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What Motivates Your Service? John 21a

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John 21:1-22

Stephen Caswell © 2004

Illustration Of Eric Liddel

A famous runner prepared himself for the nineteen twenty-four Olympics, his name was Eric Liddel. Perhaps you have seen the movie Chariots of Fire that tells the story of two men Eric Liddel and Harold Abrahams. Eric had trained hard for this competition and had set his heart on winning the gold medal in the 100 yards race. He was also a faithful Christian, who readily shared his faith and took every opportunity to do so. After the trials he was chosen to run in the 100 yard race and sailed for France, as the games were to be held in Paris. Eric Liddel loved the Lord and he also loved to run.  Eric had to a struggle for some time with the fact that the final for the 100 yard race final was going to be run on Sunday.  What would he do? He had trained long and hard for this event and now it was to be run on the day that he held as sacred, the Lord's day.

Which love was the greatest in his life? His love for running or His love for Christ? This was a conflict between the two, what would he do? The Prince of Wales tried to coerce him to run on Sunday, and to put King and country before God. Well he chose to put God first and the Lord opened up a way for him to run in the 400 yards event that was run on different day. Eric Liddel went on to win the race. But this conflict revealed that Eric Liddel had Jesus Christ in first place of his life. What are you devoted to? A career, wealth, friends, family, or Christ! What motivates your service for God? Fear, man’s praise, guilt, habit or something else. Or is it love for Christ?

Firstly, Love's Priority

a. Determine, What are These? Friends, Family, Fishing?

John 21:15: So when they had eaten 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 love You. He said to him, Feed My lambs.

Tonight I would like to look at Peter's commission to service for Christ. In John 21:15-17 the Lord asks Peter three similar questions. On Peter's reply Jesus gave him four commands regarding service to Christ. The first question was Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me more than these?  What was Christ referring to when He said these? Was it the disciples? Did he love Christ more than the other disciples did? Was it the friendship of the disciples? Did they mean more to him than Christ? Was it the fishing boats and his previous life as a fisherman? I believe the last 2 are all that's dear to Peter; his Friends and fishing career.

You see initially Peter, Andrew along with James and John had been called from fishing to follow Christ. After Peter's denial of Christ, the crucifixion and resurrection we read that he wants to go back to fishing again in John 21:2-4. This is not just once, the present continuous tense means he wants to keep fishing. So that's what he did and he took along six of his mates with him. They fished all night and caught nothing. It's interesting to note, that Christ had told them, apart from me you can do nothing. It was then that Christ came on the scene and told them how to fish. I believe that is why Jesus called Peter, Simon. He was acting like Simon again; he had gone back to his old way of life. He went fishing with his friends. He had forgotten Christ's call to become A Fisher of Men. 

b. Devotion and Discipleship

So Jesus asks Peter Do you love Me more than these?  He wants to know what is number one in Peter's life. Jesus says to Peter do you agapao me. Do you love me unconditionally, the way I love you? G. Campbell Morgan translates the question like this, Are you devoted to Me? In using the word ἀγαπάω Christ was not merely seeking an emotional love, but complete devotion. He wants to find out The Priority of Peter's love. Christ wanted to know if Peter loved Him more than friends and fishing. Was Peter devoted unconditionally to Christ. You see, love is not just an emotion it is active. Agapaw ἀγαπάω love, God's love is an unconditional commitment for the other persons good. There was nothing wrong with fishing as an occupation or hobby. There was nothing wrong with his circle of friends, the disciples. But Christ had called Peter to follow Him. And this meant that He had to be number one in Peter's life. Peter must re-evaluate his priorities.

I believe that Christ even arranged this meeting so He could deal with Peter's priorities. He commanded them to go from Jerusalem to Galilee knowing all this would happen. Matthew 28:10. Peter had to decide what was first in His life.  His devotion for Christ had to be greater than his love for anything else. Notice that Christ asked this question before He entrusted Peter with ministry. Peter had been called by Christ to follow Him. He had been trained for about three years. But none of this counted for anything unless Peter's devotion for Christ was greater than all else. Would he follow Christ no matter what?

c. Decision Time

Peter had to choose was he going to be a shepherd or a fisherman. Christ gave the cost for discipleship in Luke 14:26-27.  If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple. And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple.

