I invite you to take just a moment and think about the teachers that you liked best when you were in school. No doubt they made an impression on you because of the way they taught, or some emotional connection they made. I remember my third-grade teacher Mr. Stewart, who employed all sorts of rhymes and games to teach us difficult subjects. Then there was my sixth-grade English teacher Mrs. Dickerson, who allowed me to write a lengthy book instead of doing a book report like all the other students. Or my high school Spanish teacher Señora Giles, who communicated not only a foreign language, but made us feel loved along the way. My guess is that you have teachers like this as well, and that you remember them for their special attributes, and not their tests.
But what would a teacher be without tests? Teachers need to make sure their students are learning, and students need a gauge as to where they need to improve. John 6 tells the story of Jesus testing His disciples, and whether they learned. It also shows how they could prove the trustworthiness of their Master. Verses 5-6[i] say, “Jesus soon saw a huge crowd of people coming to look for him. Turning to Philip, he asked, ‘Where can we buy bread to feed all these people?’ He was testing Philip, for he already knew what he was going to do.” We must ask ourselves the purpose for this test. Is Jesus seeing what Philip has learned, or whether Philip will apply this learning? No—because Jesus already knows these things. The purpose of this test isn’t to assess Philip. This first test is so Philip can see the full extent to which he can trust Jesus. When you go through struggles and tests, are letting them show you just how much you trust in God’s provision?
The second and third tests come in verses 7-9: “Philip replied, ‘Even if we worked for months, we wouldn’t have enough money to feed them!’ Then Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, spoke up. ‘There’s a young boy here with five barley loaves and two fish. But what good is that with this huge crowd?’” There are two tests here. In this second test Andrew, like Philip, will see just how much he can count on Jesus to take care of the people’s needs. Then the third is when the little boy with the lunch decides he can entrust his only food to the Teacher. He might literally lose his lunch, yet he hands it over anyway. What are you willing to give to God, that the Lord might use you in the service of others?
The fourth test involves the whole crowd that gathered. “’Tell everyone to sit down,’ Jesus said. So they all sat down on the grassy slopes. (The men alone numbered about 5,000.) Then Jesus took the loaves, gave thanks to God, and distributed them to the people. Afterward he did the same with the fish. And they all ate as much as they wanted (vv. 10-11).” In this test, Jesus is seeing whether the people will trust him and obey his command to sit down, even though there clearly was no meal to be set before them. What would you do, if you were a guest at your teacher’s home and were asked to sit down to a meal, even though there was clearly no food in the house? Their obedience and trust is one of the secret recipes that makes this delicious miracle! When God asks something unusual of you, will you pass the test and show God your obedience?
The fifth test is to see whether people will trust God for more. Verses 12-13 say, “After everyone was full, Jesus told his disciples, ‘Now gather the leftovers, so that nothing is wasted.’ So they picked up the pieces and filled twelve baskets with scraps left by the people who had eaten from the five barley loaves.” So often when God blesses us, God also tests us to see whether we’re stingy with that blessing. Our tithes and offerings represent trust that God’s financial blessings will continue to flow. Our willingness to give back a portion of what God has given us is proof that we believe God’s provision will remain constant. Instead of hoarding the leftovers, their willingness to give back proves their trust. Will you prove yourself willingness to give back to God, or will you stockpile the Lord’s provision instead?
The sixth test is for the people to prove that they understand the sign given to them by God. “When the people saw him do this miraculous sign, they exclaimed, ‘Surely, he is the Prophet we have been expecting!’ When Jesus saw that they were ready to force him to be their king, he slipped away into the hills by himself (vv. 14-15).” God is showing them that they will always be taken care of, but God is not promising to provide rations to supply an army to overthrow Rome. The people take God’s provision, but come to the wrong conclusion. What conclusions will you come to, when you see God at work in your life?
When we were in school, testing proved two things: it proved both the student and the teacher. Students typically only think about how they are proven in the testing process. An A grade shows success, and an F shows failure. But testing also proves to students that they can trust their teacher’s instruction. When life brings you trial, pray that God will give you strength and wisdom to pass the test. But also take these difficulties as opportunities to prove that you can trust your Teacher, who remains faithful at all times.