If you ask any pastor or evangelist what discourages him the most when he steps behind the pulpit to deliver a sermon, I believe that nine times out of ten, his answer will be “empty chairs.”
From a human perspective, our success in serving God is generally measured by the largeness of the crowd we are able to gather, the income we can generate, the impressiveness and size of our building and the fame we can attach to our name.
However, when we read the Bible, we encounter a God who longs to save the whole world but at the same time is not at all impressed by popularity and numbers. In fact, He always seems to choose to work through a minority rather than through a multitude.
One of the clearest examples of this is Gideon and his military campaign against the Midianites. The large number of volunteers who came out to join the army of Israel were not the type of soldiers God had been looking for, and He began to send back home those who were afraid or who had knelt down to drink. We might consider these strange ways of selecting people for a battle, but God’s objective was simply this: He wanted His work done only by those who wholeheartedly followed the Lord, even if the odds for victory were next to impossible. God is not at all opposed to employing thousands of His people to do His work, but most of the time He finds the majority of them unusable.
When Jesus looked out over the huge crowd of enthusiastic followers during the Passover feast in Jerusalem, He could have been extremely satisfied with the strategy and overall success of His ministry. After all, thousands of Jews believed in His name and publicly testified to the authenticity of His miracles.
But Jesus was not at all taken in by their applause, and He was not impressed by their many words of appreciation. He looked beyond their cheers for Him to the motivation of their hearts. What He discovered there caused Him to make one of the most serious decisions for the future direction of His ministry: “But Jesus did not commit Himself to them, because He knew all men” (John 2:24). He clearly discerned that the majority of His disciples followed Him only for personal blessings such as healing, free food or even forgiveness of sin—whatever they could get out of Him. But these were not the qualifications He was looking for in people to entrust with the responsibility of heralding God’s kingdom.
Jesus was searching for people who would love and follow Him for His sake, not their own. Out of the entire multitude, He only found 11 who had that kind of heart, and He totally committed Himself to them. He allowed them to observe and share His life, taught them privately and revealed God’s plans to them. No, they weren’t ready to be apostles yet, and they were still going to make a lot of mistakes, but none of these things seemed a major problem in God’s mind. You see, the greatest obstacle for God to entrust Himself to us is our hidden self-love, in even the most spiritual things as well as in our service for Him.
If we look close enough, we will discover that much of our Christianity today is based on what we can get out of it: a better family life, good kids, getting out of trouble, restored health, a wholesome lifestyle, a brighter future, security, forgiveness of sin, and finally heaven and the rewards to follow.
The question is this: Where are we, and what is our heart’s motivation, in the midst of this modern interpretation of discipleship? God is not after the majority, but after a minority who actually follow Christ for His sake. He will commit Himself to a few people who are totally committed to Him for the purpose of loving Him and His Son. Nothing else matters to these people. Whether they have much or little in this world, they have no other agenda.
Paul and the rest of the apostles are our examples of what God can do through a handful of people who totally belong to Him. Let us consider their single-hearted commitment to Christ and allow the Lord to shed His light on our own divided, selfish hearts. Only when we are willing to lay aside all our own “spiritual” agendas and wishes can God use us to build His kingdom and bring hope to the poor and oppressed, the migrants and children in need.
“For the eyes of the LORD run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show Himself strong on behalf of those whose heart is loyal to Him” (2 Chronicles 16:9).
God is still looking for a mighty minority.
For more on this topic, listen to Dr. K.P. Yohannan Metropolitan’s message “A Mighty Minority.”