Now the day began to wear away, and the twelve came and said to him, “Send the crowd away to go into the surrounding villages and countryside to find lodging and get provisions, for we are here in a desolate place.” But he said to them, “You give them something to eat.” They said, “We have no more than five loaves and two fish–unless we are to go and buy food for all these people.” For there were about five thousand men. And he said to his disciples, “Have them sit down in groups of about fifty each.” And they did so, and had them all sit down. And taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven and said a blessing over them. Then he broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples to set before the crowd. And they all ate and were satisfied. And what was left over was picked up, twelve baskets of broken pieces.
I’ve probably heard more sermons on the feeding of the 5,000 than just about any other miracle in the Bible. That said, I don’t think I’ve ever heard a sermon on the aspect of it I’m going to write about today.
Some people will contend that I’m critical of the Church. Fact is, I love the Church. I want to see the Church be all she can be, because I know that when she walks in the fullness of her beauty, she takes on the transcendence of her Lover and the world around her transforms.
Which is why I am so crestfallen when I hear Christian people tell me how they are suffering in the midst of the plenty that is their own local church. I hear from people with basic needs that any person in the church could meet with a modicum of effort, yet that need goes unfulfilled.
Honestly, I can think of few things more crushing to the spiritual life of another than to sit in church on Sunday and hear a sermon on God’s bounty, surrounded by people who are abounding, but not being one of them.
Increasingly, there exists a Christian rhetoric that states, I don’t have to do anything to help you because God will help you on His own, if someone prays hard enough. The problem is that the more I read the Scriptures, the more I’m convinced that mentality is the exact opposite of what God is trying to tell us about the way He works.
In the feeding of the 5,000 in Luke, Jesus makes—what is to me, at least—one of the most startling statements in the New Testament. The disciples, sensitive to the growing need of the crowd for food, alert Jesus to the problem, but He responds that the disciples should feed them. Almost instantly, the excuses start.
How the rest of the miracle unfolds is also telling. It happened while the disciples finally did the work that Jesus requested. As they handed out the food from the baskets, the miracle progressed. It didn’t happen before the work. In other words, Jesus didn’t make extra baskets of food materialize at His feet before the dazzled onlookers. Only as the disciples walked from person to person handing out food did the true nature of the miracle unfold. Jesus asked them to feed the crowd, and they did.
We gloss over that the disciples were active participants in the work of meeting the needs of others. The disciples were partners in the miracle.
How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!”
In short, the Lord wants the Gospel to go out, and it goes out because a real person delivers it. No one will hear unless a flesh and blood human does the work.
Paul also writes this:
Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us.
—2 Corinthians 5:20a
The king empowers an ambassador to be his full representative. An ambassador can make decisions and perform actions as if the king himself were making or performing them. The king’s decree and charge make that power possible.
This comes by the Holy Spirit living in us. A couple verses before, Paul wrote this:
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.
—2 Corinthians 5:17-19
Note well that final phrase.
Paul also writes:
And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.
—2 Corinthians 3:18
The new birth and our transformation into Christ’s fullness make it possible for us to be ambassadors.
2 Corinthians 5 concludes with this amazing statement:
For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
—2 Corinthians 5:21
Christian, you are the righteousness of God! Wherever you go, you are His salt, His light, His full representative, His very image.
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.
—2 Timothy 3:16-17
…for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
Are we walking in those good works that God prepared beforehand? Are we seeing the need and filling it because God has equipped us to meet needs because He Himself lives in us? Or are we reading the Bible just to fill our heads with more knowledge about work we aren’t doing?
This passage is telling:
And a man lame from birth was being carried, whom they laid daily at the gate of the temple that is called the Beautiful Gate to ask alms of those entering the temple. Seeing Peter and John about to go into the temple, he asked to receive alms. And Peter directed his gaze at him, as did John, and said, “Look at us.” And he fixed his attention on them, expecting to receive something from them. But Peter said, “I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!” And he took him by the right hand and raised him up, and immediately his feet and ankles were made strong. And leaping up he stood and began to walk, and entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God.
What is notably absent from that healing and the way Peter and John worked? I’ll let you think about that for a while.
God intends for us Spirit-filled believers to do the work. We’re already equipped. We’re already charged.
But Dan, what about these?
I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.
But he said, “What is impossible with men is possible with God.”
Folks, these two verses are the poster children for misapplying Scripture and for making excuses for dumping all the responsibility back on God to make anything happen.
