Lord, you know I love you… what now? Peter knows he fell short and the God he loves is standing before him. After having betrayed Jesus, I cannot imagine how Peter must have felt answering that simple question: “Do you love me?”. “Lord, you know I do..” eh except, for that mistake and that one and turning from you here and denying you there and being afraid of following you… and… eh, you know right?
Jesus doesn’t rebut his response. He doesn’t ask for clarification. He doesn’t say “o really, why did you betray me then”. He simply gives Peter an instruction and asks again. Three times. Anything mentioned three times has to be important, and three times Jesus asks Peter if he loves him. I have always assumed that Jesus gave Peter the same instruction… “Okay, you love me… feed my sheep”. My rough interpretation- ” okay you love me, so take care of my people”.
While reading through John a few weeks ago, I noticed that the translation I was reading had three different responses to Peter… and I began to wonder if Jesus was actually giving the same command or three different instructions for Peter’s pastoral role in the early church.
15When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?”
“Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”
16Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you truly love me?”
He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”
17 The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Feed my sheep. 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.”
After contemplating this difference in semantics for awhile… I finally took some time this morning to dissect the passage a little more, and thought I would share my findings.
In verse 15, Jesus responds: ““Feed my lambs”. The Greek says “Boske (5720) ta arnia mou.“
Boske means ” to feed- portraying the duty of a Christian teacher to promote in every way the spiritual welfare of the members of the church”. Arnia means “a little lamb”. Jesus commands Peter to promote the spiritual welfare of all those who are young in the church. My take on this is that Jesus is talking about spiritual maturity, not physical age. “Peter, if you love me, teach those who are just beginning to recognize my voice… feed them so that they can grow, so that they spiritually can mature, equip them to follow me”.
In verse 16, Jesus responds: “Take care of my sheep.” Poimaine (5720) ta probata mou. Poimaine translates ” to feed, to tend a flock, keep sheep;to rule, govern - of rulers, to furnish pasture for food, to nourish, to cherish one’s body, to serve the body, to supply the requisites for the soul’s need”. Probata means sheep. “Peter, keep my people… rule over them, supply them with nourishment, meet their souls needs, serve them… do whatever you have to do to sustain their faith.”
In verse 17, Jesus responds: “Feed my sheep”. Boske (5720) ta probata mou. Promote in every way the spiritual welfare of the members of the church. Then Jesus gives him a little explanation. “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.” I know He’s talking about Peter taking his role in the Church, but I also like to think Jesus is talking about the Church itself… His flock of sheep. “These sheep.. they aren’t lambs any more. They cannot roam where they want to, they cannot take care of themselves… they are older now and they need guidance. They need you to grab them by the hand, to pull them along, to take them deeper… even when they don’t want to go there. You are responsible for ensuring their spiritual welfare, their continued growth… feed my sheep. “
Three distinct responses. I don’t know about you, but that changes my outlook on this passage. It is more than “care for my people”. It is an instruction to bring in new believers, sustain the faith of believers, and to push believers beyond their comfort zones to continually grow in Christ. Peter is the leader of the church, and he is told to do these things… if we follow the instructions given to him in today’s society.. what does that mean for the way we do ministry? What does this mean for the way we live our lives?
Jesus didn’t say “Peter assign a minister to take care of new Christians, one to teach the sermons on Sundays, and one to deal with disciplinary issues when the need arises” He told Peter to do three things and to do them for every sheep. Seems to me like that is a large responsibility and such a privilege and a joy, to help His sheep hear His voice.
I have been looking at commentaries and most say that the variations don’t make a huge difference in interpretation… “As for the meaning, it is sometimes pointed out that bovskw describes a more restricted activity, that of feeding animals, than poimaivnw, which refers to guiding and protecting the flock as well as feeding it. This may be true, but taken comprehensively both terms form a general description of pastoral care…
As for the significance of the entire scene in the narrative, it seems clear that it is intended to indicate Peter’s complete restoration to a position of apostolic leadership after his threefold denial. Three times Peter had denied Jesus; three times Peter now affirms his love for his Lord, and three times Jesus commissions Peter to care for the flock of God. There could be no question on Peter’s part or on the part of the other disciples that he had been completely restored.” (From here… )
To be honest, it is now 5:00 p.m- I started writing this at 6:30 this morning.. and quit at the last paragraph. I was contemplating whether to post this in fear that my comments were heretical because all commentaries say the semantics are minor and irrelevant. Then I found this one. by John Gill.. verse 15…
” he saith unto him, feed my lambs;
the younger and more tender part of the flock, weak believers, Christ’s little children, newborn babes, the day of small things, which are not to be despised, the bruised reed that is not to be broken, and the smoking flax that is not to be quenched; but who are to be nourished, comforted, and strengthened, by feeding them with the milk of the Gospel, and by administering to them the ordinances and breasts of consolation. These Christ has an interest in, and therefore calls them “my lambs”, being given him by the Father, and purchased by his blood, and for whom he has a tender concern and affection; and nothing he looks upon as a firmer and clearer proof and evidence of love to him, than to feed these lambs of his, and take care of them.”
“he saith unto him, feed my sheep;
both the lost sheep of the house of Israel, and his other sheep among the Gentiles, whom the Father had given him, and he had paid a price for, and must be brought in; these being called, he would have fed with the word and ordinances, with the bread of life, and water of life, not lorded over, and fleeced, and much less worried and destroyed; every instance of care and love shown to these, he takes as a mark of affection and respect to himself.”
Jesus saith unto him, feed my sheep.
So, three distinct instructions.. a complete redemption from Peter’s past mistakes… and instructions on how to take care of His flock… the question is what do we do with them? Are we focusing on fulfilling these three commands or vaguely generalizing His words into a vague instruction that can be manipulated to meet our needs?
It may be observed from the repetition of this phrase following upon Peter’s declaration of his love to Christ, that such only are proper persons to feed the lambs and sheep of Christ, who truly and sincerely love him: and in doing which they show their love to him: and who indeed would be concerned in this service, but such? since the work is so laborious, the conduct of those to whom they minister oftentimes is so disagreeable, the reproach they meet with from the world, and the opposition made unto them by Satan, and all the powers of darkness: it is true indeed, there are some that take upon them this work, and pretend to do it, who do not love Christ; but then they are such who feed themselves, and not the flock; and who feed the world’s goats, and not Christ’s lambs and sheep, and in time of danger leave the flock; only the true lovers of Christ faithfully perform this service, and abide in it by preaching the pure Gospel of Christ, by administering his ordinances, in their right manner, and by directing souls in all to Christ, the heavenly manna, and bread of life