The Patience of God in Teaching Us

Brad Horton


I am still amazed at why God uses me. I know me. And many times, I don’t like me. I wonder why I think some things I do. I may lean towards unforgiveness, pride, and other ailments of sin.

But the Scriptures are not slack in showing the long suffering of God, even for those He has chosen to use. And no, I am not excusing sin or making excuses to sin either. But God, in the process of sanctification, is making us more like Him. Romans 6:1 states, “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase?” And the answer is a resounding no!

In John 6, which is a pivotal chapter for being a true follower of Jesus, the feeding of the five-thousand occurs. There is no doubt as to the depths of this miracle. A mere human mind cannot comprehend the multiplication of fish and barley loaves, and with leftovers. The reason for this miracle isn’t for those who are being fed, but for the disciples—to teach them the greatness of God.

The multitudes were following Jesus. As a side note, many follow only as long as it benefits them. But there was a need, and the need was enormous. Jesus took this time to show the disciples this miracle. He did so by asking questions of two of His disciples, Andrew and Philip.

First there is Philip, where Jesus asked in John 6:5, “Where are we to buy bread, so that these may eat?” From what we know of Philip, he was an analytical man. Jesus didn’t ask the question because He was not sure, He asked this question to shape Philip—to see where his spiritual mind stood, not so Jesus could know, but so Philip could know.

He answered in a very practical way: “Two hundred denarii worth of bread is not sufficient for them, for everyone to receive a little” (John 6:7). He calculated the odds, and his response was there wasn’t enough. Did he doubt Jesus? It doesn’t seem that he did. He simply answered the question in a practical way. Analytical minds do this. It’s not that they don’t have faith—it’s their nature to look at all the practical means. Philip did, and he concluded, it’s not enough.

Is my faith limited by my practical mind? Can I overlook my analysis and see faith and the miracle-working God? This was the point Jesus made by asking Philip. See, this is how you see things. This is how man sees things. But not God.

Second, in response, Andrew assessed the situation, and offered an odd solution, but in the end, he said it was not enough. His response is found in John 6:9: “There is a lad here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are these for so many people?” I would have answered that way, too. Many of you would as well. From the perspective of human wisdom, there isn’t enough money, nor is there enough food. This is the point where God is patient with us, to teach us, to show us who He is.

It is my opinion the miracle of feeding the five thousand was for the disciples and not the people. I don’t even know if the people knew there wasn’t any food, but the disciples did. Our response isn’t different from these two at times. We can analyze and determine the reality, or we can say we have something, but it’s not enough.

Jesus didn’t condemn them, either. After the question and response, Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” The number of people was astronomical. The number didn’t include women and children. Jesus began to distribute the basket of food. The text is clear in verse 11, “as much as they wanted”—so some got seconds.

After they “were filled” (v 12), Jesus told His disciples to “gather up the leftover fragments.” Verse 14 tells us the people were amazed. But the most telling point for me in this text is that the miracle was for the disciples. Why did Jesus ask the questions He did? We have the answer in verse 6: “This He was saying to test him.” Both Phillip and Andrew piped in with answers. And neither answer was wrong. There wasn’t enough money. There wasn’t enough food. No one would have answered any different.

Many times in our lives, we don’t see beyond what is temporal. We believe God. We believe His Word is true. We know He is sovereign. Yet, in these moments, we only answer what we know, what we can see. Our minds are limited to human processing. After commanding to gather the leftovers, the detailed amount of what was left was given: “twelve baskets with fragment” (v 13).

We don’t see this in the text, but my mind has to wonder what the disciples were thinking as they gathered leftovers when they had first said this was impossible to do. The people were amazed (v 14) and identified Jesus as a prophet, but that’s far from believing Him as the Messiah. One can be amazed at how some wonder at they can’t explain and never become a true believer.

As I read this text over and over again, my mind goes to the fact I am no different than Phillip and Andrew. I often only look at what is temporal or humanly possible. I weigh the facts and determine what can be done. And yet, God is patient with me. Even in times where I cannot see beyond what is physically possible, God is gracious to teach me. It seems the miracle of the 5,000 was more for the disciples than the hungry people. As they gathered the leftovers, I often wonder what went through their mind. Stunned silence? Amazement? Hope?

When we face odds that we can’t grasp, even doubt, God is patient. And for that, in the process of my sanctification, I eternally rejoice.

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