During lunch at Grace & Truth one day, I was listening to two fishermen, who were also our pressmen, talking about their favorite pastime – fishing the nearby ponds, lakes, streams and rivers. They were comparing notes about their favorite fishing holes, the best bait, and their most recent catches. When I was able to break into their conversation, I told them my grandson was just starting to fish, and asked when was the best time to go fishing. “When the fish are biting,” they answered with a smile. When I asked how he would know when the fish were biting they smiled again and told me, “He’ll have to go fishing to find out.” I’d Rather Be Fishing I got the message. An avid fisherman does not wait for the best time. He goes fishing every chance he gets. I once saw this bumper sticker on the back of an old pickup truck: “A bad day of fishing is better than a good day of anything else!” Recently, I saw another version of it on a businessman’s car: “A bad day of fishing is better than a good day at the office.”
I know an executive who has a small plaque on his desk that says, “I’d rather be fishing.” Over that simple message is the Christian symbol of a fish. This man is not a gifted evangelist, but he loves to “do the work of an evangelist” (2 Tim. 4:5) every chance he gets. No matter what his other business or spiritual occupations may be, he also loves fishing for men. Shouldn’t this be every Christian’s attitude?
Fishing, one of the Lord’s central images for saving souls, is a work to which He calls every one of His followers. When Paul encouraged Timothy in his ministry he included evangelism in his instructions, saying that it was one of “the duties” of his service to the Lord (2 Tim. 4:5).
Jesus wants us to develop a fisher’s attitude regarding lost souls. That’s why He said, “Come, follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men” (Mt. 4:19; Mk. 1:17). When He spoke these words to Peter, Andrew, James and John, they were already successful fishermen. Their response to His invitation converted them from being mere fishermen to becoming “fishers of men.”
Learn From The Master
How does the Lord develop in His disciples this desire to “fulfill” their ministry (2 Tim. 4:5 NKJV) by becoming fishers of men? A fisherman once told me, “You learn to fish by fishing, not by wishing.” Another said, “The best way to learn to fish is by doing it, not talking about it or reading about it.” But the most valuable advice came from an expert who taught fly fishing at a local community college: “If you are really serious about learning to fish, go fishing with a master fisherman.”
And that’s exactly what the disciples did. It is as though the Lord said this: “Follow Me and I will develop in you a love for fish (lost souls) that cannot be quenched, as well as a yearning to fish (evangelism) that cannot be satisfied. I will both teach you how to fish, and open your eyes to where the fish are.”
Consider what the disciples learned from the Lord’s encounter with the woman at the well. Their mistaken notion was that their purpose in following Him was to take care of His needs. But when they returned with food for Him, He surprised them with these words: “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me.” Then Jesus pointed to the men whom the woman had brought to Him, and told the disciples this was the food and the occupation He wanted them to enjoy: “Open your eyes and look at the fields! They are already ripe for harvest” (Jn. 4:33-35). The relationship between following Jesus and becoming fishers of men is significant.
Give Up And Take Up
Another lesson these prospective fishers for men learned from the Lord was that following Him required giving up something. Look what happened to the first disciples the Lord called. Peter and Andrew immediately “left their nets and followed Him” (Mt. 4:20). James and John “left the boat and their father and followed Him” (Mt. 4:22). When the Lord called Matthew, without a second thought he left his lucrative job as a tax collector, “got up and followed Him” (Mt. 9:9; Mk. 2:14; Lk. 5:28). Learning to fish for men requires a willingness to give up jobs, other responsibilities and even family ties (Mt. 8:22; Lk. 9:59-62). Fishing becomes the most important thing.
When the rich young ruler asked, “What must I do to gain eternal life?” the Lord answered, “Sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow Me” (Mt. 19:21). Following the Lord requires a willingness to rid ourselves not only of the possessions that encumber us, but also the selfish attitude that keeps us hanging on to them. The rich young ruler “went away sad, because he had great wealth” which he couldn’t part with (Mt. 19:22; Lk. 18:22). Freedom from things makes it easier for us to become fishers of men.
