Perfunctory Preparation and Performance (October, 2011)

Perfunctory Preparation and Performance
Originally Published in October, 2011. 
Robert Wurtz II

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John 21:15 So when they had dined, Jesus saith to Simon Peter, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me more than these? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my lambs.

John 21:16 He saith to him again the second time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my sheep.

John 21:17 He saith unto him the third time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? Peter was grieved because he said unto him the third time, Lovest thou me? And he said unto him, Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee. Jesus saith unto him, Feed my sheep.

This conversation with Peter was, in effect, a restoration. Jesus begins asking, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me more than these? This is a gentle rebuke for his having suggested that he loved the Lord more than the rest of the disciples. He then turns and states, in effect, if you really love me like you have said, prove it by feeding my lambs. This is an amazing revelation into the very center of the heart of God. The Lord was giving Peter a charge to keep. It would be the greatest responsibility of all. If he fails here he will prove he did not really love the Lord like he claimed. It will come down primarily to this one thing. Jesus had fed Peter with words that were spirit; now He is leaving this earth, and it’s Peter’s turn to feed His lambs. 

A Parting Charge from Christ

Our passage is frequently expounded to emphasize the use of two Greek words for love (agapao and phileo) as they change in the original text of the conversation. Nevertheless, I wish in this entry to examine a commonly overlooked emphasis on the part of our Lord. You will notice in the KJV that the word ‘feed’ is used three times. In the original Greek we have Βόσκε (bosky, feed) in verse 15 and 17 and Ποίμαινε (poimanate, tend) sandwiched in the middle in verse 16. The KJV obliterates the distinction here. The order is: feed my lambs; tend my sheep; and feed my sheep. But why? Was this just careless speech on the part of our Lord, or was He saying exactly what He meant? We know that there are no insignificant details in the scripture; however, this conversation with its shifting back from “feed” to “tend” to “feed” has puzzled many expositors over the years. We read in Trench: 

In Dean Stanley’s, Sermons and Essays on the Apostolic Age, p. 138, the answer is suggested. The lesson, in fact, which we learn from this is a most important one, and one which the Church, and all that bear rule in the Church, have need diligently to lay to heart; this namely, that whatever else of discipline and rule may be superadded thereto, still, the feeding of the flock, the finding for them of spiritual food, is the first and last; nothing else will supply the room of this, nor may be allowed to put this out of that foremost place which by right it should occupy. How often, in a false ecclesiastical system, the preaching of the Word loses its preeminence; the feeding (βόσκειν) falls into the background, is swallowed up in the “acting as shepherd” (ποιμαίνειν), which presently becomes no true shepherding, because it is not a feeding (βόσκειν) as well; but such a “shepherding” rather as God’s Word by the prophet Ezekiel has denounced (Ezekiel 34:2, 3, 8, 10; cf. Zech. 11:15-17Matt. 23.)” (Richard C. Trench; Synonyms of the New Testament). 

The Priority of Feeding

In Ezekiel 34, God denounced the “shepherds” that refused to care properly for the flock of God. They were self-serving and fleecing the flock. They shirked their responsibilities, and as a result, the people were carried off by the enemy. God came down on them with a severe judgment, and required the flock of God at the shepherds hands. That is to say, He held the shepherds accountable for the loss of sheep. 

Ezekiel 34 ought to sober even the most hardened of preachers and teachers. This abuse of the flock by the shepherds would be embedded in the psyche of all the Jews. It was a common theme that even Jesus would take up. God had given the shepherds clear responsibilities, and they had sorely abused them unto their own destruction. This is a lesson worthy of note and shines forth again in the New Testament: My brethren, be not many  masters, knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation. (James 3:1) The text is in the imperative, “Do not, so many of you, become teachers because you know we will receive a greater sentence in the judgment. “ How many teachers and preachers take that seriously? If a man will give an account for every idle word they speak on the day of judgment, what do you suppose will be the fate of those who have spoken for God recklessly? 

A Wake Up Call

An elderly minister (age late 70’s early 80’s) came to speak to our local assembly one Tuesday evening, as he had done many times, about his prison ministry. He was an aging giant of a man with a solid head of white. His hearing was almost gone. I cannot recall the text he spoke from — nor the contents of any of his previous messages. However, I shall not soon forget how he told of a dream he recently had. It happens that the Holy Spirit had spoken strongly and certainly to him in the night these words, “I am tired of your perfunctory ways.” The minister stated that he had to go find a dictionary to look that word up, because he did not know the meaning. What did he find? 

Perfunctory |pərˈfəNGk tərē| adjective (of an action or gesture) Carried out with a minimum of effort or reflection: he gave a perfunctory nod. Done merely to discharge a duty; performed mechanically and as a thing done mechanically; done in a careless and superficial manner; characterized by indifference; as, perfunctory admonitions.

