15 When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.” 16 A second time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.” 17 He said to him the third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep (John 21:15-17 NRSV)
You may read the above passage and think: “I’m not Peter. I’m not a pastor. I’m not even a leader in our church, so why would this passage of scripture be important to me?” Here are three reasons.
1. All Christians need a dreadful reminder.
By the third time Peter is asked by Jesus “Do you love me?” he is frustrated and feeling hurt. The question is asked three times by a charcoal fire, not unlike the one by which Peter denied Jesus three times. It is a question designed to remind Peter that it was not that long ago that he was not acting like he loved Him. It is like Jesus is saying “are you really sure you love me? The way you acted back there would say otherwise.”
Here we do not have the “forgive and forget” that we might expect from Jesus. Instead we have “remind and forgive” which actually is much better. While “forgive and forget” might remove the penalty of our sin, “remind and forgive” removes the penalty of sin and spurs us on to remove the future potential of sin. Peter will go on to take care of the sheep, not just from a place of forgiveness, but also a place of repentance. The reminder of his offence is an invitation to do better. According to what we read in verses 18 and 19, Jesus knows that he will. Though you may not be Peter, or a pastor, or a leader, chances are good that you, like the rest of us, can truly benefit from our Lord’s “remind and forgive” approach.
2. All Christians want to express love for Jesus.
While we can and should express our love for Jesus through worship, prayer, and Bible study, we do well to remember what Jesus is asking of Peter: “If you truly love me Peter, you will take care of my sheep.” If we truly love Jesus, we will make His priorities, our priorities.
And His priority time and time again, and to the glory of God, is people. Jesus prayed in the Garden the night before his crucifixion “yet, not my will but yours be done” (Luke 22:42 NRSV). And that will was to go through with the crucifixion, to bear sin of people. People are a priority for Jesus. We can commit ourselves to all manner of godly activities, but are we really about our Father’s will if people are not a huge part of our lives? You may not be Peter, or a pastor, or even a leader in your church, but if you really love Jesus, people will be a priority in your life.
3. All Christians have pastoral opportunities.
The word pastor comes from Latin where it means shepherd or feeder (Dictionary.com). Every Christian can think of people in their lives for whom they can be a shepherd.
There is a lot of emphasis these days within Christian circles on “leadership development.” That is good, yes, but sometimes I wonder if there are times we should use the word leader less often and use the word shepherd instead. Leaders get things done and that is good. But shepherds feed and tend the sheep and that is so important. Perhaps you do not feel like “leadership” material, but do you love and have concern for others? Then you are well on your way to being a shepherd. Whether you are a natural leader, or follower, watch for how the Lord calls and enables you through his Spirit to be shepherd to others. You may not be Peter, a pastor, or even a leader in your church, but are you developing a shepherd heart? Why not think and pray over who needs you to be, or better, for whom God is calling you to be, a shepherd.
“If you really love me, you will feed my sheep.” What a great insight for us all.