Three times Jesus asked Peter if he loved Him. When Peter responded that he did, each time Jesus told him that if he loved Him to feed His sheep.
Peter was a fisherman by trade. When first called, Jesus said, “follow me and I will make you fishers of men” (Matt. 4:19). Now, after three years of discipleship just before Jesus was to leave to go back to heaven, the metaphor changes to shepherding. Jesus had previously made reference to sheep in His teaching so the concept was not new to Peter. Remember the parable of the lost sheep in Luke 15 and the rejoicing when it was found? Remember how Jesus referred to Himself as the Good Shepherd, in John 10, who lays down His life for the sheep? He perceived the crowds of people to be “harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (Matt. 9:36). But of those who belonged to Him, He said, “I know my sheep and my sheep know me” and “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:14, 27).
All people are like sheep, helpless and prone to wander. Not all sheep, however, belong to HIS fold. Jesus exhorted Peter, “Feed MY sheep.” Just as Jesus “came to seek and to save what was lost” (Lk. 19:10), so Peter would still share the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ. But, Jesus had a new assignment for Peter, that of shepherding His flock, the Church Jesus would institute after His ascension to heaven. Peter, one of the early church leaders, was given an entrustment. Jesus would still be THE GOOD SHEPHERD and as seen in 1 Peter 5:4, the CHIEF SHEPHERD. Make no mistake. The sheep belong to Jesus. Peter would be an “under-shepherd.”
After Jesus ascended and the church grew, elders were established in the local bodies who were given this same entrustment. Their primary responsibility likewise was shepherding the sheep. Click on this link for a breakdown of 1 Peter 5:1-4 where this instruction is given: Church Leadership Qualities – Be a Shepherd
Into this context we find Jesus first telling Peter “Feed my lambs (arnion)” followed by two instances of “Feed my sheep (probaton).” The original Greek language uses two different words, one meaning young or little lambs and the other signifying what could include more mature animals.
Jesus communicated a significant reality by using two different words. Not all of HIS sheep would be at the same spiritual growth level. The Church is made of of young converts and those who are further along in their walk. “Feed my lambs.” “Feed my sheep.” They both need to be fed but perhaps a distinction is made because both the feed and the means of feeding could have to be adapted. Little lambs need milk, not solid food (Heb. 5:12-14; 1 Pet. 2:2-3).
Questions for today’s under-shepherds:
Do you understand who it is God has entrusted to your care?
Do you know the condition of the flock entrusted to your care?
Though written for Bible teachers, the Teacher’s Role in Discipling Students Resource, could be of help to anyone involved in feeding His sheep. Through it you will learn:
- what constitutes spiritual maturity and what is required to get there
- what the stages of spiritual growth are and how to get to the next stage
- what spiritual growth principles must be kept in mind
- what the teacher’s role is in discipling students toward spiritual growth
Let me end with a reminder. We are entrusted with JESUS’ sheep. This is a stewardship. Let’s be found faithful in feeding His sheep.