Whenever I read the Scriptures, especially when it involves a story, I try to imagine it as if I am physically standing there watching the events unfolding. This helps me not to interpret the text the same way every time and usually causes me to ask questions I wouldn't ask through casual reading. This happened recently while reading Jesus' feeding of the five thousand, and, as it often happens when meditating on God's word, I saw something new.
First, a quick overview of the story:
One day, Jesus was by the Sea of Galilee, and a large crowd, about five thousand men, plus women and children, came to hear him teach. As the evening was approaching, the disciples suggested he send the people away to nearby villages to buy food, but Jesus told them they didn't need to be sent away and that they, the disciples, should feed the people.
I think the New Living Translation best captures the spirit with which the disciples responded. "But we have only five loaves of bread and two fish," they answered. "Or are you expecting us to go and buy enough food for this whole crowd?" (Luke 9:13 NLT) I can picture the expression on their faces as they thought, "You've got to be kidding!" before their actual response.
Well, you probably know what happens next; Jesus miraculously multiplies the fish and the bread to provide enough to feed everyone. There's little doubt that the story's main focus is the miracle of the food being multiplied. But that's not where the story ends.
After everyone eats as much as they want, there are 12 baskets of leftovers. Have you ever wondered what happened to that extra food? Did each of the disciples take a basket home to feed their family? Were some of the disciples missing, and the extra food was for them? More importantly, the question that came to mind for me is, why did Jesus multiply the food beyond what was needed?
Jesus didn't miscalculate how much food was needed. He knew exactly how much each person was going to eat. Yet, there were 12 baskets left over, and according to John's gospel, Jesus said, "Gather up the leftover fragments, that nothing may be lost." (John 6:12 NKJV) We're not told what happened to the surplus; it wasn't something God wished to share with us, or it would have been included, but we know it was not wasted.
As I read this story and envisioned the interaction between Jesus and his disciples, the fact that Jesus multiplied the food beyond what was needed to fully satisfy everyone got my attention. This was not a mistake; it was intentional. Why did he do it, and why did he emphasize gathering all the remaining food fragments? It also got me thinking: does God do this often or only on special occasions?
The Purpose of Surplus
Throughout the Scriptures, we see God being extravagant, both in his grace toward us and his provision; he provides more than enough, but it always has a purpose and is never to be wasted.
For example, through Joseph, God revealed to Pharaoh that seven years of plenty (surplus) would come before seven years of famine. (Genesis 41) The reason for the surplus was to store some of it for the coming famine, which saved Egypt and the neighboring nations, including the family of Israel.
Another example is David's extravagant gifts of gold, silver, iron, stones, and other materials for building the temple. (1 Chronicles 29) God provided this wealth to David through gains from defeating the enemies of Israel and the tributes paid to him throughout his reign by foreign nations.
David only needed some wealth for himself and his household. Though he gave a large part of this wealth away, we know His family was well cared for, a testament to God's faithfulness to provide abundantly for our needs. This surplus provided by God was destined for the building of the temple, and David was faithful to recognize it and give this surplus for its intended purpose.
There are dozens of examples like this in the Scriptures. God is generous to provide not just what's necessary but much more, and always with a purpose. The apostle Paul affirms this truth in his letter to the Corinthians. He writes," And God will generously provide all you need. Then, you will always have everything you need and plenty left over to share with others." (2 Corinthians 9:8 NLT - Emphasis added)
I believe we can all look back on our lives and recognize when God's provision was abundant. Sometimes, its purpose was to be enjoyed in that season, and sometimes it was to be saved for the future. Other times, it was to be given away. I haven't always been faithful to use this surplus as intended. There were times, especially as a young adult, when I spent everything I had and more, I failed to save, and it caused me to face difficulties. Yet, even then, God was faithful to provide, teach, and help me see the wisdom and safety of doing it his way.
Thankfully, God is as abundant in his grace as he is in his provision. He forgives our mistakes and invites us to join him in the work he's doing in our world. We have this incredible privilege of co-laboring with God by faithfully managing what he puts into our hands.
Stewarding the Surplus
Stewardship is managing God's stuff his way. The best part of being a steward for God is that you live under the abundant provision of a gracious Master. Your position is secure, and your provision is abundant. Furthermore, you "are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that you should walk in them." (Ephesians 2:10 ESV)
As a friend recently said in a Stewardship Leader podcast conversation, "How do we come alongside people and help them understand what God says about money so that they can really enjoy their money?" What my friend meant by "enjoy their money" is this incredible opportunity we have to use money for eternal purposes. God's purpose for surplus and his invitation to us is to use money to engage in good works through the surplus he puts into our hands.