Feeding the Lambs and the Sheep :: by Nathele Graham

Peter was a man of many contrasts. Brash in defending Jesus, but he denied Christ three times on the night of that illegal trial and hid when Christ was crucified. Peter passionately proclaimed “Thou art the Christ” but he also tried to stop Jesus from going to Jerusalem. Peter saw miracles and was present at the transfiguration, but this fisherman from Galilee knew prophecy and how accurate it is.

He saw Jesus ride into Jerusalem exactly when Daniel’s prophecy foretold He would (Daniel 9:25-27) and in the manner in which Zechariah had foretold (Zechariah 9:9). He learned from his mistakes and we can learn from him. Peter also learned how to be sure of your salvation: walk the straight and narrow path.

Many people accept Jesus in a time of crisis or during the emotion of a revival meeting. Is that real salvation? It can be, but most people go back to worldly living once the crisis is past or the emotion stops. Peter walked with Jesus and heard His words, but when things got tough he hid. How about you?

Do you profess to be a Christian, but when friends pressure you to deny Him by joining in worldly activities, what do you do? Peter had hidden on the night of the trial and was not at the cross during the crucifixion, but he knew Jesus died and was buried. When news came that the tomb was empty, Peter ran to see for himself.

“Then arose Peter, and ran unto the sepulchre; and stooping down, he beheld the linen clothes laid by themselves, and departed wondering in himself at that which was come to pass” (Luke 24:12).

Peter must have been filled with joy and confusion, but he went with the other disciples to Galilee as Jesus had directed. It was on the shores of Galilee that Peter truly met Christ.

The risen Christ met His disciples there on the shores of Galilee. He prepared food for them and they talked. Peter had denied Jesus three times on the night of the trial, and Jesus asked him three times “Do you love me?” Peter answered that he had a brotherly love, but wasn’t able to proclaim the deep committed love that he would grow into when the Holy Spirit filled him.

Jesus knew the ministry which lay ahead for Peter and with each question of “Do you love me?” came a challenge. The first was “…Feed my lambs” (John 21:15c). The Greek word bosko means to feed. Pastors, and indeed all mature Christians, need to feed new Christians (the lambs) and help them to grow in the Lord. We do that by studying and applying God’s Word to our everyday life, then being an example and encouraging these young lambs.

“I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able” (1 Corinthians 3:2).

New Christians must learn the basic truths of Christianity and need encouragement to walk that straight and narrow path without feeling deprived of the sugar drenched ways of the world. They need to be fed with nourishing food of God’s Word so they don’t go back into worldly ways.

Jesus asked Peter a second time “Do you love me?” and urged Peter to: “…Feed my sheep” (John 21:16c). This time the word translated “feed” is poimaino. This means to tend, to shepherd, and to guide. Even those who have been Christians for years need guidance. How many congregations have men and women sitting in the pews who embrace sin with no regard to honoring God in all areas of their life?

Christianity isn’t a Sunday morning part of life, but is an everyday way of living. We need to help fellow Christians to not wander from the straight and narrow path. We can’t do that if we don’t apply God’s Word to our own life. Never rebuke in anger, but always use Scripture.

“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” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

Then Jesus asked a third time if Peter loved Him and urged Peter to: “…Feed my sheep” (John 21:17c). This is the same word used in verse 15 above meaning to feed. The Lambs need food to grow strong, but the sheep need to be fed a different kind of food. The sheep need to delve deeper into God’s Word in order to stay strong.

Christians need to encourage each other to walk close to our Lord. If you see a brother or sister reverting back into worldly ways, remind them of what Christ did. The sacrifice he made to purchase salvation should never be taken lightly. Jesus was perfect and owed no sin debt, but loved us enough to pay the price of our redemption. We owe Him everything, but do we follow His ways?

Peter did and went on to be a strong leader among Christians. In the gospels we see Peter as a man who spoke whatever came into his mind. After Jesus urged him to feed the flock, Peter saw his purpose and in the book of Acts we see the Holy Spirit changing Peter. Peter still needed help from others in order to stay on track. Paul brought Peter’s mistakes to his attention.

“But when Peter was come to Antioch, I withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed” (Galatians 2:11).

Peter took the rebuke to heart and got right in his walk with the Lord. When Peter came to the end of his life, he wrote letters of encouragement to fellow believers. He wrote about Christian growth, and must have pulled from his own experience in life. When we first come to Jesus we need to move away from our worldly ways. When we have been walking with the Lord for some time, we need to continue to be diligent in our walk. God gives us power to overcome the temptations of life, but we need to tap into that power and live set apart lives.

“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” (2 Peter 1:3-4).

