What are churches with meager finances and numbers to do? Is there an answer in the Gospels?
I want us to understand the invisible dimension of church finances, Jesus.
We will examine the miracle of feeding the 5,000 and see how it applies to the life of the small church.
You Give Them Something to Eat
Church potluck meals can be traced to Jesus feeding a large crowd that had gathered on the north shore of the sea of Galilee. Towards evening, the disciples suggested that Jesus dismiss them so that they could go to nearby communities to purchase food (Matthew 14:16). Jesus' answer puzzled them. Despite Bible history of food miracles they did not expect one here. Jesus looked up towards heaven and blessed the meal and 5 loaves of bread and two fish fed thousands. 12 baskets of food were left over. Like the provision of Manna, this too a physical miracle of bread, and foreshadowed the Lord's Supper, the miracle of salvation. Is Jesus inviting us to feed others? Should we too "give them something to eat" from what little we have and rely upon God to provide the rest in abundance?
The “God Helps Those...” Lie
“God helps those who help themselves” is a motto from ancient Greece and not the Bible. It contradicts the Bible. In Matthew 14:16 the disciples told Jesus virtually the same thing: let the crowd go and take care of their own food needs. Jesus simply instructed the disciples, "You feed them." That may be a shock to fiscally conservative Christians who do not believe in a welfare system. The conservative fiction is that people are poor because they are too lazy to help themselves. Yet, honest analysis of the causes of poverty also include other reasons including the poor being the victims of crime, overpopulation, inefficient distribution, corruption, bad education, environmental degradation, political oppression, colonialism, disease and war. The miracle of feeding the five thousand men and their families is a radical contradiction of the politics of selfish conservatism.
The Bread of Eternal Life
Today’s food industry is willing to make a buck but not nourish the people. Many sell junk that produces diabetes and heart disease without care for the consequences. We are among the world’s wealthy nations and have access to all the best produce in the world, but many food merchants are more interested in promoting what makes a quick buck than what makes us healthy. Jesus refused food from the devil, but said that those who give to the poor are giving to him. In Matthew 14:13-21 Jesus showed compassion on a crowd which included about five thousand men by providing them miraculous food. It reminds us of the Israelites being fed in the wilderness and God’s providence in our wildernesses. Communion reminds us of the one who provides our daily bread and the bread of eternal life, Jesus.
Way Beyond our Numbers
Churches are often built on a wing and a prayer figuratively speaking. In church after church, the weekly offering falls short of the stated needs. Yet, we operate in hope and faith that God will supply. The story of feeding the five thousand men and an unknown quantity of women and children in Matthew 14:17 is one of the few miracles mentioned in all four gospels. Jesus’ challenge to us as it was to them is simple: You give them something to eat. And so we participate in the divine challenge. We are not completely sure, but also because we believe. As we pray over the weekly offering what thoughts go through our minds? Twelve fed perhaps ten or fifteen thousand. Jesus can multiply our efforts to feed many with the bread of life way beyond our numbers.
Preaching in a Spiritual Desert
Preaching is a lonely business. No preacher is capable of feeding spiritual food to the people. The human spirit is a desert. How do we provide nourishment for others when no human has the spiritual resources? The answer according to Matthew 14:19 is to just go ahead and start feeding the needy and God will supply. Church life is full of lonely places. Every sermon is from an inadequate human being, yet our wonderful God supplies his people. There is nothing in any preacher that can provide spiritual nourishment for the people of God. Yet, in the desert places of human inability, there are needs to be met. We can only look to God to provide. Thank God that he allows us to assist in feeding his people despite the fact that we are preaching in a spiritual desert.
Why Join an Imperfect Church
I imagine some fellow Christian friends wonder why I joined the church I now serve. They may point out this or that sin or weakness and they would be correct, but so what! As I read Matthew 14:13-21 I am reminded that no human being is capable of feeding the people. It is self-righteous to believe that one church is better or worse than another. As long as a church believes in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, I believe that the rest is irrelevant trivia. It is not the church that saves us. Jesus saves! It is idolatry to imagine that our doctrines or polity are best. No church has the perfect doctrines. Far from it! Most churches are probably about 80% wrong in doctrine, but 100% correct if they have faith in Jesus and not their own institutions.
