Union University R.G. Lee Society of Fellows

"Are We Fishing or Fighting?"
Luke 5:1-11

by Dr. Ray Newcomb
Pastor, First Baptist Church
Millington, Tennessee

Dr. A. Ray Newcomb


    When I was in high school, our family used to fish every year during spring break. One year my brother and my mom couldn’t go, so my dad let me invite a friend. I asked Mark. He was a good pal and a great sport. He got permission from his parents, and we began planning our trip.

      Days before leaving, we could already anticipate the vacation. We could feel the sun warming our bodies as we floated in the boat. We could feel the yank of the rod and hear the spin of the reel as we wrestled the white bass into the boat. And we could smell the fish frying in a skillet over an open fire. We could hardly wait. Days passed like cold molasses. Finally spring break arrived. We loaded our camper and set out for the lake.

      We arrived late at night, unfolded the camper, and went to bed dreaming of tomorrow’s day in the sun. But during the night, an unseasonably strong norther blew in. It got cold fast! The wind was so strong that we could barely open the camper door the next morning. The sky was gray. The lake was a mountain range of white-capped waves.  There was no way we could fish in that weather.

      “No problem,” we said. “We’ll spend the day in the camper. After all, we have Monopoly. We have Reader’s Digest. We all know a few jokes. It’s not what we came to do, but we’ll make the best of it and fish tomorrow.”

      So, huddled in the camper with a Coleman stove and a Monopoly board, we three fishermen passed the day indoors. The hours passed slowly, but they did pass. Night finally came, and we crawled into the sleeping bags dreaming of angling.

      Were we in for a surprise. The next morning it wasn’t the wind that made the door hard to open, it was the ice!

      We tried to be cheerful. “No problem,” we mumbled. “We can play Monopoly…again. We can reread the stories in Reader’s Digest. And surely we know another joke or two.” But as courageous as we tried to be, it was obvious that some of the gray had left the sky and entered our camper.

      I began to notice a few things I hadn’t seen before. I noticed that Mark had a few personality flaws. He was a bit too cocky about his opinions. He was easily irritated and constantly edgy. He couldn’t take any constructive criticism. Even though his socks did stink, he didn’t think it was my business to tell him.

    “Just looking out for the best interest of my dad’s camper,” I defended, expecting Dad to come to my aid. But Dad just sat over in the corner, reading. Humph, I thought, where is he when I need him? And then, I began to see Dad in a different light. When I mentioned to him that the eggs were soggy and the toast was burnt, he invited me to try my hand at the portable stove. Touchy, touchy, I said to myself. Nothing like being cooped up in a camper with someone to help you see his real nature.

      It was a long day. It was a long, cold night.

      When we awoke the next morning to the sound of sleet slapping the canvas, we didn’t even pretend to be cheerful. We were flat-out grumpy. Mark became more of a jerk with each passing moment; I wondered what spell of ignorance I must have been in when I invited him. Dad couldn’t do anything right; I wondered how someone so irritable could have such an even-tempered son. We sat in misery the whole day, our fishing equipment still unpacked.

      The next day was even colder. “We’re going home,” were my father’s first words. No one objected.

      I learned a hard lesson that week. Not about fishing, but about people.

      When those who are called to fish don’t fish, they fight.

      When energy intended to be used outside is used inside, the result is explosive. Instead of casting nets, we cast stones. Instead of extending helping hands, we point accusing fingers. Instead of being fishers of the lost, we become critics of the saved. Rather than helping the hurting, we hurt the helpers.

      The result? Church Scrooges. “Bah humbug” spirituality. Beady eyes searching for warts on others while ignoring the warts on the nose below. Crooked fingers that bypass strengths and point out weaknesses.

      Split churches. Poor testimonies. Broken hearts. Legalistic wars.

      And, sadly, poor go unfed, confused go uncounseled, and lost go unreached.

      When those who are called to fish don’t fish, they fight.

      But note the other side of this fish tale: When those who are called to fish, fish—they flourish.[1]

    Jesus said, “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men” Matthew 4:19. He said, “…fear not; from henceforth thou shalt catch men” Luke 5:10.

I.       How do I let failure affect me?  (verses 5-9)

      We see their statement of failure. “We have toiled all the night and have taken nothing.”

A.     Their work was of the flesh.

They toiled all night. The word “toiled” means to be weary, to labor. After all the work of the flesh, they caught nothing. Jesus taught, “For without me you can do nothing.”  John 15:5. And He gave us His spirit to give us power to witness in the flesh. (See Acts 1:8) Many of us are like the man running a vacuum cleaner. There was no sound. He was asked what kind of vacuum he was using and if it was a new model. The man answered that it was not a new model. They checked to see why it was so quiet and found it was not plugged in to the power. Many churches and Christians are not plugged into God’s power.

B.     They worked in folly.

Their work was folly to the Lord. Nothing was caught during the entire night. These men were fisherman, but they were foolish not to use the power of the Lord. We build beautiful buildings and approve big budgets, but what are we producing? It is a lot of our work and worship, folly in the Lord’s sight.

C.     They worked in fatigue.

Their voices expressed tiredness. “We have toiled all night.” All they wanted to do was rest. Our work can lead us to be tired and worn out. We call it burnout.

      Many of could relate to Chippie. Chippie the parakeet never saw it coming. One second he was peacefully perched in his cage. The next he was sucked in, washed up, and blown over.

      The problems began when Chippie’s owner decided to clean Chippie’s cage with a vacuum cleaner. She removed the attachment from the end of the hose and stuck it in the cage. The phone rang, and she turned to pick it up. She’d barely said “hello” when “sssopp!” Chippie got sucked in.

