5000 to 12 in 70 verses!
5000 to 12 in 70 verses! Is that a record, not if you’re looking for a car that goes 0 to 80 in 20 seconds.
Some ministers take a lifetime to upset their congregations and empty their church but, as recorded in John chapter six, we see Jesus did it in a matter of days!
The chapter begins with the feeding of the five thousand, an amazing miracle, but one which created a big problem for Jesus. Many of Jesus’ miracles caused problems but usually for religious reasons, but here we have the very people Jesus is trying to reach,
and he upsets them all!
He upsets them because the series of discourses throughout this chapter highlight the gap, then and now, in our lives between the flesh and the spirit, and Jesus gives no credit to the flesh where relating to God is concerned.
From Paul we can understand that our lives are made up of three parts: our spirit, our soul, and our body (see 1Thessalonians 5:23).
The Spirit (Gk: Pneuma). This is where our conscience lives, and is the part of us that comes alive when we become a Christian. It is through our spirit that we communicate with God and he with us, and responding by the Spirit was Jesus’ emphasis here.
Our Soul (Gk: Psuche). Our soul realm, or the realm of our human spirit, is made up of our mind, our will, and our emotions.
Our Body (Gk: Soma). This represents our physical senses: seeing, hearing, feeling, tasting and smelling.
Before we became a Christian our spirit was dead. But, when we become a Christian, our spirit comes alive as we are ‘connected’ to God, and the life heaven flows - the abundant life Jesus promised (John 10:10). It's like an electric appliance connected to the electricity.
This spirit part of us needs to be the driving force in our lives so we live by the spirit, not the flesh - the realm of our soul and body.
We know this. Of course we do. As Spirit filled Christians we know it’s fundamental that we be led by the Holy Spirit. However, the problem is that, even though we can commit our day to God in prayer, we live a lot of our lives in the 'flesh' because we're occupied with the affairs of everyday life, making decisions that are normal and necessary.
Give to Caesar
On one occasion Jesus was questioned by the authorities over paying taxes to Caesar, and he said “Give to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is God's." (Matthew 22:21).
As we've just said, we have no problem with ‘Caesar’s’ realm, we’ve grown from childhood living there, but we cannot operate that way if we are to be effective in Christian ministry.
Also, we can be so preoccupied with ‘Caesar’s’ things that we can be disrespectful of God’s presence. So when we meet for fellowship for instance, we can be more concerned about saying hello to each other and having 'fellowship' that we miss saying ‘hello’ to God. Like the 5,000 we can be more concerned about having our ‘stomach filled’ and making ourselves physically comfortable than we are about food for our spirits. We forget, as Jesus said, that we’re not to “work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.” (John 6:27)
Give to God
The problem comes in making the changeover when we come to church or are involved in any kind of Christian ministry, and that isn’t always easy. Like the people Jesus was talking to it’s so easy to want our ‘stomach filled’ and miss the fact that Jesus said it's “The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life.” (John 6:63). Jesus was serious when he said this, but it’s so easy just to pay lip-service to what he is saying with the danger that we operate in our Christian life motivated more by our natural feelings than by the Holy Spirit.
How much of our Church, our Christian life is giving to Caesar and not to God?
Putting aside how easy it can be to be
affected in our response to God by our physical condition, the consequence of ‘missing’ the spiritual realm is that our Christian life, in church, in Christian ministry, whether praying or speaking, sharing or caring, at home, work, or fellowship misses the mark because...
1: We can respond as Christians just with our mind. Our minds are important and will give us good understanding and knowledge of the truth. Indeed, some of the greatest preachers have been those of great intellect. But if there’s no revelation through the Holy Spirit there’s no life and blessing. So, to misquote Jesus’ words… ‘The words that we speak are not spirit and they are not life.’
2: We can also respond according to our will. Again, our will plays a vital role in responding to God and choosing to follow Jesus. At the same time, however, without the Holy Spirit we will be governed by our human nature, our hang-ups and natural thinking. This can result in a negative response to God and wrong choices, a sure sign Jesus is not Lord!
3: Perhaps worse, we can be moved by our emotions. This can be a real problem because, unless we are also responding to the Spirit and hearing God in the situation, the danger is that we respond emotionally to what we see and hear, and confuse it with the Holy Spirit. Naturally our emotions have an important role to play in our Christian life in responding to God and other people, but if it stops there we can make mistakes and cause problems for others because we are acting out of our emotions.
Our emotions can take us where
God doesn't want us to go.
Remember, our mind, our will, and our emotions all have an important role to play in our Christian life, but this role is as a bridge to spiritual things and not as an end in themselves. They are channels that need to be harnessed, through which the Holy Spirit can move.
So, put simply, the consequences of ‘missing’ the spiritual realm is that our Christian life, in church, in Christian ministry, whether praying or speaking, sharing or caring, at home, work, or fellowship, is that...
