THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE SMALL
By Pastor Glenn Pease
God loves to get His will done in this world by means of little things, little places, and little people. You and I are conditioned to look for big things like New York, London, or Paris, but God with His infinite sense of humor often has His eye on hick towns like Bethlehem or Bridges Creek, Virginia, or Hodgenville, Kentucky, or Epworth, England, or Dole, France. Out of these podunk little places came the Lord Jesus, George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, John Wesley, and Louis Pasteur.
If we were planning history we would have had Jesus born in Jerusalem, or better yet, in the capital of the Empire-Rome. But God is not all that impressed by the big. To an infinite God everything is small, and He seems to favor the small even from the human perspective. The small is the foundation for both His physical creation and His spiritual kingdom. We want to focus on the significance of the small because we are so conditioned by our culture that we forget the biblical perspective. In Scripture we see God specializing in using the small. Those who are in small churches can easily feel powerless and loose a sense of self-esteem. We need to counter our culture by the biblical revelation that God is a lover of the little and has a great appreciation for the small. He took Goliath with little David and reduced the army of Gideon to 300 to show that He does not need the big to get His will done.
The real question is the one that Mark Twain's daughter Susie asked when she broke one of her favorite toys. Her mother tried to console her by saying, "There, there Susie, you mustn't cry over little things." Susie thought for a moment and then asked, "Mama, what is little things?" To a child the Mid-East crisis is no big deal. What really matters is their toys. The size of anything depends on your perspective. We need to recognize that the entire universe is built out of atoms that are so small they cannot be seen. Everything that is big and significant is made out of the exceeding small. This means that the small is really big and very significant. All visible reality is built out of invisible tiny atoms. God made every realm of creation in this same way so that all is dependent upon the small. Look at the three categories by which we sum up all of creation: The animal, the mineral and the vegetable kingdoms.
Man fits into this category and no matter how big a man gets he is a product of the small. The egg is about one twenty millionth of an ounce. This is not exactly jumbo, but compared to the sperm that fertilizes it, it is massive, for it is 85 thousand times larger than the sperm. Your life and the life of every person begins with the microscopic and in that small package are all of the genes that determine how big you and all parts of you will be.
God made everything out of nothing, and He goes on making everything and every person out of as near to nothing as you can get in size, for it is God's way to use the small.
Back in 1956 when I was in my first year of college scientist discovered that the universe is full of particles they called neutrinos. There are billions of them going through our skulls right now coming from the sun and stars, and perhaps even other galaxies. But you can't even blame your headache on them, for they are so small they could go through your head and not touch a thing. It is not because your head is so empty, for even if your head is made out of solid steel they would still make it through just as easily as a bat makes it out of Mammoth Cave without hitting the walls.
These particles are so small that they shoot through the entire earth at the speed of light and never feel a bump. They can only be stopped by a direct head on collision with another elementary particle, and the chances of this are one in ten thousand million. Atoms would need microscopes of enormous power to see these tiny bits of reality. They are closer to thought than they are to matter, and that is why there are many physicists who feel that matter is just another form of spirit. They can take a reading of your brain because your brain is throwing off stuff even greater than these neutrinos. The idea of all creation being commanded into being by the Word of God is no longer an inconceivable idea as it once was. It is made reasonable by what science has discovered about matter.
Eddington, the great scientist, said, "The stuff of the world is mind-stuff." Matter is made up of such small pieces that it cannot be distinguished form thought. Sir James Jeans said, "The universe begins to look more like a great thought than like a great machine." All we see is a thought in the mind of God which He commanded to take form so that we could see it. It is still like thought when it is broken down into its basic elements. Science is dealing with the invisible when it gets down to the bottom of things. These neutrinos are as mysterious to them as our angels to the theologians.
John Updike the novelist wrote this poem to celebrate the neutrino:
Neutrinos, they are very small,
They have no charge and have no mass,
And do not interact at all.
The earth is just a silly ball
To them, through which they simply pass,
Like dust maids down a drafty hall,
Or photons through a sheet of glass.
They snub the most exquisite gas,
Ignore the most substantial wall,
Cold-shoulder steel and sounding brass,
Insult the stallion in his stall,
And, scorning barriers of class,
Infiltrate you and me! Like tall
And painless guillotines, they fall
Down through our heads into the grass.
An ancient story is told of Ammi who said to his son, "Bring me a fruit from that tree and break it open. What do you see?" The son replied, "Some small seeds." The father then said, "Break open a seed and what do you see?" "Nothing," he responded. "My child," said Ammi, "Where you see nothing, there dwells a mighty tree. There is no great or small to the God that maketh all."
All God makes in the vegetable kingdom is made out of the small. Every seed is a mere fraction of the fruit, or the tree, or the vine it can produce. The big always come from the small in this kingdom from which we get the food we so love. It would be crazy if we had to plant a coconut to get a peanut. The big is the finished product, but it gets its existence from the small. The small seems so insignificant, but it is really the key to the big. If you have no small you will get no big.
This has many applications. If man does not get very small quantities of what are called trace elements from the vegetable kingdom he will die. This was discovered by the Dutch doctor Christiaan Eijkman who cured beriberi by giving sailors rice with the hulls on rather than polished white rice. The polished rice was not poison, but it lacked a trace substance necessary for health. This lead to the revolutionary discovery of diseases caused by the lack of something. Dietary deficiency diseases are caused by the absence of a small bit of matter in the body. This lead to the discovery of vitamins and how the body has a daily requirement of all sorts of tiny substances. You live, move, and breathe because of minute bits of stuff that keep your body running. You and all the animal kingdom keep going because of the small.
