How “One Plus One Equals Three” in the Kingdom
by: Selwyn Hughes
About the Author
This text was originally written by Rev Dr Selwyn Hughes (1928 – 2006), writer of Every Day with Jesus daily Bible reading notes, internationally acclaimed speaker and widely published author. Selwyn founded the ministry of CWR in 1965, a Christian charity seeking to apply God’s Word to everyday life and relationships through its teaching, training and publishing programmes. CWR, whose ministry continues today based at Waverley Abbey House in Surrey, is delighted to see this resource being used to further God’s kingdom and work.
The more time I have spent in studying the Scriptures the more impressed I have been with the Bible’s glorious illogicality as it relates to the title of this book - Divine Mathematics. Our human system of mathematics says two and five make seven. But there was one occasion in Scripture where two and five added up to five thousand. Two fishes and five loaves were taken by Jesus Christ and, under what Francis Ridley Havergal called “His mighty multiplying touch,” the Saviour was able to feed five thousand people. And just to add to the point – twelve baskets of fragments were gathered up after everyone had eaten their fill! A similar story can be found in the Old Testament (II Kings 4) where God’s servant, Elisha, experienced a miraculous extension of twenty small loaves of bread which were able to satisfy one hundred hungry men – with some left over.
Take this also …a statement made by Jesus: “For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it” (Matthew 16:25). How can someone gain by losing? The most basic profit and loss account shows a loss to be a loss and a profit to be a profit. I know of no mathematical law that says a loss can become a profit. Well, the divine scheme of things is different. We lose what is of no eternal value to gain that which lives on throughout eternity.
There is an intriguing verse found in the book of Ecclesiastes – a book written by King Solomon, the wisest man who has ever lived – which reads:
Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves.
A cord of three strands is not quickly broken. (Ecclesiastes 4:12)
If you dig into the context of this verse, you discover it is talking about friendship. Verse 9 says: “Two are better than one because they have a good return for their work. If one falls down his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up.”
Why is it that the writer who has been talking about one friend with another, making two, adds this strange climax – “A cord of three is not quickly broken”? This text is often separated from its context and made to mean that three people when working together form a powerful force. But that is not what it is saying.
Scholars describe this statement as a “climactic construction” – a literary device for the sake of emphasis – but it is much more even than that. What the text is saying is this: when you are in a close relationship with another person, you not only have what the other person gives you in the friendship (or you to the other person), but a third quality appears – a strength and power which comes out of the relationship which you could never have known had you both stayed apart. Your strength plus your friend’s strength produces a new and even greater strength.
In Solomon’s day, though they understood the concept, they were not able to express it in a single word. Today we call it synergism. The dictionary meaning of synergism is this: “the combined effect of two things that exceeds the sum of their individual effects.” God has designed good close relationships in such a way that one and one does not just add up to two – one and one makes three.
Nothing is more exciting than to see divine mathematics at work in the matter of giving. We give… and when we think we have come to the end of our financial resources, God makes it possible for us to give and give again. Perhaps this is what one writer meant when talking about God’s intervention in human affairs said: “Mathematics and logic have nothing to do with reality.” God is the Great Reality, and when He is at work then don’t be surprised if everything human is turned on its head.
Permit me to return to the story of the little boy who gave his loaves and fishes to Jesus. Suppose that the boy said to himself, “This is for my use only, and I don’t intend to share it with anyone.” He would have missed seeing one of the greatest miracles of all time- the Feeding of the Five Thousand. And suppose also that the disciples, instead of serving out the multiplied bread and fishes to the crowd decided to pile it high in one corner and make a charge for it. What do you think would have happened? Well, of course, we know the Lord would not have allowed them to do it, but they would have disqualified themselves from the service of the One whose life was given over to generosity. It is likely we would have never heard of them again.
I am sure that you come across opportunities to be generous almost every day, and if you fail to respond to those opportunities, who knows what rivers will not flow, what great ministries will never come to birth, what mighty things will not get done? God has opened the doors of generosity to you; don’t fail to open up the doors of generosity to others.
Another thing that has intrigued me in my perusal of the Scriptures is the fact that Christians can experience God’s blessing on their lives in a way that contributes to them making continually bigger and larger financial investments in the Kingdom of God.
Take this verse, for example. I consider it to be one of the most amazing verses to be found anywhere in Scripture:
One man gives freely, yet gains even more;
another withholds unduly, but comes to poverty. (Proverbs 11:24)
See what it’s saying? Generous giving contributes to abundance while withholding leads to scarcity. The operative word in the text is “freely.” There is something about generous (and wise) giving that does something not only for the recipients but for the giver also. Those who hold onto what they have and refuse to be generous toward those less fortunate than themselves may not experience poverty financially, but they will undoubtedly experience it spiritually.
And there can be nothing worse than poverty of the soul.
Those who believe, as I do, that the Bible contains the greatest wisdom to be found anywhere on earth and practice its principles will know the truth of the text that has just been quoted. They find that the more they give to God, the more they have to give.
The purpose of this booklet is to lay down a biblical perspective on the subject of giving to God. If you do not already know the experience of continual replenishment in terms of giving, I would like to show you the steps you need to take in order to experience this great biblical principle at work in your life.
One thing is sure – no one can claim to be a true disciple of Jesus Christ unless he or she understands the biblical principles concerning money. Our Lord had a good deal to say about money when he was here on planet Earth. In fact, sixteen of his thirty-eight recorded parables touch on the issue of finances.
Scripture fairly bulges with texts that relate to money and giving. Let’s begin with this incident in the life of our Lord:
Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. (Mark 12: 41)
The Gospel writer Mark tells us that many rich people threw in large amounts, but a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins worth only a fraction of a penny. As Jesus watched what was going on, he turned to his disciples and said, “This poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others.”
That must have caused some raised eyebrows amongst the disciples don’t you think? By what law of mathematics does a woman who throws in two small copper coins into an offering box give more than those who threw in large amounts? Jesus gave this explanation:
They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything – all she had to live on. (Mark 12:44)
Her giving was measured not so much by what she gave but what she had left. Does this mean that God wants us to give until we have nothing left? No, but it does introduce a whole new dimension into the matter of giving. When we give we need to focus not only on what we have given but also on what we have left.
Now, not only did Jesus sit over against the treasury in Bible days; He is sitting there still. But his purpose in sitting there, I hasten to add, is not to criticize or condemn but to help us evaluate the importance of our relationship to money. It is a solemn moment when we give of our finances with Him sitting beside us.