ESSENTIAL PRINCIPLES IN SERVING GOD

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TEXT: John 21:15-25

INTRODUCTION:

Have you ever been confused or disillusioned about your calling? Early in your experience, God spoke to you and called you to serve Him in a particular way. You knew it. You knew it was from God. You knew it! But then stuff happened. Then you tried and it didn’t work. There may have been a specific failure or you may have just felt very ineffective. In either case, you got so discouraged that you began to wonder if it would really ever happen.

Perhaps there are those here this evening who deeply need fresh assurance from God concerning His purpose for you. Sometimes we just need God to intervene and renew the call that He has on our lives.

  • That happened to Moses. As a young prince in Egypt he knew God had called him to deliver Israel. He did his best to fulfill that calling. But nothing worked out. In fact, he had to flee Egypt and live as a fugitive of justice. After 40 years in the wilderness I suspect he had pretty well given up on ever being a great deliver. That’s when the Lord intervened and he had his burning bush experience. God had not forgotten and God had not given up on His plan. Abraham got discouraged and God had to affirm His purposes for him.
  • There is Elijah, a great prophet of God, but when Jezebel threatened, he ran. There by the river he lay worn out, disillusioned, and discouraged. That’s when God met with him and re-established him in his calling.

And that’s what we see going on here in our text with Peter. This incident is not about God restoring Peter in his relationship with the Lord. That has already happened. That began immediately after Peter’s failure. Remember when the rooster crowed and Jesus looked into the eyes of Peter. That look of love and compassion melted Peter’s heart and the Bible says he went out and wept. He wept sincere tears of repentance.  After Jesus rose from the dead the first message sent from the empty grave was, “Go and tell his disciples and Peter…” Peter continued to be on Jesus’ mind and Jesus pursued his restoration.

In fact, after His resurrection He met privately with Peter. We do not know the conversation that took place in that meeting between Peter and Jesus. Some of our experiences with God are for public knowledge and some are very private and personal. Surely, in that quite time alone with Jesus, Peter’s fellowship with the Lord was restored. I share that because I don’t think our text this morning is about Peter’s fellowship with the Lord being restored. This is Peter’s restoration to ministry, his service for God. Peter may have felt that even though the Lord had forgiven him, he would never be trusted with ministry again. Would he ever be able to actually fulfill his destiny in God? Would he ever be the vessel of honor for God that he had hoped to be? This incident puts all those questions to rest. Here Jesus is re-establishing Peter’s ministry calling. Look with me at this incident and see how Jesus addresses the three most fundamental essentials of ministry or serving God: ministry motive, ministry assignment, and ministry focus.

1. MOTIVE

Jesus approaches the issue of motive with a question, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” In John 21:15 they have finished their breakfast. The practical, natural need for daily food has been met. Jesus has gently connected with these disciples. And now He turns His attention to one individual, Peter. “Simon son of John, do you love me?” While restoring Peter to ministry he begins with the most basic issue of allour love for the Lord Jesus Christ.

If you want to feel the impact of that question, put you own name there. “Jhun, do you love me? Willy, do you love me? Elma, do you love me? Justine, do you love me?” It is all fairly academic and remote until we make it personal in that way. “Do you love me,” Jesus asks.

There are all kinds of questions Jesus might have asked Peter that day. He might have begun with, “Why did you deny me? What were you thinking? What do you have to say for yourself?” Jesus is not implying that Peter doesn’t love Him. He is bringing Peter to the bedrock of what makes him tick. He is bringing him to an awareness of why he can and must serve. “Do you love me?” Nothing is more fundamental to who Peter is than that. No question is more basic to real ministry than that question. He does not ask him if he is a great speaker, a great people person. He does inquire about his seminary training or Bible knowledge. He doesn’t analyze his personality to see whether he has the people skills to do the job. All those factors are important. But they are not basic. The one basic qualification for ministry is found in this most probing question from Jesus, “Do you love me?”

He does not ask Peter, “Do you want a lot of rewards when you get to heaven? Do you want to be a real success in life?” Even closer to the issue, “Do you want to find your real destiny and be everything you were designed to be?” There is a measure of validity to those questions and they are addressed in Scripture. But there is a reason for ministry that is more important and more powerful than any of those motives.

That is the only motive for ministry that will endure the test. He doesn’t even ask, “Do you love people?” Ministry does not begin with a love for people. It begins with a love for God and that love overflows to people. If we ministry only out of a humanistic love for people we will be people-pleasers rather than a God-pleasers. We ultimately will not help them nor serve the purposes of God. But if everything begins with a holy love toward the Lord we will love people and we will serve their best interest—not always their whims and desires but always their best interest. Nothing will keep ministry on course like a deep love for the Lord. Nothing will carry us through the hard times like a sincere devotion to Christ. Love is strong and powerful. It wakes the mother up in the middle of the night to care for her little ones. It is stronger than the adversity that will inevitably be encountered as we serve. Love is its own reward for it finds its satisfaction in the highest good for its object. When all else fails, love will not fail. “Many waters cannot quench love; rivers cannot wash it away.”

