Compare our culture today with where we were just ten years ago. Same-sex marriage is now the law of the land. Those who object to the LGBTQ agenda on religious grounds are considered homophobic, slanderous, and dangerous. An organized movement to legalize polygamy is gaining momentum. Euthanasia is legal in more states than ever before. Pornography is even more rampant, with virtual-reality headsets the new frontier of this addictive, destructive plague. Sex trafficking is escalating. We are in the grip of the worst illegal drug epidemic in our history.
It’s easy to be discouraged by the direction of our culture. But the good news is that the good news is still good news. Jesus can still change any heart that is given to him. His Spirit can still transform marriages and families and communities. All that God has ever done, he can still do.
The key to culture-changing Christianity is simple and yet profound. It is captured in ten words, an invitation extended to Jesus to Galilean fishermen twenty centuries ago and to you and me today. If we understand and accept his invitation, he will change our lives forever. And changed people change people.
Let’s hear Jesus’ call across time and eternity to our hearts and culture today.
The invitation that changed history
The words that changed the world happened as a result of this encounter: “While walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon (who is called Peter) and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen” (Matthew 4:18). Jesus “saw” the two brothers—the Greek word means to perceive, to take note of. He didn’t happen to see them—he saw them on purpose, for a purpose. They already knew Jesus, as John’s Gospel makes clear (John 1–4). But now they would see him in a different light.
They were fishing because “they were fishermen.” This was not a hobby but a vocation. Fishing was a very significant business in their day. Salted fish was the primary source of protein for most people. The fish were dried, salted, or pickled to preserve them and exported as a commodity. Since a major trade route came through Capernaum, the men were wise to locate their business in this city.
Note that they were hard at work when Jesus called them. We have no record of our Lord ever calling into discipleship anyone who was idle at the time.
Now come the ten words that changed the world: “And he said to them, ‘Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men'” (v. 19). “Follow me” is literally, “Come here after me!” It is a present-tense imperative, an ongoing command. “After me” shows that they are to be behind Jesus, following him wherever he goes. The standard procedure was for disciples to ask a rabbi if they could follow him. In this case Jesus inverts the process, calling them to himself. He did the same when he called you to salvation and service.
“I will make you” is literally, “I will manufacture you.” Here we see that we cannot make ourselves into fishers of men. Jesus chooses to use us in his transformational ministry on earth. But he must make us instruments he can use for his purposes.
If these fishermen would become Jesus’ disciples, he would use them to make more disciples who would make more disciples. The movement they began encircled the globe and changed humanity forever.
Why fish for men?
Jesus’ call to these men became his charge to his entire church across all time. “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19) was his Great Commission. “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8) were his last words before his Ascension. Spiritual fishing, helping people follow Jesus, was and is his purpose for every believer.
You are not really a businessman or woman, a homemaker or lawyer or teacher or doctor or student. You are a spiritual fisherman. Your school or home or business is simply the lake where God has put you so you can catch the spiritual fish who swim there. So you can pray for them, be a spiritual example to them, encourage them, help them with their problems, invite them to worship, lead them to faith.
There is no clergy/laity distinction in the Bible. In fact, the word “clergy” is unbiblical, as is the concept. Every member is a minister; every Christian is called to Kingdom work; you are saved to serve. Spiritual fishing is God’s plan and purpose for every Christian life, yours included.
Separating this call from the congregation is one of Satan’s greatest strategies. Imagine a football team where only the coaches touched the ball, a business where only the CEO saw customers, or a hospital where only the administration treated patients. Satan knows that when he can convince you that spiritual fishing is your pastor’s job and not yours, he hurts both you and your minister. Your pastor cannot do this work alone, and you cannot be fulfilled until you do.
