Worship & Service
There's a wide variety of opinions on what constitutes worship, both private and public. Tragically, many sincere Believers, who are seeking real worship, totally miss the point of worship.
A parable is told of a community of ducks who waddling off to duck church one Sunday to hear their duck preacher. After they waddled into the duck sanctuary, the service began and the duck preacher spoke eloquently of how God had given the ducks wings with which to fly. He pounded the pulpit with his beak and said, "With these wings, there is nowhere we ducks cannot go! "There is no God-given task we ducks cannot accomplish! With these wings we no longer need walk through life. We can soar high in the sky! Shouts of AMEN were quacked throughout the duck congregation. The duck preacher concluded his message by exclaiming, "With our wings we can fly through life!
More ducks quacked loud AMENS in response. Every duck loved the service. In fact all the ducks that day commented on what a wonderfully convicting message they had heard from their duck preacher and then they left the church and waddled all the way home.
Too often we waddle away from worship the same way we waddled in unchanged. This should not be so! Genuine worship, includes a response to God's grace by giving Him our lives and allowing Him to change us to make us more like Him.
- Worship is recognition of who God is, and what we are.
- Worship is a response to God's word, to be more like Him.
- Worship is not a request session for our wants.
In Romans 12:1-2 Paul described worship in this way when he wrote..,
Romans 12:1-2 I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. 2 And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.
Isaiah 40:31 But those who wait on the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.
Someone once said, "Worship is to the Christian like breathing to the human body. It is an absolute necessity!" The Christian must worship to live the abundant life. If we are to be healthy Christians, then we must be worshipping Christians, because it will keep us strong in everything we do:
Filling Station nor Pep Rally
As important as worship is, many Christians don't understand it. People have misconceptions about worship - big misconceptions. Some Christians see a church service as a filling station. These Christians think that this service is where they receive the necessary resources for the normal activities of the week. To them, worship is a pause that refreshes. Those who view worship as a pause that refreshes want to get close enough to God to warm themselves with His love but not close enough to be consumed by His love.
For others, worship is more like a giant pep rally. To them, a meaningful service seems to be related to the loudness of the participants, and the amount of energy expended in the process. They tend to view worship as something done to them and for them, rather than something for God.
Please, don't misunderstand me, in some ways worship is a filling station. When we worship, we should be energized to do God's work in the world. There is also a sense in which worship is a pep rally. We come together to encourage one another to cheer each other on, but the Bible teaches that worship is much more.
- worship (gk)
- to fawn or crouch; to prostrate oneself in homage; to heel as a dog
- heel (wb)
- follow closely behind
There aren't many, so called, worship services where Believers are seen fawning, prostrating, or heeling to God. Instead, our worship services are more often an emotional rollercoaster performance, little more than a religious concert capped off with a moral challenge. When such a service is over, the performers, say, "God, we really wowed them today". And the participants leave such a service saying, "Whew! That felt so good!"
When we truly worship, we demonstrate that we consider God worthy of all we have and are. The scriptures teach us that only God is worthy of our worship. Not...
- some person
- some song
- some church
Revelation 4:11 says, "You are worthy, O Lord to receive glory and honor and power."
So, when we worship God we are declaring His worth and acknowledging our worthlessness. Someone has described worship this way:
- Worship is the quickening of our conscience by His holiness.
- Worship is the nourishment of the mind with His truth.
- Worship is the purifying of the imagination by His beauty.
- Worship is the opening of the heart to His love.
- Worship is the surrender of our will to His purpose.
- Worship is the response of all that man is, to all that God is and does.
- Worship is the intersection of our lives with God's presence and power.
In worship, we experience the truth of...
James 4:8 Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded.
Worship is man and God communing together, and it is vitally important to our life as a Believer and our life as a church.
How can we be sure that true worship happens? (Personally or Publicly)
We must encounter the grace of God, in our worship, in such a manner as to be transformed and changed into better and more holy disciples. You have not experienced worship, unless you have been transformed or changed in some manner that extends beyond the service. If we are to experience genuine worship, we need to have a proper attitude in at least three areas.
A proper attitude about God
Some theologians have described God with the phrase, "Wholly Other". By using this phrase they mean that God is not one of us, nor is He like us. God is beyond anything we can imagine.
- He is greater than we can comprehend.
- He is more magnificent than we can ever express.
- He is good beyond description.
- He is powerful beyond imagination.
- He is holy beyond understanding.
- He is completely independent of this world.
- His involvement with humanity is purely by choice, not the result of any need or limitation on His part.
God is wholly Other. The prophet Isaiah wrote of a time of worship in which he had visions that taught him Who God is.
Isaiah 6:1-3 In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lifted up, and the train of His robe filled the temple. 2 Above it stood seraphim; each one had six wings: with two he covered his face, with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. 3 And one cried to another and said: "Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory!"
In your worship, have you ever experienced the Holiness of God to such an extent that you have seen that the whole world is full of His glory? Too often, we allow the things of life to come between us and God. In that manner, the things of life seem greater and more important than God, because those things have filled our vision. When our concentration is on God, the things of life are less pressing and the problems less significant, because God now fills our vision. True worship will go far beyond a quiet time or a church service and translate into every aspect of world in which you live.
Isaiah 6:4-5 And the posts of the door were shaken by the voice of him who cried out, and the house was filled with smoke. 5 Then I said: "Woe is me, for I am undone! Because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts."
Isaiah heard the angels saying, "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of His glory! The Hebrew language has no real words to express comparison, as does English. In English we have words describing comparisons such as good, better, best or big, bigger, biggest. The original Bible languages don't have words like this, so to express comparison, repetition is used. Many times in both Old and New Testaments, you will find words repeated to express intensity or comparison. If the Hebrews wanted to describe great joy, they said, joy, joy! If they wanted to speak of great fear they said, fear, fear! Even Jesus practices this when he said, "Verily, Verily I say unto you... When Jesus said "verily, verily" He was saying, What I am about to say is really, really true!" When the Jews wanted to say that something was the very best or worst beyond comparison, they repeated the word three times. This occurs only twice in the bible, both times in very interesting places. One is found in Revelation, 8:13 where John saw the judgments of God being poured out upon the earth. A great angel in the form of an eagle flies through the heavens crying out...
Revelation 8:13 And I looked, and I heard an angel flying through the midst of heaven, saying with a loud voice, "Woe, woe, woe to the inhabitants of the earth, because of the remaining blasts of the trumpet of the three angels who are about to sound!"
The angel is saying here that there could be no greater time of trouble, no greater woe. The only other time this repetition is used, in the Bible, is in Isaiah 6.
Isaiah 6:3 And one cried to another and said: "Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory
In other words they are saying, God is the holiest being in all of creation. There is no one or no thing that even approaches God's holiness. Worship begins with this attitude about God, this awe, this reverence, this awareness of God's supreme greatness.
Psalms 95:3-4 For the LORD is the great God, And the great King above all gods. 4 In His hand are the deep places of the earth; The heights of the hills are His also
The Psalmist challenges us to take a tape measure and stretch it to the deepest place on earth, which would be in the bottom of some sea, to the highest peak in the mountain ranges
In so doing, we would see that our God is infinitely greater than all. Someone that awesome and that great is deserving of our worship and praise. True worship begins with this attitude of reverence and respect for Who God is, but it doesn't stop there, because a proper attitude about GOD leads to...
A proper attitude about ourselves
When we are confronted with the holy perfection of our God, our own imperfection stands out like a dark stain on a white shirt and we become painfully aware of our own sin.
If we have truly worshiped God, we will leave that time of worship with a reality of the awfulness of our sin. Simon Peter experienced this...
Luke 5:1-8 Now so it was, as the multitude pressed about Him (Christ) to hear the word of God, that He stood by the Lake of Gennesaret, 2 and saw two boats standing by the lake; but the fishermen had gone from them and were washing their nets. 3 Then He got into one of the boats, which was Simon's, and asked him to put out a little from the land. And He sat down and taught the multitudes from the boat. 4 Now when He had stopped speaking, He said to Simon, "Launch out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch." 5 But Simon answered and said to Him, "Master, we have toiled all night and caught nothing; nevertheless at Your word I will let down the net." 6 And when they had done this, they caught a great number of fish, and their net was breaking. 7 So they signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both the boats, so that they began to sink. 8 When Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus' knees, saying, "Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!"
Peter understood that he was in the presence of not just a man, but the living Christ, Who was the fullness of the Godhead in human form. When Peter saw who Christ was, he immediately saw how bad he, Peter was. When the prophet Isaiah stood in the presence of our Holy, Holy, Holy God he exclaimed, "Woe is me, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips."
There is something about being in the presence of God that opens our eyes! God designed worship for this purpose. Through worship we come to see things as God sees them and, as the hymn says, "the things of earth grow strangely dim in the light of his glory and grace". Unfortunately, we often come to worship with an attitude to elevate the things of the world within our lives, instead of elevating Christ to be the Ruler of the things in our lives. True worship will move the things of the world to their proper place.
In Psalm 73, the writer says that he envied the prosperity of the wicked until he entered the sanctuary of God and then he had proper understanding. A proper attitude toward worship allows us to stop our hectic lifestyle long enough to re-evaluate our lives by comparing them to the standard of Christ's life.
Psalms 73:1-3 Truly God is good to Israel, To such as are pure in heart. 2 But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled; My steps had nearly slipped. 3 For I was envious of the boastful, When I saw the prosperity of the wicked.
Psalms 73:16-17 When I thought how to understand this, It was too painful for me - 17 Until I went into the sanctuary of God; Then I understood their end.
Psalms 73:22-28 I was so foolish and ignorant; I was like a beast before You. 23 Nevertheless I am continually with You; You hold me by my right hand. 24 You will guide me with Your counsel, And afterward receive me to glory. 25 Whom have I in heaven but You? And there is none upon earth that I desire besides You. 26 My flesh and my heart fail; But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. 27 For indeed, those who are far from You shall perish; You have destroyed all those who desert You for harlotry. 28 But it is good for me to draw near to God; I have put my trust in the Lord God, That I may declare all Your works.
There is a story of a wealthy American entrepreneur who went on a hunting safari in Africa. He chose a seasoned guide and hired local natives to carry the necessary gear. From the very first day, aggressive and driven, the business mogul wanted to go much faster than his guide. Every day after that, he pushed and drove his bewildered safari team from morning to night, until they could hardly stand. Finally, the burden bearers stopped and would go no farther. They would not stir from where they sullenly reclined in the shade. Being accustomed to instant obedience, the American tycoon was furious. "Get up, Get up!" he yelled! "Push on!" But they all just sat there not even meeting his eyes. The impatient man stormed at his guide. "What's happening here? Why won't they go on?" The guide replied, "They must stay here all day. They won't move, no matter how much you shout and bully. "We have been going too hard and fast, and we must let our souls catch up with our bodies!"
Too often, we are like that tycoon rushing through life until crisis comes, and then we learn the hard way that we are designed to stop regularly and worship our Heavenly Father, and in so doing, we let our souls catch up. We need...
- Time with God.
- Time to rest in His presence.
- Time to get His perspective on our lives.
- Time to ask for and receive His forgiveness and yes, even some time to ask for things.
But the last item should not be the first on our list of actions for worship.
True worship requires a proper attitude about God which leads to a proper attitude about ourselves which should lead to one more thing.
A proper attitude about our daily lives
Genuine worshipers see every task of every day an opportunity to worship God. There does need to be special time set aside for intense worship, but real worship is not controlled by the clock or the calendar. After all, "The whole earth is full of God's glory". True worshipers follow Paul's guidance in Romans 12:1-2 and worship by presenting their lives to God as living sacrifices.
Romans 12:1-2 I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. 2 And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.
We most often come to worship to discover a good feeling about God, and to generate a good or at least a better feeling about ourselves. Biblical worship is not a one-day-a-week event, it must be a lifestyle.
An experienced pastor can do a wedding in about ten to twenty minutes almost with their eyes closed. But a marriage takes years to really start working properly. Weddings are important, beautiful, impressive, emotional, and sometimes expensive. During the ceremony, we are careful to be at the right place at the right time and to say the right words. Every detail of the service is important, but all the same, weddings are easy. Marriages, on the other hand, are complex and difficult. It is through the marriage that we work out every detail of the words, the promises, and the commitments that we spoke at the wedding. And it takes a lifetime of dedication and sacrifice. In marriage, we develop the long, rich life of faithful love that the wedding promises and announces. The events of the wedding without the life of a proper marriage don't amount to very much.
If there is no...
- daily love shared
- continuing tenderness
- forgiveness asked and received
- attentive listening
- creative giving
- a lifestyle of blessing each other as husband and wife....
then, the wedding service was a sham and the marriage is an empty charade.
In a similar way, if worship does not translate into a changed life, it, too, is a sham. It makes no difference how good the service makes you feel if that service does not bring some spiritual change to your life, that service was not worship. You see, God is not as much interested in the activities of worship as He is in the actions of life. God expressed this when He said ...
Isaiah 1:12-17 "When you come to appear before Me (God), who has required this from your hand, to trample My courts? 13 Bring no more futile sacrifices; incense is an abomination to Me. The New Moons, the Sabbaths, and the calling of assemblies - I cannot endure iniquity and the sacred meeting. 14 Your New Moons and your appointed feasts my soul hates; they are a trouble to Me, I am weary of bearing them. 15 When you spread out your hands, I will hide My eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not hear. Your hands are full of blood. 16 "Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean; put away the evil of your doings from before My eyes. Cease to do evil, 17 learn to do good; seek justice, reprove the oppressor; defend the fatherless, plead for the widow.
