By many or by few

1 Samuel 14, Judges 7, 1 Corinthians 1:26-31

God has a purpose that he is working in this world; a plan to overcome sin and death  and all the terrible things we experience in this fallen world, including all the terrible things we do. God has a purpose to bring salvation and new life to people and eventually to all of creation; to bring wholeness, healing and peace.

Now, I believe that our congregation, here at New Providence, has a continuing role to play in fulfilling this purpose of God in this place and time that God has put us. I believe that God has people all around us that he wants to touch and transform by his saving power,  through us so that they become a part of the people of God. I believe that God is continuing to invite us as a congregation to be a part of his movement, which won’t end until Jesus returns, when all things will be made new.

The message I have for you today is very simple and straightforward God can accomplish his purpose by many or by few, by the strong or by the weak, by those who are honored and admired or by those are looked down on and dismissed.

The phrase “by many or by few” comes from –

1 Samuel 14 and the story of Jonathan’s victory

The context here is that Israel is oppressed by the Philistines. And they have just gathered their vast army to come crush the Israelites because they had begun to fight back. And so now the Israelites are terrified. Some fled as far away as they could and some hid in holes and caves in the ground. To anyone’s eyes they were few, they were weak and they were looked down on. No one would give them a chance to accomplish anything.

And then v. 6 tells us this, “Jonathan (King Saul’s son) said to the young man who carried his armor, ‘Come, let us go over to the garrison of these uncircumcised. It may be that the Lord will work for us, for nothing can hinder the Lord from savingby many or by few.’”

And so these two people stepped out in faith with great courage and the Lord did indeed act to accomplish his purpose to save Israel through them:

– In vs. 13-14 they overcame the 20 soldiers who were guarding the mountain pass.

– Right after this, v. 15 says, “And there was a panic in the (Philistine) camp, in the field, and among all the people. The garrison and even the raiders trembled, the earth quaked, and it became a very great panic.”

– v. 16 says, “and behold, the multitude (of the Philistines) was dispersing here and there.”

– v. 19 says, “the tumult in the camp of the Philistines increased more and more.”

– v. 20 tells us, “And behold, every Philistine’s sword was against his fellow, and there was very great confusion.”

And then this part of the story ends in v. 23 by saying, “So the Lord saved Israel that day.”

There were thousands and thousands of Philistines. The obstacles; the problems were off the charts, but God only needed two people to accomplish his purpose to bring salvation.

Now Jonathan knew this truth, that “nothing can hinder the Lord from saving by many or by few” because he knew God is, and also because God had done this for Israel before.

Turn with me to –

Judges 7 and the story of Gideon’s victory

God called out Gideon to rescue Israel from the Midianites. Now the Midianites and those with them had 135,000 men (Judges 8:10). Gideon called up the Israelite troops and only had 32,000 men. Not many in comparison.

But God wanted to teach Israel a lesson. So in v. 2 God said, “the people with you are too many . . .” And he told Gideon to send home any who were afraid, and 22,000 went home, leaving Gideon with just 10,000 men.

But God said in v. 4 – “the people are still too many . . .” And he told Gideon to only take with him those who drank from the water by lapping, leaving him 300 people.

And you know the story – 300 verses 135,000. And the 300 prevailed. 22 says, “When they (the Israelites) blew the 300 trumpets, the Lord set every man’s sword against his comrade and against all the army. And the army fled. . .” And eventually they were all defeated. Against any human expectation God used the few, the weak and those looked down on, to accomplish his purpose to save.

But then also there is the lesson that God wanted to teach Israel; the reason God thinned out Gideon’s army. v. 2 says in full, “The people with you are too many for me to give the Midianites into their hand, lest Israel boast over me, saying, ‘My own hand has saved me.’

God can save by many or by few. But here we learn that God delights in working through the few, because this brings the glory to him: it shows that it is God who is really doing it, and not the people.

This brings us to the New Testament and –

1 Corinthians 1:26-31 and Paul’s teaching on the way God works

The Corinthian Christians were enamored by the things that the world lifts up; those who are wise, strong and knowledgeable. They were impressed by the things of the flesh; by appearance. Indeed, this was so much so that they even looked down on the apostle Paul who seemed to them weak in his bodily appearance, his lack of eloquence and his general lowliness.

And I think that many Christians today are like the Corinthians of old. We think the real action is where all the worldly markers of success are – lots of people, people who are strong and admired or even celebrities. That’s the place to be. That’s where God is doing all the work or the best work. So let’s listen as Paul calls the Corinthians back to a right perspective.

26For consider your calling, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise according to the flesh, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth.

 Most of them weren’t strong or wise or noble. And they are now a part of a Christian church that is small and insignificant by worldly standards.

 27But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are . . .”

 God chooses to use those who don’t bring much of anything to the table to show those who think they are something according to the flesh, that they are nothing without God.

Why? It’s the same message as we found in Judges 7 –

29so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.

Then he reminds the Corinthians –

30And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption,31so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”

Paul is saying, You are boasting about how great you are, but it is God, through Christ, who has given you salvation – wisdom, righteousness, sanctification and redemption; all that you have that is good. You were chosen precisely because you were not these things and the whole point is to use you to show the world that it’s not about us, but about God, so that everyone will boast about how great God is.

So we have here the same two truths that we have already seen:

1. God can fulfill his purpose by many or by few. It’s God who does the work, so it doesn’t hinge on how many people there are or whether they are strong or admired, wise or noble.

2. God loves to use the few, the weak, the looked down on. Because this makes sure everyone knows that it is God who saves, not us. So we can’t take credit but will give credit to God.

What we need to do

Be encouraged! Our hope is in God and not in numbers, or how strong we are or what others think of us. God not only can work through us, but God loves to work through folks just like us. This means that we have right now ,through God, all that we need to be used by God.

Finally, we need to act in faith. Since we know that “nothing can hinder the Lord from saving by many or by few,” and that he loves to use the few, we need to step out and be courageous, to take risks and to sacrifice. God is looking for Gideons and Jonathans today to use to fulfill his purpose of salvation. Let’s not be like those who shrink back and give  up because all we see are the problems and obstacles. Let’s step out in faith and see what God will do.

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