The Pastoral Office
John 21:15-17
So when they had dined, Jesus said to Simon Peter, Simon, son of Jonas, love you me more than these? He said to him, Yes…

Notice -


1. In some of its leading features.

(1) It is the highest order of love. "Lovest (ἀγαπᾷς) thou," etc.? Love varies in its quality, from the common love of man to man up to the most spiritual and Divine love of the soul to God. The love required of the shepherd is the latter, although the former is by no means to be despised, but is advantageous.

(2) It is the highest order of love to Christ. "Lovest thou me?" This high honor, devotion, and attachment must be felt towards Jesus - his Person, his character, his cause, and grand purposes of salvation. Christ in his Person and character demands the highest devotions of the heart and soul.

(3) It is the highest order of personal love to Christ. "Lovest thou," etc.? It must not be merely historical, but experimental. Not the love of some one else, but that of the individual himself - the fire of his own heart, the glow of his own affections, the enthusiasm of his own soul, and the warm devotion of his own feelings. There is much that is borrowed and second-hand in religious experience and Christian love. Christ requires the really experienced love of the individual.

(4) It is the highest order of love to Christ in the greatest degree. "More than these" - more than the other disciples love me. This doubtless has a retrospective reference to Peter's profession of love, and serves as a rebuke; but it has a prospective reference to the fulfillment of personal love in the future, and serves as a guide and inspiration. Love to him is not only to be of the best quality, but also of the greatest quantity. It should strive to excel. Christ is to be supreme in the heart, and occupy the throne without a successful competitor.

2. In its supreme importance.

(1) It is important to the disciple himself.

(a) As the test of his Christian character. The possession or non-possession of love decides at once his relationship to Christ. Without love he is none of his; with it he is Christ's disciple.

(b) As the sum of his Christian being. What a man's love is, he is to Christ. Love only weighs in the Christian balance. A man may be all things, but without love he is nothing; in the absence of love every excellence goes for nothing. It is the sum and soul of our Christian being.

(c) As the essential qualification for Christian service. It is the only basis, inspiration, and support of Christian work and usefulness. Great faith may make a great hero, great intellect may make a great scientist; but great love alone can make a great preacher and missionary.

(2) It is important in relation to Jesus.

(a) He is anxious that all should love him. Hence the question. A cold Stoic cares not for the love of others; but a loving nature craves to be loved. He who is love, and came on an errand of infinite love, is anxious to be loved of all.

(b) He is anxious to know how all feel towards him, especially his disciple and candidate for apostleship. He is anxious to learn from his own lips the true sentiment of his heart.

(c) Only those who specially love him can be of special and real use to him. He wants shepherds, workers, preachers, and soldiers; but only those who love him supremely are eligible for his service, especially to be Shepherds of his flock.

3. In its special trial.

(1) It is tried by Christ. He asks his all-important question. He is the Examiner and Judge, and he alone is fit for this office. He alone knows what is in man.

(2) The trial is personal. Christ stood face to face with Peter, and asked him, "Lovest," etc.? The trial of love is still between the soul and Christ. The Personal Christ comes to the soul and asks, "Lovest thou me?" The candidate for the ministry may be questioned by the Church through some of its officials; but the real examination is that in the human heart by the ever-living and present Savior.

(3) The trial is most searching. The question is thrice repeated, almost in the same words. It rang in his ears, penetrated his heart, went through and through his whole moral being, and stirred his soul unto its very foundation.

4. In its satisfactory evidence.

(1) The evidence of his inward consciousness. He felt in his very heart that he loved him. His inmost spirit testified to this.

(2) The evidence of his public confession, He emphatically answers to the question, "I do love thee." There is no hesitation, but, with every repetition of the question, his affirmative answer is growingly earnest.

(3) The evidence of the perfect knowledge of Jesus. At each answer he appeals to this. "Thou knowest," etc. He is willing to be judged by his past conduct in spite of his denial. He had confidence in his Judge. He was conscious of his omniscience, and still to this he confidently appeals.

(4) The evidence of his modest self-distrust. He had more confidence in the knowledge of Jesus than in his own. He finally leaves the matter with his Judge. This is unlike old Peter; there must have been some inflow of new life and light. At his third repetition of the question he was grieved; if he was not, we should be inclined to grieve for him. It was human and Christian to feel so. It was the natural pain of sincere love at being questioned, its blush at being apparently doubted - a strong evidence of its sincerity.

(5) The direct evidence of Jesus. "Feed my lambs." This was a final proof that his love was genuine. Christ would not entrust his iambs but to the bosom of genuine love, nor his sheep but to the arms of warm affection. His employment in his service was the strongest proof of the sincerity of his love.