Isaiah 29:13 Therefore the LORD said: "Inasmuch as these people draw near to Me with their mouths and honor Me with their lips, but have removed their hearts far from Me, and their fear toward Me is taught by the commandment of men
In God's eyes, worship is much more than what happens on Sunday mornings or in your quiet time. Worship is what happens the throughout the week. Christians who want to experience genuine worship must respond as did Isaiah, by saying, "God, here I am, send me." Take my life and accept it as an offering to you to use as you see fit. Worship is acting on God's directives not my dictates.
True worship will produce a proper attitude about Service
Worship and service are vital parts of God's total program, called redemption. As a matter of fact, there is no good way to separate worship and service. You might say, these are two sides of the same coin. Like many areas of the Christian life, service is difficult to properly describe, using human and physical models, so, we will briefly examine two Biblical personalities, and their attitudes and actions in the realm of spiritual service. As we see these aspects in real situations, it should help us understand how to live out these truths in our own lives.
Attitudes, Actions, and Things Learned
Hebrews 11 is a good place to look when we think of choosing examples to begin our discovery of service. We have here a fairly extensive overview of the people whom have served God faithfully. It's almost like walking down a portrait filled hallway lined with memorials of the faithful.
So, what Bible character do you think you identify with more than any other? Many of us would like to resemble people like...
- David the "man after God's own heart",
- John the Baptist who was "more than a prophet",
- Peter a rock in the kingdom,
- Paul the fervent apostle, or
- Barnabas the encourager,
However, If we are to be honest, we probably identify with the characters found in some of Jesus' parables or miracles, like the publican, whose plea was "God, be merciful to me a sinner." Or maybe we might see ourselves as the centurion, who considered himself unworthy.
Look at a partial list of services performed by those mentioned in the following verses...
Hebrews 11:32-34 And what more shall I say? For the time would fail me to tell of Gideon and Barak and Samson and Jephthah, also of David and Samuel and the prophets: 33 who through faith...
- subdued Kingdoms,
- worked righteousness,
- obtained promises,
- stopped the mouths of lions, 34
- quenched the violence of fire,
- escaped the edge of the sword,
- became valiant In battle,
- turned to fight the armies of the aliens.
Many of us want to subdue, quench and make armies run. Yes, 6 out of 9 in that list are really appealing, aren't they? But if we take just a moment to consider them carefully, we'd probably realize they aren't quite as appealing as they seem at first glance.
Do I really want to stop the mouths of lions, or that bit about quenching the violence of fire by faith? It might not be so bad, if I had the city Fire Department behind me, but out there all by myself with the only piece of firefighting equipment being faith.
Then there is the bit about escaping the edge of the sword, whew! Now that's getting up close and personal. It's not quite like watching TV. So maybe after closer consideration, the services described here might be better assigned to someone else, anyone else, but not me. Biblical service is not all it has been cracked up to be.
What does it look like?
Like almost every other aspect of the Christian life, Biblical service has been sugar-coated, to make it acceptable to the majority, likely to the point, that it doesn't even resemble Biblical service. Sad as it is, two of these nine would not even be considered service, by most today. Yet, these two are possibly the most potent and of greater importance than the others.
- worked righteousness
- obtained promises
- worked (gk)
- to toil as an occupation (active)
This Greek word is used about 40 times in the New Testament. Here are a couple of examples.
Matthew 7:23 "And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!'
Matthew 21:28 "But what do you think? A man had two sons, and he came to the first and said, 'Son, go, work today in my vineyard.'
- obtained (gk)
- to attain either by chance or after some pursuit to acquire
This Greek word is used only a handful of times in the New Testament. Here are a couple of the examples.
Hebrews 6:13 For when God made a promise to Abraham, because He could swear by no one greater, He swore by Himself, 14 saying, "Surely blessing I will bless you, and multiplying I will multiply you." 15 And so, after he had patiently endured, he obtained the promise.
James 4:2 You lust and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war. Yet you do not have because you do not ask. 3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures.
Abraham obtained the promise after he did something. That something was to patiently endure. Those to whom James was writing could not obtain, because they did the wrong things to acquire what was sought.
Here we see two factors involved in Biblical service.
- our responsibility to do something
- the response to our doing (the intent or motive for our doing)
How of Service
Look at the first part of Hebrew 11 and we will see how the Holy Spirit sets the stage for the how of service.
Hebrews 11:1-7 Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. 2 For by it the elders obtained a good testimony. 3 By faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that the things which are seen were not made of things which are visible. 4 By faith Abel offered to God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, through which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts; and through it he being dead still speaks. 5 By faith Enoch was translated so that he did not see death, "and was not found because God had translated him"; for before his translation he had this testimony, that he pleased God. 6 But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him. 7 By faith Noah, being divinely warned of things not yet seen, moved with godly fear, prepared an ark for the saving of his household, by which he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness which is according to faith.
If we are to share in the reality of Biblical service, as these in Hebrews 11, then there are some things that must be true in our lives. Two of these are observed in v. 6.
We must truly believe that GOD is.
Most of us have no real problem with this command to believe that God is. However, there is much more involved in this statement than just that God exists. We must believe that God is all that He says He is. To fully understand this demands a comprehensive study of God's Word. Even a study of God's essence would fall short but it is the beginning of knowing Who God is.
The next phrase of this command, gives some a little problem.
We must truly believe that God is a rewarder.
- rewarder (gk)
- remunerate, recompense; one who pays for services; one who pays for work preformed
Remember what is being presented in this passage, by the Holy Spirit. Those who would come to God must believe that He is all He says He is and that He is a rewarder.
By the context, those who are coming are not coming for a Spiritual new birth or salvation. Those mentioned in the passage were already believers in God who had been faithfully serving Him in such a manner as to be pleasing to God. With that background, the Holy Spirit want us, who are also Believers, to know how, we too, can please God.
This is not an insignificant point.
The Holy Spirit says without faith it is impossible to please God. Then comes that big word - for. The word for is part of a phrase indicating that what follows is a description of what proceeded, and/or is the cause of what proceeded.
Hebrews 11:6 But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.
If we want to come to God with a faith that pleases we must believe. This is imperative. There is no room for any other opinion. Look at v. 6 and note again the qualifying words of impossible and must.
There are some who say regarding serving Christ, that it really doesn't matter much because what we do during this lifetime has consequences for this life only and has no benefit or judgment in the life hereafter. That just flat-out denies a vast portion of the Word of God. However, such a spiritualized theory is embraced by many today, because it takes some of the stress and responsibility out of living. Such a theory brings stress reduction, by saying that there is no need to have pressure in life to live up to Biblical standards, and there are no real consequences for failing to follow the Biblical admonitions, telling us to avoid certain practices.
As previously stated, the study of the Essence of God demands much more extensive attention which would derail the current focus on service and worship. Therefore, we will not include that study in this discussion of service. However, it is beneficial take a small amount of time to see that God is a Rewarder especially since we have seen the imperative of this belief in Hebrews 11:6 and since there are some who teach that this belief is unimportant or irrelavent.
The truth of rewards is taught from Genesis to Revelation and is part of the very fabric of most Biblical doctrines. It should be a factor in our motive for service, and our dedication to service.
Look carefully, again at the Greek definition of the word rewarder as given earlier in this lesson.
- rewarder (gk)
- remunerate, recompense; one who pays for services; one who pays for work preformed
If we are to come to God in pleasing faith and service, we must believe that God is one who...
- pays for services
- pays for work preformed
It is important to understand that both proper service and improper actions will be justly rewarded by God. However, we will not take the time here to develop these distinctions. This will by no means be a comprehensive examination of the area of rewards, but because questions often arise because of teachings regarding the de-emphasis of rewards, we will take a little time to provide evidence to establish this truth.
We've chosen just a few passages from the many throughout the Word of God. I trust these will help show the pattern of Biblical teaching presented in the totality of the Scriptures, without doing a formal study of them all, at this time. However, some of these passages will demand some explanation, because they have been used, so often, without proper understanding.
This first passage is a classic illustration of such misuse.
Galatians 6:7-9 Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. 8 For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life. 9 And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart.
Some have tried to explain this passage away, by saying that it applies to the unsaved and not to Believers. Some have also tried to use this passage to prove that you must work to gain salvation. This idea is asserted because it says in v. 8 that if we "sow to the Spirit we will reap everlasting life".
In v.8, it says that if we sow to the flesh, the only thing we can receive are rewards that are of a corruptible nature, as is the flesh. The flesh is corruptible and can only produce corruptible results, therefore, the rewards will only be temporary and not everlasting in nature.
Over and over, the Scriptures clearly state that if we are serving only for self or the flesh, the only reward we will receive, will be from humans here on earth, and that reward will only last for a short time, because human and physical rewards are only compatible with time, not eternity. Another quick example in Matthew 6.
Matthew 6:16 "Moreover, when you fast, do not be like the hypocrites, with a sad countenance. For they disfigure their faces that they may appear to men (sow to the flesh) to be fasting. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. (right now, and it is corrupt)
On the other hand, if we sow to the Spirit, Who is eternal, the resulting rewards from the Spirit will be compatible with everlasting life, or will last forever. The key factor to be seen here, for this lesson, is that one will reap or will be rewarded by the Spirit according to what you have done.
With regard to who this passage is addressed, we can look a few verses up to see the context. In Galatians 6:1-6, we see that this passage is directed to Believers by the use of the word Brethren to address the group and by the qualifying statement "you who are spiritual". The dismissal of this passage by attributing these statements to the unsaved is baseless.
Galatians 6:1-6 Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted. 2 Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. 3 For if anyone thinks himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. 4 But let each one examine his own work, and then he will have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another. 5 For each one shall bear his own load. 6 Let him who is taught the word share in all good things with him who teaches.
Here are a few more passages, which refer to the aspect of God being a Rewarder.
2 John 1:6-8 This is love, that we walk according to His commandments. This is the commandment, that as you have heard from the beginning, you should walk in it. 7 For many deceivers have gone out into the world who do not confess Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh. This is a deceiver and an antichrist. 8 Look to yourselves, that we do not lose those things we worked for, but that we may receive a full reward.
Revelation 3:11-12 "Behold, I come quickly! Hold fast what you have, that no one may take your crown. 12 "He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God, and he shall go out no more. And I will write on him the name of My God and the name of the city of My God, the New Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from My God. And I will write on him My new name.
Proverbs 11:18 The wicked man does deceptive work, but to him who sows righteousness will be a sure reward.
1 Corinthians 3:8-15 Now he who plants and he who waters are one, and each one will receive his own reward according to his own labor. 9 For we are God's fellow workers; you are God's field, you are God's building. 10 According to the grace of God which was given to me, as a wise master builder I have laid the foundation, and another builds on it. But let each one take heed how he builds on it. 11 For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, 13 each one's work will become manifest; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one's work, of what sort it is. 14 If anyone's work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward. 15 If anyone's work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.
Sadly, there are some who assert that this passage has no reference to eternity, but only to our existence here on earth. The context alone is enough to show that this a reference to a time of rewards and judgment, for Believers, after the close of this lifetime.
However, we also must be careful to compare and harmonize each passage with all other Scripture. Please look at the second book written by the Apostle Paul to the church at Corinth.
2 Corinthians 5:6-11 Therefore we are always confident, knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord. 7 For we walk by faith, not by sight. 8 We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord. 9 Therefore we make it our aim, whether present or absent, to be well pleasing to Him. 10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad. 11 Knowing, therefore, the terror of the Lord, we persuade men; but we are well-known to God, and I also trust are well-known in your consciences.
It seems clear that what we do here and now does have consequences for eternity, not as far as our New Birth is concerned, but as far as our rewards are concerned, which is very important.
Matthew 5:11-12 "Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. 12 "Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
Again, this passage clearly states that what happens here on earth has real consequences in the life hereafter.
Matthew 6:1-5 "Take heed that you do not do your charitable deeds before men, to be seen by them. Otherwise you have no reward from your Father in heaven. 2 "Therefore, when you do a charitable deed, do not sound a trumpet before you as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory from men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. 3 "But when you do a charitable deed, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 "that your charitable deed may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will Himself reward you openly. 5 "And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward.
Notice v.1. The reward comes from our Father in heaven. Those being addressed, in v.1, are believers, because it states that God is their Father. It is important to see in vv.2, 3 and 5 that at least part of the reward for improper actions takes place on this earth. V.4 also points out that some of the reward for proper actions will be given during this lifetime.
In Matthew 5, we see that there are rewards for proper actions given in heaven, and in Matthew 6, we see that there are also some rewards given for proper actions during our time on earth.
Matthew 10:41-42 "He who receives a prophet in the name of a prophet shall receive a prophet's reward. And he who receives a righteous man in the name of a righteous man shall receive a righteous man's reward. 42 "And whoever gives one of these little ones only a cup of cold water in the name of a disciple, assuredly, I say to you, he shall by no means lose his reward."
Without taking a lot of time, it is needful to see that position or status is not the most important factor in this process of rewards from God. The important factor, in this rewards process, is not the type of action performed, but the quality and condition of the heart attitude when the action takes place. Also note, there is the possibility of losing rewards that could and should have been ours (vs 42b).
Level Playing Field
We see that the playing field is level for all participants. Just because a person has a higher position (whatever that is) does not mean they will have greater rewards. As a matter of fact, having a higher position can be a determent when it comes to rewards and punishment.
James 3:1 My brethren, let not many of you become teachers (headmaster or instructor), knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment.
You see, to those to whom much has been entrusted, much is required.
We have placed on the table a number of seemingly unrelated truths about rewards. However, these things play a very important role in the total picture of Biblical service. I trust you will keep them in the back of your minds as we continue. Some of these truths will be referred to as we continue through our study, other facts are only for background to help with understanding the scope of Biblical service and worship and related concepts.