The Scriptures do not teach us to hate in these verses, rather they tell us that our love for Christ must take precedence over everything else. Peter responded by saying, Yes Lord, You know that I  love φιλέω you like a friend. So Christ asked Peter again, Simon son of Jonah do you love Me unconditionally ἀγαπάω? And again Peter replied Yes Lord; you know that I love you like a friend. φιλέω Again Peter did not claim his love to be the same as Christ's. Again he said I love you like a friend.

Then a third time Jesus questions Peter saying, Simon son of John do you love Me like a friend φιλέω? Christ had come down to Peter's level. He accepted the fact that Peter was acknowledging his own weaknesses. Perhaps Peter was not so confident now. He had said even if everyone else forsakes you I never will. And shortly after he denied Christ 3 times. Now Christ had asked him 3 times, do you love me? Peter was upset that Christ had asked him the 3rd time, and said, Lord you know all things, you know that I love you. φιλέω Peter had denied Jesus 3 times as Christ said he would. Now he had confessed his love for Christ 3 times. Jesus publicly restored him to leadership of the flock. 

d. Application, What Are We Devoted To? 

But for all believers the question remains, do you love Christ more than everything else? It is possible for us to come to church and be involved in a lot of Christian activities and still not have Christ number one in our lives. The Questions still remains:  Who or what do you love most?... What are you devoted to? Is your family more important to you than Jesus Christ? Do they come before your commitment to Christ? Or perhaps it's your friends. Is spending time socializing with your friends more important than spending time with the Lord or going to Church? Is your career more important to you than God's call on your life? Or perhaps sport or a hobby consumes your life? Are you so involved with these that there is no time left for Jesus Christ your Saviour? These things are not wrong in themselves. We need to work. We need to spend time with our families, they are important. Relaxing with friends and playing sport are fine. It’s when these things take priority over Jesus Christ that they are wrong. Anything that is more important to us than Christ is a wrong priority.

Eric Liddel Continued

Eric Liddel proved that Christ had first place in his life by refusing to run on Sunday. He put aside his own desires to please Christ. He knew that there was a more important race, the race of running for Christ. But that's not the end of it. After he won the four hundred yard race at the Olympics he went to China and became a missionary. He proved his love for Christ by obeying the call to go to China even though it cost him much. Eric's service demonstrated the love he already had for the Lord. Christ had first place in his life and he proved it by obeying the call and going to China.    



Peter had replied to the Lord, Lord you know that I love you. You know that I love you as a good friend. Christ had repeated the question three times. Jesus probably did this for emphasis, since Peter had denied him three times. But also to show the priority love has in serving the Lord. On the 3rd response Peter said You know all things Lord, you know that I love you. Christ had restored him to faith and fellowship. Now that Christ had established Peter's Priorities He turns to the Proof of Peter's Love.

Love is the only acceptable motive for service. 2 Corinthians 5:14-15 says: For the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead:  And that he died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again.  

Now Christ Recommissioned Peter

He now called Peter to follow Him as shepherd over the flock. Remember Christ had said,  If you love me keep My commandments.  John14:15


Secondly, Love's Proof

Upon Peter's affirmation of love for Christ, he is given four similar but different commands. These are in vss. 15-19." Feed My lambs," Tend My sheep," Feed My sheep,"  Follow Me."

Why did Christ use this sort of language? What do you think Peter understood this to mean? In John 10:1-18 Jesus spoke the same way. He referred to Himself as the Good Shepherd. Christ throughout His ministry used this picture of the shepherd. He saw Israel as sheep without a shepherd. He was the one who knew His sheep and called them by name. He led them out to pasture and protected them from wolves. Jesus was the Good Shepherd who laid down his life for the sheep. Now He asked Peter to take over the Shepherd's role. He was giving to Peter the care of the flock. This was why Christ stressed the importance of total commitment to Himself. Peter must love Jesus more than all else if he was to shepherd the flock. After all these were not just any old sheep, for Christ refers to them as My Sheep. The flock belonged to Christ, he had purchased it with His own blood.( Hebrews 13:20-21 )

a. A Call To Service - Peter's commissioning involved a three fold ministry

Firstly Peter was to feed the lambs. He was to look after the new believers. Lambs need extra care. Peter was to build them up in the word of God. To give them suitable food.

