Only Five Loaves and Two Fish

Matthew 14:16-18 - But Jesus said to them, "They do not need to go away; you give them something to eat!" And they said to Him, "We have here only five loaves and two fish." And He said, "Bring them here to Me."

Read the complete account in Matthew 14, Mark 6, Luke 9 and John 6.

Growing Christians are constantly surrounded and even bombarded with the needs of others. There are physical and spiritual needs crying all around us. The physical needs are not only in far-off places where political unrest, civil war, earthquakes, floods, famines and other natural disasters take many lives and leave thousands homeless. Indeed, there are great needs in many far-away areas, and we growing Christians have a responsibility to help meet these needs. We do it by prayer and by financial assistance--and even direct involvement wherever possible. There are many opportunities for us to help meet these needs through relief efforts and missionary endeavors around the world.

But we also have a responsibility to meet the needs "at home." Too often we excuse ourselves from the "close-to-home" needs because we gave a little time to a missionary project at church, or a little money to a Christian organization which sent out an appeal by form letter. While we must be sure not to neglect our responsibility to support worthwhile ministries, we must ask ourselves if we're doing anything about the needs immediately around us. There are many physical and spiritual needs right in our school, our university, our work place, our neighborhood and our church. In fact, when we take off the blinders we find that there are so many needs around us that we don't know where to begin! The problems seem so gigantic and complicated and hopeless and frightening that we get discouraged and end up doing little or nothing. So many needs!

What can we do? What should we do? The answers to those two important questions are given to us in the miracle of the feeding of the five thousand. You see, the miracles of our Lord Jesus were never just arbitrary, spur-of-the-moment bursts of "raw" supernatural power. No way! The miracles of Christ were designed to teach as well as to authenticate His deity. They were always planned and purposeful demonstrations of the power of God. (See John 6:6 in this connection.) The "how-to" of meeting needs is one of the great teachings of the miracle of the feeding of the five thousand.

In order to appreciate the teaching of this well-known miracle, let's first examine its setting. Jesus had taken His disciples away from the exhausting demands of their ministry for a little rest and relaxation (Mark 6:7, 30-32). Leaving the major population centers on the western shores of the Sea of Galilee, they had sailed to a relatively deserted area on the eastern shore. We see that the idea of taking periodic "retreats" is definitely a biblical principle for the Christian servant. Since the Lord knows that we can't "burn the candle at both ends" indefinitely, He provides "R & R" times for us. This important principle must be kept in mind--especially by the "Christian workaholic!"

Most Christians don't have problems with being workaholics, however! Christian "relaxaholics" need to observe that the retreat didn't last very long! No sooner had they arrived at their "retreat center" than the needy crowd showed up. Immediately the Lord began to minister to their many physical and spiritual needs (Luke 9:11).

Apparently the disciples just stood around and watched for a while. Maybe they were even a little uptight because their "vacation" had ended so abruptly. In any case, as evening approached, the disciples suggested to Jesus that He send the hungry crowd away to find food and lodging for the night. They certainly didn't expect the Lord's response: "You give them something to eat!"

Imagine the disciples' thinking and reasoning at this point! "Hey, wait a minute, Lord. This isn't our responsibility! These people came over here on their own, without any food or forethought. Now they can live with the consequences of their short-sighted decisions. Why should we get involved in bailing them out? Look at the magnitude of the need! We just don't have the resources! Besides, who invited them to 'crash' our retreat, anyway?"

It's very easy to hear ourselves saying the same kinds of things about people in need, isn't it? That fellow student who is messing up her life should know better - why should I try to help her? That guy I work with is always getting himself into financial difficulties through his own short-sighted decisions - there's no way I'm going to get involved in his dilemma! My resources are too limited, anyway. That neighbor of mine has so many problems - if I follow that "love your neighbor as yourself" principle, I'll never have any time for myself!

In view of the setting of this miracle, our Lord's statement of "Give them something to eat" certainly rules out a lot of our excuses. We have a definite responsibility to meet the needs of people around us--regardless of our plans for "our own time," or the magnitude of the need, or the question of who's at fault. This second principle must be kept in balance with the first principle: Let's not burn out, but let's not cop out, either!

Another principle which this miracle teaches is, "Give what you have." We are not expected to give what we don't have, but we are expected to give what we do have! When the disciples could round up only five loaves and two fish, the Lord didn't tell them to be ashamed of themselves or to quit gold-bricking! But neither did He tell them to forget His command to feed the huge crowd, even though they could come up with only five small loaves and two small fish.

Although this would hardly be enough to feed one person, let alone "make a dent" in the hunger of the multitude, the disciples were expected to give what they had to meet the need. The Lord took on Himself the responsibility for multiplying the resources. Our responsibility is to give what we have to Him--no more but no less! The little we have can meet the greatest need when it is given to Christ and then multiplied by Him.

Think of it! More than 5,000 (possibly as many as 12,000, counting women and children) were fed with only five loaves of bread and two fish - when they were multiplied!

How many spiritually hungry people who need Christ are on your campus or in your place of employment? Did you say several thousand? What do you have to give? Did you say you have only a small stammering testimony for Christ? Give what you have! Your small but faithful testimony and your quiet consistent life can affect the entire campus or corporation for the Lord in an almost unbelievable way!

If this miracle teaches that God can do wonders with our "five loaves and two fish," why don't we see more of the spiritual and physical needs around us being met? Maybe it's because we aren't giving all that we have! Are we like the little boy who gave his whole lunch (John 6:9), or are we holding out by giving two or three loaves and keeping the rest for ourselves? What about our time and abilities? What about our goals for the future?

Remember that the boy was hungry, just like the rest of the multitude. And remember that he had no idea what the Lord would do with his lunch, or that he would end up getting as much as he wanted to eat (John 6:11-12)! He was not forced to give anything, but he willingly gave his whole "brown bag" to the Lord.

Where is my brown bag? Am I still clinging to my "five loaves and two fish" to meet my own needs and wants, or have I turned the whole brown bag over to the Lord? As in the case of the boy who gave his whole lunch to the Lord, we can be sure that God will continue to meet our needs as we work with Him in meeting the needs of others!

Perhaps another reason why we're not meeting more of the needs around us is that we don't bring our "five loaves and two fish" to the Lord for multiplication! We may recognize the needs and realize that we have the responsibility to meet these needs, and we may even be trying with all we have to meet these needs. But unless we follow the Lord's command of "Bring them to Me" (Matthew 14:18), we won't see too many "mouths fed."

We must literally depend on God to multiply our meager contribution. We just aren't capable of pulling off a miracle in our own strength. Many Christians have tried, and ended up discouraged, skeptical and burned out. But God is able! Watch the ways in which your dedicated efforts to meet the needs of just a few fellow students or co-workers or neighborhood contacts will ripple out miraculously in blessing to many others! And what a blessing for us when we really catch this principle of meeting needs, and wait by faith in excited anticipation for the multiplication miracle to begin!

Here, then, is a further teaching of this great miracle. The giver of the "five loaves and two fish" will always be blessed along with the receiver. In fact, we will end up with far more than we had when we started! Notice that each of the disciples received a basket containing much more than the original five loaves and two fish (Mark 6:43)! God will always resupply our resources for the further meeting of needs.

The Lord Jesus could have provided bread for the multitude in any number of different ways. As God, He could have precipitated manna from the sky as He did in the Old Testament. But He chose to use the little boy's lunch. Why? Because He wanted to teach His disciples, then and now, a few lessons about meeting the needs around them with only five loaves and two fish.
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