Perfunctory Admonitions

The minister had no reason to lie and tell on himself. I doubt a man could make such a thing up. I could tell by the way he told the story that he was dead serious. He was troubled by the dream and wanted to pass on what God had said. Here is a dear man in his late 70’s to early 80’s still being expected of God to shepherd the people in his care with concern and excellence. 

Again James writes, Many teachers become not, my brethren, having known that greater judgment we shall receive. (James 3:1 YLT) God loved this minister enough to bring his actions to his attention so he could change. A minister may be tempted to just “coast along” in his old age as if God don’t mind, or as if God understands that he is tired and worn out from years on the trail. Not so for this minister; he still had plenty of life left in him and was fully able to discharge his duties. Those who teach/preach the word of God are going to be judged with a greater judgment. Again we read in Ezekiel, Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel, prophesy, and say unto them, Thus saith the Lord GOD unto the shepherds; Woe be to the shepherds of Israel that do feed themselves! should not the shepherds feed the flocks? (Ezekiel 34:2)

Feeding Themselves

I have marveled at times as I would reflect on the “Perfunctory Ways” dream as I have come to remember it. I do not say this as a criticism at all, I merely want to demonstrate a point here. The purpose of his coming was to raise funds, and rightly so, for his ongoing ministry. Ministers should live of the Gospel. This is God’s design. Ministers are not to demand their rights to payment; but rather, the churches are to insure that the ministers’ right to support is Biblically upheld to the best of their ability. What did Paul say?

Let the elders who rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the word and doctrine. (1 Timothy 5:17 NKJV)

Double honor is generally understood to mean double wages. It is of the Lord that “the Ox who treads out the corn also partake of that corn.” Nevertheless, if a person is going to receive wages, they ought to be upholding their end of the deal — tending and feeding the flock of God. The pattern given to Peter was feed, tend, and feed some more. Surely, God does not long pay for perfunctory feeding. This brother had been warned of God in a dream that God’s estimate of his service in ministry was that it was “perfunctory.” Nevertheless, he still desired wages for his services. Obviously, he did not realize this was happening and God pointed it out. He mended his ways and went back to faithfully discharging his ministry. Nevertheless, what about others? What about men who go on taking a perfunctory course in ministry? 

Dean Stanley (1815-1881), former Dean of Westminster, made some comments along these lines that are worthy of note; “How often, in a worldly ecclesiastical system, does the preaching of the Word lose its preeminence; the βόσκειν (feeding) falls into the background, is swallowed up in the ποιμαίνειν (service), which presently becomes no true ποιμαίνειν (service), because it is not a βόσκειν (feeding). Understand that today the emphasis is often on everything but feeding the flock of God. It is on building programs, administration, singing, etc. The enemy seems to have no small list of chores he can enlist a minister to do in the place of preparation for feeding the sheep. 

Again, neglecting God’s Word is what the prophet Ezekiel denounced (Ezekiel 34:2, 3, 8, 10; cf. Zech. 11:15-17Matt. 23.) Understand that real study is real work. If a man is successful at feeding the sheep, it is because of the great amount of laboring in the word that he is willing to do. A man may perfunctorily preach and teach, and it be little effort, but not if a man obeys God and executes the responsibility biblically. It is a tremendous effort. It is the most important thing — even more important than visiting the sheep. In fact, the same Peter that took the charge to feed the flock of God in John 21:15-17, also said this, It is not reasonable that we should leave the word of God, and serve tables. (Acts 6:2)  We could fill in the “serve tables” with any other lesser thing ____________. The Devil would do almost anything to marginalize the importance of feeding the flock of God that is among them.

Able and Willing to Teach

The overseer then must be irreproachable, husband of one wife, sober, discreet, decorous, hospitable, able to teach; (1 Timothy 3:2) and again, And the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, able to teach, patient (2 Timothy 2:24). Before a man ever takes up the responsibility of elder or minister they ought to observe this one qualification. God is going to hold ministers accountable. He is not looking for administrators, but feeders of His sheep. 

The job of a minister is primarily to feed the flock of God. The job of the sheep is to support the minister. God expects everyone to do their part for the successof His churches. Notice our passage does not say to feed on the flock; that is to say, they are not to be made objects of greed; but rather, we as ministers are ordained to live “of the milk” of the flock (1 Corinthians 9:7). It is a reciprocal relationship. What did Peter go on to say? Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; Neither as being lords over God’s heritage, but being ensamples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away. (1 Peter 5:2,3) Our word for feed here should be translated “tend” the flock of which feeding is the primary part. 

