What did Jesus mean “feed my flock?”

Before His ascension to Heaven, Jesus exhorted Peter to feed the flock, three times (John 21:15-19). This instruction was specifically directed to Peter.  The significance of repeating the exhortation three times could imply the importance of the role of a pastor in a church.  Remember, what Jesus said, after Peter had accurately identified the Christ in Jesus:

“…..Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah!  For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this Rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 16:17-20) (ESV).

The words of Jesus are as binding as God’s Law is binding.  Peter received the blessing of being awarded with the nucleus of the Church of God.  Apparently, this overlooked the weaknesses of Peter, who, immediately after Christ’s commendation, would easily be used by Satan (verse 22).

When Jesus indicated that upon Peter God’s church would be built, he did not mean that Peter would be the one to build that church. It was going to be Jesus building His Church, using Peter.  This had nothing to do with Peter’s credentials, except that Peter had accurately identified the Christ in Jesus. See [Revealing the Christ in Jesus].

The same Peter is recorded as having committed many blunders, one of which was deserting Jesus at the most crucial time.  The same Peter could not understand his weaknesses, even though Jesus had declared having prayed for him, as Satan sought to have him disqualified (Luke 22:31-34).

Peter loved Jesus in every sense of the word.  But to love Jesus is to do His will.  As Jesus asked Peter three times whether Peter loved Him, Jesus also kept emphasizing that Peter should feed the flock.

The flock that Jesus meant to be fed by Peter comprised those committing their lives to Jesus.  Just to show how much Jesus loved the flock, He had compared the punishment to tying a millstone on the neck of those causing offence, before being thrown into the sea (Matthew 18:6).

Jesus used this example to show detestation of messing up with those that He would have identified as His. It is quite clear that what Jesus considers as the most serious sin is to cause anyone of His flock to stumble.  Jesus declares Himself as a good Shepherd, who lays down His own life for the flock (John 10:14-15).

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The most precious group of people that Jesus cares most about, comprise the flock that He instructed Peter to feed, three times (John 21:15-17).  But Peter had also become a member of the flock that Jesus sought to protect.

This is why Jesus prayed for Peter whom Satan wanted to sift.  On becoming part of the flock, one falls under the category of divine protection.  However, the business of Satan is to deceive those having identified with Jesus.

Satan is not worried much about people who are still in darkness, under his deception.  His mission is to sift those having identified with Jesus, just as He sought to apply the same method on Peter (Luke 22:31-34).

Jesus did not clarify, as to who would then feed the flock, after Peter’s demise?  In the midst of that instruction for Peter to feed the flock Jesus declared:

“Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go’ (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) And after saying this he said to him, ‘Follow me’” (John 21:18-19) (ESV).

Bear in mind that it was on Peter that Jesus had previously said His church would be built. This, therefore, means that the instruction was applicable to the entire Church, representing His composite body, not just to Peter.

There is no way any person can be in Christ without assuming the responsibility to feed the flock.  This is just as Jesus repeated the instruction to Peter, three times. The feeding, leading to the nourishment of the flock, is the responsibility of Christ, using people, like Peter.

To follow Christ is not something to be taken casually, as appears to have always been the case, all along, with most Christians.  Christianity implies allowing Christ to use the person, according to His will.

When Jesus said Peter would be led where Peter did not want to go, Jesus meant to be the one responsible for Peter’s activities in his life-time.  What Jesus said to Peter, precisely describes the meaning of Christianity.

Virtually, it would be futile to call oneself a Christian without allowing Christ to be in charge, in one’s life. The meaning of Christianity does not imply having good time, as enjoyed before commitment to Christ. See [Christianity is full-time commitment to the baptized].

It seems Jesus is more concerned with the flock than with the problems of this world?  While appearing as not responsible for the governmental systems of this world, Jesus desires to instill sense of altruism to those willing to listen to Him.  But His purpose of coming on earth was to bring a new civilization.

Those having committed themselves to follow Christ are the ones expected to apply the new civilization.  When looking across the entire Christian world, one sees, instead, laymen being encouraged to feed the shepherds?

That principle is not associated with the new civilization that Jesus introduced. The givers anticipate blessings, as promised by those Church leaders.  Jesus taught that giving should be anonymous, so that the giving principle has got no ulterior motive (Matthew 6:1-4).