      The bird owner gasped, put down the phone, turned off the vacuum, and opened the bag. There was Chippie—still alive, but stunned.

      Since the bird was covered with dust and soot, she grabbed him and raced to the bathroom, turned on the faucet, and held Chippie under the running water. Then, realizing that Chippie was soaked and shivering, she did what any compassionate bird owner would do…she reached for the hair dryer and blasted the pet with hot air. Poor Chippie never knew what hit him.

      A few days after the trauma, the reporter who’d initially written about the event contacted Chippie’s owner to see how the bird was recovering. “Well,” she replied, “Chippie doesn’t sing much anymore—he just sits and stares.”

      It’s not hard to see why. Sucked in, washed up, and blown over…that’s enough to steal the song from the stoutest heart.[2]

      We are like Chippie because we work in the flesh. Our work is folly and we become fatigued.

II.    How can I let faith attract me? (verse 5b)

A.     They listened to the master. Simon said “Nevertheless at thy word.” The Lord had spoken and they would exercise faith in His Word.

      Many times I ask myself, “Am I listening to the Lord?” His Word is our greatest source and we must hear what He is asking us to do.

      Dr. R G. Lee said, “Winning men to faith in Christ and helping them to be disciples of Jesus is the greatest work that ever moved an angel’s wing in flight, the greatest achievement that ever caused rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God, the greatest work that ever laid claim to the talents and activity of Christians, that ever spurred Christians to the highest pitch of their abilities. The matter of saving men and making them His disciples was the only work big enough to bring Jesus from the heights of deity to the depths of humanity, from heaven’s glory places to Calvary’s gory place, from heaven’s joys to jeers of earth!” [3]

B.     They launched out into the deep (verse 4b). We see the faith of the tired and weary men as they launch out from the shore. This is faith, not a leap in the dark. Jesus asks us to follow Him and become fishers of men. Many of us respond to His Word like a soldier of Wellington. Wellington gave a command to his troops and one responded “General, that is impossible.” Wellington responded, “You go ahead, and do it because I don’t give impossible commands.”


      We must go ahead and do what Jesus asks. He does not give impossible commands.

C.     They let down their nets (verse 5c). The Lord knew what was about to happen. The men could not catch fish without letting their nets down.

      Many of us think we can live among people and our life will influence them to be saved. We are like the man who went to the river and launched his boat. He ran up and down the river with his net on the back of the boat. When he came in to the dock someone asked him what he was doing. He answered, “I am influencing the fish by showing them my net.”

      We must launch out by witnessing and sharing the Gospel. Paul tells us, So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” Romans 10:12

III. How can I have fortune added to me? (verses 6-11)

      We can learn by their fortune.

A.     Their catch was great (verse 6). When they did what Jesus asked them to do they enclosed a great multitude of fishes. Their nets were so full they began to break. The promise of God to us is, “We will rejoice, bringing in the sheaves.” Psalm 126:6

B.     Their cooperation was gratifying (verse 7). It is great to see the cooperation of the other ship coming to help. When we catch fish together we are too busy to fuss and fight. Each person doing his part will make the fishing experience gratifying.

C.     Their confession of guilt (verse 8). Peter was astonished at what happened. He acknowledged his sinfulness. Peter’s sin could have been doubt and unbelief. When he saw the fish he was astonished. When we obey God we too can be astonished at the catch of souls God gives us.

D.     The command of guidance (verse 8). The Lord told them not to be afraid. Fear grips many of us as we attempt to do what God asks. I found how to be delivered from fear in Psalm 34:4, “I sought the LORD, and he heard me, and delivered me from all my fears.”

The men were commanded and guided to catch men. It is great to know that when we follow Jesus we can catch men.

E.      The commitment to go (verse 11). When Jesus spoke to them about catching men they forsook all and followed Him. They forsook their fishing boats, which was their life’s work. We are asked to forsake our ideas and follow Him to catch men.

Conclusion: Once, as a great servant of the Lord tells us, a man traveled a journey of many miles to interview a distinguished scholar. On the presentation of his card, the butler ushered him into the study of the great scholar. He was cordially greeted. Before seating himself, he asked this question of the noted scholar: “Doctor, I have come a long way to ask you just one question. I observe that the walls of your room are filled with books. This room is literally lined with them from ceiling to floor. I suppose you have read them all. I know you have written many books. You have traveled the world over; you have held intimate converse with the world’s wisest men—its leaders of thought, its creators of opinion. Tell me, if you will, after the years you have spent in study, out of the things you have learned, what is the ONE thing best worth knowing?” The great scholar’s face flushed with emotion. He placed, with clumsy gentleness, both hands over the hands of his caller. And he said: “My dear sir, out of all the things I have learned there are only two lessons best worth knowing. The first is, I am a great sinner. The second is, Jesus Christ is a great Savior. In the knowledge of these two facts, as applied to my own personal experience, lie all my happiness and all my hopes!”[4]

Written by: Ray Newcomb, Pastor
Baptist Church
, Tennessee

[1] Lucado, Max. In The Eye Of The Storm, Word Publishing , Dallas. 1991 pp. 55-57.

[2] Ibid, p. 11.

[3] Lee, Robert G. A Charge To Keep, Christ For The World Publishers, Orlando, Florida. 1959, p.76.

[4] Lee, Robert G. The Name Above Every Name.  Fleming H. Revell Co., New York, 1938, p. 116.



Ray Newcomb has been pastor of First Baptist Church, Millington, Tennessee since 1976. He holds the bachelor of arts degree from Blue Mountain College, Blue Mountain, Mississippi; the masters of religious education degree from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary; and the doctor of theology degree from Luther Rice Seminary. He and his wife Carolyn have one son, Brent and one grandson.