When Jesus looked up and saw a great crowd coming toward him, he said to Philip, “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?” He asked this only to test him, for he already had in mind what he was going to do. Philip answered him, “Eight months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!” Another of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, spoke up, “Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?”
There is a definition of “management” by someone. The definition given was: “Management is getting the right things done through other people.” This definition relates to Christ’s miracle of feeding the five thousand people in Galilee because, among other things, the story gives us a splendid example of good management.
What did Jesus do on this occasion? He fed a great company of people. But what precisely did he do? Or, we might ask, how did he do it? He could have lifted up his hands and have demanded that manna come down from heaven. It would have come. He could have created a loaf of bread in each man’s pocket. But Jesus did not do these things. Instead, he began to work through others Philip, the lad, and Andrew. They helped. Thus, Jesus managed to get the job done through other people.
The first person the Lord turned to was Philip. Philip was from Bethsaida, and Bethsaida was in that area. The difficulty was that Philip got all caught up in his knowledge and so forgot to turn the matter over to Jesus. In simple language, John tells us that Jesus asked Philip about food to test him and implies that Philip failed the test.
You and I will have learned a great deal about walking with the Lord when we have learned to spread each difficulty before him as it comes along.
One hindrance to doing this is sometimes pride in our knowledge, the same hindrance that faced Philip. At being asked this question he began to show off his knowledge and, in showing off his knowledge, actually revealed his ignorance. Knowledge can be a blessing, but it can also be a handicap to trusting the Lord. When placed in Christ’s hands, it is valuable. When trusted in itself, it is not.
There was a second reason why Philip failed the test Jesus gave him. Philip not only had knowledge of the area where the miracle took place. He also had a head for figures, and this, in turn, led him to trust money. He began to calculate. He said to himself, “Let’s see now, there are about a hundred people in that little group…there are two hundred over there…two hundred…six hundred…Now if we gave everyone just a little bit, that would be so many times a few cents and…” Then he gave Jesus the result of his calculations. He said, “Eight months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each one to have a bite” (v.7). Philip calculated, but he calculated without Christ.
I am convinced that if there is anyone thing that most plagues Christian organizations in our day it is the thought that we can figure out the situation and then accomplish God’s work primarily by means of money. I said a moment ago that knowledge is a good thing if it is placed in Christ’s hands. This is true also of money. Money can be well used. But to think that the needs of men and women can be met merely by collecting funds, even for an evangelical cause that is debilitating.
Moreover, it limits our vision. We think that when we are talking money and raising money we are thinking big, but actually, compared with God’s plans for us, the opposite is generally the case. Think of Philip. He said, “Eight months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each one to have a bite.” Imagine even talking about “a little” in the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ! Yet we do that also. We have seen God work, as Philip had seen him work. But we come to him and say, “Oh, God, if you would just do so and so, it’s just a little thing, if you would just do it, I believe I could get by.” Actually, Christ’s desire is to bless us abundantly.
Let us use our knowledge. Let us use our money. Let us sue anything else God gives to us. But above all, let us look to God himself. Let us have that kind of vision for own lives, our church, and our communities that stretch our minds and cause us to throw ourselves upon God. Let us say, “It is not just a little bit that we desire, our Father. We are not praying to have a little bit to have much.”
Someone might say, “But Philip had an excuse, didn’t he? After all, he didn’t know what Christ could do.” I am not sure that this is a valid excuse. John has recorded several miracles that had taken place already. At the beginning of chapters 5 and 6 he has indicated a lapse of time in which, according to other evangelists, other miracles had been performed also. Philip had been with Christ. He had seen these things. But when the question was put to him for this new situation his faith was inadequate. He said, “Yes, I know that you changed the water into wine at Cana. I know that you healed the son of the nobleman. I know that you made the paralyzed man walk. But I am not sure that you can do it for me.” We say that. We see God working with others, but we do not allow that knowledge to carry over into our own lives.
There is nothing that God has done in the life of any other Christian at any period of history that he is not able to do in you if that is his plan for your life. You can know this. Moreover, you can know that if he has placed something in your life for a test, he has done it in order that you and others might see him bring blessing.
