Following Jesus Out of the Shrink-Wrap of Selfishness
Topic: Discipleship Passage: Matthew 14:13–14:21
Turn with me to Matthew 14. We are in a series on discipleship, and this morning it’s going to take me a little longer to say what is on my heart but I believe it needs to be said. If you are a visitor, I pray it will speak to you and perhaps stir your heart regarding your involvement in your local church.
As a pastor, I enjoy getting together with other local pastors for prayer and fellowship, and years ago on LI I started meeting with some local pastors who were really nice guys but didn’t actually believe in the Bible. I think I was trying to be a little “evangelistic” towards them. We would meet once a month and have a short devotional and one time one of the pastors shared a devotional on the feeding of the five thousand. And he was very excited because what he believed wasn’t that God supernaturally multiplied the food, but that Jesus inspired someone in the crowd to be unselfish with his loaves and fishes, and the convicted other people in the crowd who were hiding food, and before you know it, everyone is bringing out the food they were hoarding and sharing it with everyone else.
I remember leaving there really depressed because this sincere pastor had missed the beauty and power and Christ-glorifying point of this miracle, and had reduced it to a lesson on sharing and not being selfish. I do not want to do that this morning. And yet, I do think that there is a way that this story does call the disciple of Jesus out of a selfish lifestyle and into a giving lifestyle, and that giving, outward, unselfish lifestyle is essential to our experiencing the joy and power and meaning of the Christian life. So I’ve given this message the unusual title: Following Jesus out of the Shrink-Wrap of Selfishness and I’ll explain that weird title as we go.
Theological pointers in this miracle
Jesus didn’t just perform miracles to turn heads and get attention. Every one of his miracles was a sign – each one pointed to Christ and revealed more truth about who he was. The feeding of the five thousand is the only miracle Jesus performed that is recorded in all four gospels, so we know it has significant truth to reveal.
The concept of God feeding His people in the wilderness was a very important one to the Jews, the most notable case being when God through Moses fed the Israelites with manna – bread from heaven – after their Exodus from Egypt. But there are other times when God fed His people in the wilderness. During a long drought Elijah was fed by ravens who brought him bread and meat each morning. In 2 Kings during a time of famine the prophet Elisha tells his servant to feed the prophets with the barley loaves they had. The servant replies:
"How can I set this before a hundred men?" So he [Elisha] repeated, "Give them to the men, that they may eat, for thus says the LORD, 'They shall eat and have some left.' " 44So he set it before them. And they ate and had some left, according to the word of the LORD. 2 Kings 4:42-44
In the feeding of the five thousand we see that One greater than Elisha, greater than Moses, is with us. Hunger reveals the basic human need for food and bread represents a very basic provision for that hunger. Physical hunger is a reflection of our deeper spiritual hunger and John records that Jesus made the connection after feeding the five thousand as he declared: I am the bread of life, whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. (Jn 6:35)
Jesus is the bread of life given to satisfy man’s spiritual hunger and quench our spiritual thirst. And just as he broke the bread before passing it out, Jesus would be broken on the cross so that any who come to him might feed on the spiritual life and salvation that he freely gives. And here’s where the two times this miracle is recorded is so wonderful because there is one massive difference between the two accounts: the feeding of the five thousand took place in the Galilee region and the crowd was a Jewish crowd. But the feeding of the four thousand took place while Jesus is traveling through the Decapolis – ten Greek cities and the crowd was made up mostly of Gentiles. The bread of life is not just given to Jews, but to Gentiles too, to the whole world.
Jesus is the bread of life that every person–Jew or Gentile–needs. But notice that Jesus doesn’t distribute the bread. He breaks it, and blesses it, and then gives it to his disciples to distribute. I can’t think of any other miracle that Jesus actually did through his disciples. He healed the sick, he raised the dead, he cast out demons, he calmed the sea, he walked on water (though he did call Peter out too). But here Jesus says, you give them something to eat. Jesus is to be held out to a hungry and dying world, but He is to be held out by His disciples. He is to be held out to a dying world by you and by me. That is what Jesus calls us to do.
Following Jesus out of the shrink-wrap of selfishness
Okay, so what’s with the weird title? One of the by-products of this message series on discipleship in my heart has been to be challenged in the area of a selfish lifestyle. And I got to thinking about how small our lives get the more selfish we become. The more we are wrapped in ourselves, the more our lives shrink. Selfishness is a kind of shrink-wrap. The irony is that the bigger we get in our eyes, the smaller we get in reality.
Think of the guy who brought these five loaves and two fish to Jesus. It was probably just enough for him and his family to have a decent meal. And yet think of what he would have missed if he had just pulled away with his fam and kept this food for himself. He and his family would have missed out on being a part of an incredible miracle! They would have missed out on seeing thousands of people fed and laughing and amazed at what God can do. He would have missed seeing Christ glorified in the eyes of thousands and in his own eyes too.
