He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.”
The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.
In the summer of 1967 God clarified for me my life’s calling – though I could hardly describe in words precisely what it was to be. We called it the “Gospel Ministry” in those days, all in all not a bad title. I was called to be a bond slave of Jesus Christ, a servant of the Lord, but also of the gospel, of the church, and to the world (Romans 1:1,14; John 12:26; Mark 10:43-45; 1 Corinthians 1:4:1-2). The descriptions of Scripture are so lofty that they provoke our imaginations and, if one is called, provide inspiration, hope, and vision of the challenge and benefit of a life spent in ministry for God and for His people.
Consider Paul’s description, “This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God” (1 Cor. 4:1). Simple, deep, profound – a cause for which someone would give his life. But the calling can only come upon the choice of the Spirit, not the mere human attraction to the notion. “It is required of stewards that they be found trustworthy,” Paul explained in the next verse. So a call to serve God is not a call for self-exaltation or to give someone the right to create doctrine himself, or to espouse his own wisdom or ideas as meaningful or worthwhile for anyone. The call brings us back always to the Book and to the Spirit – to deliver the right word in the right way at the right time.
The good shepherd gives his life for the sheep, for their benefit and for their good. We cannot understand Christian ministry properly in any other light other than for the one called to lose himself in God’s service. Surrender to the ministry must be absolute. The words “Good Shepherd” refers, of course, to Christ who gave His life for us on Calvary, but it is also the standard for Christian ministry. As Christ our Good Shepherd said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23).
In his generation Andrew Murray wrote these words, the relevance and power of which have not diminished over the century or so since they were penned.
…in Scotland once I was in a company where we were talking about the condition of Christ’s Church, and what the great need of the Church and of believers is; and there was in our company a godly worker who has much to do in training workers, and I asked him what he would say was the great need of the Church, and the message that ought to be preached. He answered very quietly and simply and determinedly: “Absolute surrender to God is the one thing.”
The words struck me as never before. And that man began to tell how, in the workers with whom he had to deal, he finds that if they are sound on that point, even though they be backward, they are willing to be taught and helped, and they always improve; whereas others who are not sound there very often go back and leave the work. The condition for obtaining God’s full blessing is absolute surrender to Him (http://www.ccel.org/ccel/murray/surrender.ii.html).
People will surrender absolutely to their own welfare, to their reputation, to the praise of their friends, or to the power of their rights. Some have surrendered absolutely to such things as revenge, jealousy, hatred, and even the death of others. But it is a rare person who surrenders absolutely to the will of God, or even to the ministry to which he has been called.
All Christian commitment demands this type of surrender to Christ, to lay aside ambition and personal rights for the sake of Christ and His people. In some places today we find “mega-churches” where spot-lighted pastors proclaim the Word – there is nothing wrong with this, provided they are proclaiming the Word of God faithfully. It is often a reflection of the love of the people for their pastor and his devotion to the Word of God and the church. Yet let us be clear on this matter, the foundation of the Church of Jesus Christ is the apostles and prophets with Christ Jesus the Cornerstone (Eph. 2:20), and their ministries were performed far away from the glare of the spotlight, except the spotlight of persecution and often martyrdom.
And every local church upon this earth that I am familiar with – and I am intimately familiar with many, many fellowships – has at its human foundation, in the sense of who God used to bring the church into existence and to sustain its worship, work and witness, some self-effacing, dedicated, sacrificial people who laid down their lives everyday for the sake of God’s sheep, His redeemed people. The love of God within our hearts will lead us to feed and encourage, to nurture and care for His people. There is privilege and significance enough in that, regardless how many or few, how mean or exalted, how simple or refined the people are.
But this work is not just the concern of the “vocational minister;” it is every Christian’s concern, as Peter wrote, “As each one has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace” (1 Peter 4:10). As Christ laid down His life for His sheep, so He calls us to follow in His footsteps. Absolute surrender is the standard for all of God’s people.
Someone may object that this puts the standard for commitment too high, one that we cannot maintain, for surely we will have at least some day in the future when we react in selfishness and are not surrendered. Yes, I suppose we shall have all have many such days and many more such moments, times when we must again repent, confess, and rededicate ourselves to God. But this fact does not change the command of God and His standard. Dare we place the standard of our commitment any less than absolute?
Someone else may object that no one can surrender absolutely because he does not know what experiences he will have in life, or even what his life will consist of in the future – certainly this is true of a young person. But in the wisdom of Christ this is explained, that we must all come to Him like children, and can come no other way. We do not know what tomorrow holds, how we will feel, what we will experience, what we will possess – but can we come any other way to the One who holds the future other than entirely submitted to Him, regardless of what the future holds?
Taking up our cross means that the future, whatever it brings, is placed in His hands. Anyone who would aspire to be a leader in the church or in Christian work must begin here, with absolute surrender. The beauty is that the one who surrenders entirely to God finds that God explains in his circumstances what this means, so that we are not left in confusion and uncertainty. In this sense, surrender is not a curse but an incredible blessing – for only when we are surrendered to Him are we truly free.