If you’re anything like me, you want to follow the Bible, especially the words in red print where Jesus was talking. If you’re also like me, sometimes there are biblical phrases and “Christianese” expressions that can confuse you. One such phrase is when Jesus calls us to be “Fishers of Men.”
Preachers love to call this phrase out from the pulpit, quoting Mark 1:17 where Jesus himself said, “Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men.” But we can’t literally fish for people, so what are we supposed to do with that?
Whenever I am confused by a passage, I first look at the context surrounding it. Taking a look at the few verses before this one, we can understand more. Jesus is walking up to two fishermen, who were in the act of throwing their fishing nets into the water.
I love how Jesus always seems to meet people where they are and speaks to them in a way that they can understand. They did not go to school so they wouldn’t necessarily understand educated speech. They did not go to the temple often, so wouldn’t know expressions used by the religious leaders.
This tells me that no matter your career, education, or understanding, Jesus is calling you to go and follow him.
They were fishermen, doing their regular everyday jobs when Jesus came to them and called them to come to follow him with an analogy they would have understood.
They would have known better than anyone what Jesus was asking them to do. But what is he asking us to do in this analogy?
What Does It Mean to Be Fishers of Men?
Cast Our Nets
As a fisherman, casting his net out into the water, Jesus was asking them to cast the gospel message out to people and try to catch men’s hearts.
Fishing is unpredictable. There is no guarantee of reward. It requires patience and risk. In faith, the fishermen would throw their nets into the deep water, letting it sink into the lake out of sight, and hoping that the reward for their efforts would be a catch.
Fish will not jump into the boat. Fishers must search for them and take a risk by throwing their nets into the water. Could they possibly go through a bunch of work and never get a single fish? Absolutely. That happened multiple times in Scripture. But the risk was worth the reward.
In the same way, this is our model for evangelism. We take the story of Christ and the message of what he has done for us, and we speak it out into the world around us.
Can we always see under the surface and know if the message is working? No. Do we sometimes share the gospel and see no response? Yes, it happens all the time.
Like fishing, speaking out the gospel is a risk. Sometimes people will get saved, and other times they won’t. I have had moments when I shared the gospel with a crowd, and 50 people came forward to give their lives to Jesus. I have had other times when I shared, and not a single person responded.
Is the reward of winning a heart for Jesus worth the risk and effort of getting out there and sharing? Absolutely. Fish will never be caught unless a net is cast, and people will never get saved unless we speak out.
But how can they call on him to save them unless they believe in him? And how can they believe in him if they have never heard about him? And how can they hear about him unless someone tells them? (Romans 10:14).
Don't Worry about Rotten Fish
After a catch, the fishers would empty the nets and sift through the fish, throwing out the garbage or dead rotten fish. Sometimes along with fish, they caught rocks, kelp, mud, and random debris floating in the lake.
In the same way, sometimes you will share the gospel, pull in the net, and get bizarre responses. Sometimes you will get a no and get rejected. Other times, people may mock you. You may also catch a genuine heart who wants Jesus, but they are unwilling to leave their old lifestyle of sin behind.
Jesus warned us that this will happen.
“Once again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was let down into the lake and caught all kinds of fish. When it was full, the fishermen pulled it up on the shore. Then they sat down and collected the good fish in baskets, but threw the bad away. This is how it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous and throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 13:47-50).
It was not the fishermen’s job to make sure every fish was good, and they did not take it personally if some went bad. It was only their job to make the cast.
Sift the good moments out from the bad, and don’t take the rejection personally.
What Is the Meaning of Matthew 4:19 and Fishers of Men?
Repair the Net
After Jesus called Peter and Andrew to come to follow him, he went further up the beach and found James and John, not casting their nets, but mending them.
A little farther up the shore, he saw two other brothers, James and John, sitting in a boat with their father, Zebedee, repairing their nets. And he called them to come, too (Matthew 4:21).
Nets wore out over time. Maybe they caught a rock and tore, or perhaps they broke under the weight of a load of fish. Regardless of what happened, the constant use wore them down.
Fishers had to take time to mend the nets, repair them, and get them to a place to cast again. There was no shame in that. It was just another part of the job.
Often when you share the gospel, you will get caught on a rock. Maybe a coworker shuts you down, perhaps a family member ridicules you, or maybe you feel like you shared a thousand times and are tired.
It’s ok to stop and take time to mend and repair. Get filled up with Jesus, talk about your pain and hurts, share with a mentor, ask for prayer, and fix the net. There is no shame in that. Whatever you do, don’t give up.
Even when rejected, Jesus was asking them to cast again.
The fishermen knew they would always have to cast again. A big catch tonight did not mean they stopped casting tomorrow. A failed attempt yesterday does not mean there are no fish around today. A torn net does not mean it is over. We must always cast again.
Share the gospel again and choose to love people again. We cannot live today off of yesterday’s fantastic experience or horrible failure. “Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each morning” (Lamentations 3:23, NLT).
To be a fisherman did not require a specific degree, intellect, or personality type. But it did require hard work, patience, and the ability not to give up even when the catch was empty.
The fisherman who did not give up would get better, and a catch would always come eventually. The only ones who didn’t catch fish were the ones who gave up. But for those who didn’t, the reward was far greater than the effort it took to make the cast.
This is what it means to be a fisher of men. You do not need to be from a specific culture, class, or educational background. You do not need to be a particular personality type or rank in the church.
What you do need to be is willing to share the gospel with others, be patient, work through rejection, mend your heart when hurt, and get out and try to share again.
As someone who has cast the net of the gospel many times, I can tell you there will be some hardships, but when you see people fall in love with Jesus, the joy far exceeds the pain. Let us pick up our nets and follow Jesus because, in the end, he is worthy.
For further reading:
What Did Jesus Mean to ‘Go and Make Disciples’?
What Does it Mean to Let Your Light Shine?
What Does it Mean to be a Disciple of Christ?
What Are the Marks of a True Believer?
What Does Love in Action Look Like?
What Is the Importance of Having a Spiritual Family?
Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/smiltena
Taylor Jensen is a missionary, pastor, and world traveler. His passion is to help equip believers with practical ways to ignite their faith and bring Jesus into the world around them. That is the goal of his personal blog Fireplace Faith. Want to Learn How to Hear God's Voice? Subscribe here to get his Free Ebook “8 Biblical Ways to Hear God's Voice.” Reach out to him any time through his blog or through his social media accounts @taylorcjensen.