The more we live our lives for ourselves, the more empty our lives become. Isn’t that a part of Jesus’ call to deny ourselves and pick up our cross? Not because God is a masochist, but because indulging ourselves and living for our sinful desires, rather than bringing us life, brings us death. Conversely, dying to self, rather than bringing us death, brings us life. And so when Jesus challenges his disciples, you give them something to eat…he is inviting them out of the shrink wrap of a selfish lifestyle and mindset and into the kingdom life of giving what they have to God and seeing what God can do with it.
I. Jesus gives us the resources we need when we give to him the resources we have
Few things probably hold us back more than thinking we don’t have much to give. And it’s true, we don’t have much to give. God isn’t interested in puffing you up with a lot of nonsense about how great you are if you’d only believe in yourself! That’s a popular theme in a lot of kid’s movies today but it’s not what the Bible says.
But the less you have – and I mean this – the more Jesus can glorify Himself through it. God isn’t looking for impressive people to endorse Him. He’s simply looking for obedient people to trust Him. And offer what they have to His use. One of the things that the Lord is increasingly challenging me with (and I pray He is increasingly challenging you with too) is that Jesus calls every disciple, not just a select few, to be a part of His global mission.
David Platt in his book Radical, Taking back your faith from the American Dream writes:
From cover to cover the Bible teaches that all the church – not just select individuals, but all the church – is created to reflect the glory of God to all the world…It sounds idealistic, I know. Impact the world. But doesn’t it also sound biblical? God has created us to accomplish a radically global, God-exalting purpose with our lives. The formal definition of impact is “a forcible contact between two things”, and God has designed our lives for a collision course with the world.
We don’t need to have great talents or do great things to be a part of this. We just need to bring what we have to Jesus for Him to bless and multiply. Jesus may not be calling you to preach to thousands in Uganda. He might be calling you to give medical aid to a sick child in Jesus’ name. Or He might be calling you to give financially to someone who is going. And He might be calling you to pray for those who are bringing the gospel to the lost there.
Jesus might not be calling you to start a church. But He might be calling you to disciple that person who just came to faith in Christ a couple of months ago. Or He might be calling you to have people over to your house to pray for the church, pray for the lost, pray for your community, and pray for the nations.
Jesus might not be calling you to lead an evangelistic rally in Corning. But He might be calling you to share your faith with your co-worker or neighbor. He might be calling you to pray for one person every day faithfully (and with faith) that he or she would come to faith.
Jesus might not be calling you to lead worship or preach here at Grace Community Church next Sunday, but He might be calling you to give what you have in the church ministry you are serving in, trusting God to use it for His glory.
What we give is not ourselves, but Christ. He is the bread of life, and as we serve Him and simply share Him with others, Jesus breaks it, blesses it, and multiplies it.
II. Jesus gives us the responsibility to do what we can’t do without His help
Jesus gives his disciples the responsibility to feed the five thousand. It’s not like they could – it’s impossible for them to do it, so understandable that they asked Jesus to send the crowds away but Jesus says, you feed them. They are your responsibility to feed – you do it.
Do you see how Jesus calls them to take ownership of this ministry. They need Jesus to actually do it, but He gives them responsibility. Jesus said that if we are faithful in the little we will be given much, but if we aren’t faithful in the little we won’t be faithful in much. Ownership, responsibility, faithfulness. We can’t do it without the supernatural help of Jesus, but He calls us to be responsible.
I want to share three vitally important and crucially biblical areas where this can be applied right away. Not a real expository message, but I pray that God will use it to stir our hearts to faith and service – to make an impact on the world for Christ.
1. Taking ownership in the local church
I know I’m the pastor, so it would be easy for someone to think, this is the burden of a pastor coming through. It is, but I believe it’s driven by a conviction based on the New Testament. Jesus wasn’t talking to Peter and John only. He called his disciples together to do the task together. That kind of joining arms in the labor of the kingdom is evident through the entire NT and precious little other kind of labor is seen. It is in the context of the local church we are love one another, serve one another, teach one another, disciple one another, minister to one another, correct and admonish one another, pray for one another, support one another.
Let me say, if your vision for ministry is not connected to a local church (and I realize we may have visitors and it may not be this local church – but it needs to be some local church) than I believe to that degree your vision needs to be realigned to the vision of God. Have you been hurt in churches? Have you been disillusioned by churches? Have you been frustrated by churches? I sympathize and don’t deny that some of that can definitely be tracked back to church deficiencies. But it’s no reason to abandon God’s clear mandate and vehicle for the advance of the kingdom of God – the local church.