Our mind and our will can prevent us from rightly responding to God.
They can prevent us from saying and
doing what God wants, or going where God wants us to go.
Our emotions can take us where
God does not want us to go!
This was the problem Jesus was aware of as recorded in John chapter 6, because he knew it’s no use having disciples who are operating in the wrong realm in their Christian life and witness. Therefore, he was trying to get through to them, and us, the fact that if we are to communicate with God and he to and through us in Christian ministry, it can only be by the Holy Spirit in the spiritual realm, because God is a Spirit and that’s where the supernatural life
of heaven is.
I am sure we all want to be effective in our Christian lives and witness. We know we have a job to do for Jesus. We pray, we witness, we seek to live godly lives that are an example to others. We know the importance of being active as a member of the Body of Christ. And, like Jesus’ disciples, we know that there is no alternative to life with Jesus and that he has ‘the words of eternal life’ (John 6:68).
The key to being effective in all this is to be rightly focussed, more tuned into God’s wavelength, the wavelength of the Holy Spirit so that, whilst we are rightly involved in normal everyday human activities, we are also building up our spiritual life so that the Holy Spirit has more opportunity to work in and through us.
Without losing what we have in church in terms of our relationships and care for each other, we also need a heightened awareness of being in God’s presence, a greater sense of awe and wonder, respect and reverence.
It’s too easy in the loving atmosphere of church to be disrespectful of God’s presence and try and walk all over God’s heaven in the dirty boots of our human nature!
Look at these words from Ecclesiastes 5:1-3… ‘Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. Go near to listen rather than to offer the sacrifice of fools, who do not know that they do wrong. Do not be quick with your mouth, do not be hasty in your heart to utter anything before God. God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few. As a dream comes when there are many cares, so the speech of a fool when there are many words.’
These verses don’t mean we aren’t to minister in church. We’re encouraged to do just that. It’s making sure our ministry, whether we’re praying, speaking, or sharing, is from God and not ourselves (see 1Corinthians 14:26).
It’s having a godly fear, recognising ‘God is in heaven and you are on earth’. That’s why we need to be ‘in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day’ (Revelation 1:10).
Flesh or Spirit
The crowds deserted Jesus in droves because they couldn’t get past their natural understanding of what he was saying. Did they get blessed? No, they dismissed him as crazy.
Fortunately his disciples got the message so when Jesus challenged them and asked ‘Are you going to leave me too?’ Simon Peter answered him, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God" (John 6:67-69).
Like Jesus’ disciples we need to know which side our bread is buttered and pay more than lip service to the fact that the life of heaven is in the Spiritual realm. Without this recognition we are denied power for breakthroughs we need in our individual situations, our church, and our communities.
And yet, for Spirit filled Christians the answer isn’t clouded in mystery, so here are some simple steps.
1: As I’ve said, we have no problem with ‘Caesar’s’ realm, we’ve grown from childhood living there, but we have to learn to give God his due. Even though we have become a Christian we don’t suddenly become spiritually minded. That’s why we need what was foundational for the early church which, as Luke says, was that they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer (Acts 2:42).
This is our starting point.
2: Then, another area where we need to be rightly focussed is the recognition that when we come together as ‘church’ we do so for fellowship with God, and this in turn blesses each other. We have to get this the right way round. It’s good to meet and chat and have fellowship, and it’s right that we do, but it’s not an end in itself. Jesus was making clear that fellowship with God in the spiritual realm is the key and this enriches everything else. If we lose sight of this focus we can quickly find our ‘fellowship’ is operating in the realm of our human spirit.
3: Yet, very few of us, can switch in a second from the natural to the spiritual realm in a way that enables us to be spiritually effective, so we need to tune into God’s wavelength – the realm of the Spirit. God knows this so he has provided ‘bridges’ to help us cross into the realm of the Spirit. In our church some of them are …
a: At the start of the service use the scripture verse to tune in, to focus on God’s Word and to stir up the Spirit within you (see 2Timothy 1:6). Recognise this is God’s Word and God’s Word has supernatural power to stir faith and renew your mind, encourage and challenge us.
b: We sing songs of praise and worship to bless God but these songs also help to take us through the transition from ‘earth to heaven’
c: We need to be more disciplined in taking time to hear God when we minister or pray for each other so that we’re a channel of the Holy Spirit and not our human spirit.
d: Better still, we need to come to church having prayed and prepared ourselves, stirring up the Spirit in us.
e: However, we still need to deal with distractions – equipment, children, people moving around, even pets in some situations…
We need to stay focussed.
f: Most important, we need a personal determination to build up our spiritual life through allowing God’s Word to change the way we think (see Romans 12:2), and through stirring up the gift of the Holy Spirit within us (see 2Timothy 1:6). Speaking in tongues is a good way to do this.
And maintain this focus. As Jesus said… “Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. On him God the Father has placed his seal of approval.” “The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life...” (John 6:27, 63-34).
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