When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” … “Feed my lambs.” … “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” … “Tend my sheep.” … Simon, son of John, do you love me?” … “Feed my sheep”… “Follow me.”
Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved … When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, “Lord, what about this man?” Jesus said to him, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!”
The conclusion of John’s gospel should be a great encouragement to us when we think about Gospel ministry. In His final interaction with Peter, Jesus not only restores him to ministry but gives him a direction and an encouragement to persevere in ministry despite what transpires around him. He is reminded to keep his eyes focused on Christ and his heart set on those whom Christ puts under his care. This two-fold commission is the task for of each of us in the church and it is amazing how easy it is to lose sight of these simple tasks every day for the distractions and aspiration of the world.
In each of the opening questions put before Peter, Jesus is asking him does he Love him. Not long before we saw Peter turn away and deny Christ and now, we see Christ restoring him and preparing him for ministry by revealing his heart. Peter never stopped loving the Lord he allowed fear to turn his eyes away from following Christ and in that moment, he lost sight of the goal. Now, Jesus lays before him the reality that the love he has for Christ comes with a mission to follow Him while feeding & tending the sheep the Lord places before him. Peter is being commissioned to be an ambassador of Christ and proclaim the good news and build up the church.
This is the task that remains for us now in ministry. We too are called to tend and feed the sheep that the Lord has placed under our care. Every day we labor in the Word and prayer for the good of others. We see the task that Peter is being given is a heavy one, and a beautiful one, not flowing from selfish ambition, but from a love for Christ. This is paramount to our task in ministry. If our goal is ever to make much of us and not to love Christ, we have lost the very heart of our purpose as shepherds. Our first and primary role flows from a love for Christ and in that love a love for those we are given to care for daily in word and prayer.
The second aspect of our love for Christ is seen in our call to follow Him. We are not called to feed and tend the flock of God by our own wisdom or creativity, but by following the word of Christ alone. He has given us all we need to tend to and love those whom He has placed under our care. He has given us the Word which reveals all we need for life and godliness. In the Word we are shown how to love them well and pray for them, and from this love and knowledge we seek to minister to them in their brokenness leading them back to Christ day by day as he leads us back to himself day by day. We cannot divert our eyes from following Him, for as we do we begin to lose track of the one who saved us and the one who sustains us, we can quickly begin to build a new foundation based on ourselves. When we stop following Christ in how we lead we will lead wrongly, we will feed and tend to the flock no longer out of love for Christ, but out of a misplaced love for ourselves and our name. This is why I think we see Peter corrected in the end one last time as he points to John and asks what the Lord’s plans are for him. In this moment, Christ quickly points out that it is not his to worry about. His task is to follow Christ wherever that leads and to care for those he is given along the way, and the Lord will lead John and given to him those to tend and feed of whom he will give an answer.
This final admonition is one we need to be reminded of, especially in ministry. The Lord has a plan and task for each and everyone of us. He has people whom he will place among us to love and minister to daily. It is these whom we will give an answer for and it is these whom he has called us to give of ourselves to feed and tend as we seek him. This knowledge should free us from jealousy of other people’s ministry, it should free us from the burden to seek within ourselves some new and creative gimmick and it should alleviate the stress of performance anxiety. This should lead us to lovingly care for those before us and pray for our brothers in Christ as they labor for those under their care.