This is the reverse of what is supposed to take place in Christianity.  Pastors are regarded as deserving honor, yet expected to lay down their lives for the flock?  This reflects the opposite of Christ’s teachings. See [Pastors’ responsibility downgraded, beyond imagination].

Jesus fulfilled the role of feeding the flock, to the point of dying on the cross.  As long as Peter loved Jesus, he would be occupied with practicing the will of Jesus. The same would be the case with the rest of the disciples and those to follow, for whom Jesus prayed (John 17).

To appreciate the meaning of feeding the flock, one needs to appreciate this from how, actually, the shepherds take care of the flocks.  The concern of the shepherd is to ensure that the sheep are protected.  The shepherd also ensures that the sheep are provided with the best pastures and sufficient water to drink.

However, on telling Peter to feed the flock, Jesus did not necessarily mean only just providing the flock with physical food.  Although, providing physical necessities would still be required, as Jesus also practiced that principle, whenever catering for those in need (Mark 6:36-44).

Part of the spiritual food was to provide to the needy, without excuses. The miracle to feed the five thousand was meant to be an important data to the disciples. God’s Kingdom provides to the needy, without fail.

That principle was to be practiced, not by Peter alone:  “And whoever gives one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward.” (Matthew 10:42) (ESV).

Jesus pronounced that He was the only good shepherd.  Those on His side preoccupy themselves with everything that Jesus taught, including His day-to-day activities, in handling people’s survival challenges.

When Jesus says He is the way, the truth and the life, He meant that without gobbling everything He taught, one cannot survive, as a Christian.  The simplest way of appreciating Christ’s way of life is to acknowledge that Jesus’ way of life was altruistic, as compared with self-centredness.

To Jesus, His own welfare was not much of His concern. His three and a half year ministry was fully packed with serving the ordinary people, without requiring them to pay anything in return.

He even demonstrated that the welfare of the disciples was to be taken care of, only by those appreciating the concept of feeding the flock without recompense (Luke 10:6-7).  Basically, when appreciating the responsibility of feeding the flock, one responds to the call of Jesus. See [Created to solve, instead of creating problems].

In Jesus’ principles there is nothing impossible, when desiring to fulfill the role of feeding the flock.  Food and other physical provisions could be another aspect of feeding the flock, but there is more.

Jesus focused on those who had committed their lives to Jesus, needing spiritual nourishment.  As people with first-hand information, Peter and His colleagues were supposed to provide everything that Jesus taught.

The life of giving to the needy without seeking recompense was the chief aspect of spiritual food.  Peter was supposed to pass on that important information to those committing their lives to Jesus.  Having observed Jesus doing it, the disciples were also expected to practice it as way of life.

To feed the flock, therefore, implies showing those concerned, the principle of altruism.  When instructing Peter, three times, to feed the flock, Jesus meant showing them the principle of altruism, as opposed to self-centredness.

The life of altruism implies taking full responsibility in solving problems of humanity, just as Jesus demonstrated.  As shown in my previous article, it is not possible to exude the nine components of the fruit of the Holy Spirit, without practicing altruism. See [Works bring the opposite of what is intended].

The responsibility of every Christian is to feed the flock.  This implies taking full responsibility, without seeking recompense.  The starting point is catering for those in desperate conditions, but, not for purposes of receiving praises.

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne, Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.  And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world, For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me” (Matthew 25:31-35) (ESV).

Providing to the needy is like providing to Jesus.   This is why, to Peter, Jesus emphasized this standard, which is a principle of altruism. Encouraging others to practice it, one would be feeding them spiritually.

Providing other people with physical needs, unconditionally, can be another way of feeding the flock that identifies with Jesus’ principles.  When Jesus instructs us to look to Him, for deliverance, He means adopting the principle of altruism as He demonstrated (John 3:16).  We need to apply the same principle (1 John 3:16).

Andrew Masuku is the author of Dimensions of a New Civilization, laying down standards for uplifting Zimbabwe from current state of economic depression into a model for other nations worldwide. A decaying tree provides an opportunity for a blossoming sprout. Written from a Christian perspective, the book is a product of inspiration, bringing reliefs to those having witnessed strings of unworkable solutions––leading to the current economic and social decay. In a simple conversational tone, most Zimbabweans should find the book as a long awaited providential oasis of hope.

The Print copy is now available at Amazon.com for $13.99

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