“He said to him a third time, ‘Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?’ Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, ‘Do you love Me?’ And he said to Him, ‘Lord, You know all things; you know that I love You.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Feed My sheep.’”John 21:17
Each time Peter affirmed that he loved Jesus he received a similar response; “Feed My lambs;” “Tend My sheep;” and “Feed My sheep.” One who has a genuine love for Jesus will have a genuine love for the objects of His special love – other believers.
Jesus commands Christians to love one another (John 13:34; 15:12, 17; 1 John 3:11) but we may lose sight of what that means. Jesus gave an illustration to His disciples recorded in John 13 when He washed the disciples’ feet. Peter got the point as we can read in Acts and Peter’s letters where he writes, “Above all things have fervent love for one another” (1 Peter 4:8) and then goes on to reveal that fervent love is expressed by exercising the spiritual gifts given to us (1 Peter 4:9-11). If we love Jesus we will love His people expressed by serving His people.
“Feed My lambs” means that we will have a special concern and care for those who cannot care for themselves, especially new believers. That means we will go out of our way to disciple and mentor them.
“Tend My sheep” means to shepherd His people. We can all be shepherds who look to the needs of others (Philippians 2:4; 2 Timothy 2:2). This will include providing what they need, guarding them against the enemy, warning, encouragement and comfort (cf. 2 Timothy 3:16-17).
“Feed My sheep” means that we nourish other Christians with the Bread of Life – God’s word developed in a relationship with Jesus Christ. We will teach God’s word to others. In all of these we note that the lambs and sheep are His and we are under delegated authority to engage in activities that express His sacrificial love for His flock. We may differ in the expression of these depending on opportunity and gifting but we cannot affirm we love Jesus if we are not so engaged. Singing songs of love to Jesus is hypocritical if we are not serving His people out of genuine love (John 14:15, 21, 23; 1 John 5:3; 2 John 1:6). To love other Christians with God’s kind of love (1 John 3:16) is to serve one another without condition or expectation of anything in return.