But it’s not enough to attend church. We need to feel ownership, responsibility, to contribute what God has given us to glorify God in the local church. Many of you do that and it is a joy and blessing to behold and I thank you so much for all that you do. But I want to speak to those who aren’t involved in any consistent, sacrificial way. I want to share my heart with you because I love you and we need you and Jesus calls you (if he’s called you to this church).
Sign up for some ministry service and then serve as if the whole thing rested on your shoulders. Come out to service opportunities as if the whole thing rested on your shoulders. Take ownership, take responsibility. This isn’t my church, it’s not Matt’s, it’s our church. Actually, it’s Christ’s church in terms of headship, but it’s ours in terms of the family we belong to. We are all responsible.
Many of us still struggle regularly with getting here on time. You know the deal: every couple of months I say something and for a couple weeks we all try harder. But we need to be honest: it’s not a clock thing, it’s a heart thing. Over the last seven plus years, I have been late for church…never. Why? Because I feel responsible to be here.
We have three couples greeting people right now – out of this whole church. One couple had to take a break because they had a baby. Two of the three couples are the Slack’s and the Snapp’s. Last week I was assembling welcome packs, welcoming someone who hadn’t been in church for years, touching base with PJ about some last minute details, welcoming a couple visiting from out of state, and handing out bookmarks. I love it, but frankly, it’s not right.
Do you want a ministry that can make a real difference for the kingdom of God? Come early and greet people. I heard the true story of a person who was not a Christian got an invitation to church and pulled up – but got intimidated and was about to pull out and forget it, when someone came up to their car and welcomed them. They got to talking with them, found out it was their first time, invited them to sit with them, and that person came to know Christ because someone greeted them. Do you want a ministry that can make a real difference for the kingdom of God? Sign up for Children’s Ministry – make an eternal difference in the life of a precious child. Their angels are seeing the face of God all the time, so God’s gonna hear about it if you are holding out Christ to a little one.
Sign up for the fall festival, come out to prayer, come out to hand out invites, and take ownership – come prepared to participate, to share, to reach out, to serve, to minister. Jesus said, you (plural) feed them.
2. Don’t just receive, reproduce
Don’t just come to receive – come to reproduce. What you learn in church, seek to reproduce it in the lives of others. Over coffee share biblical truths that you are learning in church or at community group (or in your own reading and study). The Dead Sea is dead because it’s always receiving but never giving out. That is true in our spiritual lives as well. Give out – reproduce life in others. You will be amazed at how Jesus can multiply what you give out.
3. Expand your vision, your burden, and your impact
Jesus came as the bread of life to the Jew and to the Gentile – as the disciples handed out the bread to thousands of Gentiles in Decapolis, it symbolized the advance of the gospel through the church to all nations and peoples. God’s heart is for the world, not just certain locales.
Now of course a church will have a certain circle of influence and reach, but I am challenged that we as a church are intentional about widening that reach and circle. Again I have been challenged by the book Radical that my view of God’s work can become too small – do we have a heart for the nations? Do we care about what God is doing in South Korea? Do we pray for churches in other parts of the United States?
I often hear [statements like]: I don’t need to go to all nations, because God has given me a heart for the United States.” Others might say, “God has given me a heart for Birmingham.” These statements sound spiritual, but when we probe deeper, they seem more like smoke screens…because most of us really are not very concerned about the needs right around us. Most Christians rarely share the gospel and most Christians schedules are not heavily weighted to feeding the hungry, helping the sick, and strengthening the church in the neediest places in our country.
But even if we were doing these things, we would still be overlooking a foundational biblical truth…God has given us his grace to extend His glory not just to areas of need here but to areas of need around the world. Not either here or there, but both here and there.
God’s primary work in evangelism won’t be to give us a heart for a country or a community; it will be to give us a heart for people. Whether we touch the life of the neighbor or of a person who lives in Indonesia, we will rejoice, for to God they are all precious, and Jesus died to bring the bread of life to all people.
One of the practical ways we’re going to pursue this is to establish a bulletin board with missionaries on it. We have an excellent way of investing through Sovereign Grace Ministries because we know they have a proven track record of using the finances faithfully. And there are so many international ministries and churches being served, as well as national churches being planted and strengthened.
We have the privilege of sending Patrick out this week. But in future years, may it be more of us.
Another way is to continue to pray about church planting. Maybe even church campuses – not sure. But let’s pray and let’s research. Let’s be an ambitious church – not ambitious for the world, or for vain glory, but for the glory of God to be spread in the world and ambitious that we be a part of that.
So much more could be said, but I’ll stop there for now. Let’s follow Jesus out of the shrink wrap of selfishness. I don’t say that to you, I say it to us. I know I am selfish, I know Jesus is working on me in that area. He’s working on you too. It won’t happen instantly, and it won’t happen once for all. Daily we need to cultivate and pursue an expanding heart for the things of God. But as we follow Jesus, it will happen. And as we give what we have to Jesus, He will bless it, break it, and multiply it.