by Santosh Poonen
God has an interesting way of doing mathematics, and His way is as much higher than ours as the heavens are higher than the earth (Isaiah 55:9). He makes it quite clear in His Word, however, how His math works.
Subtraction comes before addition
In Isaiah 56:8 God identifies Himself as “the Lord God who gathers the dispersed.” We know from the history of Israel that this subtraction (dispersion) was something that God had allowed, and in some cases, even caused. But, as He states here, it was so that He could then add His people back together according to His way. He makes this even clearer in Zephaniah 3: “I will remove from your midst your proud, exulting ones, and you will never again be haughty on My holy mountain” (v11). And it is only after God does this subtraction that He does His addition: “I will gather those who grieve about [sin]… [for whom] the reproach of exile is a burden on them” (v18).
Division comes before multiplication
Long before God commanded His creation to “be fruitful and multiply” (Genesis 1:22,28), He divided. He separated the light from the darkness (Genesis 1:4), separated the waters which were above the expanse from the waters which were below (Genesis 1:7), and separated the dry land from the water (Genesis 1:9). He also separated Man from the rest of the animals (Genesis 1:26).
The spiritual principle
Many people try to understand God’s calculations using the logic of earthly mathematics – which gives negative connotations to subtraction and division. Yet, as we see throughout Scripture, subtraction and division are an integral part of God’s work, and are actually a requirement for God’s addition and multiplication. So, if the church is “growing” without this proper subtraction and division, it’s not God’s work.
Notice whom God subtracts from the church: the proud, haughty, exulting ones, who sin constantly, tell lies, are deceitful in their speech, and spread the spirit of fear (Zephaniah 3:11,13). Notice also from Genesis 1, the kind of division that God brings about in the church: light away from darkness (v4), the heavenly away from the earthly (v7), that which is a firm foundation (land) away from that which is not (v9), and that which is Spirit-breathed (Man) away from that which is not (v26).
After this division and subtraction, God does add – the lame and outcast and shameful (Zephaniah 3:19), the poor and humble who trust in the name of the Lord and not in themselves, who do not have the spirit of fear and whose lives are marked by peace (Zephaniah 3:12-13). These are ones who grieve over God’s Name being dishonored and over the reproach on God’s people (Zephaniah 3:18).
Jesus made it clear that if anyone wanted to experience God’s addition (discipleship) in their lives, they must first subtract all attachments to family, selfish ambitions, etc. (Luke 14:26). Further, Jesus warned that even the branch that does bear fruit should experience this subtraction – in being pruned by the Father to remove the deadweight and areas which are a hindrance to the overall growth of the branch (John 15:2).
Where God finds a church that is taken up with His mathematics, rather than the falsely compassionate way of trying to build the Church that comes naturally to our humanistic emotions, He makes that church His dwelling place; He silently plans for it in love and exults over it with shouts of joy (Zephaniah 3:15,17).