Feed My Sheep

Bible Book: John  21 : 15-17
Subject: Church, Purpose of; Preaching; Christian Living; Discipleship; Sheep

An old farmer at a church convention laughed when he read the program. "Preacher," he said, "It's funny how you folks go at this church business. You've had sermons and talks all day long on how to get people to attend church. "Now, I've never heard a single speech at a farmers' convention on how to get cows to come up to the trough. Instead, we devote all our time learning what to put in the trough. We try to decide on the best kind of feed! I sorta have a notion that if you put in more time discussin' what to put in the trough, you wouldn't have to spend all that time on how to get folks to come to church!"

Was he right? Is our message irrelevant? A man said, "I've had many disappointments in life; but the greatest came years ago when I sneaked under a tent to see a circus and discovered I was in a revival meeting."

Is the church a deadly duty? Is the good news being given in such a way as to cause disappointment? Is the 'language of Zion" totally missing the man on the street? Are we really feeding the sheep?

Jesus said, "Simon . . . lovest thou me? Peter . . . said unto him, Lord . . . thou knowest that I love thee. Jesus saith unto him, Feed my sheep" (John 21:17).

This wasn't an idle request. It was a direct command. Good food is necessary for health and growth.

Now, it's significant that:

I. Jesus Didn't Say Entertain My Sheep!

Bringing in dazzling performers, hiring professional musicians and using big name stars don't edify the members or glorify the Lord. The Church is not a religious night club. When Jesus said, "Feed my sheep!" He meant spiritual meat and potatoes! Not cotton candy!

We're not told to hype people into an emotional state. We're not told to deal with exciting prophecy fads and sensational subjects. It's easy to attract people with the miraculous. If it's weird or different, it has appeal. Unfortunately these are not life sustaining themes.

Both Jesus and Paul clearly de-emphasized "off-beat" exotic subjects. In fact, Jesus criticized those who followed in hope of seeing signs! "The Pharisees and Sadducees . . . asked him to show them a sign from heaven. But he answered and said to them . . . An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign; and a sign will not be given it . . ." (Matt. 16:1-4).

Paul said tongues and eloquent oratory are much less important than simple kindness and concern. "If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal" (I Cor. 13:1).

When a baby is hungry, you can distract him momentarily with a noisy rattle or a bright jack-in-the-box; but such baubles won't nourish him or satisfy him permanently. The baby needs a balanced diet of good food and so does the Christian. We're to feed the sheep--not entertain them!

It's also significant that:

II. Jesus Didn't Say Pacify My Sheep!

Unctuous tones, trite statements and mindless rituals don't edify the members or glorify the Lord. The church is not supposed to induce hypnotic trances. When Jesus said, "Feed my sheep," he meant meat and potatoes, not cough drops and valium.

We're not told to lull the people into a complacent state! We're not told to repeat soothing ceremonies or intone traditional platitudes. It's easy to fool people with pleasant, shallow, superficial reassurances. If it's familiar and comforting it has appeal. Unfortunately, these are not life sustaining principles.

When a baby is hungry, you can give him a pacifier. But that won't solve the problems. Pretty soon the baby will realize that his stomach is still empty. The baby needs a balanced diet of good food and so does the Christian. We're to feed the sheep not pacify them.

It's also very significant that:

III. Jesus Didn't Say Punish My Sheep.

Angry tirades, hateful accusations and sarcastic putdowns don't edify the members or glorify the Lord. The Church is not a courtroom or a prison cell.

Some people are so sick psychologically that they think for medicine to do any good it has to taste bad! They don't feel like they've had a worship experience unless the preacher steps on their toes. They confuse guilt and fear with righteousness.

When Jesus said, "Feed my sheep," he meant "Give them spiritual meat and potatoes, not castor oil." We're not told to criticize or condemn or threaten. This never effects change. Attacks only make people more inflexible and set in their ways.

A Savior rescues, salvages, and heals. That's the exact opposite role of a policeman, a judge and an executioner.

When a baby is hungry, you can yell at him or spank him, and he may quit crying momentarily, but you haven't filled his need. In fact, you've increased his need. He's still hungry, but now he's also frightened and hurt and confused! The baby needs a balanced diet of good foot and so does the Christian.

We're to feed the sheep, not punish them.

Now, to really feed someone you must give them what they need, not necessarily what they want! As long as leaders and institutions cater to unworthy wants, they are neglecting and starving the sheep. A good leader must develop people to the point that they want what they need! That's maturity.

Let's evaluate our spiritual appetite. Do we want entertainment and cotton candy? Do we want pacification and cough drops? Do we want punishment and castor oil? Do we insist upon milk instead of solid food? These are serious questions.