The second person Jesus dealt with in this story was the lad. It is interesting to think about him for a moment. What do we know about him? For one thing, we know that he was poor. We know this because we are told by John that his lunch was composed largely of barley bread. Barley bread was the cheapest of all bread and was held in contempt. Thus, as William Barclay notes, barley bread was the kind of bread prescribed by the Mishnah as a meal offering for the sin of adultery because, says the Mishnah, adultery is the sin of a beast and barley is the food of beasts. The lad had this bread and with it two small, pickled fish to help make the dry, coarse bread go down.
Moreover, we know that the boy was insignificant. Here was a small boy, poor and insignificant. Yet that boy did something that sets him apart from all the other boys who may have been in the crowd that day. That boy gave his lunch, poor as it was, to the Lord Jesus. That lunch was as insignificant as it could be. It was as insignificant as the boy was. But the point of the story is that the insufficient from the hands of the insignificant became sufficient and significant when placed in the hands of Jesus.
It is true through the whole of biblical history. What is as insignificant as dust? Nothing! You cannot even plant crops in it. Yet the dust became a man when molded by the hands of the Creator.
Do not make the mistake of thinking that what you have is insignificant and therefore useless. You may compare your gift with all the great talents of this world and imagine that your gift is worthless. But if you do that you are forgetting to figure on God and God’s desires. What is it after all that makes a gift great in God’s service? It is not the magnitude of the gift. It is into whose hands it is given. If you will take what you have, no matter how small or how great it may be, and place it in the hands of the Master, you will find that it is more than sufficient for whatever task he sets before you.
What is your gift? Are you one who because of your age or your circumstances simply has time on your hands that many others, who are already engaged in work or projects, do not have? If so, that is a gift. Ask God to show you how you can use your time in his service. Perhaps you have money? I spoke earlier about the danger of trusting money rather than God, but that does not mean for a moment that you cannot place your money in Christ’s hands to be used by him if you have it. Perhaps God has given you abilities in administration, understanding the thoughts and problems of others, communicating the gospel.
If you think you may have any of these raw materials, you need to do two things. First, you need to ask God to clarify your gift so you will understand what it is exactly what he has given you. Second, you need to place it in his wonderful hands.
We have considered already two important people in this story. There is a wonderful contrast between them, and much more could be said. But I do not want to end this study without looking at one more person. That person is Andrew, another of Christ’s disciples.
Philip was the first who was approached. He had the wrong answer. He was so caught up in his knowledge and in his ability with figures that he forgot Jesus. The lad was the one who responded, for he had something to give and was not too sophisticated or self-conscious to give it. But Andrew was in Philip’s position entirely so far as having anything to give was concerned. He had no food, just as Philip had no food. But Andrew went and got the lad.
Do you see what I am saying? I spoke at the beginning of how Jesus Christ was a good manager, according to the definition: “Management is getting the right things done through other people.” By this definition, Jesus was a first-rate manager in approaching Philip. But that is only what we might expect. The additional interesting and exciting point is that Andrew in imitation of Christ learned to be a good manager also. He said, “I do not have anything to offer, but I will go and see who does.” It may be that you can be an Andrew. You yourself may not have the gift that is needed, but you can see what is needed and recruit someone who has it.
Moreover, I sometimes think as I read this story of the profound effect Andrew’s approach must have had on the boy. Apart from what Andrew did that day in Galilee that boy was just like any other boy. He would have come and heard Jesus. But he would have been back on the far edge of the crowd somewhere. But Andrew got him. Andrew brought him into contact with the Lord Jesus and expanded his horizons. What is more, I am convinced that as the result of what Andrew did that boy went away remembering the day for as he lived.
I thank God for those who did the work of Andrew for me.
Each of us has ways of measuring the importance of things in this world. Often we measure things by success. We look at this world and we consider those with power and wealth and extra intelligence to be important. God never measures things in this way. God tells us that the principal characters on the world stage generally are not those whom the world thinks prominent, but rather those who have surrendered whatever they have been given into his hands.
Will you do that? You may be looking only at your littleness, instead of looking at God’s greatness. You may be complaining that your talents or opportunities are not great. You may be discouraged because your talents do not seem up to the tasks set before you. If any of these things are true, you need to remember that God used a little slave girl to bring the leper Naaman in touch with his healing power. He used a widow to provide the necessities of life for the prophet Elisha. Joseph was only a slave, but God used him to save both Egypt and Israel. We have already seen in this Gospel how God used the woman of Samaria, a prostitute, to save a whole town.