If we are to have a greater understanding of true Biblical service, we must recognize and hold to these two imperatives of Hebrews 11:6. It is impossible to please God without faith. Incorporated within genuine faith is the belief that
- God is who He says He is and
- God is a rewarder
Let's turn our attention back to the two Biblical Servants who were faithful in their service and did, and will yet obtain rewards as a result of that proper service. Any one of the personalities named or referred to in Hebrews 11 would make a good study, as they relate to service. However, for our study, we will direct our attention to two personalities who are not mentioned by name, but only referred as a group. From their lives, we can draw many lessons to help our understanding of service for God as members of the body of Christ, the church. The two lives we want to examine are included in the general title of Prophets, Elijah and Elisha.
Remember, the criteria for Biblical service and the resulting rewards is primarily attitude, not just particular action. Therefore, we will seek to focus our examination of the Biblical commentary concerning the attitudes of these two.
First we need to see that while we may not be like Elijah in actions or attitude, we are all like him in our nature.
James 5:17 Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain; and it did not rain on the land for three years and six months.
We have already seen that the playing field is level for all Believers as we participate in Biblical service. Elijah surely did great things for God. He did those great things for God, not because he was a great person. Elijah, who was like us in nature, became one of the faith greats because of what God did through him, not because of what he did for God.
1 Kings 17:1 And Elijah the Tishbite, of the inhabitants of Gilead, said to Ahab, "As the LORD God of Israel lives, before whom I stand, there shall not be dew nor rain these years, except at my word."
Elijah pops up on the Biblical scene without any fanfare. As a matter of fact, we don't even hear of Elijah until we see him standing before king Ahab with the declaration concerning the coming drought. We are introduced to Elijah through this dramatic appearance. No resume, no work history, no record of his schooling - just "Hey Ahab, I'm here and you're going to be thirsty for a while." Also, Elijah is mentioned several times in the New Testament. Jesus and Paul use Elijah as examples. John the Baptist was said to have the "spirit and power of Elijah". Some in the nation of Israel thought that Jesus might be Elijah, the great prophet, and Elijah was one of the two who came back from heaven to be with Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration.
As we will see in the first part of this Old Testament account, Elijah seems to be a super human. In the first scene of Elijah's appearance, he seems to have unbounded moral strength. Certainly, no one would question his devotion to God or his ability to be a spokesman for God. With such credentials, you would think that the Holy Spirit would have at least dedicated one book to his life and exploits. However, there are only a few chapters in the Bible devoted to the life of Elijah. And most of the Biblical space given to this great man is describing, what we would probably consider, his weakness and the low valley of his life, not his great exploits for God.
Ah, yes, Elijah was a man with a nature very much like ours. Yet, he served God and was used mightily by God. This should give us courage that we too, can exhibit a faith that pleases God.
If we were going to write a story of such a great man, we'd probably have put in a few more details about his dramatic facial features as he delivered such a message to the king. And of course, we'd have described in detail the dramatic reactions of Ahab. Those are human interest factors that are needed to keep the ratings up and the viewers coming back, you know.
However, in God's drama, there are none of those extras, just the facts. God told Elijah to go, and he simply went. Surely, Elijah had his TV regularly tuned to the news channel, and he knew that Ahab had a nasty habit of killing anyone who was a prophet of God, especially anyone who would dare to bring a message of guilt and punishment. That's faith. It is very possible and probable that Elijah obeyed God by bringing the message and was willing and fully expecting to give his life for this effort, something not many would be willing to do for God. It's also interesting to see that when Elijah went to Ahab with this information, he had no plan beyond the delivery of the message. There was no escape plan. He was not escorted by bodyguards. He didn't have an FBI back-up team or exit strategy.
If we believe that God is all He says He is, then we can do what God says without all that human manipulation. We can trust His message, and we can also trust His after plan, even if we don't know what it is. Of course, most of us want the after plan to bring fame, riches and full comfort. However, if we believe the Bible, most of God's after plans do not bring fame, riches, and full comfort, at least not in this life. Therefore, we often have a tendency to inject our thoughts into the plan and water down God's message, so there will be greater acceptance by the world and worldly Believers. Folks, if we alter God's message, it is not God's message no matter how many riches may come our way.
Job 13:15 Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him
Many are willing to serve, if it is convenient, doesn't cost too much, and brings some recognition. Such an attitude is not service for God, but is instead religious service for our own benefit.
Well, God said go and Elijah went. The rest was up to God. Simply obedience was up to Elijah.
That was a bit like the young man who accepted Christ as his Savior, one night at a church service. This young man was not quite as bright as some thought they were, as a result he dropped out of school in the eighth grade. The young man worked hard as a common laborer, assisting a mason, who was putting up a tall brick wall around an estate of a very wealthy business man. The young man was excited about his new found faith in Jesus Christ. So, the next morning, he told his boss, the mason, about this wonderful new life. His boss made fun of him unmercifully, and said,
"You say that you want to do what God says, right"?
"That's right, sir," the young man responded, "I want to do anything and everything God says."
His boss, poking a little ridicule at him, said, "What if God said to run into this wall, we've just built?"
Without hesitation, the young man replied, "If God said to run into that wall, I would run as fast as I could, with all my might and its God's business to make the hole before I get there. If there ain't no hole, then God's gonna take me home to glory, to be with Him, in my very own mansion."
Quite a bright young man, wouldn't you agree?
This was a very similar attitude to that of Elijah. God said to take a short message to Ahab. There wasn't even a song sung before this message, and of all things, there was no offering taken. Elijah never expressed fear of Ahab's wrath or sword. Elijah figured that God would make the hole, and if God didn't, God would take him home to glory. That is called commitment, a foreign word to many believers when it comes to Spiritual service. This type of dedication to God is in short supply today. Would we be willing to bring a one line message from God, knowing that just as soon as you put the period at the end of sentence, you would shortly be breathing your last breathe?
Elijah didn't have an exit plan, because God hadn't given him a handbook outlining the next three years of the plan. But we need to come to better understand that God is all He says He is, and He knows the end from the beginning. Yes, God did have a plan, and it would be revealed to Elijah one step at a time.
The Next Step
1 Kings 17:2-6 Then the word of the LORD came to him, saying, 3 "Get away from here and turn eastward, and hide by the Brook Cherith, which flows into the Jordan. 4 "And it will be that you shall drink from the brook, and I have commanded the ravens to feed you there." 5 So he went and did according to the word of the LORD, for he went and stayed by the Brook Cherith, which flows into the Jordan. 6 The ravens brought him bread and meat in the morning, and bread and meat in the evening; and he drank from the brook.
"Then the Word of the Lord came.." God said, "Thanks Elijah! Now here is the next stage." The word of the Lord came, so Elijah went and did. That's the proper attitude. When we Believers hear the Word of the Lord, then we too need to get to doing. To many Christians just keep on hearing the word and hearing the word and hearing... and just keep on doing nothing. When the word of the Lord comes, it always demands action of some kind.
Many times, what the word of God says to do is, without a doubt, the most unrealistic things you've ever heard. Too often, we Christians use the Ford Motor Company's old motto and tell God "We have a better idea". We infer by such an attitude, that God is old and His dementia is showing. We say to God, "Your way is just not with it, let's do something different."
God told Elijah to go down to the Brook Cherith and there he would be cared for, because God said, "I've told the ravens to feed you". "You told the raven, what? Yea, right!" This would be the response of most of us, and maybe that's why our names are not in the Hall of the Faithful Ones.
I would like to swim in Elijah's story for a month or so, because there is so much here. Again we cannot do a full study of the essence of God, however we do want to point a few things as we encounter them. Especially since one of our criteria for spiritual service and worship is that we must believe that God is Who He says He is. In this passage we see the sovereignty of God at work, the real sovereignty of God, not the make believe sovereignty that is often promoted. God told the ravens to feed Elijah, and they did. Ravens have no volition. However, in a few verses, we will see that God said that He told someone else to feed Elijah, also. This someone else did have a volition and it is interesting to see God's sovereignty in action, as He works with and through the volition of a human. Here we can see that sovereignty is not a total robotic control over every being, but is instead the ultimate right and power to administer to a predicted outcome.
Also notice, that God told Elijah to hide. If God is so great, then why does Elijah need to hide from a sinful old king? God could have just made Elijah invisible, or He could have just zapped the king and got it all over with in a hurry. Yes, God is almighty and sovereign and He could do all those things and many more. However, God, because He is sovereign has chosen not to operate in that manner. When it comes to service, God wants us to do as His word tells us to do, and God will work to influence, prepare, develop, or grow the areas were only He can do the work.
Waiting is Obeying
1 Kings 17:7-9 And it happened after a while that the brook dried up, because there had been no rain in the land. 8 Then the word of the LORD came to him, saying, 9 "Arise, go to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and dwell there. See, I have commanded a widow there to provide for you."
Evidently, while Elijah was at the brook, God didn't communicated with him, until He told Elijah to take another hike. We don't know exactly how long Elijah was at the brook, but it was a while, and the only thing Elijah had to do all day was to have his quiet-time. What a mountain-top experience that would have been down there at the brook. Yet, God never spoke to him. God sure missed an opportunity to get next to Elijah and give him a Spiritual experience that he could talk or brag about.
Just Ordinary Obedience
Just because we get off by ourselves and out in nature, does not mean that God is going to give you a fuzzy spiritual experience or even a new revelation. The point is, we are to live by the word of God, and we are to live so that whether we are on the mountain or down in the valley we are obedient. It may bring a fuzzy Spiritual feeling or an illuminating understanding from the Word, we've never seen before. However, if we are consistently living by the word of God, more than likely there will be no unusual feeling. Obedience to the word of God doesn't always give you a zip in your zapper, or put air under your feet or reveal some brand new insight that can be shared with and impress friends. Obedience is obedience. The most natural thing for a Christian should be obedience. Obedience shouldn't feel strange or extraordinary. Obedience to God should feel sort of commonplace. Obedience should be the most natural aspect of living the life of Christ. When a bunch of Christians have their share-time and they are all excited because they finally obeyed, that is not a good thing. In fact, it's kind of scary. Obedience is not necessarily exciting. If you are getting a strange charge or tingle because you obeyed God once, there is probably something wrong, really wrong. It likely means that we haven't been obeying much or it would feel quite natural. More likely we should get a very strange feeling when we are not obeying and that feeling is probably not very comforting.
Here was Elijah, a man with a nature like ours. He had no Bible, no concordance, no computer, no praise hymn book, he didn't even have a smartphone, my word. What did he do with his time? Maybe he skipped rocks in the brook? Drew in the sand? Went for walks? Who knows? He may have been bored, but he was living in obedience to God. He was sustained by the word of God. Something that many Christians have little concept of today. He didn't have much of the word of God, either. However, the Word of God he did have sustained him. It wasn't a fuzzy exciting feeling that kept him going, it was faithful obedience.
When a person really believes that the word of God is the word of God, and that God is who He says He is and that He is a rewarder, then that is all you need. That may not increase your heart rate, it may not increase your borders, but it is true Christian living and service. We need to stop chasing around for a feeling, for a new experience, a new insight. Some of those things may come our way in the process of service, but if we never get a tingly feeling, an out-of-body experience, a new insight, or get rich, we can still have joy inexpressible and full of glory, when we simply obey God's word.
This joy and contentment is what we are really looking for, rather than some strange phony fuzzy feeling, that dissipates when the lights go out and the music fades. We need some real Christian living, some steadfast and faithful consistent obedience, instead of all this showmanship type of religious acting.
1 Peter 1:6-8 In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, 7 that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ, 8 whom having not seen you love. Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory,
Please look back and note that this joy inexpressible and full of glory did not come about because of some mountain-top experience or new insights. This real fulfillment of the Christian life came about while facing trials and difficulties, so that faith could be matured. When we are obedient to the word of God, we will not likely see Jesus Christ in person (v.8), yet we can have something that no other activity can produce.
Joy inexpressible and full of glory
Elijah lived in a time when the government was totally debauched, immoral, corrupt, and any other bad thing one can imagine. The schools had gone to pot, and simply being a believer in God likely meant death or some sort of exile. Improving government, society, or schools is a good thing, however, it appears that the Christian herd has become more driven by having a safe society, a perfect government, holy public schools and personal comfort, rather than seeing the glory of God and serving Him.
Once we have seen God's glory and are serving Him in obedience, then we should show and teach godliness and service for God, to our children. That's what makes strong, mature, godly children, not these other things. Get the other things, if we can, but certainly don't count on them because the world's system does not always produce these things. We need to take care to not allow getting these other things, to distract us from the really important things like obedience, service, godliness, etc. Our focus needs to be on God, not on bad government, corrupt schools, unsafe society, the too small two car garage, because we have three cars, a boat and hog, and no place to park them, etc. We can't see God when our vision is filled with the bad or even the good things of life. We must first see God, through His word, then all these things, the good and bad, will be placed in their proper order.
Matthew 6:30-33 "Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 31 "Therefore do not worry (totally consumed with anxiety), saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' 32 "For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33 "But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.
When our vision is filled with things, good or bad, God becomes an accessory to the things of this life, and our worship of God degenerates to a prayer session in which we are asking God to manipulate the things of life for our benefit, or as we think they should be. Instead, our worship and service to God should be simple obedience to His word, and our view of the things of life as only tools to serve God better.
If Elijah had only been willing to serve because the program met his personal wants and circumstances and that serving was personally convenient or comfortable and beneficial to his kids, then we would have never heard of Elijah the prophet.