Perfunctory Preparation 

A certain substitute teacher commented to her class that it was easy to sit for 45 minutes in front of the kids, but that her real responsibility was to sit in teachers meetings. The veteran teacher looked on and smiled as if to say, “Madam, you sure have a lot to learn!” In time the substitute would have to backtrack on the comments once she got settled in and realized that teaching full time, five days a week, was not the same as being a substitute that was called in a few times per month. Her distorted view of reality proved she had not rightly considered what she had signed up for. Her words gave her away. 

Jesus once told the disciples, For which of you, intending to build a tower, sitteth not down first, and counteth the cost, whether he have sufficient to finish it? (Luke 14:28) So it is with ministry. Jesus charged Peter primarily with feeding the flock; that is the primary effort employed in the building of a tower (as it were). It is serious business; life and death serious. It takes many hours of preparation to move from the perfunctory to the satisfactory. 


If you don’t like to study, you definitely have not been called to the ministry. If you think that preaching and teaching can be done with minimal effort, with little reflection, merely to discharge a duty; performed mechanically and unthinkingly; done in a careless and superficial manner, then you are on your way to being a perfunctory preacher and in the end will receive a greater judgment (sentence). God will not have it. 

A child may run the vacuum cleaner over the carpet three or four strokes, roll up the cord, put it back in the closet, and then tell mother he is finished; but that kind of perfunctory work is not fit in the Kingdom of God. Imagine the child boasting to his friends how easy it is to vacuum, while they look on in amazement because they vacuum their parents house rightly. Amazing! 

We don’t preach and teach just to discharge the duty. It is a high calling. It is to be taken as seriously as if you held a loaded gun on the people. God expects his servants to prepare and seek His face. He expects us to rightly divide the word of Truth. This takes time and energy. It takes serious reflection. It takes getting alone for hours at a time to prepare. It takes a close walk with the Lord. This is why God commanded that they that minister and labor in the word are to be supported. 

The old timers used to say that the minister carried a burden for the people. The messages they prepared were often tear-stained as they wrestled with God for a word for the sheep. The reckless shepherd leaves the sheep in weakness and frailty. Like so many of our hymns and choruses — so also the sermons. Prosperity, positive confession, and a host of other foolish doctrines masquerades as preaching today. Is that food worthy of God’s flock? Does it edify the people? God is going to hold the teachers and preachers accountable. For this cause may we that labor in the word; count the cost; and endeavor to move well beyond the perfunctory — until we can preach and hear, “well done thy good and faithful servant.”

You Have Not So Learned Christ

You Have Not So Learned Christ
Robert Wurtz II

But you have not so learned Christ, if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught by Him, as the truth is in Jesus. (Ephesians 4:21 NKJV)

Under the New Covenant we have the promise that it will not be like the Old Covenant when God took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt (Jeremiah 31:32). You will recall Lot in the days of Abraham living in Sodom lingering and not really wanting to leave though fire and brimstone judgment was pending. We read, the men laid hold upon his hand, and upon the hand of his wife, and upon the hand of his two daughters; the LORD being merciful unto him: and they brought him forth, and set him without the city. (Genesis 19:16) This is outward leading. The New Covenant would be different in that God would work in those that were partakers of this covenant by working in them both to will and to do His good pleasure. It is an inward working. 

The Gentiles Walk

The context of our passage above deals with the manor of life that a Christian is to lead as contrasted with the gentiles. Paul describes them, Who being past feeling have given themselves over unto lasciviousness, to work all uncleanness with greediness. (Ephesians 4:19) Past feeling is a Greek word denoting the inability to feel pain. They have become numb to their sinfullness and feel no conviction of sin or pain of conscience. We might say their conscience was seared to the point where they sin as if it’s normal. Our word for lasciviousness in the KJV is translated sensuality in the newer versions. The Gentiles have given themselves over to the desires of the body until they have become ungodly lusts and are utterly controlling their lives. Paul then goes on, But ye have not so learned Christ (V. 20). If we are in Christ, walking in Him, then the truth that was in Him when He walked the earth (His manor of life) will be the truth that is in us. Why? Because that is what He teaches us inwardly. Many people claim to be Christian and live like the Gentiles. This is why Paul qualifies his remarks, if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught by Him. There is emphasis here in the Greek, If YOU have heard Him and been taught by Him. 

