The motive for feeding the lambs was to be his Master's self, and not his own self. Had Peter been the first pope of Rome, and had he been like his successors, which indeed he never was, surely it would have been fitting for the Lord to have said to him, "Feed your
sheep. I commit them to you, O Peter, Vicar of Christ on earth." No, no, no. Peter is to feed them, but they are not his, they are still Christ's. The work that you have to do for Jesus, brethren and sisters, is in no sense for yourselves. Your classes are not your children, but Christ's. The exhortation which Paul gave was, "Feed the church of God," and Peter himself wrote in his epistle, "Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre but of a ready mind." Let these lambs turn out what they may, the glory is to be to the Master and not to the servant; and the whole time spent, and labour given, and energy put forth, is every particle of it to redound to His praise whose these lambs are.
Yet while this is a self-denying occupation, it is sweetly honourable, too, and we may attend to it feeling that it is one of the noblest forms of service. Jesus says, "My
sheep." Think of them, and wonder that Jesus should commit them to us. Poor Peter! Surely when that breakfast began he felt awkward. I put myself into his place, and I know I should hardly have liked to look across the table to Jesus, as I remembered that I denied Him with oaths and curses. Our Lord desired to set Peter quite at his ease by leading him to speak upon his love, which had been so seriously placed in question. Like a good doctor he puts in the lancet where the anxiety was festering: He enquires, "Lovest thou Me?" It was not because Jesus did not know Peter's love; but in order that Peter might know of a surety, and make a new confession, saying, "Yea, Lord; Thou knowest that I love Thee." The Lord is about to hold a tender controversy with the erring one for a few minutes, that there might never be a controversy between Him and Peter any more. When Peter said, "Yea, Lord; Thou knowest that I love Thee." you half thought that the Lord would answer, "Ah, Peter, and I love you"; but He did not say so, and yet He did say so. Perhaps Peter did not see His meaning; but we can see it, for our minds are not confused as Peter's was on that memorable morning. Jesus did in effect say, "I love you so that I trust you with that which I purchased with My heart's blood. The dearest thing I have in all the world is My flock: see, Simon, I have such confidence in you, I so wholly rely on your integrity as being a sincere lover of Me, that I make you a shepherd to My sheep. These are all I have on earth, I gave everything for them, even My life; and now, Simon, son of Jonas, take care of them for Me." Oh, it was "kindly spoken." It was the great heart of Christ saying, "Poor Peter, come right in and share My dearest cares." Jesus so believed Peter's declaration that He did not tell him so in words, but in deeds. Three times He said it, "Feed My lambs: feed My sheep, feed My sheep," to show how much He loved him. When the Lord Jesus loves a man very much, He gives him much to do or much to suffer.
Many of us have been plucked like brands from the burning, for we were "enemies to God by wicked works"; and now we are in the church among His friends, and our Saviour trusts us with His dearest ones. I wonder when the prodigal son came back and the father received him, whether when market-day came he sent his younger son to market to sell the wheat and bring home the money. Most of you would have said, "I am glad the boy is come back; at the same time, I shall send his elder brother to do the business, for he has always stuck by me." As for myself, the Lord Jesus took me in as a poor prodigal son, and it was not many weeks before He put me in trust with the gospel, that greatest of all treasures; this was a grand love-token. I know of none to excel it. The commission given to Peter proved how thoroughly the breach was healed, how fully the sin was forgiven, for Jesus took the man who had cursed and sworn in denial of Him and bade him feed His lambs and sheep. Oh, blessed work, not for yourselves, and yet for yourselves! He that serves himself shall lose himself, but he that loseth himself doth really serve himself after the best possible fashion.
The master-motive of a good shepherd is love. We are to feed Christ's lambs out of love.
First, as a proof of love. "If ye love Me, keep My commandments." If ye love Me, feed My lambs. If ye love Christ, show it, and show it by doing good to others, by laying yourself out to help others, that Jesus may have joy of them.
Next, as an inflowing of love. "Feed My lambs," for if you love Christ a little when you begin to do good, you will soon love Him more. Love grows by active exercise, It is like the blacksmith's arm, which increases its strength by wielding the hammer. Love loves till it loves more, and it loves more till it loves more; and it still loves more till it loves most of all, and then it is not satisfied, but aspires after enlargement of heart that it may copy yet more fully the perfect model of love in Christ Jesus, the Saviour.
Besides being an inflowing of love, the feeding of lambs is an outflow of love. How often have we told our Lord that we loved Him when we were preaching, and I do not doubt you teachers feel more of the pleasure of love to Jesus when you are busy with your classes than when you are by yourselves at home. A person may go home and sit down and groan out—
"'Tis a point I long to know,
Oft it causes anxious thought,"
and wipe his forehead and rub his eyes, and get into the dumps without end; but if he will rise up and work for Jesus, the point he longs to know will soon be settled, for love will come pouring out of his heart till he can no longer question whether it is there.
So let us abide in this blessed service for Christ that it may be the delight of love, the very ocean in which love shall swim, the sunlight in which it shall bask. The recreation of a loving soul is work for Jesus Christ; and amongst the highest and most delicious forms of this heavenly recreation is the feeding of young Christians endeavouring to build them up in knowledge and understanding, that they may become strong in the Lord.