1 Kings 17:9-16 "Arise, go to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and dwell there. See, I have commanded a widow there to provide for you." So he [Elijah] arose and went to Zarephath. And when he came to the gate of the city, indeed a widow was there gathering sticks. And he called to her and said, "Please bring me a little water in a cup, that I may drink." 11 And as she was going to get it, he called to her and said, "Please bring me a morsel of bread in your hand." 12 Then she said, "As the LORD your God lives, I do not have bread, only a handful of flour in a bin, and a little oil in a jar; and see, I am gathering a couple of sticks that I may go in and prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it, and die."
13 And Elijah said to her, "Do not fear; go and do as you have said, but make me a small cake from it first, and bring it to me; and afterward make some for yourself and your son. 14 "For thus says the LORD God of Israel: 'The bin of flour shall not be used up, nor shall the jar of oil run dry, until the day the LORD sends rain on the earth.' " 15 So she went away and did according to the word of Elijah; and she and he and her household ate for many days. 16 The bin of flour was not used up, nor did the jar of oil run dry, according to the word of the LORD which He spoke by Elijah.
Folks, there is so much in this passage that it wounds a teacher to simply use it as an example of service. So, please allow us to point out some very important areas in God's mode of operation, and what our response should be.
First, God told Elijah that He had spoken to the widow before he went to the city.
Note, how that message was proclaimed to her and how that message was acted upon. In vv.10 – 11 Elijah made the request of the widow. Keep in mind the request was not directly from God it came from the mouth of Elijah. In vv. 12 She had not yet received the message from God, she was in the process of making, what she thought would be, her last meal. Next observe in v.13 the order of service. First do as directed then afterward, carry out your own plans. By the way, that is the only way a real servant should act.
Matthew 6:33 "But [First] seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and [Second] all these things shall be added to you.
So, we see that the Lord spoke to the widow through Elijah, and she chose and acted on the message and went and did as instructed. There is a lot of good stuff here about how God works and our proper response, but we must move on. We won't even take time to look at the account of Elijah bringing back to life the son of the widow. Jumping ahead a couple of years or so, we come to...
1 Kings 18:1-2 Now it came to pass after many days that the word of the LORD came to Elijah, in the third year, saying, "Go, present yourself to Ahab, and I will send rain on the earth." 2 So Elijah went to present himself to Ahab; and there was a severe famine in Samaria.
Again note, that God spoke and Elijah did. We are beginning to see a pattern which is a habit with Elijah, a nice habit, which all of us should acquire.
Also note, it took 3+ years for God's program to jell. Now, for those of us who live in this instant society, it is really hard to operate in a service project that takes so long to develop. If God is God, then why doesn't He bring down fire right now and solve this problem. Let's git-r done! After all, I don't want to wait by the brook, nor do I care to fritter away my time eating those cakes and watching a widow go about her daily tasks for 3 years. I want action, now! If God is so old and slow, then I'll just go ahead and do it myself my way. We want God to take care of everything now, because I wanted it yesterday.
Folks, we need a little perspective. It is so important to see this and change our thinking. God has been at this service project since before the foundation of the world. God will do and has always done things in the fullness of time and not a minute sooner. Think for a moment. How long did it take from the first time you heard the gospel until you accepted it? Aren't you glad God was willing to take a long time to work out His program, in your life?
2 Peter 3:9 The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.
Our impatience will not hurry His program. So sit back, listen for the word of the Lord and then go and do. It is a process known as obedience and is the opposite of self-centeredness. And a significant part of this process, as far as our response is concerned, is waiting on the Lord. God did not call us to micromanage His program or its outcome, God asks us to be servants. Being a servant, is one of the most difficult tasks in the world, because we have to put our plans and wants on the back burner.
Now, Jumping ahead in the story, a little.
1 Kings 18:7-8 Now as Obadiah was on his way, suddenly Elijah met him; and he recognized him, and fell on his face, and said, "Is that you, my lord Elijah?" 8 And he answered him, "It is I. Go, tell your master, 'Elijah is here.' "
Here was a devoted, God fearing man, who was working for the one of the worst immoral sinners of all time. Yet, even in that undesirable position, he served the Lord faithfully. In this day and age, we so often hear something like, "If only I had a boss who was a Christian, then I could do my job to the honor and glory of God."
How sad to misunderstand the potential opportunity in which God has placed us. When you work for an unsaved boss, with unsaved fellow employees, you are living in the midst of a ripe harvest field for God. It is not a better situation that we need, we need to learn to live for Christ, and do our job to honor and glorify God in any situation. If God gives you a better situation, then live in that situation to the glory of God.
If time would permit, it would be good to pause and study this devoted, God fearing man, who was working for one of the worst immoral sinners of all time. Even in (or because of) such an environment, Obadiah served the Lord faithfully. Because Obadiah was willing and ready to serve in such a condition, he was able to do things for the Lord that no other person on earth could do.
We may miss an opportunity if we try and change the circumstances to simply bring greater comfort to ourselves. Instead we need to keep in mind to allow the circumstances to change you, so that we may serve God better.
1 Kings 18:9-16 Then he said, "How have I sinned, that you are delivering your servant into the hand of Ahab, to kill me? 10 "As the LORD your God lives, there is no nation or kingdom where my master has not sent someone to hunt for you; and when they said, 'He is not here,' he took an oath from the kingdom or nation that they could not find you. 11 "And now you say, 'Go, tell your master, "Elijah is here" '! 12 "And it shall come to pass, as soon as I am gone from you, that the Spirit of the LORD will carry you to a place I do not know; so when I go and tell Ahab, and he cannot find you, he will kill me. But I your servant have feared the LORD from my youth. 13 "Was it not reported to my lord what I did when Jezebel killed the prophets of the LORD, how I hid one hundred men of the Lord's prophets, fifty to a cave, and fed them with bread and water? 14 "And now you say, 'Go, tell your master, "Elijah is here!"' and he will kill me." 15 Then Elijah said, "As the LORD of hosts lives, before whom I stand, I will surely present myself to him today." 16 So Obadiah went to meet Ahab, and told him; and Ahab went to meet Elijah.
Again we see the pattern, Obadiah heard the word from the Lord, through Elijah, and he went and did. Good pattern---Hear the word then go and do.
1 Kings 18:17-18 Then it happened, when Ahab saw Elijah, that Ahab said to him, "Is that you, O troubler of Israel?" 18 And he answered, "I have not troubled Israel, but you and your father's house have, in that you have forsaken the commandments of the LORD, and you have followed the Baals.
Now in the short time we've met Elijah, you'd think that the Elijah would have learned to be a little more diplomatic, to be more politically correct. Maybe he'd have learned to soften his message and tone or start a dialogue or some other dumb thing. No, sin must be confronted, not counseled, not negotiated and not soft-pedaled. If there is sin in your life, don't make excuses for it, don't blame someone else. Deal with it, by confessing it and forsaking it. We have way too much counseling and tip toeing around sin, today. We don't need to talk about all of lives circumstances that may have caused us to sin. We need to confess it and forsake it. There is only one nice thing about sin, which is that Christ died for our sins, and if we come to Him in honest confession, He forgives us and cleanses us from all unrighteousness.
It's Not About the Glam
For the most part, we are going to skip the wonderful details of the scene on Mt. Carmel. As most know, Elijah invited the priests and prophets of Baal and a whole bunch of others to Mt. Carmel to prepare a sacrifice and then pray to their god to answer by fire. Elijah would also prepare a sacrifice to the God of heaven, and whichever god answered with fire to consume the sacrifice would be declared the real God.
However, we can't simply pass by a very important observation presented here. Too often, Believers think that if we could do something big, it would convince those who see our big thing to walk the straight and narrow way. Over and over again in the Scriptures, God sets forth the important fact that simply showing or even proving to people that God is great does not mean that they will accept God as their God. Here in this Biblical story we see a classic illustration of that fact.
God demonstrated by great signs and wonders that He was God, and the people admitted that God was God, but it didn't change many lives, as we see in the rest of this historical account. There was awe but no real worship.
Another quick example is the rich man, who died and went to hell and was told the same thing.
Luke 16:19-31 "There was a certain rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and fared sumptuously every day. 20 "But there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, full of sores, who was laid at his gate, 21 "desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man's table. Moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. 22 "So it was that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels to Abraham's bosom. The rich man also died and was buried. 23 "And being in torments in Hades, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. 24 "Then he cried and said, 'Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.' 25 "But Abraham said, 'Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things; but now he is comforted and you are tormented. 26 'And besides all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed, so that those who want to pass from here to you cannot, nor can those from there pass to us.' 27 "Then he said, 'I beg you therefore, father, that you would send him to my father's house, 28 'for I have five brothers, that he may testify to them, lest they also come to this place of torment.' 29 "Abraham said to him, 'They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.' 30 "And he said, 'No, father Abraham; but if one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.' 31 "But he said to him, 'If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead.' "
How we need to learn and practice the fact that the Gospel, the promises of God, is the power of God unto salvation and not some great physical demonstration of God's power. There is nothing wrong with a physical demonstration of God, but that demonstration will serve to strengthen the faith of those who already believe, far more that it will convince those outside of Christ to come into the fold.
A Nature Like Ours
So, the false prophets of Baal prepared their sacrifice and prayed, screamed and cut themselves in an effort to get Baal to answer with fire. All day long, the prophets of Baal prayed and Elijah poked fun at them, but no fire.
Then Elijah prepared the sacrifice for God, soaked it with water and prayed. God answered by fire and consumed the sacrifice, the water, the stones of the altar and the dust. To make a longer story shorter, the prophets of Baal were killed. It was a great victory, but it was also very physically and emotionally draining for Elijah.
1 Kings 18:41-45 Then Elijah said to Ahab, "Go up, eat and drink; for there is the sound of abundance of rain." 42 So Ahab went up to eat and drink. And Elijah went up to the top of Carmel; then he bowed down on the ground, and put his face between his knees, 43 and said to his servant, "Go up now, look toward the sea." So he went up and looked, and said, "There is nothing." And seven times he said, "Go again." 44 Then it came to pass the seventh time, that he said, "There is a cloud, as small as a man's hand, rising out of the sea!" So he said, "Go up, say to Ahab, 'Prepare your chariot, and go down before the rain stops you.' " 45 Now it happened in the meantime that the sky became black with clouds and wind, and there was a heavy rain. So Ahab rode away and went to Jezreel.
Out of all the good things here, look at this one. Even though Elijah had been obedient and spent 3+ years in relative solitude, had a great victory over the prophets of Baal, etc. The rain didn't just come with the snap of Elijah's fingers. Doing great things for God does not make a person a super human with divine powers, nor do we gain seniority status just because we have been around for a while. We don't command God to work, just because we are good guys.
There were 7 agonizing sessions of prayer, as he bowed to the ground with his face between his knees and yet, it was God's will that the rain come. One would think that a person who had done all that Elijah had done, could just command the rain to come. We need to keep in mind that In service, God is far more concerned with the spiritual condition of the servant, than the tasks accomplished by the servant. The Christian community as a whole, has developed the attitude, that if a person has ability and can perform well, it makes little difference about the personal and spiritual condition of the one performing. The church's mindset has wrongly become performance orientated, which is about as far from God's standard as we can get. God has always looked on the heart, and we humans too often look only on the outward appearance.
1 Samuel 16:7 But the LORD said to Samuel, "Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature, because I have refused him. For the LORD does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart."
Psalms 147:10-11 He (God) does not delight in the strength of the horse; He takes no pleasure in the legs of a man. 11 The LORD takes pleasure in those who fear Him, In those who hope in His mercy.
1 Peter 3:3-4 Do not let your beauty be that outward adorning of arranging the hair, of wearing gold, or of putting on fine apparel; 4 but let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the incorruptible ornament of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God.
Jeremiah 17:10 I, the LORD, search the heart, I test the mind, even to give every man according to his ways, and according to the fruit of his doings.
Back to the account of Elijah. He had come down from the mountain victoriously. He had served well, and accomplished much. Please note the change in Elijah's attitude. It changed from trust in God, to concern for personal comfort. Sad to say, much of believer's service today starts at the point of personal comfort and never progresses to true servanthood. Often, we only serve if it is to our liking, convenience or personal benefit. Too many serve not because there is a job to do, not because there is a need to be cared for, but what will I gain from this service and what sacrifice I will have to make.Jeremiah 17:10 I, the LORD, search the heart, I test the mind, even to give every man according to his ways, and according to the fruit of his doings.1 Kings 19:1-4 And Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, also how he had executed all the prophets with the sword. 2 Then Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah, saying, "So let the gods do to me, and more also, if I do not make your life as the life of one of them by tomorrow about this time." 3 And when he saw that, he arose and ran for his life, and went to Beersheba, which belongs to Judah, and left his servant there. 4 But he himself went a day's journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a broom tree. And he prayed that he might die, and said, "It is enough! Now, LORD, take my life, for I am no better than my fathers!"
Elijah cow-tailed and cut ‘n ran. How could he possibly continue as a servant of God? Well, God's work is not conditioned on the servant, but God's work and word will properly condition the servant.
When our attention shifts from who God is and what God said, to what I have done and how I feel, despondency will not be far behind. Hesitation should be taken to use the term depression, because we live in a time when almost any form of emotional discomfort is defined as depression. There is clinical depression, but there is not nearly as much real depression as we are led to believe, most is despondency. Real depression is a sickness and a medical condition that needs to be treated as such.
Despondency is a spiritual and/or an emotional ego and attitude problem. You can be drugged, either legally or illegally, until you won't know you are despondent, but that creates a problem that is twofold. You will become dependent on the drugs and you will not give attention to changing the ego and attitude problem. God's classic cure for despondency will always work and will also be of benefit for the clinically depressed.