A forty year old man lying in a crib nursing a bottle is a tragedy. A forty year old Christian sitting in a church pew demanding traditional platitudes is a worse tragedy!

Mature Christians crave spiritual meat. Jesus explained what meat was to him: He said, "My meat is to do the will of him that sent me, and to finish his work" (John 4:32,34).

Considered in that light, what should our "meat" include? What should we feed the sheep?

A. Well, first, there's love.

Jesus said, "Love me" (John 14:15); "Love one another" (John 13:335) and 15:12); and even "Love your enemies" (Matt. 5:44).

As Christians we must have a special kind of love that allows disagreement and respects opposition--a love that unifies without demanding conformity; a love that elevates the worth of each person.

Christianity is made for man, not man for Christianity! Legalistic creeds that turn people into neurotic hypocrites are immoral. Promotional schemes that use people as statistics to be manipulated are immoral!

The Scriptures specifically compares the church to the family, and the newborn soul to the new born child. If the family slapped a toddler every time he stumbled, do you think he'd ever learn to walk? Of course this doesn't happen. On the contrary, the older members pick him up, comfort him, and encourage him to try again, knowing full well that more falls will occurs. They're to be expected.

Yet, too often, the church family sits like a vulture, ready to pounce on new converts at the first sign of weakness. The "babe in Jesus" is slapped down by our smug expressions, our critical remarks, and our "holier than thou" attitudes.

Love is essential!

B. Second, there's tolerance.

Christians don't have to be identical. In Greek mythology, Procrustes, a cruel bandit forced each victim to lie on his bed. If the victim was too short, he was stretched on the rack. If he was too long, his legs were chopped off! Some Christians also insist upon fitting everyone to their own "doctrinal beds." Instead, we should allow various shades of interpretation.

Jesus said, "Blessed are the peacemakers . . ." (Matt. 5:9). We need peacemakers in the home as divorce and abuse increase. We need peacemakers on the streets as violence and protests multiply. We need peacemakers in the government as war and nuclear destruction threaten.

As peacemakers we must broaden our scope to include people who worship differently, who are more liberal or more conservative than we are. Jesus said, "If they operate in my name, forbid them not" (see Mark 9:38-40).

Christians viciously trying to destroy each other is disgraceful. Divisions and strife within the church have done more harm to the Gospel than all the atheism that ever existed!

Tolerance is essential!

C. Third, there's integrity.

Jesus said, "He who has seen me has seen the Father . . ." (John 14:9).

As Christians we now stand in the Lord's place. "As he was, so are we in this world" (I John 4:17).

Do people in this world, who see us in our everyday life, glimpse the nature of God? That's our purpose. Many modern men have never heard God's word because it's being expressed in a language foreign to their ears. They don't hear in "theological sermons." They don't hear in ancient Greek, or "King James." They will only hear Jesus as he speaks through us in our words and deeds. They will only see the Father, as He is reflected in our lives.

Integrity is essential.

D. Fourth, there's service.

Jesus said, "I did not come to be served, but to serve . . ." (Matt. 20:28).

Likewise the church must serve. The church is not a business that measures its success by statistics. It is not a police force that imposes religious precepts on a community. It is not a court of law that judges and sentences the guilty. The church is a hospital for sinners, not a museum for saints. As a hospital, it must welcome the socially halt, the emotionally lame and the morally blind. A hospital doesn't close its doors to those with disease and handicaps. These people are its very reason for existence. The same is true of the church. "Those that are whole need not a physician" (see Matt. 9:12).

Jesus associated with the so called "undesirables" saying, "I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners" (Matt. 9:13).

Service is essential!

E. Finally, there's commitment.

Unfortunately, in every church, there are those who want to enjoy the privileges of membership without assuming the responsibilities of discipleship. They are like sideline quarterbacks who sit in the stands and tell the coach how the game of football should be played. That won't do. We must get involved. Commitment is essential!


Two women who had traveled in Europe were swapping stories. "Did you see the church of St. Chappelle?" asked one. "Yes," answered the other." "Didn't you think it the most beautiful thing you had ever seen?" asked the first. "The other replied, "Well, I just saw it from a sightseeing bus." The other woman shook her head, "But, you can't see it from the outside looking in. You have to see it from the inside, looking outl"

That's true of the church. It can only be experienced from the inside out. Jesus said, "Feed my sheep." But what food should be eaten? That's the question. We may want chips and dips, but we need spinach! Malnourishment makes us weak. Christians need food that gives energy, strength and endurance.

Spiritual meat includes love, tolerance, integrity, service, and commitment.

Let's feed our sheep!