Fishers of Men

My experience has shown me that the words are familiar to the church, but the actual work perhaps not so much.

Repair the net that is the church. In this same passage in Matthew 4, two other fishing brothers, James and John, are also called by Christ. When Jesus called them, they were “mending their nets” (Matt. 4:21). My mentor, Pastor Ken Smith, likes to point out that the word used here to describe these men repairing their nets is the same word given in Ephesians 4:11-12 to describe the duty of pastors to “equip” the saints for service. This picture is fitting, for the church’s work in evangelism and discipleship is likened to casting a net and hauling in the fish (Ezek,. 47:9-10; Matt. 13:47-50). Ministers and elders must repair and equip their congregations in gospel fishing – mending the holes in the net by encouraging the weak, training the ignorant, moving people from selfishness to service, and showing them how to be winsome for God’s kingdom.

 

When Jesus came upon the two brothers, Simon and Andrew, repairing their nets by the Sea of Galilee, he spoke to them those familiar words found in Matthew 4:19. “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.” My experience has shown me that the words are familiar to the church, but the actual work perhaps not so much. How might we better understand the words so the work can be more accessible to us?

We can start by realizing that this call of Christ to these two men did not just come “out of the blue.” Some have read this text, seen Simon and Andrew immediately leaving their nets behind to follow Christ, and concluded that these men, without any previous interaction with Jesus, left all to work with him. However, that’s not the case. These brothers already had a growing knowledge of Christ.

Jesus was living a very public ministry at this point. He already had been baptized by John the Baptist. At that time, we find that Andrew had heard John the Baptist preaching about Jesus, seen him point Jesus out as the Lamb of God, and then gone to tell his brother Simon that he had found the Messiah (John 1:35-42). They then spent time with Jesus, who at that time gave Simon his better known name of Peter. After Jesus went out into the wilderness for forty days, these men returned to their fishing. Like followers of rabbis in their day, they would work and then take time off to learn and serve alongside their mentor. Likely these brother eventually traveled some with Jesus and observed him ministering before this point, for this appearance and call to these men came after John’s arrest by Herod (Matt. 4:12).

We also know that even after this calling in Matthew 4, the disciples likely went back to fishing for a time. For as Luke recounts, Jesus came to them at a later time and used their boats as a “floating pulpit” to speak to crowds gathered to hear him. On this occasion the Lord gave them a miraculous haul of fish that led Peter to fall down in fear and amazement, recognizing Jesus as God’s Son. They were then told “from now on you will be catching men” (Luke 5:1-12). Soon afterward, following a night of prayer, they were formally chosen and set apart by the Lord to accompany him in ministry (Luke 6:12-16). That ministry is described by the Lord himself as being a fisher of men or catching men.

With this understanding of the words now in place, we are in a better position to consider its works with these five principles.

Learn fishing from and with the Master. Though these men were professionals at drawing fish from the sea, they were humbled several times by Jesus in their own vocation (the catch above in Luke 5; feeding the 5000 with two fish and five loaves; calming the storm in their fishing boat; pulling tax money from a fish’s mouth…). This humbling by Christ in what they already knew was to remind them they had much to learn from him in what they did not know, which was catching men. The years they spent being with him and watching his interactions with people taught them how to win people to Christ.

Similarly, we need to learn from those in the faith who can teach us in the ways of the Lord regarding bringing people into the kingdom of God. We should desire to be around those who reflect the ways of the Lord with people to us. Much of this learning does not take place in a classroom, but in homes, marketplaces, and street corners as we watch alongside others who are serving people with a Christ likeness and engaging people in gospel discussions.

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