God uses the small all through the Bible to give victories to His people. Someone wrote, "Shamgar had an oxgoad, David had a sling, Samson had a jawbone, Rahab had a string, Mary had some ointment, Aaron had a rod, Dorus had a needle, all were used for God." We don't want to suggest, however, that the small is somehow sanctified just by being small. The small is equally effective in the realm of evil. Termites destroy more homes than earthquakes and matches and cigarettes cause more fires than volcanoes. More heartache and sorrow is caused by little words and deeds of unkindness than by major acts of hostility.
The small is a great tool of the devil. It was by means of a mere piece of fruit that he brought about the downfall of man. He is a clever user of the small, but that is all the more reason to recognize its value. It is a major mistake to think that the real test of our Christian commitment is in the big events of life. The fact is, real Christian living is in everyday commonplace circumstances. It is what we do when nobody is looking or even cares that reveals the reality of our faith. Chuck Swindall said it forcefully:
Small things are the genuinely big things in the kingdom of
God. It is here we truly face the issues of obedience and
discipleship. It is not hard to be a model disciple amid
camera lights and press releases. But in the small corners
of life, in those areas of service that will never be newsworthy
or gain us any recognition, we must hammer out the meaning
Chuck ought to know when he says that the bigger you get the greater the battle with pride, and the greater the danger of forgetting that the ministry of small things is the foundation of all ministry. The bottom line is that being small is no handicap for God. He loves to use the small to accomplish His will. Give Jesus the lunch of a little boy and He will feed the crowd. You need not fret that you cannot give more than what you got, for what you've got is all He needs. Stone wrote,
I cannot throw my arms
Around the world,
Nor wipe its tears,
Nor heal its wounds.
If I hold close one child,
Teach her to pray
And by example point the way,
Lord, won't you accept this mite?
The answer is yes, for He will use even a cup of cold water just as much as the ocean to accomplish His will. A match will produce a fire as real as the torch, and most people only need that much flame. The small if just as real as the big and often more fitting to the need. Do not reject the small as being second class, for sometimes it is the best. I'll take the diamond over the glacier any day, and everyday I get more use out of a toothpick than I do a log, for the small fits the need better than the big. The backhoe is very important, but most often my need is for a spoon. The big can be good, but it is often not as frequently needed as the small.
Isaac Asimov, the most voluminous writer I am aware of, has developed what he calls The Rule Of Numerous Small. It works like this: There are more stones in the world than boulders, and there are more pebbles than stones, and there are more grains of sand than pebbles. The smaller the size of anything, the more numerous they are. There are more mice than elephants, and more flies than mice, and more bacteria than flies. It works in space too, for there are more second magnitude stars than first magnitude, and more third than second, and so on, so that the smaller the category of stars the more of them there are. For every star that is bigger and brighter than our sun there are 20 less massive and less luminous. For every skyscraper there are many small buildings, and so the rule fits the works of man as well as the works of God.
We could show how this applies to all sorts of realms in human society. For every large mall there are many small ones, and for every large business there are many small businesses, and for every large car there are many small cars, and for every large church there are many small churches. We have to assume that this reality of the numerous small is just a freak of nature, or it is the result of the plan and the providence of God. Whenever we see any form of universal order we can assume it is part of God's plan. This means the small is inevitable in every realm of life. A one or two child family is not a failure just because there are families of five to ten. Modern families are not failures because they are not what old time families were in size. Does anyone look at a small family and feel they are without redeeming social value? Not at all, for the small family is the majority, and they can fulfill the God ordained purpose of the family quite nicely.
God has no problem working with the small size of anything. He is the one who started human history with only two people. He could have started with ten thousand or a million, but He chose to start small, and, in fact, the smallest He could begin with-just one male and one female. In the flood God only saved a small group of 8 people, and He began the new world with this small group. When God formed a people for His own He did not start with a tribe, but with Abraham and his wife. When Jesus started the church He followed the same pattern and chose a small group of 12. The churches of the New Testament were usually house churches and by their very nature had to be small groups.
The small group has been a powerful force in our modern world in both the secular and the spiritual realm. Many churches have built vast ministries by specializing in small groups. The largest church in the world in Soul, Korea is based on cell groups. The big church is at its best when it is built on the values of the small group. I choose this text dealing with the only picture we have of the boyhood of Jesus because it reveals the power of the small group in His growth and development. Verse 41 says that every year that Mary and Joseph went to Jerusalem for the big Passover Feast. It was a mammoth event that drew great crowds. It was like our 4th of July. Jesus was involved with the big events of His day, and He created many such big events Himself as He gathered great crowds and did miracles. There is no hostility toward the big in the New Testament. It is a good and valid part of life and celebration.
But the fact is, the focus is on the small group for growth. Jesus was found in the temple courts in the midst of the teachers listening and asking them questions. This was not the massive crowd event, but the small group event where there was a dealing with the issues of truth, God's Word, and its relation to life. Here is where we find the Son of God growing in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man. He went home and was obedient to His parents, which is the number one small group experience of life-the family. Small groups are to be an extension of the family. That is the key value of the small group. It can become a family where all know each other, and all can feel free to be who they really are. They can become close and intimate in their sharing and their learning from one another.
Our purpose in this message was just to establish the universal principle of the significance of the small. Communion is an illustration of our theme. It is the smallest conceivable meal, and yet it represents the biggest value in human history, for it is representing the death of Christ for the sins of the world. These little elements are symbolic of the event and the power that is far beyond anything else for impact. There is nothing to compare with it. The salvation of everyone who will be in eternity will be because of what is symbolized by these small and trivial elements. It almost seems sacrilegious to have something so puny representing what is so powerful. But it was good enough for Jesus, for He recognized the significance of the small, and He wanted to give to us all that which would keep us every mindful of it so that we would be every looking for more treasures in this truth concerning the significance of the small.