1. This service is special. "Feed my lambs," etc.

(1) Christ has his lambs and sheep. He has his little, weak, young, helpless, ignorant and wayward ones; and he also has some that are more mature and strong.

(2) These require feeding. Neither the weak nor the strong can live without food. The weak are not too weak to take it, the strong are not too strong to require it. Food is as essential to the health and growth of spiritual life as it is of the physical.

(3) It is the special duty of the pastor to supply them with food. The provision must be appropriate and suitable in quality and quantity. It must be spiritual, and not carnal and material. It must be real, and not illusive. Souls will starve if they have to breakfast on mere rhetoric, dine on mere words, and sup on empty ceremonies. The food must be appropriate, plentiful, and timely; otherwise the sheep and lambs of Christ will not thrive.

2. The service is various.

(1) Some portions of it are comparatively easy and simple. "Feed my lambs." Compared with other portions of the pastoral office, this is simple. It embraces the first elements of knowledge, the first principles of truth, the alphabet of Christianity, and the milk of the Word.

(2) Some portions of it are more difficult and honorable. "Tend and feed my sheep." This requires great wisdom, intellect, and spiritual power and penetration to dive down for the hidden treasures, and climb some of the higher branches of the tree of life for the ripest fruits.

(3) The various portions of the office demand all our energies. Food must be provided and wisely administered. This will involve thought, search, energy, and tender care, and will demand all the vitality of head and heart; and this must be supplied by the great Shepherd.

(4) Those who faithfully perform the simplest duties of the service are fitted and allowed to perform the most difficult and honorable. He who is willing and able to feed the lambs is allowed to feed the sheep. Those who teach the young in the Sunday school are specially trained to teach the more advanced in the congregation. Those who are faithful over a few things shall rule over many. If you will not feed the lambs, who will entrust you the sheep?

(5) The performance of the simplest portions of the service requires the most love. After the answer to the question, "Lovest thou me more than these?" Jesus said, "Feed my lambs." To feed and nurse the little, weak, and invalid ones requires tenderer and more patient love than to satisfy the strong and healthy. If the latter require more wisdom and eloquence, the former require more love. The father will rule and instruct the healthy and robust of his family; but the mother alone will nurse the babe, and watch over the invalid child. The more honorable portions of Christian service may be performed from the love of fame, popularity, and self-interest; but its drudgery can scarcely be inspired by anything but the pure love of Christ. If you wish to manifest disinterested love for Christ, feed his lambs, and this is the only training for advancement.

3. This is a service which can only be properly performed by supreme love to Christ.

(1) This alone can make it possible. It involves physical, mental, and spiritual energy, and self-sacrifice, tender and patient care and watching; and these can only be inspired and sustained by supreme love to Christ.

(2) This alone can make it valuable to the shepherd, to the sheep, and to Christ.

(3) This alone can make it pleasant and delightful. Otherwise it will be a burden and an unbearable drudgery; but love will make its most unpleasant duties a sweet delight.

(4) This alone can make it really successful. The food provided and administered in love will alone be multiplied and blessed; and in its participation the lambs and sheep of Christ will lie down in green pastures, beside the still waters.


1. It was proper that Peter's love should be severely tried. This was required by the nature of the case. He denied Christ thrice, and thrice was the question of love put to him. A damaged vessel must be well examined and repaired before being sent to sea again.

2. The omniscience of the Master is a great comfort to the sincere servant. On account of his essential failings and shortcomings at best, he is liable to be upon the whole misguided by men; but from their petty court he can appeal to the "King's bench," and, if right there, he has a consolation in the duties of his office, which will inspire him in all difficulties, and which no man can take away.

3. Let the pastor ever remember that the sheep are not his own, but Christ's. Although he is the shepherd, the provider, and the feeder, yet he is not the owner. Their owner is Christ, and let them be treated as such in all their peculiarities and failings for his sake.

4. Those who love Christ are commissioned by him to do his work. Let the fact of personal, genuine love to him be established, and their commission follows as a matter of course. Love to Christ is entitled to work for him, and will work for him. It will ever find employment, and the fidelity with which it performs its duties is the final proof of its power and sincerity. In the degree we love Christ we shall feed and tend his lambs and sheep. - B.T.

Parallel Verses
KJV: So when they had dined, Jesus saith to Simon Peter, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me more than these? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my lambs.

WEB: So when they had eaten their breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, "Simon, son of Jonah, do you love me more than these?" He said to him, "Yes, Lord; you know that I have affection for you." He said to him, "Feed my lambs."

The Grand Inquiry
Top of Page
Top of Page