We are observing Peter’s ordination service and the questioning committee is one person, Jesus. He has but one question, “Do you love me?” If the answer is yes, then we have a good foundation out of which to minister. Without that love and devotion all the training, and skills, and natural talents mean nothing.

Here is the encouraging thing. Anybody can love the Lord. You don’t have to have a great, charismatic personality. You don’t have to have a high IQ or even be good looking. Everybody in this room can qualify on this most important issue of all.

I have preached sermons where I made much about the difference between Jesus’ uses of the word “agapao” and “phileo” in this text. That is really not the point of the passage. Even the comment made in John 21:17 about this being the third time Jesus asked the question tells us the words were used in a rather interchangeable way. Jesus and Peter are not playing a word game. Jesus is probing the center of Peter’s heart and calling forth the highest motive for sacrificial service unto God.
Remember on the night before Jesus crucifixion how Peter had claimed a higher devotion to the Lord than the others. , “Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will.”  Now Jesus asks him, “Do you love me more than these?” This time Peter makes no comparisons. He has learned some lessons about the dangers inherent in that. It is a common error made by sincere people. When we feel a zeal for the Lord we may be tempted to ask why others don’t love God the way we do. I found out two things about that kind of thinking. First, they may love God more than I think. Who really knows what price someone else has paid? You may look at someone in ministry and say in your heart why him and not me? Sometimes the answer to that is simply, God is sovereign and has the right to make those decisions without answering to anyone. But there may be a history there that you don’t know as well as you think. That person may have passed tests that you and I didn’t even know exists. The other thing I have learned is what Peter learned in his experience. I may not know my own heart. I may not love God as much as I think. I may fail the next test that comes my way. “Let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.” Now Peter simply submits his answer to Christ’s omniscience. “”Yes Lord you know that I love you.” There is brokenness in his voice. There is tenderness. The tone is quite different from when he had boasted, “Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will.”

Why did Jesus press the question three times? He is emphasizing the importance of the issue. He is not centering on past failures or upon past successes but upon current realities. My qualification for ministry today is about the love for the Lord in my heart now. Do I love Him now? If I do I will serve His interests with all my heart. He will use anyone who loves Him.

Peter is being reinstated to his public ministry. Jesus is commissioning him to serve.

2. ASSIGNMENT

Jesus clearly states the assignment with these words, “Feed my sheep.”

If I love the Lord it will find expression in some very practical ways. Jesus didn’t say lay here on this shore and think about heaven. That’s not a bad thing but at some point we have to get up and feed sheep. He did not say find a place to hide so that you will not be corrupted by all these half hearted sheep. The call is to serve.

Love must be expressed. How will I express my love for the Lord? I will tend to that which He loves, His sheep. I can’t climb up into heaven and hand him a drink of cool water. He needs nothing like that from me for He sits in glory at the right hand of the Father. But he has said, “Inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.” The way I express my love to the Lord is found in the way I treat His people. 1 John 4:20 & 21 “If anyone says, “I love God,” yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. 21 And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother.”

How does our love for God affect our attitudes toward people? We grant them the same kind of favor God granted us. We care about them because they are valuable to Him—so valuable that he poured out his precious blood for their salvation. The only way I will treat people right is to place the same value on them as Jesus does. When I see people through Jesus’ eyes how will I see them? I will see them as sheep without a shepherd harassed by the enemy. I will have compassion upon them because that is Jesus’ heart toward them. I will sacrifice myself to shepherd them because that is what compassion demands. The natural response to loving the Lord is to feed his sheep.

Jesus uses two different verbs to express Peter’s ministry assignment. Both carry the idea of shepherding. The word “boskoo” emphasizes the aspect of feeding. The word “poimainoo” emphasizes the aspect of rule or leadership.  “Feed my sheep.” We all have some part in that. What is Jesus telling you to do for his sheep?

Here is Jesus committing the care of his blood bought children to Peter. That is significant in this context. Perhaps Peter and the others wondered if Jesus would ever trust him with anything important again after his failure. This is Jesus laying that issue to rest once and for all. There is a difference between forgiveness and trust. The one does not necessarily follow the other. But Jesus is confirming both toward Peter. Feed my lambs; feed my sheep.

  • Teachers when you get a little weary with the ministry God has given you to those rowdy kids, hear Jesus whisper in your ear, “Feed my lambs.”
  • When God lays it on your heart to see about a sick brother or sister, hear Jesus say to you, “Feed my sheep.”
  • Ushering, Praise and Worship, Media, Deaf, Women’s, Men’s, YA, YAPS, ETC. “Feed my sheep.”

Why do we do it? We do it because we love the Lord and his love overflows in our hearts toward others. I said earlier that ministry begins with our love for the Lord. But it does not end there. A genuine love for the Lord will extend itself to loving and serving people. Ministry is about people—their needs and their eternal destinies.

