Reading Time: 9 minutes

Fishing for men

Dr. Jim Denison is a cultural apologist who helps people respond biblically and redemptively to the vital issues of our day. He is also the co-founder and Chief Vision Officer of the Denison Forum, a Dallas-based nonprofit that comments on current issues through a biblical lens.

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Topic Scripture: Matthew 4:18-19

Do you live by a calendar and clock, or a compass?

Some of us are governed by our calendars. We keep them at our desks, hang them on our walls, or carry them in our pockets. We record them with pencils or computers. And every day we do what they tell us to do.

They run our lives with the help of our clocks. On the wall or our wrists, the clock tells us when to do what the calendar tells us to do.

I am as much a slave to my calendar and clock as anyone I know. But today I announce to you that I repent of their lordship over my life and choose to live instead by a compass. And so should you.

There is only one “true north” in the Christian life. Only one purpose which will direct your life with unerring accuracy, which will guide you home every single time. As we begin a new year together, we’re going to find it today.

Finding “true north”

Our text begins: “As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew” (v. 18). Reading the text, we assume that this is their first meeting. But Matthew’s original readers knew this was far from true.

In January of AD 26, Jesus of Nazareth was baptized by John the Baptizer in the Jordan River. After his temptations in the wilderness, he returned to Bethany, the place of his baptism. There he first met these fishermen (John 1:28, 35–51).

John and Andrew were disciples of John the Baptist. The Baptizer pointed them to Jesus, and they began to follow him. Andrew brought his brother Simon to Jesus as well (1:42).

Jesus then called Philip to follow him. Philip was from Bethsaida, the same home town as Andrew and Peter. Philip introduced Nathaniel to Jesus. And John introduced his brother James to him as well.

Now the small entourage traveled from Judea back to their homeland of Galilee. Here Jesus turned the water to wine in the village of Cana (John 2:1–11). He stayed in Capernaum with this band of followers and his family (John 2:12). He and they traveled to Jerusalem for their first Passover together, March 21 of AD 27. Jesus met Nicodemus while in Jerusalem (John 3).

After John the Baptist was imprisoned, they traveled north to Galilee again. Jesus met the Samaritan woman on the way (John 4) and was welcomed back to Galilee (John 4:43–45). After this year together, the men returned to their homes and their work.

And so Simon Peter and Andrew, James and John knew Jesus. They have believed in him and followed him for a year. But not full-time, not with their lives and their futures, their all. Not until today.

Now Jesus begins his public preaching ministry in Galilee with the central theme of his life and work: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near” (Matthew 4:17). And now he calls these men to join him in this work, permanently.

“Come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of men” (v. 19), he says.

“Come” is a command: “come here.” “Follow” means “be full-time followers, pupils, disciples.” The construction is plural, showing that this is Jesus’ will for each and all of them. “Me” shows that they will follow Jesus personally. Their loyalty will not be to a religion, an institution, a program, but a person. The Son of God himself.

For what purpose? “And I will make you fishers of men.”

“Make” means to equip for a job, to give you all you need. “I will make you” shows that only Jesus can do this. And that he will—this is his promise. “Fishers”—people who will catch something. What? “Fishers of men”—all men. Not just Jews, but Gentiles. Not just men, but women. Everyone. The entire world. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son” (John 3:16). He wants us to love the world and win the world to Jesus.

Understand: these men knew Jesus. They had believed in him and followed him for a year. But they had not worked for him. They had not brought others to him. They had not given their lives to his service.

So, he called them to be “fishers of men,” people who would bring other people into the Kingdom of God. People whose lives would influence other lives spiritually. People who would help other people follow Jesus. And this would become the “true north” on the compass of their lives, the central purpose for which they would live, and die, and be rewarded in eternity.

Is this God’s call for your life and mine?

Why fish for men?

Yes. Jesus’ call to them became his charge to his entire church across all time. “Go and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19) was his Great Commission. “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8) were his last words on earth. 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. That’s why you live in your boat, on your lake.

You see, 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 my job and not yours, he hurts us both. I 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 will for your life. And God’s will is “good, acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:1). 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 which passes all understanding will guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:7), and we can do all things through Christ who sustains and strengthens us (Philippians 4:13). There is no better or safer place in all the world to be than in the will of God.

God made us, and he alone knows what most fulfills us. He can do far more with our lives than we can. When we commit ourselves to this purpose, he rewards and uses us for all eternity.

How do we fish for men?

So, what does this call require of us?

First, our lifestyle 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 may require courage.

Sudden squalls threatened fishermen then, just as they threaten those on the lake today. Jesus said we would have tribulation in this world (John 16:33). Sharing your faith, touching others spiritual, standing for God requires courage.

Third, 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.

So with spiritual fishing. The Master does not measure our success as we do. Not by how many fishermen we can get to join us for discussions of fishing, or how beautiful our boat is, or how advanced our equipment. Not by your status on your lake, or how many boats you own, or how many fishermen you employ. By how many fish you catch. Humility is crucial to spiritual fishing.

How do you measure success?

Conclusion

Truett Cathy served in the US Army during World War II, then opened a restaurant called The Dwarf House with his brother in Atlanta, Georgia. In 1967, they opened their first Chick-fil-A. They could not have imagined that the company would be more than 2,200 restaurants in forty-seven states today.

From the beginning, Cathy closed his stores on Sunday so employees could attend worship services. He took in over two hundred foster children across thirty years and donated $18 million to develop foster homes and summer camps. His son Dan, who now runs the company, believes that “our work should be our worship. Our work should be our mission field.”

God can do more with your life than you can. Make his purpose yours, and Truett Cathy would tell you that you’ll always be grateful you did.