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 gave extensive teaching on the subject of feeding upon the Word of God.
He 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 Synoptic Gospels accounts – the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke.
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.
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 shown 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. So we need each other and we can help each other to identify our blindspots.
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.
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 and Christian conversation; and 3. sharpened by personal evangelism, which shows us what others need and teaches us what we need to say and, thereby, we learn to improve our personal witness to the Lord Jesus Christ.
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 it 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. 14. 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.
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 more than three times within the past year in my home town, but never in my 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 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 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.
“Herein is My Father glorified, that you bear much fruit; so shall you be My disciples.”John 15:8