Again, we will continue in our study of three-word phrases from the lips of our Savior, which are recorded in the Gospel of John. Today our attention is turned to Three Commanding Words for the Will“Feed my sheep.” (John 21:16).

These words are directed at Peter, that disciple who had thrice denied the Lord. Jesus searched his conscience by questioning Peter’s devotion three times. Each time, the Lord replied to Peter’s affirmation of love with a command. Every time it is a command to serve someone else. The Lord is emphasizing the fact that we demonstrate our love for Him by serving others.

We should note that in asking Peter to affirm his love, the Lord used two different terms for love. On the first two occasions, Christ used the word (agapao), which is the word for the highest kind of love, the word used for God’s love. Each time Peter responded by using the lesser word for love (phileo), meaning brotherly affection. Peter had learned his lesson about making boastful declarations concerning his fidelity. On the third occasion, the Lord used the same word as Peter had used, in grace, acknowledging that Peter could never love Christ the way Christ loved him.

Just as two words are used concerning the subject of love in this passage, two different commands are given in response to Peter’s answers. In verse fifteen, Jesus says, “Feed my lambs;” in verses sixteen and seventeen, He declares, “Feed my sheep.” In these statements, He indicates two groups of individuals with whom He is concerned for their well-being: lambs and sheep. This speaks of the new believer in Christ and the mature believer.

Likewise, there are two different words used for the term “feed.” The first is the word (bosko), which expresses the idea of providing the flock with food. The second word (poimaino) means “to tend” or “to shepherd” the flock.

As believers, we have been given the work of shepherding those under our care; as a pastor, a teacher, a parent, or even as a friend. There are two aspects to this work that I believe are essential as we consider these Commanding Words for the Will.

First, we must Provide the Proper Diet. This is essential for spiritual development. Foremost, this requires a regular portion of the Word of God, for “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4). A pastor must teach and preach the Word of God. A parent should nourish their children with the Word through a family altar time. A teacher should fortify their students with a purposeful serving of the Word of God. And even as a friend, we should seek to impart the Word of God. We are told that “Iron sharpeneth iron; so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend” (Proverbs 27:17). And what better way to sharpen another than by use of the whetstone of God’s Word?

Second, we are responsible to Provide the Proper Direction. While lambs and sheep must be fed, they must also be led. This is the “tending” or “shepherding” aspect of our work. It is a great part of our calling to help provide direction for those God has placed in our sphere of influence.

We can certainly provide direction through exhortation. As we speak, our words can give counsel, advice, and direction to others. This is why we must hide the Word of God in our hearts, “For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh” (Matthew 12:34).

We may also give direction through example. It has been said that “What we do speaks louder than what we say.” As we interact with those we have been called to shepherd, we must be careful to model before them that which we desire to see from them. Peter himself says of Christ, the Great Shepherd, that He left us an example that we should follow His steps (I Peter 2:21).

Peter accepted these Commanding Words for the Will, and we read in the book of Acts and Peter’s epistles how he sought to obey them. As he took up his pen to write, Peter sought to transmit these truths to another generation, for we read, “Feed the flock of God which is among you, …Neither as being lords over God’s heritage, but being ensamples to the flock” (I Peter 5:2, 3).

May we likewise respond to these Commanding Words for the Will in our own lives.


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Craig Burcham

Craig Burcham, GSBC Chairman of the Bible Department

Bro. Burcham serves as the Chairman of the Bible Department at Golden State Baptist College. Before coming to GSBC, he served as a missionary with his family in Japan for several years and then pastored in Missouri.