Helping people follow Jesus is the highest purpose of life and God’s “good and acceptable and perfect” will for your life (Romans 12:2). When we are in God’s will, he meets all our needs according to his riches in glory through Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:19). His peace that passes all understanding will guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus (Phil. 4:7). And we can do all things through Christ who sustains and strengthens us (Phil 4:13). There is no better or safer place in all the world than in the will of God.
God’s purpose will give your life its greatest purpose.
Martin Luther was an anonymous medieval priest before he started spiritual fishing. By his death he had sparked a Reformation that changed the world, translated the entire Bible, published more than 400 pamphlets and books, written thirty-seven hymns, and printed 2,300 sermons. God’s purpose gave his life purpose.
Billy Graham was an unknown farmer’s son before he started spiritual fishing. And he has shared Christ with more than any person in Christian history. God can do more with your life than you can. Make his purpose yours, and I can testify personally that you’ll always be grateful you did.
How do we fish for men?
“Fishers of men” was a common phrase in Jesus’ day. Greek and Roman philosophers used it to describe those who sought to “catch” others by their persuasion. But Jesus made it a powerful metaphor for evangelism and ministry. What does this call require of us? Consider seven principles.
First, spiritual fishing requires commitment. In ancient Galilee, some people were fishing investors. They bought and sold licenses and gave financial support to fishing. Others were fishing employers. They owned the boats and hired the fishermen. And some were fishing practitioners. They actually caught the fish.
Jesus has enough spiritual investors and employers. He’s looking for practitioners. Spiritual fishing is 24/7, a lifestyle commitment. Not just at church but at work, at school, at home. Spiritual fishing takes commitment.
Second, spiritual fishing requires strategy. Successful fishermen would go to the fish, where they were, using methods designed to catch the fish they sought. It is the same with spiritual fishermen—we must take the gospel to those who will not come to us, meeting felt needs to meet spiritual needs.
Third, spiritual fishing may require courage. Sudden squalls threatened fishermen without warning. Jesus said we would have tribulation in this world (John 16:33). Sharing your faith, touching others’ spiritual needs, standing for God requires courage.
Fourth, spiritual fishing requires faith. A fisherman must wait for the fish to come, with faith that he will catch fish he cannot see. It is the same with spiritual fishing—we cannot see souls and often cannot measure the future impact of our present ministry.
Fifth, spiritual fishing requires training. Fishermen had to know how to catch fish. In the same way, we must be trained to fish for men. The same Spirit who saved us will equip us. He gives us spiritual gifts to do all God asks of us. You must know and use your spiritual gifts to be a spiritual fisherman.
Sixth, spiritual fishing requires humility. The fisherman must be invisible to the fish or they’ll not go near his boat. What counts is not the size of his boat or the beauty of his equipment, but the fish he catches. This is the only measure of success.
Last, spiritual fishing requires passion. It is easy to abandon this work if we do not see the result we want. But we must remember that God is using us to save eternal souls. As fishermen drew fish from the abyss of the lake into the light, so these men would draw souls from the abyss of sin into the sunlight of God’s transforming love. There is no greater privilege.
How do you measure success?
We must follow Jesus before we can fish for men
But remember the priority of Jesus’ call: these men could fish for men only after they chose to follow Jesus. He would “make” them into the spiritual fishermen God intended them to be. Only then could they make the impact on their culture God wanted them to make.
I wonder if one of the main reasons the church is not impacting our culture more effectively is that we are not following Jesus more fully. To follow him means to go where he goes and do what he says, every moment of every day. You cannot follow Jesus and follow sin at the same time. You cannot follow Jesus and follow people at the same time. You can follow Jesus only if you only follow Jesus.
Conversely, it seems to me that much of our present discipleship focuses on us rather than on those we are to reach. We measure spirituality by attendance at religious events and programs. But Jesus measures success differently. If we follow him as he intends, he will always make us fishers of people. Without exception.
To summarize: When we follow Jesus, we will fish for men. We can fish for men effectively only if we are following Jesus fully. If we are catching men, we are following Jesus.
Are you catching men?