A Crucial Address to the Overseers — Part 1
By T.A. McMahon
So when they had dined, Jesus saith to Simon Peter, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me more than these? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my lambs. He saith to him again the second time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my sheep. He saith unto him the third time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? Peter was grieved because he said unto him the third time, Lovest thou me? And he said unto him, Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee. Jesus saith unto him, Feed my sheep. —John:21:15-17
It’s always an honor and a privilege for me to address those who are in church leadership, and by God’s grace to share some thoughts that I pray will prove helpful as you minister to God’s flock. I consider yours to be the most difficult of all the Lord’s callings. Certainly it’s an impossible task without the conviction of God upon you. I’ve known some who have attempted to shepherd the Lord’s sheep without His calling, and it was a disaster, both for the presumptuous leader and the congregation he led.
The words of Jesus to Peter (referenced above) cut to the heart of the matter when it comes to one’s calling. It all comes down to whether or not one loves Jesus.
Three times Jesus asks Peter if he loves Him, and three times Peter says yes. His last response is a great deal more emphatic than the other two: “Thou knowest that I love thee.” More often than not, some of us, perhaps many of us, throw out the phrase “I love you” or just “love you” as a nice sounding thing to say…or a reflex…but we do little or nothing to support the words. Yet Jesus doesn’t let Peter’s response rest on words, however sincere. He gives him instructions that when obeyed will prove Peter’s love for his Lord.
There’s a strong connection between obedience and love. In fact, obedience is often a demonstration of one’s love. I’ve been asked, “So what’s the deal with Adam and Eve’s sin? Seems like much ado about nothing. All that fuss over eating a piece of fruit! I don’t get it.” I wouldn’t get it either, if taking a bite of the forbidden fruit was the issue. No. The critical issue was “obedience.”
Jesus, in John:14:21-24 and in many other places, underscores the relationship between love and obedience: “He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him. Jesus answered and said unto him, If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him. He that loveth me not keepeth not my sayings: and the word which ye hear is not mine, but the Father’s which sent me” [emphasis added].
Those of you who are raising children, or who have raised them, know that a child who says he loves you but majors in disobedience is demonstrating love in this way: he loves himself more than he loves his parents. Adam and Eve demonstrated that they loved themselves more than they loved their Creator. Jesus gave Peter instructions that he was to follow—“feed My sheep”—thereby demonstrating the love that he had repeatedly declared to his Lord and Savior.
What then should Peter feed the Lord’s sheep? How about this: everything that Jesus said and did! I love the way this is presented throughout Scripture. It’s called the “full counsel of God,” “all Scripture,” “the Word of the Lord,” “the Gospel,” “sound doctrine,” “the entirety of Thy Word,” “every word that proceedeth from the mouth of God,” and so on. In other words, Peter was to feed them—Jesus! Jesus is the “Word…made flesh.”
Jesus underscored the overall content of that food when He said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (John:14:6). Think about that for a moment. What’s left out of that? With what might we supplement it? Absolutely nothing! If you were to survey those who profess to be biblical Christians, you would very likely find that many would claim to believe in the inerrancy of the Scriptures and the authority of the Bible. However, there’s another claim made by the Word of God that, in practice, is missing from many who profess to believe it, and that is the sufficiency of the Scriptures.
This is a huge problem. In what way, you ask? Well, consider a three-legged stool. Let’s say one leg stands for the Bible’s inerrancy, the second leg its authority. The third leg is its sufficiency. What happens to a three-legged stool when one of the legs is missing? It becomes unstable and is no doubt ripe for a collapse. Here’s how the matter plays out logically. If the Bible is viewed as not sufficient (contrary to its claims), then its complete authority breaks down. That being the case, one will look outside the Bible for information, turning to other so-called authorities or experts. Being viewed as insufficient and therefore lacking absolute authority, what does that say about the belief in its inerrancy? Well, we’re left with a confusing mixture of God’s perfect wisdom and fallen mankind’s imperfect wisdom (and worse), which renders the inerrancy of God’s Word meaningless.
But does the Bible claim to be sufficient? Peter tells us that it does. Second Peter 1:2-4 states, “Grace and peace be multiplied unto you through the knowledge of God, and of Jesus our Lord, According as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue: Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust” [emphasis added].
Other scriptures, such as 2 Timothy:3:16-17, declare that, “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.”
But I love Peter, especially the incredible change seen in Him from Pentecost on, and also in his two Epistles. Earlier on, it seemed that he suffered at times from “foot-in-mouth” disease. Nevertheless, his words to Jesus as recorded in John chapter 6 indicate that he knew of the sufficiency in Christ. When others were turning away from the Lord, Scripture tells us, “Then Simon Peter answered him, Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life” (John:6:68).
Peter got that right, but, sadly, more and more believers in Christ today are going elsewhere for “things that pertain to life and godliness.” Tragically, in some cases many are being led that way by their churches, in which the leadership refers members of their fellowship to professionals for psychological counseling. If this is taking place in your fellowship—whether they call themselves Christian psychologists or Marriage and Family counselors or whatever label they choose to give themselves—I have two words for your fellowship: stop it!