Certainly this overview of God's first aid kit for despondency is not as a full and complete study, but it is a vital part of the account of Elijah's service.
If you are going to be active in God's service, you will, at some time (or many times) face despondency. If you don't use God's first aid kit for despondency, you will think:
- that your place of service is wrong
- think that the ones serving with you are wrong
- reach out to some more exciting activity to forget your despondency
- destroy the place of service, because it brought you such pain
- turn to false doctrine to relieve the pain of despondency
- contemplate (or accomplish) physical death to relieve the pain of despondency
What caused Elijah's despondency? Probably many factors:
- he was physically exhausted
- he was worn and weary because of continued disobedience of others to the word of God (that's different than #1)
- he felt that unless everything was successful, then nothing was worthwhile
- he constantly mulled over Jezebel's threat, instead of God's provision
- he had been isolated and was lonely
- there had been a lack of productive physical activity (sitting by the brook, waiting for the widow to feed him, now sitting in the cave)
- he felt there was nothing more for him to do
There were probably many more factors, but these are some of the classics causes of despondency.
As we read the account, we will see all of these mentioned. We'll not take time to deal with each one individually, because we want to move on to God's cure.James 5:17 Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain; and it did not rain on the land for three years and six months.Psalms 103:14 For He knows our frame; He remembers that we are dust.
God is so gracious! He knows our frame, He made our frame, so no one knows it better! However, God does not make excuses for our failures, because He has provided all the Spiritual strength we need to do the job. If (and when) we fail, God will work with us to bring us back to the straight and narrow, but He never overlooks our failings.1 Kings 19:5-8 Then as he lay and slept under a broom tree, suddenly an angel touched him, and said to him, "Arise and eat." 6 Then he looked, and there by his head was a cake baked on coals, and a jar of water. So he ate and drank, and lay down again. 7 And the angel of the LORD came back the second time, and touched him, and said, "Arise and eat, because the journey is too great for you." 8 So he arose, and ate and drank; and he went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights as far as Horeb, the mountain of God.
Please note that God did not say, "Elijah, get over it! Buck up and fly right!" God didn't say that Elijah was a bad believer or bad man, because he didn't use what he knew of God and His Word. He didn't tell Elijah to pray more and get into the Word. Neither did God excuse Elijah for the condition he was in.1 Kings 19:9-10 And there he went into a cave, and spent the night in that place; and behold, the word of the LORD came to him, and He said to him, "What are you doing here, Elijah?" 10 So he said, "I have been very zealous for the LORD God of hosts; for the children of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars, and killed Your prophets with the sword. I alone am left; and they seek to take my life."
God allowed Elijah to have plenty of sleep, good food and a lot of exercise. He walked real steady for 40 days to get to Mt. Horeb. All three are essential for realigning our attitude and ego, when we find ourselves in despondency.
God started the therapy session with a question that should have had a simple answer. God asked, "What are you doing here?" Please note, Elijah did not look at the condition of his own life or the direction of God for his answer. Instead, he blamed everyone else, including the king's wife, for the reason for his being there. The answer to God's question should have been, "This is where your angel sent me."
When we realize, really realize that where we are is where God wants us to be - this will go a long way towards the cure of despondency. Because Elijah was centered in himself, he gave long and rambling statements that had very little to do with the question. As a matter of fact, Elijah's response had everything to do with himself, and very little to do with the reason he was there.
Elijah basically said, "I've been a good boy. As a matter of fact, I've been the best of all boys. Everybody else is rotten. So that leaves only me, and I may as well kill myself, before the rotten ones kill me." That is of course is a paraphrase, but that is pretty much what he said. God is going to start the realigning process of Elijah's ego and attitude.1 Kings 19:11-12 Then He (God) said, "Go out, and stand on the mountain before the LORD." And behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind tore into the mountains and broke the rocks in pieces before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake; 12 and after the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice.
The first thing in this recovery process was to bring Elijah face to face with God. In a state of despondency, we wrongly think God is not able perform, so all is lost. Therefore, because of God's apparent inability, we think we must perform. In so doing, we find that doing God's job is bit more difficult than we first considered. As a result, we sink deeper into despondency. So, God showed Elijah that He still had His ability to perform. God demonstrated His power in wind, earthquake and fire. These were all things that God could do. Christians in any stage and especially when in despondency, equate God with what He can do or is doing at the time. God heal me. God give me money. God give me a new car, etc. God can do all of that, if it is in His plan. But we must remember that God is not what He does. What God does reveals a great deal about Who God is but we must believe that God is who He says He is, not simply what He does.
After God's great demonstration of what He could do, there came a still small voice. I'm sure Elijah was impressed with those powerful things, after all, he might have thought, "I was the one who called down fire on the mountain. Sure enough, that's what God can do, alright." In spite of our thirst to see God demonstrate His power in earthly life and in the church service, we can't come to God, simply by seeing His power. God is a person not a force, and if we are going to come to Him we must believe that He is. In those demonstrations of what God could do, God was not in any one of them. After the power show, which is what Elijah wanted, God spoke. Our interest is far too often not in what God says. We want action that will produce personal satisfaction and great emotion. When God spoke, He wasn't loud, He spoke quietly. A fact that we might keep in mind when it comes to church worship services.1 Kings 19:13-14 So it was, when Elijah heard it, that he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood in the entrance of the cave. And suddenly a voice came to him, and said, "What are you doing here, Elijah?" 14 So he said, "I have been very zealous for the LORD God of hosts; because the children of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars, and killed Your prophets with the sword. I alone am left; and they seek to take my life."
In v. 9, God first asked Elijah "What are you doing here?". Then God gave him the power show and the still small voice. After the show and the still small voice, God asked Elijah the same question again in v.11. Elijah responded in the same way to both questions, and never answered God's question. Also important to notice is Elijah's disobedience in this matter. In v. 11, God told Elijah to go out and stand on the mountain. It wasn't until he heard the still small voice that he obeyed. Look at v.13. "When Elijah heard it... (he) went out and stood".
When we allow ourselves to live in despondency, our tendency to obey is often nonexistent. We often say or at least think, "If God would just do some big thing, it would be easier". Yes, we see clearly that Elijah had a nature very much like ours, and if we are honest, we act in a very similar manner as Elijah, and often worse. God opened up His despondency first aid kit, and gave Elijah time, rest, food, activity, a demonstration of power and His Own word. Then look at what else came out of the first aid kit.1 Kings 19:15-18 Then the LORD said to him: "Go, return on your way to the Wilderness of Damascus; and when you arrive, anoint Hazael as king over Syria. 16 "Also you shall anoint Jehu the son of Nimshi as king over Israel. And Elisha the son of Shaphat of Abel Meholah you shall anoint as prophet in your place. 17 "It shall be that whoever escapes the sword of Hazael, Jehu will kill; and whoever escapes from the sword of Jehu, Elisha will kill. 18 "Yet I have reserved seven thousand in Israel, all whose knees have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him."
Work and Truth
Two more things came out of the first aid kit. After the rest, food, activity, demonstration of power and His own voice, God says, "Now Elijah, the next step is get back to work", just as though nothing had happened. We should learn from what happened, but we are not to live by what happened nor are we to attempt to live in what happened. Next, God brought another item out of His first aid kit. God replaced Elijah's improper thoughts with truth. Elijah's main pity party was fueled by the fact that he thought all the other people of Israel had forsaken God, and Elijah was the only one left. This bad information was fostered by Elijah's own ego.
In v. 18, God tells Elijah, "Just for your information, there are a few others who have not bowed to Baal, as a matter of fact there are 7,000 who have not given in. Elijah, you need the facts, not the distorted thoughts from your our despondent mind. Elijah, now that you have the facts, be on your way." I'm glad God didn't send Elijah to a support group. God simply said to obey.
Once God's first aid was applied to Elijah, we see again that familiar pattern we've seen all through Elijah's encounters. In v.15, the LORD said to him: "Go, return on your way", and in v. 19 "So he (Elijah) departed from there. It's always good to be back in the saddle again. Elijah goes about the rest of his life in service to God, not caring for his ego or who got the credit for service preformed or how important that service might seem.
For many years Sir Walter Scott was the leading literary figure in the British Empire. No one could write as well as he could. Then the works of Lord Byron began to appear, and their greatness was immediately evident. Soon, an anonymous critic praised Byron's poems in a London Paper. This anonymous critic declared that, "In the presence of these brilliant works of poetic genius, Scott should no longer be considered the leading poet of England." It was later discovered that the unnamed critic had been none other than Sir Walter Scott, himself.
Comparisons are never a good idea when that exercise is focused on self-advancement. Scott realized that his best offense was a good defense in that regard. Putting himself in a position of humility to begin with, he opened his heart and his life to receiving the honors that always come to those who prefer being last in line. Scott recognized that just being a poet was important. The honor was in the being not the achieving.
Well done, good and faithful servant ... enter into the joy of your lord.
To review, God did not condemn Elijah for his condition, nor did he condone it or overlook it. Instead, God set about to cure this emotional and Spiritual aliment. God allowed Elijah to have plenty of sleep, provided him with good food and lots of exercise. God also straightened out the distorted facts in Elijah's mind and brought his focus back to the right person – God. Elijah wrongly thought he was the lone wolf, the only one left who was still standing for God. God assured Elijah that there were 7,000 who had not yet bowed to Baal. Elijah thought he was a failure. God never debated that issue with Elijah, He simply let him know that he was not a failure, by giving him another job to do. God told him to go. Elijah was not to remain in the cave. This command of God was for his own sake, as well as others. He was to be about the work of God.
If Elijah had remained idle, his heart would have continued to be the prey of despondency. This is especially true when we are being pounded with difficulties, we must cast ourselves on God and not drown ourselves in the bottomless pit of self-pity. God told Elijah to anoint a new king over Israel. Also, he was to anoint a new king over an enemy of Israel, and to call Elisha to be prophet in his place.
Don't miss what God told him to do:
- Anoint a new king of Israel
- Anoint a new king of Israel's enemies
- Anoint Elisha to be prophet in his stead
In the same manner, Jesus also tells us to go. We are to make disciples of all nations. God's standard of success is not simply to convert the masses, which is often what humans hold as the standard of success. Elijah had been wildly successful on Mt. Carmel. That was a big success! Now God tells Elijah that he has an even bigger job ahead of him, that of making a disciple of Elisha. Making a disciple is time consuming work with many reverses and very seldom do you get your name on the front page of the newspaper, for your accomplishments. God's standard of success is simply that we do our part, as directed by God, and God will do the rest.1 Corinthians 4:1-2 Let a man so consider us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. 2 Moreover it is required in stewards that one be found faithful.
God's standard for service is faithfulness, and that is a requirement when it comes to handling and teaching the Word of God. This is the standard every pastor or anyone who teaches the Word of God should observe carefully. We are to fight the good fight of faith. God didn't say that we would win every battle, but we must continue forward. We are to fight the good fight of faith even when circumstances look bad, because God will not be defeated and His purposes will be accomplished. So, as long as we are on God's team, we will be a winner. There may be many battles and battle-scars along the way, but we will be on the winning team.Romans 8:31-39 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things? 33 Who shall bring a charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 36 As it is written: "For Your sake we are killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter." 37 Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. 38 For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, 39 nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
We must be faithful until death, if we are to receive the crown of life, from the hand of Christ, Himself.James 1:12 Blessed is the man who endures temptation; for when he has been proved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.Revelation 2:10 "Do not fear any of those things which you are about to suffer. Indeed, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and you will have tribulation ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.1 Corinthians 15:57-58 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. 58 Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.Revelation 22:12-13 "And behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to give to each one according to his work. 13 "I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End, the First and the Last."
Any Bible teacher who can read these and many other passages and say that what we do here and now has little if any consequences for the afterlife, is either spiritually blind or deliberately stubborn in order to protect a pet erroneous idea. Please look at a couple of other passages, before we leave this area of faithful labor and the corresponding rewards for that labor.Isaiah 49:4 Then I said, 'I have labored in vain, I have spent my strength for nothing and in vain; yet surely my just reward is with the LORD, and my work with my God.' "
Elijah was in this very condition, described by Isaiah. He thought he had labored in vain, and that he had used all his strength for absolutely nothing, so therefore, he should die. If you are involved in the teaching and training of people as disciples of Christ, you will have that feeling many times over. However, if we have been faithful, even if it looks like failure, we have a just reward with the Lord, Who will bring it with Him at His coming.1 Corinthians 9:16-19 For if I preach the gospel, I have nothing to boast of, for necessity is laid upon me; yes, woe is me if I do not preach the gospel! 17 For if I do this willingly, I have a reward; but if against my will, I have been entrusted with a stewardship. 18 What is my reward then? That when I preach the gospel, I may present the gospel of Christ without charge, that I may not abuse my authority in the gospel. 19 For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win the more;
This passage alone should needs a lesson or two just to get the surface truths found in it, but for this pass, please see these three things:
- If we are to receive a reward for service, that service must be done willingly.
- Some rewards are the joy of doing what God commanded
- Some rewards will be given in the afterlife, and some rewards are for right now.Hebrews 6:10-12 For God is not unjust to forget your work and labor of love which you have shown toward His name, in that you have ministered to the saints, and do minister. 11 And we desire that each one of you show the same diligence to the full assurance of hope until the end, 12 that you do not become sluggish, but imitate those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.
The writer of Hebrews tells us to imitate those who through faith and patience inherited the promises. Many of these faith greats did not receive the promise during their lives, but they all had, as their inheritance, those promises waiting for them in eternity. May we all follow their example and also receive our rewards, some here and now, and many more in eternity.Hebrews 11:36-40 Still others had trial of mockings and scourgings, yes, and of chains and imprisonment. 37 They were stoned, they were sawn in two, were tempted, were slain with the sword. They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented -- 38 of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, in dens and caves of the earth. 39 And all these, having obtained a good testimony through faith, did not receive the promise, (they inherited the promise 6:10) 40 God having provided something better for us, that they should not be made perfect apart from us.