Secondly he was to tend or shepherd the sheep. This involved oversight of the flock. He was to lead by example, he was to go before the sheep. Peter was to protect the flock from wolves and may have to lay down his life. Paul instructed the Ephesian elders about a shepherds role.

Acts 20:28-31 says: Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.  I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock.  Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them So be on your guard! Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears.

Thirdly Peter was to feed the sheep (or literally little sheep ). Peter was responsible for the small sheep also. These were no longer lambs but had not yet grown to maturity either.

When taken together these three commands made Peter responsible for the entire flock from the youngest to the oldest. Peter was to lead (by example), to feed (or teach the word) and heed or watch out for wolves (those with false doctrine). Christ was the Chief  Shepherd and he commissioned Peter to be an Under Shepherd in charge of the flock  in His absence. This call was a life-long call, it was not for just a few years.

b. A Call To Sacrifice

As Christ gave His life for the sheep. Peter was to be willing to lay down his life for the Lord.


John 21:18-19 says: 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.  Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, Follow me!

Peter's ministry as a shepherd over the Lord's flock would one day cost him his life. If Peter did not allow Christ to have first place in his life I don't believe he would have payed the price. But Peter responded to the call and became bold for his Lord as we read of in the book of Acts. Did Peter catch on to the responsibilities of a shepherd? I believe so.

He says this in 1 Peter 5:1-4: To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder, a witness of Christ's sufferings and one who also will share in the glory to be revealed:  Be shepherds of God's flock that is under your care, serving as overseers -- not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve;  not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock.  And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.

c. A Special Call

Peter was called to follow Christ. This call would involve both service and sacrifice. But Peter saw John standing behind them and he wanted to know what the Lord was going to require of him. So he said what shall this man do Lord. But Christ politely told Peter that was not his concern. He was to follow Christ and not worry about John's ministry. He had a special call that was just for him. He had to be faithful to that call, just as John was to be faithful to his call.

Both calls were different, both calls were specially chosen by the Lord. We are not to compare ourselves with others, or their ministries. We are to run our own race. Peter grasped the great responsibility of being a shepherd. He also realised the blessing and reward of being faithful in the task. To be crowned on the day of Christ's appearing with a crown of glory that will never fade away.

Eric Liddel

Eric Liddel went to China and served there for a number of years. He died when he was still young. He was prepared to pay the cost for His Lord. When he died all Scotland mourned for him, and his life was remembered because he lived it for others. But mostly he was great because Christ came first and he never compromised that. That kind of life has great reward.

Quote: As Jim Elliot said before going to serve as a missionary to  the Auca Indians in South America.  He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose. He and his fellow missionaries were killed on arrival at the tribe. Later the tribe responded.


If Christ stood here today and asked you these three questions:  Are you devoted to Jesus Christ? Will you give your life to service and sacrifice. Do you love Me more than these? Or are friends, family, sport, money or work more important to us than Christ? Love is the only acceptable motive for service.

Firstly, Christ has called every Christian into service. Are you serving the Lord where He has called you to? Romans 12:4-8: For as we have many members in one body, but all the members do not have the same function, so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another. Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, let us prophesy in proportion to our faith; or ministry, let us use it in our ministering; he who teaches, in teaching; he who exhorts, in exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness.

Secondly, Christ has also called us to make sacrifices for Him. 1 John 3:16 says: By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.

Thirdly, We are not to be jealous or envious of those who have different ministries than we do. We should not compare ourselves with others. Like Peter we are to fulfil the ministry Christ has given to us, not worry about their ministry. 

I trust all of us will respond like Peter Lord You know all things; You know that I love you And then serve the Lord wherever He gives you opportunity, too like Peter did! 


Hebrews 13:20-21: Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, Make you perfect in every good work to do his will, working in you that which is well pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.  

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