalled the commission that Jesus gave him and to the elders: "Feed the flock of God" and be overseers of the congregation. Make sure that in all spiritual matters the congregation is being fed. Explain to them what the pure Word of God says. Mingle with them. Get to know them personally. Take time out to help them wherever you can. You elders have not been assigned this task by constraint, but you have accepted it willingly. Likewise, if you need something done, don't twist their arm, but let them do it willingly. Serve this congregation, but not for filthy lucre, not for making money out of it. "Freely ye have received, freely give". You are not serving a worldly corporation, but you are serving the Church of God, which Christ also loved, and gave Himself for it. The Church of God is operated by totally different rules than a secular corporation.

Therefore, be not lords over God's heritage. You as elders are to be servants to the congregation, and you are servants to Christ. Therefore you must be examples to the flock. Be examples to them in word and in deed. Be available to them every Sunday and be patient with them, like God is patient with you. I am saying that, but I still need to learn patience myself. And I am sure that all of us need to learn a great deal from God's exhortation here in 1 Peter 5.

You might say: "This is addressed to the elders. I am not an elder". But God's instruction to the elders in these first three verses is not only for the benefit of the elders. God gave us here the rules under which the Church must operate. The Lord Jesus commissioned Peter to "Feed the flock of God", and Peter commissioned others to "Feed the flock of God, and taking the oversight thereof".

How long should this practice last?

Well, the next verse indicates: "When the chief Shepherd shall appear". But first I want to speak about verses 5 through 7, which speak about:

Submit Yourselves Unto the Elders (1 Peter 5:5-7, Hebrews 13:7,17,24)

1 Peter 5:5
Likewise, ye younger, submit yourselves unto the elder. Yea, all of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble.

1 Peter 5:6-7
Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time: Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you.

God is not saying here that the younger people must always submit themselves to the older people. The word "elder" in verse 5 is the same word as "elders" in verse 1, and the meaning is the same. But since Pastors and elders are usually men of years, the title elder usually refers to someone in the office of elder, who is not only experienced in the Scriptures, but also well in age. Therefore, verse 5 says that those younger in the faith should submit themselves to those who are older in the faith, especially submit to those who have been appointed to be the ruling elders in the congregation. God calls us to humble ourselves and be subject to the ruling elders. Moreover, all of us must be subject one to another, which means that we all are to care for one another and be willing to listen to spiritual counsel from one another. None of us should be so proud that we could not learn from one another.

God cares for us, so why could He not send someone in the congregation to help us?

We need to be clear on this matter of submitting to the elders, and we need to be clear on how long this condition should last in the Church. God says in Hebrews 13:7,

Hebrews 13:7
Remember them which have the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the word of God: whose faith follow, considering the end of their conversation.

God has more to say about our relationship to the ruling elders. God says in verse 17,

Hebrews 13:17
Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you.

God gave us here clear rules for the New Testament Church: The congregation must submit themselves to the elders that have the rule over them, because God has appointed the elders to this function and the elders watch for the spiritual health of the congregation. It is to your benefit that they do it with joy. God established these rules for our benefit, in order that all things are done decently and in good order. Since God has appointed these rules, nobody should claim that these rules have been abolished. We do not find anywhere a clear statement that the government of the church by the elders has come to an end. In fact verse 24 enforces again the position of the elders. We read in:

Hebrews 13:24
Salute all them that have the rule over you, and all the saints. They of Italy salute you.

We shall now look at one more verse in I Peter 5. God says there:

"When the Chief Shepherd Shall Appear" (1 Peter 5:4)

In the first three verses of 1 Peter, chapter 5, God addresses the ruling elders. In verses 5, 6 and 7 God addresses those who are to submit themselves to the elders. The question has been raised by someone, "How long will this condition remain in the New Testament Church? Until when is the New Testament. Church to be ruled by elders and are we to submit ourselves to the elders?"

Is it not curious that God wedged in between those two paragraphs 1 Peters 5:4,

1 Peter 5:4
And when the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away.

This crown of glory is eternal life with God in the New Heaven & New Earth. This crown of glory is not given to the elders only, but also to those who are called to submit themselves to the elders. Every true believer receives the same crown of glory. The position of verse 4 strongly suggests that ruling elders will be in the church until Christ returns on the clouds of glory. That is when the job of elder shall end. Christ is the chief Shepherd. We are only Undershepherds. The elders are called ruling elders, but they have been elected by the congregation to serve, and they have been appointed by God to serve the congregation. Thus the elders are not lording it over the congregation, but they are servants of the congregation, just like the Pastor is a servant of the congregation.

What can be more glorious than the commendation of our Lord, when He says:
"Well done, good and faithful servant, enter thou into the joy of thy Lord".


We will now turn to the Acts of the Apostles, chapter 20. We find here another:

Instruction to the Elders (Acts 20:26-28, 1 Timothy 6:13-14)

In Acts chapter 20 the Apostle Paul gave his farewell sermon to the elders of the church at Ephesus. In the middle of his sermon to the Ephesian elders the Apostle Paul said:

Acts 20:26
Wherefore I take you to record this day, that I am pure from the blood of all men.

Acts 20:27
For I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God.

Acts 20:28
Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood.

Take heed, be on your toes, for yourselves and for all the flock over which God the Holy Spirit has made you overseers.

If God has put them in their job as overseers, would God then at some point in time take back from them this appointment to be overseers of the congregation?

No! Take heed elders, overseers; keep preaching the pure Word of God to your church, which He has purchased with His own precious blood. These days there are people who declare that the church is dead and that the elders are no longer elders.