The Truth is IN Jesus

This then brings us to Ephesians 4:21: if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught by Him, as the truth is in Jesus. We that have been baptized into Jesus Christ by the Spirit are in Christ where the truth is. So long as we are inChrist then Paul can say you have heard Him and you have been taught by Him as the truth is in Jesus. Being in Christ provides the means by which we are taught individually. It is a relationship in which the Lord Himself reveals truth to us inwardly. What is the truth that He is teaching us? That ye put off concerning the former conversation the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts; And be renewed in the spirit of your mind. (V.22, 23) Our passage uses the phrase, the old man. Paul uses the expression ‘one new man’ in Ephesians 2:15. The one new man, I suggest stands in contrast to the old man or our old man (Romans 6:6) that was crucified with Christ. This new man has Christ as the Head. The old man has old Adam as the head. This is two categories of people. We are born in Adam, the old man. We are born again in the Last Adam, baptized into one body with Christ as the Head. This reality makes for a totally different manor of life. The old man is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts. The verb corrupt in the Greek is in the present continuous tense, meaning that it keeps on corrupting itself. Just when you think you have reformed it it refreshes itself in wickedness again. The only solution is to get out of our old man and get in to and stay in the new man. This is where the truth is. 

Transformed into His Image

But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformedinto the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord. (2 Cor. 3:18)
This is the experience of the New Man. Here we have ‘are being transformed’ also in the present continuous. Just as the old man waxed corrupt, the new man is undergoing a continuous refreshing into the personality of Christ. I would suggest this is what we might call ‘progressive glorification’. Moses had gone up and came down glowing with the glory of God, evidence that he had been with God. We know that being with the Lord has a profound effect on behavior even as noticed by Israel and the rulers when “they took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13). 
Dangerous behaviors

I want to carefully transition in our discussion into an area of concern in our times. In the broader context of Ephesians 4, Paul moves on and deals with being angry, working, and our communication as believers. He tells us to be angry and sin not, let not the sun go down upon your anger, neither give place to the Devil. Think about how the churches of God were persecuted in the 1st century when these words were penned. Leaders like Caligula Claudius , and Nero (that had his own mother executed) ruled Rome during these terrible times. How did Christians respond? What did they learn of Christ? We know that they loved to the end, even as we have in the example of Stephen. Believers were respectful to others, and to leaders as was Paul when he went before Festus and Agrippa. They never lost their testimony before the world. Keep this in mind.

Modern Trappings

As Christians we are at great risk in modern times of being angered by the unrighteous behaviors that go on in society and among leaders just as would have been the Christians that watched their fellow believers burned to death under Nero or the lewd awful behaviors of a Caligula. We risk being lured into a bad spirit that would not please God. Our passage was useful to the Ephesians and the epistles broader audience and it still applies to us today. What complicates the situation is that some believers begin to feed into various worldly means that spread anger, such as talk-radio and television, until they get a bad spirit. Not knowing that these people are not friends of the Gospel simply because we share what some would call a ‘common enemy’, they begin to listen to the talk and get angrier and angrier. I think we already know this, but conservatism is not the same thing as Christianity. They may share some common views, but Christianity originates in a different Kingdom, not of this world. To participate in a voting process is one thing, but to transgress Godly principals and fail to move in the person of Jesus Christ is never acceptable. Everything you and I do in this regard we need to stop and ask ourselves, “Did I learn this from Christ?” 

You Have Not So learned Christ

What happens? Rather than praying for our leaders as we are told in 1 Timothy 2, we see believers start to mean-mouth and mock, just shy of cursing our leaders. Beloved, this ought not so to be. Answer? But you have not so learned Christ. Anger is a valid human emotion under the right circumstances. Yet we are also told that the wrath of man does not work the righteousness of God. (James 1:20) That is no straw statement. God’s ways are not our ways unless we are moving in the mind of Christ. If we allow the world to press us into its mode of thinking (Romans 12:2), even when there may be a common agreement in a few areas, we risk losing the whole of our testimony. Is it wise to think we can fight fire with fire? Can we fight anger with anger? What did Paul say? Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers. (Ephesians 4:29) 

Dangerous Teachers

Introducing scoffing and mockery into a solemn subject is like dead flies in perfume. It mars the subject and the speaker. (Ecclesiastes 10:1) Jesus never taught anyone to be a smart aleck. It neither promotes the cause or bolsters the argument. The stench of pride in such behavior makes me think of Thomas Carlyle when he stated, Sarcasm I now see to be, in general, the language of the devil; for which reason I have long since as good as renounced it”. One thing I know for certain, but you have not so learned Christ. This brings us to a great question. What are we allowing to ‘teach’ us? Sarcastic teachers? Or are we listening to the Lord as He leads us inwardly? He taught us how to deal with our humanness in overcoming sin and temptation. He taught us how to handle situations when He was being persecuted. He is our teacher. The risk we run today is that we would allow other voices to teach us instead of Christ. The voice of politics or conservatism. Voices that lend to anger and sinning as opposed to having the mind of Christ. But you have not so learned Christ, if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught by Him, as the truth is in Jesus. (Ephesians 4:21 NKJV) The truth is in Christ, not these other voices that pretend to speak for Him. 

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