A Picnic To Remember
Supernatural unity, fellowship and love.
I don’t know if you are aware, but there are six love languages. I know, I know, the experts name only five means through which we give and receive love. However, I would like to make the bold claim that there has been a glaring oversight. Alongside ‘quality time’, ‘physical touch’, ‘acts of service’, ‘gifts’ and ‘words of affirmation’, I would like to add another category-- food! Nothing expresses love to me more than a melt-in-your-mouth chocolate bar, or a soft, squidgy slice of cake. Yum! Yum! (I could go on, but my stomach is beginning to rumble). Food makes my heart happy. In fact, I would go so far as to say that humans are hardwired to acquaint food with fellowship. Whether it’s a traditional family meal-around-the-table (“switch off the TV, Sophie”), or coffee with friends, or a romantic dinner for two at a fancy restaurant, we love to eat together because it’s an expression of love. I think God loves to eat with us too: ‘the Lord’s Supper’, for example, was originally to be taken within the context of dinner.
The Feeding of the Five Thousand
Not long ago, I was re-reading another famous food story in the Bible: the feeding of the five thousand (and I thought Christmas dinner was chaotic!), when a seemingly insignificant little detail leapt off the page, transforming the narrative before my eyes. Before Jesus sat down to eat with His disciples and several thousand tag-alongs, he climbed a mountain, “Then Jesus went up on a mountainside and sat down with his disciples.” (John 6:3 NIV)
I was struck by the fact that the mountainside was Jesus’ favourite spot for prayer, time and again He would climb up a mountain or hill, talking all night long with His Daddy. Probably, it was the only place He was assured of any privacy. The mountain-top had become a realm of intimacy and sweet fellowship with Father God and the Holy Spirit. Now, not only Jesus’ twelve disciples, but multitudes of men, women and children were intruding upon His quiet time. And what did Jesus do? He had them all sit down together for a picnic. Together. Father, Son, Holy Spirit… and assorted guests!
“I was so overawed by God’s provision (and rightly so) that I missed His purpose.”
The feeding of the five thousand is not only a mind-boggling miracle of provision but a beautiful picture of what Jesus has made available to us. When we accepted Him as our Lord, the Bible tells us that we became one with Him. To adapt a popular verse: “It is no longer [we] who live, but Christ lives in [us]” (Galatians 2:20 NLT). This means that the fellowship of Jesus, the Father and The Holy Spirit, the communion of the Trinity, their relationship, is no longer exclusive; we’ve been roped in! The perfect intimacy of the Trinity is now open to us to share in. In other words, whack out the emergency chairs, Father God; we’re going to need a bigger banqueting table! Paul puts it this way:
“And He raised us up together with Him and made us sit down together [giving us joint seating with Him] in the heavenly sphere [by virtue of our being] in Christ Jesus (the Messiah, the Anointed One).” (Ephesians 2:6 AMP)
In my previous readings of the feeding of the five thousand, I was so overawed by God’s provision (and rightly so) that I missed His purpose. In that moment, on that mountainside, His desire was simply to sit down and eat with His children. The Lord’s primary desire is for intimacy, for friendship.
Years ago, when I was a tiny toddler, Mum would wake up in the mornings to find that, during the night, I had climbed into my parents bed and wriggled my way in between the two of them. Now, when I think of the Trinity, I imagine something similar: God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit sat together with me in the middle of the circle. It’s a picture that fills me full to the brim of that warm fuzzy feeling…however, it’s not entirely accurate.
Oh how I wish I could just end there. You see, as well as God the Father, Jesus, Holy Spirit and myself, there are actually a multitude of others I have neglected to include, billions and billions of tag alongs, part of a large and growing family: the church. Somehow, though, picturing all those others squished next to me, pushing and jostling, is somewhat less than comforting. Wouldn’t it be so much nicer if it was just me and God?
“The evidence of Jesus’ divine nature is proclaimed through supernatural unity, fellowship and love.”
Unfortunately, Jesus doesn’t see it that way. In His prayer to the Father in John 17, he states:
“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one—I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. (John 17: 20-23 NIV)
Wow! The same unity, love, intimacy and fellowship expressed in the Trinity is to be mirrored in the church, between Christians one to another. Jesus could have prayed that we would perform miracles, raise the dead, feed the poor, cast out demons, or make disciples ‘so that the world may believe that you [the Father] sent me.’ But, no! Although Jesus commanded us to do these things, He clearly states that the evidence of His divine nature is in fact proclaimed through supernatural unity, fellowship and love. If we love one another in this way, the world will recognise that the Jesus we follow is more than just a good man, he is the way, the truth and the life.
Furthermore this ‘complete unity’ is to be a hallmark imprinted upon every Christian, proof to the world that we are genuine believers.
"A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another." (John 13: 34-35 NASB)
But how should we love one another? Jesus Himself is the example, the standard of love for us to emulate:
“This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.” (John 15: 12-13 NKJV)
We are to love one another as Jesus loved us. How did He show His great love? By laying down His life.
“What really is church? A meeting? Or a body?”
Hmm. I don’t know about you, but I think Jesus requires a little more from us than a church service on a Sunday morning. Coffee and biscuits and a quick chat afterwards was probably not was He was thinking of when He prayed that amazing prayer. Somehow, our Western individualistic society has affected church culture, and now our expressions of love and fellowship don’t quite seem to cut it. Not even close. I mean, what really is church? A meeting? Or a body?
I think Jesus is calling us to a higher place, a mountaintop picnic if you will. It’s a place of true fellowship and community, and a place that cannot be reached without sacrifice-- the sacrifice of time, money, effort, privacy and my cosy ‘it’s just me and God’ bubble. If God only commanded us to have intimacy with Him, it would be easy. It’s easy to lay down your life for someone like Jesus, He’s just so easy to love. What’s more, He’s perfect; people are are a mess! It takes a special kind of love to love them; the supernatural kind: love that can only be found in the heart of God.
I want to challenge you today, are you living in a cosy ‘me and God’ bubble? Do you go to church for what you can get? God is calling you to lay down your life for this rag-tag bundle of misfits He calls the church, to invest time and effort into building real, deep, relationships with them. God longs for us to be one big happy family. It’s time to buy a bigger table!