Is God an Indian giver?

God forbid! Therefore, take heed. "Let God be true, but every man a liar". Fear not to declare all the counsel of God. Fear not to take away all the high places. And when the chief Shepherd appears let this commendation be said of you:
"Wherefore I take you to record this day, that I am pure from the blood of all men. For I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God."

In 1 Timothy the Apostle Paul instructs his spiritual son Timothy various things on the proper operation of a church. At the same time God gives these instructions to all the elders and Pastors of the New Testament church. In the second half of chapter 6 God tells Timothy and He tells us to fight the good fight, and God says:

1 Timothy 6:13
I give thee charge in the sight of God, who quickeneth all things, and before Christ Jesus, who before Pontius Pilate witnessed a good confession;

1 Timothy 6:14
That thou keep this commandment without spot, unrebukeable, until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ:

A solemn charge is laid before Timothy, before all ministers of the Gospel and before all believers to fight the good fight of faith, to observe the doctrine and discipline of the church, and to preach the Gospel of the grace of Christ in sincerity, purity and without compromise. We seek not the praise, approval and honor which comes from men, but we preach, walk and live before God. We keep doing this without interruption until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ on the clouds of glory.

That is why we must take heed that we elders are faithful Undershepherds, rather than cowardly hirelings. Let us return now to Acts chapter 20. God warns us there about:

Grievous Wolves Among You (Acts 20:29-31, Jeremiah 17:5)

Speaking to the church at Ephesus, God warned that church, and He warned the New Testament church in:

Acts 20:29
For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock.

Acts 20:30
Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them.

Acts 20:31
Therefore watch, and remember, that by the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears.

God warned them that soon after the departing of the Apostle Paul grievous wolves would enter this congregation, and draw away many people with them into Hell.

Who would do such a dastardly thing?

The Apostle Paul looked the Ephesian elders straight in the eyes and he said: "Of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them". Out of that highly privileged group of elders standing before him would arise some, who would be preaching a false gospel, and thereby lead many people astray.

If this could happen to the church at Ephesus, where the Apostle Paul labored for three years, then certainly it could happen to us also. Therefore, take heed, because the wolves are at the door. Be on your toes. Check everything out in your Bible. Never assume that it is right because so and so says it. In fact, if we depend on the wisdom of man to keep us straight, then we are certainly going to be disappointed. God says in the middle verse of the Bible, Jeremiah 17:5,

Jeremiah 17:5
Thus saith the LORD; Cursed be the man that trusteth in man, and maketh flesh his arm, and whose heart departeth from the LORD.

We cannot fully trust man. We can only trust God and the Word of God.

For example: Signs of the end of the world are events in creation, in history and in the church that show that the end of the world is near. Such an event in creation would be an earthquake; such an event in history would be war; such an event in the church would be worldwide apostasy. These signs are specified in the Scriptures, and they are events that take place out in the open, where they are obvious to everybody. They are not private, secret signs that are given to a few special individuals by special revelation. This has always been a characteristic of the cults. The secrecy of these revelations contradicts the very idea of the biblical signs of the end, for biblical signs are open and obvious. Do not listen to those who say: "I have some private, secret information about Christ's coming. Listen to me, and follow me." If we lend our ears to such silly talk then we are endangering ourselves to be sucked into a cult.

The Apostle Paul says: "Therefore watch, and remember, that by the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears."

Watch and pray. Pray for your Pastor, that he may remain faithful. Pray that we will not be influenced by men to go in a direction, which is altogether an unbiblical direction. And in the end we must leave it all in the hands of God. Therefore Paul says:

"I Commend You to God" (Acts 20:32, Psalm 23:4-6)

We read in Acts 20:32,

Acts 20:32
And now, brethren, I commend you to God, and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up, and to give you an inheritance among all them which are sanctified.

The Apostle says: And now I leave you in the care of God, and I leave you with the Word of God, which he so beautifully titles "the Word of His grace". Indeed it is the Word of His grace. It is through the words of the Bible that the grace of God reaches the hearts of men. It is through the words of the Bible that the grace of God keeps us on the strait and narrow. It is through the words of the Bible that the grace of God teaches us to discern right from wrong. The Word of His grace is able to build you up and to make you spiritually grow in grace. The Word of His grace is able to keep your Pastor faithful. I don't know if you are aware of it, but these days it is very difficult to remain faithful to everything the Bible has to say, because every day we are bombarded with all kinds of deviations from the Truth. These days our church is bombarded with all kinds of nonsense, and our church is not equipped to face all those challenges. We are at the entrance of deep and dark days, because the churches that we thought were our allies are falling by the wayside. We find ourselves to be an independent church, which really stands alone, dependent on no one, and abandoned by everyone. Only by the grace of God can we remain faithful. Only by the grace of God shall we be preserved for an eternity with God, who will "give us an inheritance among all them which are sanctified."

So all I can say is: "I commend you to God". God will know what is best for us.

But we can always trust in the Word of His grace, where we can find these comforting words:

Psalm 23:4
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.

Psalm 23:5
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.

Psalm 23:6
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.

Think of the faithfulness of the Lord Jesus Christ, that He was willing to endure Hell for us, in our place.

And would He now abandon us?

No way!

Even though we are at the entrance of deep and dark days and we feel abandoned by everyone, remember those words:
"I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me."

When the Lord Jesus said: "Feed My sheep", the Apostle Peter found out how difficult this assignment was. When I received this commission, several years ago, little did I know how difficult this assignment was. But by the grace of God we will persevere to the end.

By Alfred Chompff

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