This story of Elijah should be an encouragement to us, as we serve God. If we are really in the battle, we will have times when we grow discouraged (some more than others). We can take heart knowing that the great servants of God were men like ourselves. They were formed from the same clay and they shared in the same human weaknesses. We may have fought some mighty battles and had some great successes. Sometimes these great successes have been followed by, what seems to be, hopelessness. However, there will be other times when our efforts are successful, by human standards, but that success may be short-lived.
Like Elijah, we may and should grieve over sin, but we must not allow that grieving to cripple us to the point that we cannot move forward to the next task. We need to come to the realization that God's ways are not our ways, and God's thoughts are far above ours, even as the sky above the earth. God, in His great wisdom, has provided all we need to bear up under the tests that He allows to come along.1 Corinthians 10:13 No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.
God has provided for us a sympathetic High Priest, His word as a guide, and a body of Believers with whom we may serve and from whom we may draw strength. These and many more provisions for service have been made available by God. Now we must utilize each of these things to escape the caves of despondency and to avoid going into the cave, in the first place.
Just because God has made available all we need for life and godliness, He does not automatically force us to use what's available. We must choose to draw upon those resources provided, and when we make that step of faith, God puts them to work in our lives, in a wonderful way.
Sometimes we must go through the caves, as a spiritual necessity. For some of us, it is the only way God can get our attention. Other times, we need to go through the cave experience to refine our focus, attitudes and faith. Even Jesus, in His earthly life, needed suffering to bring to the surface His perfection and obedience.Hebrews 5:6-9 As He also says in another place: "You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek"; 7 who, in the days of His [Christ's] flesh, when He had offered up prayers and supplications, with vehement cries and tears to Him who was able to save Him from death, and was heard because of His godly fear, 8 though He was a Son, yet He learned obedience by the things which He suffered. 9 And having been perfected, He became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him,1 Peter 1:6-8 In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, 7 that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ, 8 whom having not seen you love. Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory,
When our focus and dependence shifts from God to our own ability, we often need to be buffeted by the cave of despondency, in order to realign our focus and goals. If we are willing to learn from and lean on God during a cave experience, renewed life will blossom and our strength will be increased. Elijah is one such success story. He came forth with renewed strength and courage, and so can we.
Just a caution to those who are not in the cave of despondency (at this time), we must not be too harsh on those who are. Instead, we must cultivate empathy for those who are in the cave, and come alongside them using God prescribed methods for recovery.
As we look at the life of Elisha, we will see, by illustration, some more of the Biblical principles of real service to God. Upon leaving the cave God told Elijah to do three things1 Kings 19:15-18 Then the LORD said to him: "Go, return on your way to the Wilderness of Damascus; and when you arrive, anoint Hazael as king over Syria. 16 "Also you shall anoint Jehu the son of Nimshi as king over Israel. And Elisha the son of Shaphat of Abel Meholah you shall anoint as prophet in your place. 17 "It shall be that whoever escapes the sword of Hazael, Jehu will kill; and whoever escapes from the sword of Jehu, Elisha will kill. 18 "Yet I have reserved seven thousand in Israel, all whose knees have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him."
- Anoint a new king of Israel
- Anoint a new king of Israel's enemies
- Anoint Elisha to be prophet in his stead
First we have a bit of a problem. Elijah never anointed the two kings, he only anointed Elisha. Elisha anointed the two kings.2 Kings 8:8-15 And the king said to Hazael, "Take a present in your hand, and go to meet the man of God, and inquire of the LORD by him, saying, 'Shall I recover from this disease?' " 9 So Hazael went to meet him and took a present with him, of every good thing of Damascus, forty camel-loads; and he came and stood before him, and said, "Your son Ben-Hadad king of Syria has sent me to you, saying, 'Shall I recover from this disease?' " 10 And Elisha said to him, "Go, say to him, 'You shall certainly recover.' However the LORD has shown me that he will really die." 11 Then he set his countenance in a stare until he was ashamed; and the man of God wept. 12 And Hazael said, "Why is my lord weeping?" And he answered, "Because I know the evil that you will do to the children of Israel: Their strongholds you will set on fire, and their young men you will kill with the sword; and you will dash their children, and rip open their women with child."
13 So Hazael said, "But what is your servant -- a dog, that he should do this gross thing?" And Elisha answered, "The LORD has shown me that you will become king over Syria." 14 Then he departed from Elisha, and came to his master, who said to him, "What did Elisha say to you?" And he answered, "He told me that you would surely recover." 15 But it happened on the next day that he took a thick cloth and dipped it in water, and spread it over his face so that he died; and Hazael reigned in his place.2 Kings 9:1-3 And Elisha the prophet called one of the sons of the prophets, and said to him, "Get yourself ready, take this flask of oil in your hand, and go to Ramoth Gilead. 2 "Now when you arrive at that place, look there for Jehu the son of Jehoshaphat, the son of Nimshi, and go in and make him rise up from among his associates, and take him to an inner room. 3 "Then take the flask of oil, and pour it on his head, and say, 'Thus says the LORD: "I have anointed you king over Israel." 'Then open the door and flee, and do not delay."
God told Elijah to anoint the two kings, but it was Elisha who actually did the anointing. Was Elijah disobedient is this matter? No.
In general, Christendom has an attitude that celebrity type service is the proper way. For example, we say a certain celebrity made a movie. When in reality that celebrity did very little in the making of the movie, at all. If the making of that movie were up to the celebrity the movie would never have been made, and if the movie were made by the celebrity, it would have likely looked like trash, and no one would go to see it. In fact this celebrity said a few lines and performed some actions, most of which were done at the direction of someone else. Hundreds of others contributed much more time and effort than the celebrity, in bringing that movie to reality. God's work is not the celebrity type, God's work is the body type.1 Corinthians 3:9 For we are God's fellow workers; you are God's field, you are God's building.
As you well know, every verse has a context. So, let's look at the context and it will bring a great deal of light to the subject.1 Corinthians 3:4-9 For when one says, "I am of Paul," and another, "I am of Apollos," are you not carnal? 5 Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers through whom you believed, as the Lord gave to each one? 6 I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase. 7 So then neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters, but God who gives the increase. 8 Now he who plants and he who waters are one, and each one will receive his own reward according to his own labor. 9 For we are God's fellow workers; you are God's field, you are God's building.
The church at Corinth had many problems and one of them was that they had adopted this celebrity mentality of Biblical service. They had elevated two of God servants to celebrity status. One group said that Apollos made their movie. Another group said that Paul made their movie. Of course, I hope you know they weren't making movies at Corinth, but the concept is the same.
Paul sets out, in 1 Corinthians, to correct this way of thinking along with some other problems. First, Paul says that anyone who has this concept of Biblical service is carnal. In other words, those at Corinth were thinking only as humans would think, and were trying to drag God's service down to the same level as serving some human. Then Paul goes on to burst the bubble, of those who held that a person who served in a certain capacity was separate and better than one who served in a different capacity. In v.8, Paul clears up the matter by saying that all workers are one (like a body). Biblical service is not the task of some individual celebrity and all others are working for him, in an effort to make him prominent. It matters not who does what in Biblical service, all are working for one purpose and that is to accomplish the goal of the body. However, in this service for God, all workers are not clumped as one big glob of protoplasm, with no individuality. God keeps track, and each one will receive their own reward, based on their own labor.
Then we come to v.9, which states that we don't labor alone or just with other humans, we are fellow workers with God. Even though there are no workers who are more important than others - no celebrities, yet each worker has his own job to do. There are differences of responsibility and accountability, but no one job is more important than another. Look how the Holy Spirit through Paul gives us the picture of Biblical service.1 Corinthians 3:10-15 According to the grace of God which was given to me, as a wise master builder I have laid the foundation, and another builds on it. But let each one take heed how he builds on it. 11 For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, 13 each one's work will become manifest; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one's work, of what sort it is. 14 If anyone's work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward. 15 If anyone's work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.
Paul says, let me expand this concept of Biblical service by using another illustration. God has given me, Paul, the responsibility of being the master builder or architect. God has given others the job of builder. Obviously, the two tasks are different, but one is of no more importance to the total project, than the other.
Just having plans, does not a house produce. On the other hand, building a house without plans, a mess it will produce. God told Elijah at the cave, there was work for him to do and He outlined three things.
- Anoint a new king of Israel
- Anoint a new king of Israel's enemies
- Anoint Elisha to be prophet in his stead.
One in Purpose and Intent
Elisha actually anointed the two kings, but Elijah trained or discipled Elisha. Remember what the Holy Spirit said through Paul.1 Corinthians 3:7-8 So then neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters, but God who gives the increase. 8 Now he who plants and he who waters are one,
When we are in the service of God, we are one with all others who are also in God's service. Each worker has different tasks, but we are one. Elijah trained Elisha and Elisha anointed the two kings. Elijah and Elisha had different tasks, but they were one in the overall project. The project would not have been accomplished by either alone. The project was done and those participating in it were one, and they were all one with God. No one person works in God's service alone or as it pleases his/her personal desires. If it is God's work, one must work in harmony with all others, and the service must be according to the plan for the total. This truth needs to be applied in the local church program.
No matter how apparently mundane one's part in God's service may seem, God's rewards are based on the attitude of the individual, as to their involvement in the whole. If our attitude is proper, even in the seemingly mundane tasks, we are rewarded on the same basis as the greater tasks. If our service attitude is for personal achievement, then we will suffer loss of rewards, and the total work will suffer.Matthew 10:41-42 "He who receives a prophet in the name of a prophet shall receive a prophet's reward. And he who receives a righteous man in the name of a righteous man shall receive a righteous man's reward. 42 "And whoever gives one of these little ones only a cup of cold water in the name of a disciple, assuredly, I say to you, he shall by no means lose his reward."
Four things we must see:
- It is God's work, not any one person's
- God's work is not the celebrity type, God's work is the body type
- God keeps track of our individual activities and our rewards are based on the quality of that service, not the outward accomplishments or what part one played in the work
This body function of the church is an extensive subject which should be explored much further. However, we must leave this subject and move on to other subjects in the lives of Elijah and Elisha.
Willing Service in Anything
Once again, we see Elijah back in proper form.1 Kings 19:19 So he [Elijah] departed from there, and found Elisha the son of Shaphat, who was plowing with twelve yoke of oxen before him, and he was with the twelfth. Then Elijah passed by him and threw his mantle on him. 20 And he [Elisha] left the oxen and ran after Elijah, and said, "Please let me kiss my father and my mother, and then I will follow you." And he said to him, "Go back again, for what have I done to you?"
God said go and he departed. No longer is he running pell-mell because of personal desires or fear. Elijah set out to look for Elisha, and found him busy at work plowing in the field. You would think that if God wanted another person to take the position of head prophet, in the stead of Elijah, He would have sent Elijah to look through a list of the Doctors of Theology and asked them to send in their resumes. For such an important position, you would certainly want someone with years of experience in phopheteering or whatever the profession was called, back then. If not someone with a Doctor of Theology degree or one with years of experience, then at least you would want someone who was in training at the School of the Prophets. That would have been the plan, if God used human logic or patterned His program after the corporate standard.
Well, so much for human logic and corporate standards, when it comes to service for and with God. Human logic and corporate standards are right in their place, but when we enter the realm of spiritual truth and divine action, we must move to a higher level of reasoning. As you read through the scripture, one will find that typically God called people for His service while they were busy at their place of work.
There was Abraham who had no theological schooling or experience. He was a herdsman, and at one time an idol worshiper.
There was Moses who was trained in all the wisdom of Egypt, and his spiritual training came from home schooling. When God called him, he was taking care of his father-in-law's sheep, in the desert.
There was Gideon who was threshing his father's wheat.
There was David who was out in the pasture taking care of his father's sheep.
There were the 12 Disciples - Almost all of them were at work when God called them. Plus, the Disciples were regarded as unlearned and ignorant, by most.1 Corinthians 1:25-29 Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. 26 For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called. 27 But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; 28 and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, 29 that no flesh should glory in His presence.
There was the Apostle Paul who was at work (as commissioned by the High Priest) hunting down Christians to put them in prison and/or kill them.
Elisha was no exception to these and many others. He was plowing in the field with 12 yoke of oxen. The account does not tell us whether the field or the oxen were his, his father's, or shared ownership, nor would such knowledge make any difference. The point is, he was at work and he was good at what he did. We can learn a number of things from this short reference to Elisha's life and work habits.
Elisha was good at what he did. From the text, it is not clear whether these 12 yoke of oxen were all on one plow, or if there were 24 oxen yoked in twos and each set pulling a plow. If all 12 yoke of oxen were on one plow, then it would indicate that Elisha was more than an excellent plowman! It would take some real ability to properly control 24 oxen on one plow and still get the field plowed.
Possibly it was 24 oxen yoked in pairs and each pair pulling a plow with one plowman with each yoke. 1 Kings 19:19 says that Elisha was with the twelfth or last yoke of oxen. Again the text is not clear as to whether Elisha was driving the twelfth yoke. It is possible that Elijah was with the last yoke in order to watch and supervise the whole operation. The exact details of this operation were not what the Holy Spirit wanted to emphasize by this reference.
What is important and we need to understand by the mention of such a large number of yoke of oxen is that Elisha was well qualified in his occupation. By any standard of the times, this was a large farming operation. This was no little gardening project.