The truth is that God lives in you. He is always in you. Where you go, He is. You are the righteousness of God. Anything is possible because God is working through you.
There is NEVER a reason for a fellow believer to be in want. NEVER. If a local church contains people with plenty and people in want, there’s only one word for that church: Ichabod. The glory has departed.
This issue makes me angry. It makes me furious when the Church has been equipped, approved, and charged with the task by God, yet the people in the Church won’t do the work. They throw it back in God’s lap and ask Him to do the work for them instead. As I see it, that’s a complete dismissal of our identity in Christ and a rejection of the Holy Spirit in us.
How ironic that we abort our responsibility when confronted with people in need, yet what follows are the first things the newly Spirit-filled Church did:
And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.
If God puts someone with a legitimate need before me, there’s nothing for me to pray about. I already know what to do. I’m to do the work and meet the need as best I can in light of all that Christ has given to me and done for me. And if the need is too great, then I pull the rest of the Church in and we meet the need. When we do the work because we have the faith and the equipping for it, then the miracle will progress through us because of what Christ has already done in us.
If we learn no other truth this year, that one will be enough.
19 thoughts on “YOU Feed Them”
That is one of the most convicting posts I have read in a long time. The disparity in the church that sees some Christians struggling to pay for heat and food while someone in the next pew, who claims to be his brother in Christ, is buying yet another toy or gadget is shameful and frankly sinful. Little wonder the world looks at us and sees hypocrisy.
Arthur, I wrote something similar a long time ago:
Some sad realities don’t change, do they?
How, exactly, should the church teach its people:
— to not be embarrassed to reveal their needs?
— that it’s OK to not appear self-sufficient and all put together?
— how to respond when someone blesses them with something material (food, etc)?
My experience with local churches is that the self-proclaimed Christians within (leaders and congregants alike) are far more insecure than the rest of the local population, and this insecurity drives them to try to come across as “better” than others, with its subsequent bad behaviors: overwhelming self-centeredness, judgmental behaviors towards others deemed not at their level, denial and misrepresentation of their actual condition & needs, and resentment at accepting any “charity” from anyone, to cite a few. It’s been hard here because I live in a very isolated and poor area, and though my household doesn’t have anywhere near a 6-figure income, we’re still regarded (negatively) as “too rich”, and people act bizarre (fearful, resentful, insulted, etc) when when we want to do something as simple as take them out to dinner. Sadly, the resentment and ostracism got to be too much, and we no longer attend church here (not a decision we made lightly).
It all starts with the leaders. They need to be vulnerable. They start helping others toward this by actually preaching on the issue of avoiding bootstrapping, fear, and isolation. They model. They do the work. Then they evaluate what is getting through and what isn’t. Then they refine the message and keep going.
Yes. Your post is right on. I’m the director of a food pantry, and have seen over and over that God provides the food, way beyond the church’s means. I fully agree that the church is to reach out to others, that government welfare would be totally unneccesary if the church was doing its job.
Where I struggle is finding balance in doing this personally….
I talk to someone who doesn’t have gas to get to work the next day. Do I take her next door to the gas station and put gas in her tank, when we are living on a credit card for gas to get my husband to work?
I help pay for someone’s propane, knowing that it means I won’t be grocery shopping this week. Then that person talks about the movie they went to and the vacation they are planning, things we can’t afford to do.
My husband gives his shoes to a man on the street who doesn’t have any. Now my dh needs shoes – that we can’t afford to buy.
I know that we (being in America) are richer than millions of people around the world. I know that we are better off than many even in our country, because we have a roof over our heads, heat, and hot water. Yet I also know that we can’t pay our bills, that a realistic budget is impossible. (I can either write one based on our needs, or based on our income. The first one we can’t afford, the second doesn’t cover everything.) I know the heartbreak of being a parent who struggles to come up with $20 to buy Christmas presents for her kids, while others are buying laptops for theirs. And I struggle to put that heartbreak aside, to remember that things aren’t important.
Do I ask the church for help? How, when they are all struggling, too? Besides, I know I’m better off than many others in the world, so what right would I have to ask?
I know all of this is pretty jumbled. If even a fraction of all that’s going through my head/heart is discernible from what I’ve typed, I’d be surprised. What you said looks easy. From where I sit, it’s hard.
As a Christian, I am first and foremost responsible to God, then to my fellow believers in my local church, then to any believers outside my church, then to the public at large. This is an order we have forgotten.