We need to take the counsel given by Nehemiah, who, when he learned that a chamber had been made for the wicked Tobiah in the courts of the Temple, Scripture tells us, was “grieved sore; therefore [he] cast forth all the household stuff of Tobiah out of the chamber.” The church needs to do the same today with the psychobabble that has set up shop within its hallowed walls.
(If you would like more reasons than just psychology’s denial of the sufficiency of God’s Word, TBC has a host of resources spelling out psychotherapy’s damaging effects, both from the secular researchers and—more importantly—the Scriptures. You can see more at thebereancall.org or thebereancall.com).
Let’s consider a little deeper the words of Jesus in John:14:6: “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” What might there be outside of what He claims that would be of eternal value? Nothing. What about our temporal side of life? Can’t we look to experts in certain fields to help us in matters of living? Of course! I’m not interested in having my appendix removed by someone whose only degree is in theology or whose education was obtained through attending a Bible college or who simply reads the Bible and does what it says.
On the other hand, I would love to be ministered to or helped by any person, whether in the medical profession or otherwise, who is tops in his or her field and is also a born-again Christian. Such a person with medical expertise would provide temporal value by meeting my particular need, e.g., successfully removing my appendix, but that person could also minister to my spiritual needs as a brother or sister in Christ. That spiritual support might happen through prayer, encouragement from the Word, and doing their business according to the spiritual/moral/ethical teachings of the Word, and so forth. It’s a mixture of physical temporal values and spiritual eternal values.
Continuing with the words of Jesus, “I am the way, the truth, and the life,” what’s missing regarding “all things that pertain to godliness through the knowledge of Him…”? Is there anything in these words of eternal value that Jesus has left out? No! There is no other way, no other truth, and no other life.
Yet if you can believe the current surveys by Barna and others who are asking evangelical Christians if they believe there’s another way to heaven apart from Jesus, more than half declare that there is! Perhaps they’re sincerely trying to show how loving and accepting God is. I don’t know their hearts. But I do know that they’re unwittingly demonstrating that they are “ashamed of the gospel” (Romans:1:16). Worse yet, they’re calling a liar the One who claimed, “…no man cometh unto the Father, but by me” (John:14:6).
The same slanderous implication of being a liar would also apply to Peter in Acts:4:12, when he declared, “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.” In obedience to Christ’s instructions, Peter fed to Christ’s lambs and sheep Jesus himself. He fed them “the way, the truth, and the life.”
I grew up Roman Catholic, and I was taught that when I received the wafer at communion I was eating the literal body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus Christ under the appearance of bread and wine. Still today, supposedly the priest has the power to transubstantiate, or change, the bread and wine into Jesus, although it continued to resemble bread and wine. The transubstantiated bread or host was then worshiped as Jesus himself.
Many Catholics accuse evangelicals of taking everything they read in the Bible literally. Not true. If that were the case we would believe that God is a chicken. Why do I say that? Psalm:91:4 says that God “shall cover thee with his feathers, and under his wings shalt thou trust: his truth shall be thy shield and buckler.” We don’t take it literally that God has feathers and wings. We recognize that the words are figurative, meaning they simply indicate that God will protect believers from the snare of the fowler, referring to Satan. Catholics, on the other hand, make a huge error by taking literally a verse that is clearly figurative. In John chapter 6:53-54 Jesus declares, “Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you. Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day.”
How do I know that we’re not to take that literally? There are three obvious reasons: First of all, to eat human flesh is the horrific outcome of people who are in dire straits under the judgment of God (Lv 26:28-29; Jer:19:8-9). Jesus would never condone such an evil activity as cannibalism. Secondly, the act itself is devoid of any physical or spiritual benefit. What does one learn from that repeated ritualistic act performed on Catholic altars? Nothing is learned, at least as it relates to what the Bible tells us. In fact, it denies the truth of the finished work of Christ on the cross and turns the biblical act of taking communion into a mystical rite.
Do you know what the phrase “hocus pocus” means? It’s commonly used by those who perform magic tricks. Originally, however, it was used by Protestants to mock the Catholic priests who performed transubstantiation in the Mass. The priests used the Latin phrase Hoc est corpus meum, which is translated “This is my body.” That Latin phrase was later corrupted as “hocus pocus.”
Thirdly, Jesus makes it clear that His words given in John:6:63 are not to be taken literally but figuratively. He says, “…the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life.”
Getting back to Peter as he was instructed by Jesus to feed the Lord’s sheep, what might that food consist of? Jesus said in Luke:4:4, “It is written, that man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God.” Jesus is “the Word of God” (Revelation:19:13). So, I would surmise that Peter fed the Lord’s sheep Jesus himself—His way, His truth, and His life—and all that is presented in His Word. That’s the meaning of Christ’s words in John:6:53-54: “Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you. Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day.”
The question for you shepherds of the Lord’s flock, then, is: What are you feeding the sheep whom the Lord has given to your charge? Is it, first and foremost, Christ himself in all of His ways, His truth, and His life? How critical is one’s personal relationship with Jesus in regard to a believer’s fruitful life in Christ? Jesus tells us in no uncertain terms.
(To be continued)