Elisha and his family were quite well-to-do. We might even say they were wealthy. To supervise 12 yoke of oxen and 12 plowmen in one field, would indicate that Elisha was a man of great skill. A skill of this type could only be gained by doing the job over and over again, and constantly striving for improvement and it would require that one carefully observe details. These features seem to be a lost to many of the younger generation, and quite a few of the past generation. By the way, the reason such attitudes are seldom evident in our nation's youth, is because the older generation has not demonstrated those attitudes nor insisted upon them in their children. Parents, you have a God given right and responsibility to train your children in this manner, and to insist that they follow through with your training. The attitude of many of today's youth is slam-bang, get it done quickly with no or little interest in proper details, little respect for property, other people or excellence in accomplishments. After all, I have a right to live as I please. I have no responsibility to others, parents, the church or its leaders. The world owes me whatever I want. It is sad to see such a generalized attitude even among Christians. However, it is exciting to see the real attitude of servanthood among a few. Thank God, proper respect and stewardship are not entirely dead in the upcoming Christian generation, but such an attitude, in our society, is on life support.
Elisha had been at this job for some time, had good benefits and great job security.
Any one of the attributes mentioned could be a lesson or two in and of themselves. For this lesson, we just need to see why, or at least some of the reasons why God called Elisha to be the head prophet and why it is so unusual, from a human standpoint, that Elisha accepted the position. There would not have been anything humanly wrong with God choosing a man from the structured formal education system of the day, they did have a School of the Prophets. However, God is not nearly as impressed with the formal education of a special servant of His, as He is in quality of life that His servant has learned from the School of Hard Knocks.Colossians 3:23-24 And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men, 24 knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance; for you serve the Lord Christ.Ecclesiastes 9:9-10 Live joyfully with the wife whom you love all the days of your vain life which He has given you under the sun, all your days of vanity; for that is your portion in life, and in the labor which you perform under the sun. 10 Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might; for there is no work or device or knowledge or wisdom in the grave where you are going.Colossians 3:16-17 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. 17 And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.
Tragically, the godly attitude of doing a job well as applied toward Biblical service is seldom seen in those serving in our churches. Too many, who serve God through the church, do not try to do the job to the best of their ability. Instead, the attitude is often: "Let's do it as quick as we can, with the least fuss. After all, it's good enough for God, He'll understand." Yes, He will understand (more than we might want Him to understand) and you will be rewarded accordingly. It is refreshing to find those who do truly give their best in the service of God, without regard for personal wants or gain. Few, if any of us will find ourselves in the exact situation Elisha experienced. It's not impossible, but highly unlikely that some real prophet will walk up to us while we are at work, and challenge us to leave the security of family and job, to move on to a life of human uncertainty, that we call full-time Christian service. However, the principles presented in this story are not as unrealistic, for all of us, as they might seem at first reading.1 Kings 19:19-20 So he [Elijah] departed from there, and found Elisha the son of Shaphat, who was plowing with twelve yoke of oxen before him, and he was with the twelfth. Then Elijah passed by him and threw his mantle on him. 20 And he [Elisha] left the oxen and ran after Elijah, and said, "Please let me kiss my father and my mother, and then I will follow you." And he said to him, "Go back again, for what have I done to you?"
Elijah, threw his cloak on Elisha. In that day, it was a common belief that clothing from a powerful person possessed some of the powers of that person, and such an act was a call to follow and serve the one belonging to the mantle or coat. Later on in this account, the mantle will not only be thrown on Elisha, it will become the possession of Elisha, and by that act, Elijah will transfer his authority to Elisha. Elisha recognized this act of throwing the mantle for what it was, and willingly accepted the responsibility of following and serving Elijah. Elisha requested that he might, first, have a formal and intimate time with his parents, thereby showing proper respect and honor for his parents and then he would follow Elijah.
Elisha was a grown and mature man and this meeting was not to ask permission, but to share the fact of God's call with his parents and later with his friends. In the case of adults, parents should not be the influencing factor for or against moving into fulltime service, but neither should they be ignored in the matter. Informing and including parents is simply a matter of common courtesy, a gracious consideration of others. A factor greatly needed in a servant of God, and one that is often lacking.
It was by God's direction that Elijah found Elisha. He was not in the School of the Prophets nor was he praying or reading a sacred text. Instead he was in the field plowing. Sure seems like a strange place to find a new Head Prophet. It has been said and it is very true Idleness is not man's honor. Just as idleness does not bring honor, neither does having an honest vocation bring disgrace. As we have already seen, God often calls people who are occupied, and well skilled in their occupations.
None of those, which we mentioned as being called from their work, were using their occupation as a stepping-stone to attain some position in the service of God. Because they were serving in their occupation "as unto the Lord", they were ready and in tune to God. Therefore, they heard His call without difficulty.
When our minds and lives are filled with God's Word and we are living by the principles taught in God's Word, it is easy for the Holy Spirit to give us direction from the Word. For many Christians, even if the Holy Spirit tried to communicate directly to them, they would have to answer "Huh?", because they don't have enough of God's Word in their minds to understand what the Holy Spirit said. The Holy Spirit does not communicate in English, He only communicates in the language of God and God's language is His Word. For many Christians, the Word of God is a foreign language.
In Scripture, those who were called from their work were, at the time, serving willingly and with skill. This prepared them to hear God's call, and by enduring faithfully in that occupation, they were being prepared for the difficult service for God. At this stage of Israel's existence, it was a very discouraging time for any prophet. It would have been a fearful time for a man to leave the security of a good job, and set out to become a despised prophet of God. A person who tested the winds of security, popularity and even life itself for direction would not have thought well of having Elijah's mantle draped across their shoulder.
We must keep in mind that Elijah was not offering Elisha a position as the Senior Prophet. If you don't keep that fact in mind, you will miss the point of the story. As a matter of fact, Elijah was not even offering Elisha a position as a prophet, period. Notice the last part of v.21.1 Kings 19:21 So Elisha turned back from him, and took a yoke of oxen and slaughtered them and boiled their flesh, using the oxen's equipment, and gave it to the people, and they ate. Then he arose and followed Elijah, and served him.
Elisha was leaving a wealthy family, a prosperous business, a high position in the community, etc., to be a servant to Elijah.
- servant (hb)
- to attend as a menial one or a worshipper; to be a contributor to
Elisha was not leaving a wealthy family and a prosperous business in exchange for a position of high visibility or one in which he could serve as he saw fit. Instead, he left all the goodies to lose his identity as a prominent person in business and the community, just to become one who would look after the wants and needs of another.
Until we each learn the skills of servanthood, we don't need to expect God to give us the position of Head Prophet. In the natural course of things, as a servant, Elisha had very little chance of working up to anything other than a servant. Elisha's whole goal was to accomplish the ultimate purpose through another, and he was going to accomplish that goal by what he could do to help the other. A servant is not engaged in a ministry of their own, but their time and efforts are spent to advance the ministry of another or others. That is the way the church works or the way the church should work. In most cases, it's not the way the church is working.
Too often, the concern of the worker is not to accomplish the ultimate purpose of the church, but instead, to serve as they see fit, or for benefit to themselves or their family. As a result, neither is accomplished. Under those circumstances, the wants of the one serving are not accomplished, neither are the goals of the church. A church, in such a stalemate, will eventually die or change from a Bible teaching church. Look at what Christ had to say about a servant, which is what we are supposed to be.John 15:19-20 "If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. 20 "Remember the word that I said to you, 'A servant is not greater than his master.' If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will keep yours also.John 13:132 0 "You call me Teacher and Lord, and you say well, for so I am. 14 "If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. 15 "For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you. 16 "Most assuredly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master; nor is he who is sent greater than he who sent him. 17 "If you know these things, happy are you if you do them. 18 "I do not speak concerning all of you. I know whom I have chosen; but that the Scripture may be fulfilled, 'He who eats bread with Me has lifted up his heel against Me.' 19 "Now I tell you before it comes, that when it does come to pass, you may believe that I am He. 20 "Most assuredly, I say to you, he who receives whomever I send receives Me; and he who receives Me receives Him who sent Me."
It is amazing how our perspective of Servanthood gets twisted, when we view Servanthood according to the manner of the world or the way false doctrine sees Biblical service. Look briefly at what John the Baptist had to say concerning his role as a servant.John 3:30 "He (Christ) must increase, but I (John) must decrease.
Some would say, "That was John the Baptist, but I'm a Believer-priest, so I have right to serve as I please." A statement of such a nature shows how little that person knows of what the Bible teaches about a Believer-priest. Maybe we should reconsider our thinking about service, in light of what our Lord and Savior had to say about the situation.Matthew 11:11 "Assuredly, I say to you, among those born of women (that just about takes us all in) there has not risen one greater than John the Baptist; but he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.Mark 10:42-45 But Jesus called them to Himself and said to them, "You know that those who are considered rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. 43 "Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you shall be your servant. 44 "And whoever of you desires to be first shall be slave of all. 45 "For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many."
The church, today, has way too many chiefs and not many servants. Surely, with all those chiefs doing their thing, there is a lot of activity in the church today, but the church is not accomplishing much, as far as making disciples, which is what Christ told us to do. Remember. Elijah heard the word and went and did, and Elisha followed that same and only pattern of true Biblical service.
Indeed, we have a lot of people coming to church to see the performances, but we are not seeing many changed lives. Christianity is losing ground every day, and many belief systems are gaining ground fast. One of the reasons for this, is that those who fall for a cult wants to advance the cult (not themselves or their ministry) and they are willing to do so at any cost. While on the other hand, many Christians want to promote their own agenda at whatever cost to the church it might bring. Wouldn't it be nice to have church full of people who say, "I want to be a part of this ministry. Tell me what I can do."
Instead, we have those who want to hijack an established church program, so they can perform their ministry, without the work and responsibility of building such a ministry from the ground up. These seem to have little concern for the advancement of the established ministry, only their own. Over the past decades this trend has been slipping into the church, but it is no longer slipping, it is now flowing at the speed of rapids. We should shudder to think what any real church will be like in a very short time.
God may not be calling us to leave occupation and family to move on to the ministry of Head Prophet, but God has given all of us a ministry. A ministry that very few even recognize, and even fewer care to participate. Nevertheless, every Christian has been called to be an active part of this ministry.2 Corinthians 3:12-15 Therefore, since we have such hope, we use great boldness of speech -- 13 unlike Moses, who put a veil over his face so that the children of Israel could not look steadily at the end of what was passing away. 14 But their minds were hardened. For until this day the same veil remains unlifted in the reading of the Old Testament, because the veil is taken away in Christ. 15 But even to this day, when Moses is read, a veil lies on their heart.
Moses went up to the mountain to receive the Law from God. He was in the presence of God for forty days. Moses was not attending some Deeper Life Conference or Enrichment Seminar. These have their place, but sad to say, they often replace the quiet presence of God with manmade excitement.
Elijah learned that fire, wind and earthquakes have excitement, but God was not in them. Instead, God was in the still small voice. If we had time, we could see that Moses learned that same lesson, right there on the same mountain where God taught Elijah, years later. But we humans learn so slowly, don't we? We lust for the fire, the wind and earthquakes and we shun the still small voice. When will we learn?
When Moses came down from the mountain and from the presence of God, his face glowed because he had been in the presence of God. This glowing frightened the people, so Moses put on a veil. The problem was that God wanted to teach a lesson by the shining face. That lesson was, if you spend time in the presence of God, it will change you into the glory of His holiness. The longer you are away from the presence of God, the less will be the glow of God's holiness in your being.
By Moses putting the veil on over his face, the people never realized that being in the personal presence of God brings glorious change and being away from the presence of God causes the glory to fade.2 Corinthians 3:16-17 Nevertheless when one turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. 17 Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. 18 But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.
In this Biblical account, only Moses was able to spend time in the presence of God. But now, every Christian has God, Himself, living inside of them in the person of the Holy Spirit. We don't have to go to the mountain to experience a change to the glory of God. This glory already dwells within our lives. This change, from unholiness to the reflection of the holiness of God, is the ministry of every Believer.2 Corinthians 4:1-4 Therefore, since we have this ministry, as we have received mercy, we do not lose heart. 2 But we have renounced the hidden things of shame, not walking in craftiness nor handling the word of God deceitfully, but by manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God. 3 But even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, 4 whose minds the god of this age has blinded, who do not believe, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine on them.
What could be more exciting than hoeing a row of carrots in the field alongside the very person of God. That's what real service is! The real essence of Biblical service is not the activity, but the association with God and other Believers of like mind.
We have been looking at Biblical service. We have drawn our illustrations from Hebrews chapter eleven. In particular, we have looked at the lives of two men who fell under the category of prophets, yet their names were not posted on the roster of faith greats. Elijah and Elisha were observed as our pattern of Biblical service. As we have looked at a few events in their lives, we have seen some factors that are relevant to Biblical service. I trust that you were alert and allowed the Holy Spirit to bring other things to your mind.
The service aspect of God's redemptive program is very important. If it were not for the twofold aspect of Biblical service, God would have taken us home of glory, as soon as we accepted Christ as our Savoir.
- External Service
- Internal ServiceMatthew 28:18-20 Then Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19 "Go (external service) therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 "teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age." Amen.2 Corinthians 3:17 Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. 18 But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed (internal service) into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord. 4:1 Therefore, since we have this ministry, as we have received mercy, we do not lose heart.
We have these two obligations, given by God, in which we are to be engaged. The one obligation requires us to reach outside ourselves and bring others to discipleship, through commitment and teaching. The other obligation requires us to reach inside ourselves and personally change from one degree of glory to another, until we reflect the very glory of God's own holiness.
