Jesus said to His disciples: “Gather up the fragments that remain, that nothing be lost.”John 6:12
Jesus said this after feeding 5,000 people on the Galilean hillside. He was teaching His disciples about more than being tidy. In this same chapter Jesus taught “I am the Bread of Life” Jn 6:35,48,51 and He gave extensive teaching on the subject of feeding upon the Word of God. We are to feed upon the Word of God and gather up whatever we can of it, so that nothing is lost.
Jesus taught that “man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God” Mat 4:4. By this standard, those who ignore the Word of God are spiritually dead.
In telling His disciples to gather up the fragments of bread that remained, Jesus was teaching the importance of feeding upon the Word of God and not letting any of it be lost. How can we lose the Word of God? There are many ways.
Losing the Word of God
One can lose the Word of God by ignoring it or forgetting it. Paul’s epistle to the Hebrews begins with the importance of the Word of God and warns his readers to “give the more earnest heed to the things which we have heard, lest at any time we should let them slip” Heb 2:1.
So what did Jesus’ disciples do? The Jews had good memories and trained them while repeating the teaching and parables of Jesus, and telling others enthusiastically about His miracles. This story-telling activity accounts for the similarity of the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, so similar that we call them the Synoptic Gospels.
Meditation and discussion
We know that the disciples discussed things among themselves and brought difficult questions to Jesus in private. How often do you have a Questions and Answers session in your congregation? Possibly there is not much discussion on the Word of God because there is little meditation on it. So we need each other and we can help each other to identify our blindspots.
Matthew was a tax-collector Mat 10:3 and his work at the receipt of custom Mat 9:9 made him a note-taker. This can be seen by his unique use of the common term ‘the kingdom of heaven’. Every Bible student knows about the kingdom of heaven, but few Christians realise that only Matthew used this term. It suggests that Matthew wrote down Jesus’ exact words and thus recorded what seemed to escape the memories of many others who used the term ‘the kingdom of God’. We are to use our memory, but memory is fallible and is not good enough. We should take notes of important matters for thoughful, prayerful reflection upon them, comparing them with Scripture. The Bereans checked out the teaching of the apostle Paul against the Scripture and were commended by the Holy Spirit for doing so Act 17:11.
Taking notes is a feature of Christian scribes sent by Christ Mat 23:34. They accurately record Christian teaching as the basis for proclaiming, distributing and teaching the Word of God, as well as recording and illustrating God’s providence.
What is the current practice in your congregation? How do you and the congregation “gather up the fragments that remain”? How is the Word of God read, preached, studied and remembered in your congregation? In former times, children learned catechisms and in Scotland the Westminster Shorter Catechism. Ministers and elders also held catechizing meetings to clarify how well people were understanding the catechism.
Does your congregational fellowship discuss the recent sermon? Did you get anything helpful from the sermon, and if not, was it supplied in the fellowship discussion afterwards?
Jesus expects the church to “make disciples” Mat 28:19. A disciple is ‘a learner’ or a student. Discipleship is training. Christians need collective and individual training to become effective witnesses for Christ in our communities. This is done 1. collectively through congregational preaching; 2. individually by congregational fellowship, Christian conversation, hopefully directing others to useful books that explain the Scripture and the need and benefit from personal, prayerful, meditative reading of Scripture in private and at family worship; and 3. sharpened by collective and personal evangelism, which shows us where others are, and which teaches us what we need to say and, thereby, we learn to improve our own personal witness to the Lord Jesus Christ and our knowledge how to apply Scripture.
Gathering up the fragments
How did you gather up the fragments from the last sermon you heard? Did you use your memory? Is it that good? Did you use the collective memory of others in congregational fellowship and discussion? Did your congregation have a Questions and Answers session as they did in apostolic times?
In the 1970s and 1980s when personal tape recorders came into vogue, one would hear tapes clicking off all over the congregation after 30 or 45 minutes, depending how long the cassette tape lasted, and the tape was removed and turned over to use the other side of the analogue tape. This has stopped with the advent of electronic media and sermons are now captured collectively by a video camera. Some are put on the internet for other people to watch or hear. However, is this ‘gathering up the fragments’? Is capturing a sermon on electronic medium all that is meant by gathering up the fragments? Did Jesus simply mean ‘capture and store it’ or did He not rather mean ‘make use of it’? How is the Word of God stored in your mind and heart, and practised in your life?
Q. 90. How is the word to be read and heard, that it may become effectual to salvation?Westminster Shorter Catechism
A. That the word may become effectual to salvation, we must attend thereunto with diligence, preparation and prayer, receive it with faith and love, lay it up in our hearts, and practice it in our lives.
This activity does not stop when a person is born again, but it continues through one’s Christian life. Jesus prayed to His Father: “Sanctify them through Thy truth: Thy Word is truth” John 17:17.
What did Christians do before tapes and videos? Many of them wrote down notes from sermons and re-read them afterwards, using them for discussion with others. Where are the writing Christians now? Where are the scribes?
It has reached such a sorry pass that when a person is seen typing on a computer or taking notes on a mobile phone – the modern ‘pen and paper’ – there are people who think that they are ‘rude’, not paying attention to the speaker! They are paying more attention to the speaker. Many note-takers can testify to the benefit of listening to a speaker by taking notes.
I have experienced this criticism of note-taking more than three times within the past year in my home town, but never in prior decades. Is this a new phenomenon? How many in this rising generation do not know that people take notes to remember and study what the speaker is saying? Are there so few students in modern life that not only do they not take notes but also they do not understand what others are doing when they do take notes? It suggests that taking notes is now so rare that when someone is seen using a computer or mobile phone that some observers think that the note-taker is being rude.
If people do not take notes of any kind, I do not believe that they are serious learners or students – the biblical word is ‘disciple’.
“Herein is My Father glorified, that you bear much fruit; so shall you be My disciples.”John 15:8
26 Dec 2022: Augustine of Hippo’s sermons were taken down by shorthand note-takers,as well as questions and answers. Even John Calvin’s prayers were copied down by Christian scribes.
27 Jan 2023: to improve Christian conversation, one should have pertinent questions to ask or topics to discuss with those one meets. This probably necessitates keeping a note of these ‘gathered fragments’ so that one can follow them up in discussion with those who are capable of answering questions or developing one’s thoughts and behaviour. Some others do the same.