Our thoughts under consideration today are based upon "numbers." As a society our world seems to revolve around numbers. Just about everything we do somehow involves numbers. We have prices stamped on all the products we buy. We have to read labels, especially if one is on a special diet due to medical problems like heart disease or diabetes. The labels tell us what percentage (numbers)of something there is in the food we eat. If you really think about it, numbers are attached to just about everything in our lives.
One type of numbers that I've just about had enough of is "polls." You can't turn on the TV anymore these days without some "expert pundit" telling you what the latest poll numbers are. I wish they'd do a poll on how many are fed up with the polls, but you're probably never going to see that happen.
Do you know what's bad about polls and their numbered results (and census's are really the same thing)? The bad thing is that we get to where we trust in numbers. The pollsters take their poll, supposedly a cross-section of society, to find out how people are thinking. And the results of the poll are to find out whether more people think like me than think like you. If you remember anything from this lesson, I want you to remember this: that numbers do not make something right.
Saying that leads me into the Scriptural part of today's lesson. I think that our being inundated with numbers in our "temporal lives" causes us to carry that reliance in numbers over into our "spiritual lives." What I mean by that is, that a lot of the time we become overly concerned by the "number" of those in attendance than our concern about spiritual condition of the members. I think the old adage of "Quality, not quantity" is very applicable here.
I think that we see this concern for "numbers" creeping into the Church more and more these days. We see the Church seemingly more concerned with "activities" than "The Word." Seems like some congregations think that, in order to draw people to attendance, they have to provide some sort of entertainment. Some sort of "activity" like sports events, social gatherings and field trips. Those things are enjoyable yes, but when we become more concerned with those things in order to increase "numbers" then we've stepped aside from the "narrow path."
We have several examples of "numbers" given us in the Bible that tell us how God views "numbers" when the concern for them is, as we say in today's vernacular, "over the top." Or, maybe better said, when we rely or put our trust in the "quantity" rather than the "quality." Looking at the examples I'm about to cite to you tells us that God would prefer us to be more concerned with Him and His Word than how many bodies are sitting in pews. And, I think these examples will show us that if we're doing the work that the Church is designed to do (Eph. 3:9-11) the increase in numbers will come and that it is God who gives it. (1 Cor. 3:7)
That being said, let's look at our first example of how man relies on numbers and what God thinks of it. Do you remember what David's "great sin" was? No, it wasn't the sinful episode with Bathsheba, it was when he felt it necessary to "number Israel." He wanted to know just how big his army was. How many fighting men he had under his command. Read about this in 2 Samuel 24 and 1 Chron. 21.
Even his General of the Army knew this was wrong. That it shouldn't be done, but David "delighted" in it. IE: he persisted in knowing the "numbers." Do you know why he did this "great sin?" For the same reason most of us commit the sins that we do - he was "moved by Satan." (1 Chron. 21:1) And, you know what else there was about David's sin that we can relate to? He knew that he had sinned immediately after doing it. (1 Sam. 24:10)
Now here's the pertinent question. Why was the numbering of Israel a sin for David? Because David was relying on himself, upon his "numbers," instead of God.
Perhaps David had forgotten, or even ignored, Israel's past history. The history of Gideon and his measly army of 300 men who totally routed the enemy without "firing a shot." (Judges 7) Or of the famous battle of Jericho where the mighty, fortified city was destroyed by an army simply marching around it while blowing on trumpets. (Joshua 6)
The point of these examples is, to show us that we are not to rely on numbers, but rather on doing what God tells us to do as we read in Eph. 3:9-11. And this takes us to our next scriptural tie-in to this lesson. In Mark 4:26-29 Jesus told His disciples a little parable about the seed "that grows by itself." In the explanation of the parable we see that the "seed" (The Word) is thrown on the ground by a man. And that the "seed" does exactly what seeds do - they produce after their kind as we know from reading in Gen. 1:11-12.
So, as ordinary seeds produce "after their own kind" so does the "seed" of the Gospel. And, when we turn to 1 Cor. 3:6-9 we find out that Christians, the Church, are the farmers. The seed-casters. And the same principle applies here that was applicable to the Old Testament examples I cited - that "God giveth the increase," thus, God gets the glory. If it was just a matter of "numbers," then we could pat ourselves on the back and say "look what we did."
As an ending thought - relying on "numbers" creates another situation with us. If we don't somehow get the "numbers" we'd like, we see ourselves as failures. Failing because we are overly concerned with "numbers" instead of just sowing as much "seed" as we are able to during our "planting season."