Sadly, the Christian community has miserably failed to fulfill either of these two obligations required by God. The reasons we have failed so badly are diverse, but one reason is that we have the wrong concept of what is required of us, as servants of God, while we go about this stewardship. Too often, instead of deriving our service according to the Word of God, we instead look to the pattern of the world. We judge our successes by the standards of this fallen world and try to have a type of ministry that will not be offensive to those outside of Christ. Instead of accepting the Word of God as fact, we reach out trying to gain an internal feeling and strive to project an aura of mysticism that others will interpret as spiritual quality.
It always scares me when I see someone trying to pretend spirituality by their talk or actions, especially when there is a real lack of obedience in their lives. If we are truly spiritual, we won't have to act, we will have the Fruit of the Spirit evident in our everyday living and others will see it.
As a result of the missing component of obedience, our concept of service is anything but Biblical and the results of such service falls short of even our own expectations. When our expectations are not met by such service, we search far and wide trying to capture the feeling we think will show that we are serving God. However, after the new wears off, such attempts will fail to satisfy our expectations. Eventually, when such various pseudo expectations are not met, some form of despondency sets in because the focus is on self instead of on God.
Despondency of this nature, is not necessarily depression. As a matter of fact, the outward nature of such despondence may very well be increased activity or distraction. Activity was certainly one of the aspects of Elijah's despondency. Take a quick look at this activity.1 Kings 19:1 And Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, also how he had executed all the prophets with the sword. 2 Then Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah, saying, "So let the gods do to me, and more also, if I do not make your life as the life of one of them by tomorrow about this time." 3 And when he saw that, he arose and ran for his life, and went to Beersheba, which belongs to Judah, and left his servant there. 4 But he himself went a day's journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a broom tree. And he prayed that he might die, and said, "It is enough! Now, LORD, take my life, for I am no better than my fathers!" 5 Then as he lay and slept under a broom tree, suddenly an angel touched him, and said to him, "Arise and eat." 6 Then he looked, and there by his head was a cake baked on coals, and a jar of water. So he ate and drank, and lay down again. 7 And the angel of the LORD came back the second time, and touched him, and said, "Arise and eat, because the journey is too great for you." 8 So he arose, and ate and drank; and he went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights as far as Horeb, the mountain of God.
Distracting activity resulting from despondency will be an attempt to find some function or philosophy that might fulfill those false personal expectations. Whether the despondency is expressed as a depressed state or demonstrated by increased searching, there will be feelings like some these:
- I'm the only one who cares.
- I, alone, am carrying the whole load. Why can't someone else help.
- Those I'm serving with are all wrong.
- My place of service is wrong.
- I'm of no value, and my service is worthless (to the extreme, one will want to die)
Elijah had all of those feelings and more. Before there was any hope for Elijah or his service, God had to show him that the excitement of fire, wind, and earthquakes was not where God was, they were merely a demonstration of some of what God could do.
Then Elijah heard the still small voice, and got his eyes off himself and back on to God, once again. At that point, there was a renewed realization that God was a person, not simply might and things. Elijah had to learn he was not alone, many others did care (at least 7,000), he was of value to God and that's Who mattered, and then God sent him back to the same place to serve God.
In our service, if any or all of those 5 feelings occur and if we don't get our eyes back on God and get back to God's place of service, we will probably turn to many regrettable things, such as:
- Continually searching and reaching out to more exciting activity, but never finding lasting fulfillment
- Attempting to destroy your present place of service and hurt those with whom you serve
- False Doctrine
- Turn our back on God
This stirs up mixed emotions. On one hand, it's thrilling and exciting to see the truths of real Biblical service, and God's process for accomplishing great things through and for Him. On the other hand, it's saddening and exceedingly sorrowful, because this very state of being, described above, is creeping into lives. What is even worse, some of those who are walking this road, have the Biblical background and know better. Not only are some walking this road, they are taking others with them. The end result of such is as predictable as the sunrise. When the new wears off of their recent discovery, those walking this road will be even more disillusioned, and their eyes will be further from God. Even more sure than the earthly results of such a course, is the eternal cost.Galatians 6:5 For each one shall bear his own load. 6 Let him who is taught the word share in all good things with him who teaches. 7 Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. 8 For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life. 9 And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart.Hebrews 13:15 Therefore by Him let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name. 16 But do not forget to do good and to share, for with such sacrifices God is well pleased. 17 Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account. Let them do so with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you.
Both passages are the word of God and both are true.
- We will personally reap what we sow
Consider carefully the seed we plant, because seeds do not simply reproduce one seed for one seed, but one seed returns many times over.
- Our Spiritual Leaders will have to give account of your life and service while under their Spiritual care
This is one of the most fearful aspects of a leader's ministry. It would be great to just like to let bygones be bygones, but the word of God tells us, that it is a duty spiritual leaders will have to perform. For some, they look forward with joy, to give an accounting of their fellow workers life and service. For others, it likely makes them wish they were not the minister in charge of that person's care, because the accounting will not be pleasant.
It is needful that we realize that the matter of service is important for time and eternity and not a play thing, for personal benefit and social pride. Not only are we to serve, we are fellow workers with God, Himself.1 Corinthians 3:9 For we are God's fellow workers; you are God's field, you are God's building.
When we serve in God's field or work on His building, we are working side by side with God. If we really have that concept, it will make a difference how we work, when we work and how we treat those who work with us. If our focus is on God, then service should and will be the most exciting thing in the world.
- Service and obedience are inseparable.
- You are not obedient, if you are not serving.
- You are not serving, if you are not obedient.
What could be more exciting than hoeing a row of carrots in the field alongside the very person of God? That's real service. Remember, the real essence of Biblical service is not the activity, but the association with God and other Believers of like mind. When Christ called His disciples, He said, "Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men". Christ didn't say, "Hurry up and get to fishing for men, and in the process I will check on you to see how you are doing." Therefore, if our highest aim is to be with God and to be obedient to Him, then service, no matter how apparently menial, will be exciting. The excitement will not be in the result of the act of service. Instead, that excitement will be because of His presence while serving.
If on the other hand, our greatest expectation is large crowds, roaring applause, praise from mankind for a job well done, then Biblical service will be a roller coaster of ephemeral emotions, which will, over time, likely turn out to be empty of lasting substance. Checking our attitude and obedience will separate the real from the fantasy. Most service is not physically or emotionally exciting. That is why it is called service. Service is associated with the duties of a slave not a celebrity.
service - duties or work for another; work or duties performed for a superior; the occupation or duties of a servant; work done for others as an occupation or a business
Our unique relationship within the Body of Christ, is so different that it is nearly impossible, through natural logic, to comprehend. We are fellow workers with God in His field and on His building. We also are the field of which we cultivate, plant and harvest God's Spiritual crops, and we are also His building that we are constructing for a dwelling place for all eternity.
There are several ministries mentioned in the Bible. All of them require obedience and servanthood. Look at one of those ministries or tasks the Holy Spirit allows each of us to have, because of the liberty of the Spirit.2 Corinthians 3:17 Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. 18 But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord. 4:1 Therefore, since we have this ministry, as we have received mercy, we do not lose heart. 2 But we have renounced the hidden things of shame, not walking in craftiness nor handling the word of God deceitfully, but by manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God.
There is liberty in Christ. However, this liberty is not so we can do as we jolly well please. We are freed from the bondage of sin and given liberty to participate in Spiritual activity, not personal activities. Throughout the Scriptures, the Holy Spirit details many spiritual activities in which we are to be eagerly engaged. We can participate in these spiritual activities because we have been given the liberty of the Spirit. Knowing our propensity to misapply the word of God, the Holy Spirit is careful to warn us not to use our liberty for our own benefit.Galatians 5:13 For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.
- serve (gk)
- a slave, therefore in a sense of subjection or being subservient
One of the spiritual tasks we have been freed to do is spelled out in the verses of 2 Corinthians 3. Through beholding the glory of the Lord, not the writings of men, we will be transformed into the same image from one degree of glory continually into another degree of glory. Notice in the next verse (4:1), the Holy Spirit is careful to tell us that we have this ministry, therefore, we are to use the word of God carefully. If we use the word of God in the wrong manner, we have destroyed our ministry, (no matter what others think, by seeing our outward appearance). Our ministry is destroyed if, in disobedience we use the word of God improperly, because it is the pure word of God that brings about this transformation (Romans 12: 1-2), therefore God's purpose is not realized.1 Corinthians 3:9 For we are God's fellow workers; you are God's field, you are God's building.
Yes, we are the field and we are the fellow workers with God in that field. We are both the worker who tends God's field and God's field in which we serve alongside God, Himself. When we serve God, we never serve alone or in a vacuum. Elijah learned that. He thought he was all alone, only to find Obadiah, a servant of the wicked king Ahab, who was faithfully serving God and putting his live on the line every day. God also told Elijah that there were another 7,000 who hadn't bowed to Baal, either.
It is God's work project, and each of us are to do our part, in harmony with the total project. We are all working on the age long assembly-line of God's eternal purpose and we must each work in harmony with all other on that assembly-line.1 Corinthians 1:9 God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. 10 Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment. 11 For it has been declared to me concerning you, my brethren, by those of Chloe's household, that there are contentions among you. 12 Now I say this, that each of you says, "I am of Paul," or "I am of Apollos," or "I am of Cephas," or "I am of Christ." 13 Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?
- plead (gk)
- to call, so as to invite to hear a judicial deposition by or from a supreme being
Paul is not simply expressing his desire. He is saying this is a judicial deposition from the Lord Jesus Christ, and Paul is simply delivering it. That divine judicial deposition is that we, in the church, speak with the same voice so there will be no divisions. If we would listen and follow this deposition, instead, of divisions or schisms in the body, the local body would be perfectly joined together, in perfect harmony, with one mind and one action. Christ's divine deposition is that within the church there must be unity and oneness. This unity is not something that just happens, it is something that must be worked at by all members. Again this subject deserves a great deal of time but all we will do here is to take a capsule look at the subject. The subject of unity or oneness is not unique to the church, however if the church is to survive as a body and accomplish God's call, there must be unity.Luke 11:17 But He (Christ), knowing their (Jews) thoughts, said to them: "Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, and a house divided against a house falls.
If there were nothing more in Scripture than this verse, it should be enough to bring weak knees to every church member. If we believe the Bible and the words of Christ, and if we do not strive for unity in the church, then we are on record as deliberately doing our part to destroy the church or in the words of Christ, bringing the Church to desolation or cause it to fall.
Christ said in...Matthew 12:30 "He who is not with Me is against Me, and he who does not gather with Me scatters abroad.
If you are not striving for unity, then you can use any excuse you want to for such actions, but whatever you might say, the lack of such action for unity is deliberate and blatant disobedience to the clear word of God. It is time we looked in the mirror and explained to God our actions with a straight face.
We have seen the judicial declaration of God for church unity, and we have seen in the words of Christ, Himself, as to what will happen when there is not unity. Let's have a quick look at God's personal declaration of what happens when there is unity in any situation, which would include the church. This divine declaration is heard, in of all places, at the Tower of Babel, shortly after the Flood.Genesis 11:6 And the LORD said, "Indeed the people are one and they all have one language, and this is what they begin to do; now nothing that they propose to do will be withheld from them. 7 "Come, let Us go down and there confuse their language, that they may not understand one another's speech." 8 So the LORD scattered them abroad from there over the face of all the earth, and they ceased building the city. 9 Therefore its name is called Babel, because there the LORD confused the language of all the earth; and from there the LORD scattered them abroad over the face of all the earth.
God, personally, said that because these at the tower of Babel, were of one purpose, one voice and one action, therefore what they began to do would not be withheld from them. This passage speaks directly to the reconciliation of God's sovereignty and the God given human volition. This success was not because God predetermined it, but because these humans were one, therefore they would have accomplished what they started.
However, because God has the power of ultimate administration (sovereignty), He intervened. So much more here in that area, but what we want to see now is the power of total unity whether for a godly purpose or an ungodly purpose.
We have seen in the words of God, Himself, not some person's opinion:
- A house, or kingdom (program) that is divided against itself will fail
- Humans who are totally united will accomplish what they set out to do
There is great power in total unity, and there is great devastation in disunity. With those Biblical truths in mind, look at what the Holy Spirit said through Paul in...Ephesians 4:10-16 He (Christ) who descended is also the One who ascended far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things.) 11 And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, 13 till we all come to the unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; 14 that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness by which they lie in wait to deceive, 15 but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head -- Christ -- 16 from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.
There is so much in this passage that we can't even mention each wonderful truth. It is enough for this subject to see that the Holy Spirit has an order for the church, and that order centers around the unity of the body. Look at one more passages on this subject.Philippians 2:1 Therefore if there is (and there is) any consolation in Christ, if any (and there is) comfort of love, if any (and there is) fellowship of the Spirit, if any (and there is) affection and mercy, 2 (then) fulfill my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. 3 Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. 4 Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others. 5 Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, 6 who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, 7 but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a servant, and coming in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.
There is the formula for spiritual success for individuals or for a church. If you desire is to see a church move forward with the God given task, then you need to be available for service through the church in one way or another.
If you are a part of a church and are serving in that program, it must be from a spirit of unity. If the church you attend is not where you feel God would have you serve, that's fine, but don't do or say anything that would cause disunity among those who do feel this is the God directed area of service for them.
As we have seen in this study, no one person or position is more important than any other. Some positions carry a greater responsibility and greater judgment for not carrying out that responsibility.
Even our Lord and Savior said in...Mark 10:42 But Jesus called them (disciples) to Himself and said to them, "You know that those who are considered rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. 43 "Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you shall be your servant. 44 "And whoever of you desires to be first shall be slave of all. 45 "For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many."