Mark 8:19-20, "When I brake
the five loaves among five thousand, how many baskets full of fragments took ye
up? They say unto him, Twelve. And when the seven among four thousand, how many
baskets full of fragments took ye up? And they said, Seven."
This morning, we find ourselves, once again, in the midst of comparison games in our society. Even though the Scriptures affirm that this method of analysis and scrutiny for our conduct is not wise (II Corinthians 10:12), we, as fallen creatures, engage in this "favourite pastime" quite often. When playing games of comparison with one another or to one another, we are always guaranteed to find two things: 1. we will find someone doing better than we are, and 2. we will find someone doing worse than we are. Since we are comparing ourselves to others, discovery #1 will lead to covetousness at not having what others have or doing as well as others are doing. Discovery #2 will give sufficient grounds in our own mind to self justify, "Well, I am not doing so badly after all." However, while comparisons sometimes are made for a worthy reason, they many times fail to see the overall conclusion of the matter. This is probably no more apparent among us as God's people than in trying to measure, gauge, and compare the Spirit and its manifestations.
While Christ is specifically speaking here in context about being ware of the leaven of the Pharisees, He brings back to their mind two specific times that they had with Him. These two experiences are the feeding of the 5,000 and the 4,000 (besides women and children on both occasions). His contextual point is that their fear about not taking bread for their journey is unfounded. Christ would not upbraid them for that as He can create something out of nothing or bless something to multiply the more He divides it (like He did on the two occasions mentioned). But, let us look at these two occasions and see how they quell our foolish comparisons about similar situations today.
This natural feeding that Christ accomplished on these two occasions is a mirror or picture of the spiritual feedings that we have in God's house today. When He started, there was less food than when He finished. In the interim, He fed a multitude. In the natural world, there is no corollary to this. Division does not yield the results of multiplication, but Christ twice accomplished this feat manifestly. In God's house today, we leave with more than we brought, and we are filled in the interim. These multitudes arrived hungry, were completely filled, and the fragments were still enough to feed some more people. Our churches arrive with hungry saints, leave filled up and running over, and have leavings to sustain and chew on during the coming week.
Notice also in these accounts that Christ chose to use existing material and enlarge it for this occasion. He could have just as easily spoken enough food into existence (out of nothing) to feed these folks and abundantly more. Yet, He used bread and fishes that were brought by a little lad to accomplish this great miracle. He today still uses bread and fishes brought by little lads (preachers) to "grow and enlarge" to accomplish the great miracle of preaching to feed the hungry sheep. So, now that we have established the correlation between the natural and spiritual scenarios, let us look at common comparisons today to see how they stack up in light of the verses above.
Naturally speaking, there were more people - 5,000 compared to 4,000 - fed in the first instance from less food - five loaves and two small fishes compared to seven loaves and a few little fishes. Furthermore, there was more left over in the first instance than the second - twelve baskets full compared to seven. Looking with man's eyesight at these two events, we would say, "More people fed from less with more left over. Must have been a greater miracle, better miracle, etc, etc." While that may sound strange, we today compare preachers, meetings, etc by some of these same factors.
How many people came? How many preachers were there? Were the preachers "lively?" Were the congregations "lively?" Did anyone shout? Did anyone join? Did anyone cry, laugh, clap their hands, etc? These are not improper questions to ask, but if we are asking them to gauge how "well" the meeting went, then we are using an un-Biblical measuring stick. I have been to meetings that had large numbers, small numbers, many preachers, few preachers, manifestly bubbly saints, more reserved saints, shouting, no shouting, joining, no joining, etc. Yet, the fact that some of these things happened or did not happen did not measure the moving effect of the Spirit.
The Spirit may move different services in different ways. I get asked whether we should shout, not shout, say "amen," not say "amen," etc. The simple answer is to not quench the Spirit if we feel it move us in a certain way (I Thessalonians 5:19) nor should we force something that makes the service indecent or disorderly. (I Corinthians 14:40) We should not drag the service out waiting for someone to join the church, nor should we fail to pray that the Lord continue to add to His church and burden the hearts of the hearers to take up their cross and follow the Lamb. So, if none of these comparison factors can be used to measure the "success" of a meeting or even a single minister's efforts, what is our Biblical stick to use? I believe the answer is found above.
Whether many loaves or few loaves, slightly larger crowd or not, or more left over or not, two things are consistent during both miracles. Those two consistent things are: 1. the people were filled, 2. there was still more left. Sometimes we set standards for a preaching effort that are unfounded. Perhaps the minister is moved to tears one day, and we expect that every day thereafter. Perhaps he is moved in an animated way one day, and we expect that same level of animation (or moreso) with each succeeding effort. While having those animated, highly emotional times can be very special and precious, we should not ever be so bold as to declare them as signs of the Spirit's presence (or signs of His absence). A sign of the Spirit's presence is the sheep being filled. Do we leave church filled with the goodness, richness, and majesty of the Lord? Do we leave with the joy of having the sustenance and strength to serve Him better and with renewed vigor? There is a good indication of the Spirit's presence among us.
Is there seemingly more to discover than when we arrived? Do we leave with itches and desires to be scratched and fulfilled in study during the week? Do we say, "I want to look at that this week?" Again, those are good indications that the Spirit's presence was among us. Sure, we could say, "But there seemed to be more baskets last Sunday than this Sunday." Yet, that comparison fails to acknowledge the more important point that we have more than we came with. Having more than we came with can only be attributed to the power of God and the revelation of the righteousness of God. (Romans 1:16-17) Sure, we could say, "There were more people here last time than this time." Again, that comparison fails to acknowledge that whether many or few, they were all filled.
It is natural to make comparisons, and it is not always wrong to do so. Yet, too many times, our comparisons take our eyes off the ultimate and glorious conclusion of God's miracle and focus them on something secondary and inferior. While I am thankful for large congregations (when blessed to be a part of one), supremely thankful to see little lambs come home to His church, lifted up emotionally when the Spirit charges a congregation that way, and encouraged when hearing shouting (although never impressed to myself), I am more thankful to hear the voice of my Beloved as He comes skipping along the hills and mountains. He says to, "Rise up and come away." He prepares a table with the love banner over me, and that sight can only exist by His Spirit. (Song of Solomon 2) May those flashes of His glory, treasures from His majesty, and drippings from His table be that by which we measure that glorious miracle that occurs when He tabernacles with us.