“Follow Me” not only requires giving up something but also taking up something. The Lord said that each follower should “deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me” (Mt. 16:24; Mk. 8:34; Lk. 9:23). Denial of self refers to giving up self-interests, occupations and relationships. Taking up our cross refers to bearing that particular persecution which comes upon those who identify with the Savior. The writer of Hebrews wasn’t joking when he wrote that identification with Jesus means that we will suffer, “bearing the disgrace He bore” (Heb. 13:13).
Learning To Fish
Peter had to learn this significant lesson as a part of his training to be a fisher of men. Before his willingness to follow was put to the test, he boasted, “Lord, I am ready to go with You to prison and to death.” But under the pressure of being identified with the scorned, rejected and persecuted Christ, he did exactly the opposite of his boast and exactly what the Lord predicted: “You will deny three times that you know Me” (Lk. 22:33-34).
In the depression brought on by the shame of his denial, Peter could not even fish for fish successfully, let alone become a fisher of men. But the Lord lovingly showed Peter that success at fishing – whether for fish or for men – depended on a willingness to follow in simple obedience. The Lord canceled Peter’s three denials by asking him three times, “Do you truly love Me?” Peter’s honest and humble answers demonstrated that he was ready to fish for lost souls. And the Lord soon after blessed him with a full net: “Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about 3000 were added to their number that day” (Jn. 21:3-17; Acts 2:38-41).
With Net Or Line?
In the Gospels, net fishing seems to stand out in most people’s minds. When asked to name a net fisherman, Peter’s name is always mentioned first. While other disciples were fishermen, Peter is the one known as “the fisherman” – most likely because of his great net-breaking catches, and the fact that the Lord told him, “from now on you will catch men” (Lk. 5:5-10).
If more fish are caught with a net than a hook, is it always better to fish with a net? That depends on whether the Lord asks you to fish in the ocean or in a stream, for a lot of fish all at once or just one fish at a time. Net fishers are judged by the number of fish they catch, while line fishers are rated by the size of the fish they catch. Would that make Andrew the most noted line fisher for men? He brought Peter to the Lord with these words: “We have found the Messiah” (Jn. 1:41), and in so doing caught the big fish who became best known for catching the most fish!
Consider the loss had Andrew never gone line fishing for Peter. Consider the loss had Paul not introduced the gospel to Europe by catching just two fish, Lydia and the jailer, from two different social classes in Philippi (Acts 16:11-34). Consider the loss had Philip not introduced the gospel to Africa by catching one fish, an Ethiopian treasury officer – and in the desert of all places (Acts 8:26-39)! Consider the loss if those who claim to be followers of Christ do not respond to His call to become fishers of men wherever they live. We must ask ourselves this question: “Am I doing the work of an evangelist?” A negative answer means that something is missing in our service for the Lord.
It is important for every Christian to see the relationship the Lord intends between following Him and serving Him as a fisher of men. It is also important to see that no matter what their gifts may be, they are also called to engage in some form of evangelism, of spreading the Good News. Finally, it is encouraging to see that God values both net and line fishing.
If the Lord puts you on the ocean with a net in hand, fish. If He puts you by a stream with a line in hand, fish. All fish caught are important to the Lord, because after they are caught, He makes them fishers of men. How? By saying to them, “Come follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.”
By Larry Ondrejack
|Lead Me To Some Soul Today
Lead me to some soul today,
O teach me, Lord, just what to say.
Friends of mine are lost in sin,
And cannot find their way.
Few there are who seem to care,
And few there are who pray.
Melt my heart and fill my life,
Give me one soul today.
By Will Houghton
With permission to publish by: Sam Hadley, Grace & Truth, 210 Chestnut St., Danville, IL., USA. Website: www.gtpress.org