In the familiar passage containing Jesus’ dialog with Peter in John 21, we all recognize Jesus’ triple admonition: “Feed my lambs”, “Tend my sheep” and “Feed my sheep.”
First, some have sought to make much of the nuances between sheep and lambs, and between feed and tend. While there may be something to teasing those things out, it seems to me they primarily round out the pastoral role with 2 emphases: 1 – God’s people need attended to, especially in terms of their basic, daily provision in feeding; 2 – These are Christ’s sheep, not ours. The thrice repeated “my” is not to be overlooked. Those committed to our care belong not to us, but to Him. And we will give an account of how we have treated, fed, tended to – shepherded His flock.
Second, God’s people are to understand themselves as His own, and that He has appointed some to see to their care and feeding. As most point out, shepherding revolves mainly around, feeding, leading and protecting. God’s people are on their way somewhere, and we need to lead them there. Obvious in that is that if we ourselves are not actually going anywhere, we can’t lead them anywhere either. If we are not pursuing Christ’s likeness on the road to Zion, we’re lost, and they will wander with us. Along the way there will be those who wish to harm them, and we must protect and warn them as best we can. Even as they acknowledge their need to be warned and protected. False doctrines abound. Distractions from seeking Christ and Heaven are everywhere. Those who would take advantage of them to line their pockets, boost their egos or simply maliciously abuse them in obtaining power are never in short supply. And the tendency toward wanting to feed our souls more on curiosities, our fleshly tastes and things which have no eternal value is inherent in our fallenness. It’s work.
Third, and my focus here, is that even as Christ’s charge centers upon feeding, that delightful and potent image has to inform us. Feed; not entertain. Feed; not beat. Feed; not berate. Feed; not inspire, enthuse, overload, under-nourish, replicate ourselves, force our opinions or school them in our personal preferences – feed. And I am certain here that no one would argue that such feeding is anything other than the milk, the meat and the bread of God’s Word.
And herein is my real point today. Spiritual growth and change is not the result of we preachers and teachers giving one life altering, soul-shattering, eternally impacting sermon after another – but the steady, faithful, preparation and delivering of God’s Word. Continually pouring into the life so as to sustain it over time, and not trying to transform it by bursts in singular, transformative sermons.
Take the pressure off of yourself to preach THE sermon that will shake the world. Feed His sheep. Stop trying to produce sermonic home runs every week. Feed His sheep. No, they won’t “get it” because you felt especially lit up last Sunday. They need a regular, consistent diet of Biblical truth which sustains day to day, and produces true growth over time. And it is in this very mundane, routine work of providing Christ to their souls that the real work is done. Strength for today, and slow, steady growth.
Yes, even in the natural, there are some growth spurts when we are younger. But as we age, not so much. Sudden impact change is not the norm. We are to “grow up into Him” as Paul says. To grow in grace. Not to blow up over night or because someone preached a real hay-burner last week.
Don’t despise, look down on or treat lightly the week in and week out labor of providing meal after meal after meal. One of the joys I’ve had in my life is to have eaten in some of the finest restaurants in the world. And not a one of those meals changed me. No matter how extravagant, well prepared, succulent or nourishing. Each, in the end, was only one meal. None of them by themselves made any permanent alteration. There’s not a one I could walk away from and say “man! that’s the meal I’ve been waiting for all my life – and now everything is different!” By the next morning, I was hungry again, and needed yet another meal to sustain me. And it is just so with the souls of men.
Brother, just feed His sheep. You sustain them best by simply giving them meal after meal after meal. And that is our call. Not to win a blue ribbon. To sustain them until they reach glory. It isn’t glamorous. But it is an unspeakable privilege, and eternally glorious.
Now, congregant. A last word to you. Please don’t require more of your shepherds than what Christ has charged. If they are regularly feeding you the soul-sustaining Word of God – praise your Savior for it. Maybe they don’t use the same spices someone else does. Maybe they don’t serve it in a flaming pan by the table. Maybe there aren’t any Michelin stars on the marquee. Maybe they do not excel in eloquence. Did you need your Mom to be a master chef in order to serve what sustained you into adulthood? It is the sustenance, the Word of God which takes priority, not the china it is served on, the flourish with which it is delivered nor the thread count in the table cloth. Meat, vegetables, fruit, bread and drink. These are all we can eat. There may be varieties of each, but when all is said and done – those are what have fed and sustained us. And so it is the manna God has provided for us in this wilderness until He takes us into the Promised Land. We can boil it, fry it, bake it, spit-roast it, saute it, puree it, grill it or eat it raw – but it is the only food-stuff He has given our shepherds to feed us with. And if they are doing so – let us not just be content, but grateful and satisfied. For it is only this regular diet which will enable us to grow in the likeness of our Redeemer.
End note: I’ll just bet growing up, Jesus heard a lot of pretty poor sermons in His local synagogue. Certainly no one who could preach or teach on His level. But we find Him there don’t we? Because it was where God’s Word was read, and expounded. Where God was worshiped. And that was enough. Even for Him.