Why Bless our Food
Some Christians believe that it is wrong to eat without blessing food. I can't find anything in the Bible stating that. What does blessing food mean? Jesus set the example by blessing meals often. An example is in Matthew 14:19 where he blessed the food before feeding over five thousand. The original word describing what he did has made its way into English at a funeral's eulogy. It is similar in meaning. The Greek broken down literally means a good word (eu+logos). And so a eulogy is a good word about the deceased just as a blessing on a meal is a good word. We give thanks and praise for the food and we ask God to bless us as we eat and digest it. The person asking the blessing on the meal simply says a good word.
When We Burn Out
What do we do when we are burned out and in need of rest and there is an emergency? That was what Jesus faced in Matthew 14:13-21. He had taken his disciples away from the crowds to rest and rejuvenate. Yet, he had compassion on them and told his disciples to feed the throng. Sometimes one of the most rejuvenating things of all is to do good to others — a soup kitchen, a charity drive, a work project for the poor — there is recovery in giving to others. Greed makes us sick, but generosity makes us healthy. One of the greatest secrets of the universe was revealed by Jesus when he said, We are far happier giving than getting (Acts 20:35). When we burn out, one of the best ways to heal is to help others.
Miracles & Science
In Matthew 14:13-21 Jesus performed two types of miracle, healing and feeding. In a world that likes to reduce things to scientifically measurable explanations, the miraculous may sometimes seem implausible. Yet all one has to do is speak with long time medical professionals and find out that a large number of them believe in and have witnessed miracles. Science contains an a priori pre-supposition or assumption that only natural phenomena exist. However, that must therefore also presume the possibility of natural phenomena not yet discovered by science. Of course, that also assumes the possibility that scientists may someday be capable of eventually discovering everything and are not limited in some ways. The Bible seems to indicate that human beings are limited — a little lower than the angels — and thus perhaps incapable of scientific discovery of spiritual things.
When There’s Nothing Left to Give
What do we do when there is nothing left to give? What do we do when our marriages are worn out and there is no energy left to give? What do we do when our bank accounts are depleted and there is no money left to give? What do we do when we are tired from overwork and we cannot go on another step? What do we do when we have given our all to our children and they make just one too many mistakes? What do we do when we need time to mourn the loss of dear ones and yet hungry mouths cry for food? In Matthew 14:13-21 Jesus needed time to mourn his cousin John who was murdered by a tyrant. Yet, people needed to be healed and fed. His answer was compassion. What is ours?
The Miracle of Christian Leadership
Christian leaders are just like everyone else on the planet, ordinary. Yet, there is a difference and it has nothing to do with the person. It has everything to do with the one who sent the person, Jesus. In Matthew 14:13-21 is the story of Jesus feeding the five thousand men and an unnumbered crowd of women and children. Yet, there is another miracle going on as well, the miracle of Christian leadership. Church leaders stand before an enormous task, the number who need to be fed and then they hear the word of Jesus which says, "You feed them." The human task is just to pass out the loaves and fishes. It is Jesus who gives a blessing on the food we serve and Jesus who performs the miracle in using our meager efforts to feed the multitudes.
The Miracle of Sharing
An alternative explanation of the feeding of the five thousand families in Matthew 14:13-21 is that the real miracle was one of generosity. The traditional interpretation is that the fish and loaves of bread miraculously multiplied. However, that is not specifically stated in the story and an honest person must leave the exact nature of the miracle in the realm of the unknown. We must be honest enough to accept it as a real possibility that the crowds were so overcome by Jesus’ generosity that they also began to share the food that they had brought along. If the disciples found some food among them, then maybe others in the crowd also had some as well. Perhaps there is a lesson in that one of the greatest miracles of all is transforming selfish hearts through the miracle of sharing.
Our finances and numbers may be small, but we are in the miracle business. We do not look to the physical alone, but also to our Lord’s Providence.