In John chapter six we read about Jesus’ ministry in Galilee – in particular we read about his “feeding of the five thousand.” He is preaching to a great crowd when Jesus asks his disciples where they should buy food for all of the people. Jesus’ disciple Philip says, “Two hundred denarii would not buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!” Isn’t that an interesting response? Philip appears to have a good head for numbers.
In both John’s and Mark’s description of the feeding of the five thousand, there is an emphasis on how much it would cost to feed the crowds. This is a response that probably rings true for us not only in our ministries but in our daily life at home and at work as well. We have a great idea – and then we immediately determine whether or not we can afford it. This is a wise and wonderful method for determining what vacation we can or cannot take, but it might be counterproductive in some aspects of ministry.
At the very beginning of John’s account, after Jesus asks Philip the question about where they can buy food, we read in verse six: “He asked this only to test him, for he already had in mind what he was going to do.” It was a test! In determining whether Philip passed or failed that test, consider first that he didn’t really answer Jesus’ question at all. Jesus asked “Where…?” Philip’s answer suggests that Jesus’ question is impractical and therefore irrelevant: we don’t have the resources, so why look for the bakery?
One of the other disciples, Andrew, speaks up and says, “Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?” This is a better response, but again not a proper answer to Jesus’ question!
Jesus proceeds to perform one of his best known miracles – he has his disciples instruct the people to sit down, takes the loaves and fish, gives thanks, and distributed the food to the thousands present. Not only did they have enough for everyone to eat their fill, but he had the disciples collect the leftover bread – twelve baskets!
Boldness in attempting great things God calls us to despite our limited resources is certainly a ministry value being taught here in John 6, but so is thrift. John alone records the complete instructions Jesus gives after the people have eaten. Jesus says to his disciples, “Gather up the pieces that are left over. Let nothing be wasted.” There is the thrift: let nothing be wasted.
Often in ministry we can assume that we do not have what we need for ministry – and we can lose hope and simply not attempt certain ministries that God may be calling us to. In so doing we are leaving God completely out of the equation and operating no differently than a Fortune 500 company – at best. But on the other hand, sometimes we can squander resources because we always assume that God can simply do a miracle and provide what we need. And so we are not careful to appreciate what he does give. I suspect that we all tend to err in one of those two directions! How much better to trust the Lord to provide and to be bold in pursuing ministry while demonstrating faithful stewardship of his gifts by wasting nothing!