Watch how Peter takes this instruction and passes it on to others. 1 Peter 5:1-4 “To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder, a witness of Christ’s sufferings and one who also will share in the glory to be revealed: 2 Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers-not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve; 3 not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. 4 And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.”

This is not a call to a profession. It is a call to a life style. It is a call to maturity. It is a call to personal sacrifice. It is a call to serve others. Victor Frankel once said, “The more one forgets himself—by giving himself to a cause to serve or another person to love—the more human he is and the more he actualizes himself. Logotherapy deviates from psychoanalysis insofar as it considers a man a being whose main concern consists in fulfilling meaning rather than mere gratification…” The person who lives his or her life for mere gratification will never shepherd other people regardless of what position or title that person may hold. It’s not about a title. It’s about a tug on the heart that says I must tend to that which my Lord cares about.

Now Jesus tells Peter what this ministry will cost him. John 21:18 “I tell you the truth, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” Jesus is specifically talking about the way Peter will die. He will stretch out his hands on a cross and seal his testimony with blood. He had once boasted that he would lay down his life for the Lord. Shortly after that boast he shamefully shrunk back for the ordeal and denied the Lord. But God has a way of empowering us to do things we could never do in our own strength. He has a way of fulfilling His will in us even if it requires a deep work of grace to get us there. Eusebius, the historian tells us Peter was crucified upside down by Nero in about 68AD.[20] As John writes this gospel, that has already happened.[21]

Your calling may not lead to a martyr’s death. But if you follow Jesus, it will lead to a death to the self life. The call of God means that we recognize that we are not our own—we recognize that we are not fancy free to just do anything we want to do—the Holy Spirit will lead us in the direction that God has for us. I think we easily lose sight of that in Philippines. I am not free to just follow any ambition that suits my fancy. I am a servant of the Lord and I must ask Him what He would have me to do. Are you submitting your plans to Him for approval or are you asking Him to show you His plans so you can obey them?

Here is an amazing thing that happens in our text. Peter is talking face to face with the resurrected Christ. He is having a defining moment in his life with the Lord. He is, no doubt, feeling the pressure and responsibility of the call. Jesus says to him, “Follow me.” But as Peter begins to follow he notices John close behind and goes off on a tangent. John 21:21 “When Peter saw him, he asked, ‘Lord, what about him?’”

That’s when Jesus corrects Peter’s focus.

3. FOCUS

John 21:22 “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you?” Everything was going so well—here is a very spiritual moment in Peter’s life. This is one of those defining moments he will never forget. The resurrected Christ is right before him and what does Peter do? He turns his head from Jesus and looks back at John. That may sound innocent enough but it was the first step toward a dumb question, “What about him?” “I don’t get to do my own thing—those days are gone. It looks like some personal sacrifice and suffering is ahead for me. Is John going to get a free ride or is he going to have to pay a price too?”

Have you ever caught yourself looking around and wondering why so and so has it so easy? You work hard and the car breaks down so instead of getting new furniture you get a new transmission. You would like to be doing a certain kind of ministry but God has you doing something else. It is very easy to fall into making comparisons especially when the going gets rough for you. Have you noticed how prone we are to compare ourselves to someone who seems to have it easier rather than someone who has it worse? But we are not called to compare; we are called to obey.

There are a thousand and one things to divert our attention in life. The cares of life can so dominate our time and energy that we have no time for God. That’s a dangerous lifestyle to get into. Take time for God. There are all kinds of fads that come and go even in the evangelical world. Some Christians get so caught up in what ministry is going on here or there that they lose sight of Jesus. The focus of our lives and especially our ministries should always be a response to this call from Jesus, “Follow me.”

There are all kinds of things that demand us to follow them in life. It may be a controlling person. It may be a personal ambition that is contrary to God’s plan. It may be a neurotic need to be something important. It may be a pursuit of pleasure or more money. What are you following? What are you pursuing? Jesus said to Peter and says to you and me, “Follow me.” That means follow my example, follow my plan, follow my guidance. The focus of ministry must always be Jesus. If we will follow him we will not fall into the trap of comparing ourselves to others and losing sight of Jesus in our service to Him.

CONCLUSION:

Do you hear His call on your life? Do you understand the assignment he has given you? Has the importance of that calling gripped you life to such an extent that you must—you absolutely must fulfill it? Are you still ministering out of that pure motive of love toward your Savior? Is He still your first love? Is He still the reason why? Is that still what makes it all worthwhile? Have you lost your focus? Are your eyes on others or are your eyes on Jesus? Are you turning back and asking about what’s behind you or are you looking forward and following close behind Jesus? These are the questions that arise in our hearts when we encounter Jesus the way Peter does here in our text.

Every person here has some kind of ministry calling on his or her life.

  • We are all called to be co-laborers with God.
  • We are all called to the high and holy privilege of investing our lives in His sheep—those He purchased with His own blood. Perhaps today Jesus is reminding you of his call on your life. If you have lost sight of that calling, hear Jesus say, “Feed my sheep.”
  • If the cares of this world or anything else has diverted your focus from him, hear Jesus’ words, “Follow me.”
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