NUMBERING PEOPLE: A GENTILE OBSESSION

We have an inherent obsession with numbering people. We are impressed by it. It is a vexation of our spirit that carries over into our view of spiritual life. We assume that if it is of God, or for God, it must be large and involve many people.

“How many believe what you believe?”

“How many do you run on Sunday?”

“How many were at the Conference? More that last year?”

“How many are attending Bible study now?”

“How many are on your mailing list?”

“How many . . .” Just listen carefully next time you are with other Christians. You might be amazed at how central this concept is thought to be in our “spiritual” life.

But God is not so obsessed and impressed. He is not bound or motivated by such a Gentile viewpoint.

Let’s reflect on a few Biblical examples.

THE ARK

“And spared not the old world, but saved Noah the eighth person, a preacher of righteousness, bringing in the flood upon the world of the ungodly” (II Peter 2:5).

“Which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water” (I Peter 3:20).

God’s work in ark resulted in the world-wide saving of eight souls. This is not very impressive by Gentile standards (nor Christendom’s either!)

GIDEON’S 300

Israel was facing the Midianites in battle. The Midianties (and the Amalekites) were “along in the valley like grasshoppers for a multitude; and their camels were without number, as the sand by the sea side for a multitude” (Judges 7:12).

Gideon had a small problem, he only had 32,000 men to fight against them. But God had a different view. He thought that Gideon had too many in his army.

“The people that are with thee are too many for me to give the Midianites into their hands, lest Israel vaunt themselves against me, saying, Mine own hand hath saved me” (Judges 7:2).

So God had Gideon reduce the number. He told Gideon to tell the people, “Whosoever is fearful and afraid, let him return and depart . . . ” (vs. 3). The result? 22,000 departed. Gideon’s army was reduced to 10,000 men.

But God said that there were still “too many” (vs. 4), so He gave them a test that resulted in the release of 9,600 men. Gideon was then left with an army of 300.

God used Gideon and his army of 300 to do the job!

THE 2,000 & 5,000 IN ACTS

The Book of Acts is sometimes viewed as a place where positive significance is given to numbers:

“Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls” (Acts 2:41).

“Howbeit many of them which heard the word believed; and the number of the men was about five thousand” (Acts 4:4).

Sounds impressive doesn’t it? But are not these two numberings really a part of the indictment against Israel? Think of it for a moment. God had been dealing with Israel (Abraham’s descendants) for over two millenniums. He had sent them prophets. He had given them His word. He had sent them His Son. And what was the result? 5,000 men! 5,000 men from an entire nation! 5,000 men from an entire nation after over 2,000 years of work! This would seem more like an indictment against the Nation. So, maybe we need to adjust our Gentile thinking to match the context. Maybe these numbers are not as impressive as they may first appear.

While reading on in the Book of Acts, when we get over to Paul and His Gentile ministry, we don’t read of specific numbers like this.

“THE CHURCH IN THY HOUSE”

How many were actually involved in Paul’s ministry? What do you usually visualize when you think of his work?

Let’s take the capital of the Roman Empire for example. How many believers were at Rome when Paul wrote to them? It would appear from Romans chapter 16 that there were as many as five home gatherings of the church (“the church in thy house”). Now, how many would a typical house hold? 20 or 30 saints? Let’s say that they did have as many as 30 each. That would be a total of 150. Not a 150 men (as 5,000 are numbered in the Book of Acts). But there are 150 men, women, and children in 5 home gatherings in the capital of the Roman Empire. And this was after some 15 years of Pauline ministry in the Empire. Impressive? Depends on who’s viewpoint! But the story grows more interesting.

During Paul’s first Roman imprisonment he served under house arrest. This worked out to a great advantage for Paul, for we read in the Book of Acts:

“And Paul dwelt two whole years in his own hired house, and received all that came in unto him, preaching the kingdom of God, and teaching those things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ, with all confidence, no man forbidding him” (Acts 28:30-31).

But it gets worse!

Paul wrote the Book of II Timothy from Rome. But when he writes Timothy this last time, what does he say? He says, “all they which are in Asia be turned away from me” (II Timothy 1:15). Paul addresses the Asian problem because this was were Timothy was. This is the ruins of which Timothy was aware. That’s why he starts that statement, “This thou knowest, that all they which are in Asia be turned away from me.” But the truth be known, this apostasy of the Body of Christ was throughout the Roman Empire.

Paul said concerning his first trial date, while in this last Roman imprisonment, “no man stood with me, but all men forsook me” (II Timothy 4:16). There was not one man in Rome who came and stood with Paul! This was after some 22 years of ministry in the Roman Empire. It was after writing an epistle to the saints at Rome. And it was after coming to Roman and having a two year house teaching ministry there. What happened to the Roman saints? Now we can’t even count 130.

GARDEN OF EDEN

The ultimate illustration may be at the very beginning. In the garden of Eden, how many people did God make? He made one man and one woman. Now, think about that for a moment – He could have made multiple men and women. In so doing he could have provided women for Eve to do “girl things” with. He would have provided a wonderful opportunity in the garden for “women’s fellowship and Bible study meetings.” But this was not necessary in the mind of God.

In making multiple men, God would also have provided Adam with others to do “guy things” with. They could of had “men’s meetings,” and they could had a sympathetic ear as they shared things that they could not talk about with their wives. (What things?) But this was not necessary in the mind of God either.

Then of course it would have provided other couples for Adam and Eve to “hang out” with.

And finally these multiple couples would have provided children for Cain and Able to socialize with. They could have played together, and even have been assembled together for educational purposes. But neither was this necessary in the mind of God.

GOD IS INTERESTED IN WEIGHING PEOPLE

God is not so concerned with counting people, but in weighing them:

“Thou are weighed in the balances, and art found wanting” (Daniel 5:27).

The issue with God is one of personal faithfulness:

“Moreover it is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful” (I
Corinthians 4:2).

“. . . The same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach
others also” (II Timothy 2:2).

SORT, NOT SIZE

God is looking for size, but a certain sort of work!

“. . .The fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is” (I Corinthians
3:13b).

A “NOT MANY” MINISTRY

Our’s is a “not many” ministry. This is the ministry to which God has called us!

“For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called”

At the beginning we listed the inquiries of “How many . . .?” And Paul now, gives us the answer, “Not many!”

So, the next time you are asked one of those “How many” questions, simply reply “Not many!”

Instead a “many” ministry, our’s is a “foolish”, “weak”, “base”, “despised”, and “things that are not” ministry!

“But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; and the base things of the world, and the things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and the things which are not, to bring to nought the things that are: that no flesh should glory in His presence. But of Him are ye in Christ Jesus, Who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption: that, according as it is written, he that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord.” (I Corinthians 1:26-31).

Let’s not allow ourselves to carried away with the Gentile obsession of numbering people. Let’s not fight the divine plan and viewpoint! Let’s stop contending with God.

Think on these things.

Clyde Pilkington

Gladstone, VA

http://www.pilkingtonandsons.com

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