“Nothing can keep the Lord from saving, whether by the many or by the few.” (I Samuel 14:6)
It doesn’t matter to the Lord whether He saves by the many or the few.
Now, you could make an argument that that is not pure scripture since the line was uttered by Jonathan, son of King Saul, and not by a prophet or some inspired writer. But you would be fighting a losing battle on that, since it’s a truth found all through scripture from beginning to end, Genesis to Revelation.
God has His crowds, to be sure. In Heaven, the guest list–the family reunion, choose your metaphor–seems endless. “…a great multitude which no one could number” was standing before the throne praising the Lord (Revelation 7:9). That was sure some crowd Moses led out of Egypt, whether a few hundred thousand or 2 million as some say. Either way, God knows how to work the big numbers.
However, being God, He does not need big numbers. He does not call off anything (so far as we know) because only a handful of nobodies showed up.
In fact, God told Gideon he had too many soldiers in his army. Defeat the Midianites with that crowd, He said, and your people will take credit for the victory. So, the Lord had him whittle the assault team down to a manageable 300. (Judges 7)
God loves small things. Ordinary people. Insignificant gifts and undramatic acts.
It does not matter to the Lord whether He saves–and works and transforms and wins the victory–by a few people or by a crowd. It’s all through Scripture.
The only problem is you don’t believe it. And something inside me resists it, too.
Somehow or other we have got it through our brains that in order to do anything significant for God in this world, we have to have big numbers. Crowds. Celebrities. Large offerings. Miracles.
A preacher friend here in New Orleans still talks about the time all of us evacuated in advance of a hurricane said to be headed our way. He was thrilled about one thing: that Sunday in a nearby city, he would be able to hear someone else preach.
That Sunday morning they got dressed and went to the nearby Baptist church filled with anticipation. Since many of their members had left the area also, the crowd was maybe a third its usual size, perhaps 50 people.
The pastor walked out in front of the sanctuary and said, “Since there are so few of us, I’m not going to preach this morning.”
He did something, but I don’t know what. My friend was pretty disgusted with this lazy unbelieving pastor who would pull such a stunt.
I said “unbelieving” and I mean it.
Faith in God means we believe He is sovereign and omnipotent. He can do anything He pleases (Ps. 115:3) and does not require us or our tricks and methods or our crowds and gimmicks.
Few things disgust me more than pastors who decide to pack the church by bringing in a celebrity. Some of the most shallow messages ever have been delivered by “names” who were brought in at great expense and fanfare. They came, received a carnal adulation from the crowd, signed autographs, sold books and CDs, gave a little talk, and went on their way.
Pastors justify it to their deacons and finance committees by reasoning that some people in the crowd will come back to church the next Sunday.
In your dreams.
If they came to see Drew Brees or Bobby Jindal or Denzel Washington or Jennifer Lopez, what makes you think they’ll come back next Sunday to hear you?
I heard a television preacher say it: “You can’t do anything without money.”
Unbelief. That’s what it is.
Whatever we have to have other than God Himself in order to do God’s work is sin. (My variation of Romans 14:23 “Whatsoever is not of faith is sin.”)
So, a question: “What would we do if we really believed that little things matter in big ways to God?”
Here are some answers found in Scripture….
1. We would honor ordinary people.
James chapter 2 delivers a knockout blow to the practice of church members who fall all over themselves to roll out the red carpet for the owner of the factory, the local celeb, the rich family, when they deign to show up at our church. James says, “God has chosen the poor of this world….” (2:5)
Paul wanted the leaders of the Corinthian church to look around their congregation one Sunday. “For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called. God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise….” (I Corinthians 1:26-27)
Why did He do this? “That no flesh should glory in His presence” (1:29).
Look at the disciples whom Jesus called. See any celebrities among them? Any powerful, influential, wealthy? A bunch of nobodies.
God’s favorite kind.
2. We would treasure small gatherings.
Jesus stated it in an unforgettable way: “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in their midst” (Matthew 18:20). Pow! Take that, crowd-addicted preachers and leaders.
It does not matter to the Lord whether He saves by the few or by the many.
I posted this on Facebook and several people responded by telling me of congregations of 10 or 20 people who are doing significant things in the Kingdom.
There is an inferiority complex that haunts small churches. It’s mantra is “We can’t do anything; we’re not large enough.”
It’s baloney, of course. You can do anything God wants you to do which you have faith to claim and cooperate with.
Ask churches with small groups meeting in homes if tiny numbers have a certain power and authenticity of their own.
3. We would encourage and welcome small offerings.
As the widow dropped her two small coins into the Temple treasury and went on her way–clueless that the Son of the Living God had seen her offering, noted her faith, and complimented her commitment–Jesus said, “I say to you that this poor widow has put in more than all those who have given to the treasury. For they all put in out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all that she had, her whole livelihood” (Mark 12:41-44).
Pastor Jim Henry told in one of his books of the moment early in his ministry when an older poor woman taught this lesson to her young stupid pastor. She handed him an envelope. “Brother Jim, I want this to go toward the new building.”
Jim took her hand in both of his. “Now, Miss Elsie,” he said. “You keep this money. You need it worse than we do. And you let those who have the money pay for that building.”
Through teary eyes, she said, “Pastor, do not deny me the privilege of giving to my Lord.”
Every gift is precious in His sight, and some of the smallest are the largest of all.
4. We would celebrate small deeds of faithfulness.
A little boy gave his lunch to the Lord’s disciples and saw it multiplied to the point of feeding many thousands (John 6:9).
Elijah received from a widow the last morsel of food in her house (I Kings 17), but God blessed her gift in incredible ways.
“Whoever gives one of these little ones only a cup of cold water in the name of a disciple, assuredly, I say to you, he shall by no means lose his reward” (Matthew 10:42).
A cup of water, a little flour and oil, a boy’s lunch. Nothing much by human standards. But given to the Almighty, they become major instruments for unforgettable blessings.
5. We would cherish our little places.
“Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (John 1:46)
Something spectacular came out of Bethlehem. From a stable. A manger even.
One place is as good as another, if the Lord is in that place.
“Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, ‘Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it. How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God! The gate of Heaven!” (Genesis 28:16-17)
And yet, I know preachers who want to leave their little isolated town in favor of a big city where they can do a great work for God and–let’s be honest here–build a reputation in the Kingdom.
Lord, help us.
Give us faith to believe your word. “I will never leave thee nor forsake thee. So that we may boldly say, ‘The Lord is my helper, and I will not be afraid.” (Hebrews 13:5-6)
“Dear Lord, it is my privilege to be ordinary and to do my small acts of faithfulness to Thee. We recall our Lord Jesus saying the one who is faithful in small things is faithful also in much (Luke 16:10). He said the Kingdom is built on small acts of faithfulness, and pointed to the mustard seed to make the point (Matthew 13:31). Our problem is not that we do not know these things; the problem we have is believing them and acting upon them.
“Help us to give our offerings no matter how small. To share our faith no matter how weak. To give our testimony no matter how undramatic. To encourage our neighbor, no matter how small or young or ungifted or ordinary.
“Help us to start believing thee today. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.”