None of this is to say that I ignore people who aren’t in my church. I’m saying my congregation must come first, and this is because the church leadership SHOULD be holding people responsible for their receipt of gifts from others. Some sort of benevolence committee needs to exist in a church to make proper decisions about how money and help is apportioned to those who need it most.
Honestly, I only give money to those Christian organizations that are run by people we know. That way, they are accountable to us. In the same way, I hold responsible those people I know who need funds and then get them from me.
The reason what I’m talking about is hard is that it is so poorly managed. Church leaders who don’t lead are responsible for the problem.
Also, not everything requires money. Some things just take time. I’m sure the single mom with three kids would love to go out on a date, but if she has no one to watch her kids, she’ll just stay home and fall into despair. Why don’t our churches have a set time every Sunday to allow people the grace to stand up and say, “Hey, can anyone help me______?” I think one reason is that if church leaders actually let people do this and all the needs came out, people would see that not everything is as rosy as the leaders paint it. That’s a pride issue, though. We can’t be afraid of what others think, though. If a church did that and lost members because the church refused to varnish the truth, who cares? Those who stay will be healthier for it.
We’ve got to stop playing church and start acting like one!
I don’t see the passage you quoted at the beginning of your post confirming the order you give here. Did the disciples sit down and eat before they fed the crowd?
If I may interject, we all have “spheres” of responsibility, starting with our responsibility to our own families. In 1 Timothy 5, Paul is giving instructions on supporting widows. He notes that if the widows have children or grandchildren, they should receive help from their family, not from the church. He emphasizes this point later, writing, “If any one does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.”
My family is not rich, but we are doing OK. We decided to take our first trip to Disneyland this April. I know that some other families in our church are out of work. Our church took a collection for them last Sunday. Our family gave some. My wife asked if we should give the money we saved for our vacation, but I told her no. I felt that I would be neglecting my own family if we didn’t take this vacation–we’ve never been to Disneyland before and I don’t see us going again any time soon. These are the types of decisions we have to make. If you do decide to give, give generously. Believe that “Those who refresh other will themselves be refreshed.”
Hope that helps. 🙂
No Church yet. Once the Church was established, the pattern throughout the NT was that the Body took care of itself (see Gal. 6:10).
Now the Lord said Church you better love
‘Cause it’s a wounded world
That needs a healing touch
And He gave us a promise
And He gave us a job
He’ll be with us but the work is up to us
It’s up to us
From Alrightokuhhuhamen by Rich Mullins
One word: yep!
I’m borrowing/stealing this message for a future sermon! And, don’t expect to get credit because it was the Holy Spirit speaking through you. 🙂
My pastor preached something along these lines yesterday and noted that many Christians pray for God to miraculously provide for others in need. What we need to remember, he said, was that we may be the miracle that God sends to them! We are His hands and feet!
The lame man was carried daily to the Beautiful Gate to beg alms. Once we can no longer bring ourselves to give out of our own strength, this is the best we can do: to carry someone who needs help somewhere where he or she might receive some help. The early Church healed the man. The modern church installs a handicapped ramp.
I have friends and relatives whom I have more or less given up trying to help. I could give them all of my my money, possessions, time, and expertise, and they would not be better off for it. In each case, I could name the miracle which would improve their lives instantly and solve many of their long-term problems. If only I had the faith for those miracles!
I hear you. What makes me sad is that we can always come up with reasons NOT to help. The one that really bugs me is “boundaries.” I think a lot of people added the Henry Cloud book as the fifth Gospel. People hide behind the boundaries thing like crazy, but I can’t find any evidence for it in the NT.
Sometimes you must disfellowship someone to get them to wake up. But today, when the disfellowshipped can waltz into the church across the street, it seems as if we need a better way to get the thickheaded in line.
But Dan, we don’t have the funds to do as you say because the church says we have to give money for the poor in the big city next door’s skid row and also to Africa. We don’t have any left for our “own” poor.
I think Jesus said something about those who don’t take care of their own are worse than infidels. I realize this passage refers to families, but I firmly believe God would apply it also to churches.
Another great post! Thank you.
You’re welcome, Diane. You’ve been a reader long enough to know I’ve probably beaten this topic into the ground, but I think we’re actually getting worse at this than better.
I once visited a church on the Sunday that the annual budget was passed out. It had a benevolence fund as a line item. It was the smallest fund on the list.