God has given us what we need. Paul also wrote about this in his letters to the very worldly Christians in Corinth.

“All things are lawful unto me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any” (1 Corinthians 6:12).

Christians have been forgiven of all past, present, and future sin, but that doesn’t give us an excuse to continue sinning. If you don’t begin to move away from living a sinful life and are happy wallowing in sin, then you haven’t grown. Have you truly accepted Christ for salvation, or is he just someone you give lip service to? You need to be sure.

Life after death is eternal. If you’ve rejected Him for your salvation you will find out that all the lust of this life wasn’t worth your choice of eternal torment. If you have accepted Him, then you need to love Him and grow in your Christian walk. How do you grow from a lamb to a sheep? Peter tells us how. He gives us a step by step guide.

“And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge” (2 Peter 1:5.)

We come to Jesus by faith, now we need to add virtue, or arête. This is moral excellence. While we live on this side of heaven we will never stop sinning, but we need to recognize our sin and move toward moral excellence. The lambs need to be fed so they leave the lusts of the world behind, and the sheep need to be tended so they don’t return to the world. Virtue, or moral living, comes from knowledge of the Lord and study of His word.

“And to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness” (2 Peter 1:6).

One step at a time; from lost sinner to saving faith, from faith to virtue and knowledge. Then there comes temperance. This is self-control. Knowledge of God’s Word will teach you how God feels about things like anger, marriage, alcohol, and more. Learn to control your worldly desires and bring them into obedience to the Lord. It takes time, but that’s where patience comes in. Patience for your own growth, and patience in encouraging someone else in their growth. When you fail ask forgiveness and try again.

“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).

Pretty soon there will be fewer failures and we will become more virtuous in our actions and words. If God holds a place of honor in your life, it will show.

“And to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity” (2 Peter 1:7).

Brotherly kindness, or philadelphia in Greek, toward fellow Christians grows by loving and honoring God. By growing in your faith and following the steps laid out by Peter, you will find that old ways no longer appeal to you. There will be joy in being around your brothers and sisters in Christ, and the pull of the world will ease its grip on you.

As you grow in the knowledge of the Lord your love of God will take over your life and you’ll find joy in sharing His love with others. Christian charity, agape, will flow from your words and actions and others will be encouraged.

A Christian needs to build on these things. It’s a lifelong process, but this encourages a strong walk with our Lord. These things aren’t to be done for public display, but need to be a part of our private life too.

“For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:8).

If you study the guidelines that Peter set out, you will be a good witness to others around you. If you love Jesus and have a desire to follow Him, your knowledge of Him will grow because you will study His word and apply it to your life. You will feed the lambs without even being aware that your example is nourishing to them.

“But he that lacketh these things is blind, and cannot see afar off, and hath forgotten that he was purged from his old sins” (2 Peter 1:9). It’s easy to forget what Jesus did on the cross when we go back to the filth of sin.

As you go through this life you will have temptations, but it’s how you handle those temptations that makes a difference in your growth as a Christian. If you follow Peter’s guidelines you will grow from a lamb to a sheep and will be an encouragement to Christians around you.

If you hold onto your sin you will be a poor witness to others, especially the young lambs. They will look at you and think that if you, a “mature” Christian, can embrace a particular sin then it must be all right for the lambs to also embrace sin.

“Abstain from all appearance of evil” (1 Thessalonians 5:22).

Look to God’s Word for His example of living. When you understand what God views as sin, then you need to control yourself and not yield to temptation. If you see a brother or sister practicing sin, go to them and use Scripture to correct them in brotherly love.

We need to hold Christ as our example and move closer to His way. We can be so sure of the grace and forgiveness of Jesus that we forget that we are supposed to let go of sin and follow Him. Remember, He told the woman taken in adultery to “…go, and sin no more” (John 8:11b).

The New Testament letters are written by inspiration of the Holy Spirit to believers for encouragement and correction. We need to learn from them. Peter said that he would continue to remind his readers of God’s truth.

“Wherefore I will not be negligent to put you always in remembrance of these things, though ye know them, and be established in the present truth” (2 Peter 1:12). If you hold onto the same sin and don’t grow in your Christian walk, you need rebuke from Scripture. Re-read the various New Testament letters and be fed. Go over Peter’s instructions on how faith grows into a closer walk with Jesus. It isn’t good to remain a lamb.

Peter was an example of a man who was changed by the power of the Holy Spirit. Study his life and you will probably find similarities between yourself and Peter. Jesus knew that he would be a strong leader of the ekklesia (Christians) and many would be inspired by him. Today Peter is still feeding the lambs and the sheep.

God bless you all,
Nathele Graham