What is a Fisher of Men?

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What is a Fisher of Men?

And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Matthew 4:19 (ESV)

When Jesus called his first disciples, he didn’t pick the most educated. He didn’t pick the strongest. He didn’t pick people with status. He picked fisherman. Fishermen were not regarded as a particularly valuable group to society. Cicero even noted that fishing was one of the “least respectable trades” (Cicero, On Duties 1.42). However, fishermen have a particular set of skills that make them the perfect fishers of men. I think that the skills that Jesus saw in Peter, Andrew, James, and John are still skills that can make Christians effective fishers of men today. 

In Jesus’ day, there were three primary forms of fishing. First, there was fishing with a net. This would have been the primary form of fishing that these four disciples would have used as their livelihood. While it is debated exactly which kind of net was used at this time (drop net, casting net, etc.) the goal of net fishing is well established:  to catch a lot of fish in a short time. I have seen some entire blog posts describing that this was the only form of fishing that was done in Jesus’ day. I would like to make clear, it is not the ONLY form, but was certainly the easiest to catch the largest volume. There was also spear fishing. I don’t know about you, but I’m not sure this is the best form of fishing to be endorsing when we are fishing for men (although I’ve heard some sermons that leave you with that impression). I would like to pay special attention to a third form of fishing which was common in Jesus’ day. In Matthew 17:27 Jesus instructs Peter to go fishing with a line and hook similar to what the average fisherman performs today. 

Sometimes when we are fishing for men, it can feel like we are fishing with a net. You make a moderate effort with your fellow Christians and you have a huge catch. I remember a week of Bible Camp where there were 50 new Christians in less than a week. Young hearts were falling in love with Jesus for the first time and were extremely responsive. I have been on missionary campaigns where the entire village would welcome the team. They were excited to learn about Jesus and to hear the Good News preached. In net fishing, the fish basically come to you. You have to have your net in the right place, but the fish are already headed in your direction. You just have to take advantage of the situation. In these cases, sometimes there is a response that echoes the scene in Acts 2 where 3000 made the decision to follow Christ. However, this has not been the experience of most of my evangelisitic efforts. 

Most of my evangelistic efforts have been a lot closer to fishing with a line and hook. If you do a lot of fishing, you are probably used to doing a whole lot more casting and reeling in nothing than catching fish. Some days and some seasons the fish are really biting, but sometimes you may cast 50 times before your bait gets a second look. One of the greatest attributes of a good fisherman is patience. Sometimes a fish may need to have the same lure presented 3-4 times before it decides to bite. A lot of times it’s not the wrong lure, it’s just the wrong time. Sometimes the fish wants to bite. It’s even hungry. But maybe the lure is the wrong color, or the wrong size, or maybe even the hooks are too big to stay in its mouth. The good fisherman figures out what is necessary to make a catch, and even understands that sometimes the context isn’t right to have success. 

When we present God’s word to people, it’s very common for our message to go unnoticed. That’s ok. Jesus didn’t call disciples to be catchers. He called us to be fishers. Even if we do everything right, it still may not be enough to bring them to Jesus. However, there is still value in the venture. Ultimately, it is Jesus they have rejected. We should make every effort to be effective, but we also need to understand that it is God who they are rejecting, not the fisherman. I hope that you gain the persistence of the fisherman in your evangelism. I hope that you don’t let a bad day keep you from going back to the water. I hope that you can look back on your life, and even if your catches were few, proudly say that you were and are a Fisher of Men. 



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