He Is Able

Don’t Forget, when things are looking tough… “He is Able!”

In the time of Trial, he is able to deliver us

If that is the case, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us from your hand, O king.” (Daniel 3:17, NKJV)

There is no trial that He cannot bring us through (Isa. 43:1-2). Trials are the way that He can purge sin from our lives, but when they seem too big to handle, He can make a way of escape. (1 Cor 10:12). He says, Is there anything too hard for the Lord? (Gen. 18:14) and no trial is too big, if we call out to Him for help (2 Chron. 20:12). He is able to save to the uttermost (from the worst of situations, Heb. 7:25)

In the time of Temptation, He is able to Help us

Therefore, in all things He had to be made like His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For in that He Himself has suffered, being tempted, He is able to aid those who are tempted.” (Heb. 2:17–18, NKJV)

His ministry as our Great High Priest, is to help us in our time of need, (Psalm 46:1). Even when we believe not, yet He remains faithful. (2 Tim. 2:13)

In a time of uncertainty in our hearts, He is able to Keep us from falling.

Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, And to present you faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy,” (Jude 24, NKJV)

When we need the assurance in our hearts that we will keep true to Him or that our faith will fail, He reminds us through His Spirit that we belong to Him. “I am my Beloved’s and His desire is toward me” (Song of Solomon 7:10). We are preserved in Jesus Christ (Jude 1) and “nothing shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Jesus Christ”, Romans 8:37. He is able to keep us (2 Tim. 1:12) and will not leave us nor forsake us (Heb. 13:5)

In the time of Financial strain, He can provide the means so that we can still give to meet the needs of others

And God is able to make all grace abound toward you, that you, always having all sufficiency in all things, may have an abundance for every good work.” (2 Corinthians 9:8, NKJV)

God can provide for us when we are willing to be channels of blessing. He will provide for our needs so that we can take care of the needs of others. The widow of Zarephath was a prime example, (1 Kings 17:13-14; Matt. 6:33)

In the time of skepticism, when we think that someone will never bow the knee to the Lord is God is Able to Humble

Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and extol and honor the King of heaven, all of whose works are truth, and His ways justice. And those who walk in pride He is able to put down.” (Dan 4:37, NKJV)

King Nebuchadnezzar was a tough person to humble, but God did; Manasseh was a tough king, causing Judah to err and quite possibly the one responsible for Isaiah’s death, but God humbled him (2 Chron. 33). Those who walk in pride, God can bring to their knees, if He chooses to do so.

There are so many things that He is able to do – able to subdue all things to Himself, (Phil. 3:21) able to raise children unto Abraham from stones (Luke 3:8) and to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, (Eph. 3:20). When things get tough, don’t forget…GOD IS ABLE!

Jacob at Peniel

“And Jacob called the name of the place Peniel: for I have seen God face to face and my life is preserved.”  Gen. 32:30

Jacob – a more colorful character in all of Scripture there could not be! Contending with his brother before he was born, clutching his brother’s heel as he was born; conniving, cheating, and running most of his life. What a history and what a life! And yet, when we come to Hebrews 11:21, we read that Jacob as an old man, “worshipped, leaning upon his staff”.  Like many believers, God had faithfully seen this patriarch through many snares and pitfalls of personal experience. But how did He do it? How does the Lord do it with any of us? The account of Jacob’s experience at Peniel in Genesis 32 provides the clue and the paints the backdrop to answer this all-important question.

A Rough Start

As a twin, Jacob seemed destined for conflict from the start. His rambunctious personality was evident even before he was born. Rebekah his mother sensed the struggle between the two brothers while yet in her womb. Mothers seem to know the tendencies of their children from their earliest days and Rebekah was no exception. Jacob was rightly called a supplanter and it does not take long in the biblical account that this part of his character was clearly manifested as he bargained for the birthright and stole his brother’s blessing, Gen. 25, 27. Advised by his mother to make a run for it to avoid his brother’s wrath (Gen. 27:43-44), Jacob intended to stay with his uncle Laban for only a “few days”, a plan that turned into years. It was while en route that he had a dramatic encounter with God, Gen. 28:10-22. His elementary understanding of the principles of faith was expanded when he had a vivid dream of angels ascending and descending upon a ladder which had been set up on earth and reached to heaven. It would turn out to be the start of a spiritual journey for this man whose hard ways were symbolized by the rock that he put at his head as he lay down to sleep. It is a wonderful picture of the salvation of the Lord Jesus Christ who meets people at their point of need and is Himself the “ladder” set up on earth that reaches to heaven. He is the means of divine communication and is the only avenue for sinful man to connect with God, John 1:51. The promises given to Jacob (v. 15) have their spiritual parallel for the NT believer. It highlights the faithfulness of God and the assurance that He will patiently and faithfully keep everyone who belongs to the “house of God”, (Phil. 1:6; 2 Tim. 1:10; Heb. 10:21). What God promised to do He did throughout Jacob’s sojourn even during the low points (Gen. 31:5; 7) right up to the end of his life, (Heb. 21) as He will do with all who know and love Him.

The Plot Thickens

Despite these assurances however, the attitude of Jacob was far from perfect. Looking out for His own interests, he makes a self-motivated vow to “seal the deal” at Bethel. To his credit, he establishes and anoints a pillar, an indication that he apprehended the importance of the spiritual life, though his understanding of its privileges and priorities were incomplete and carnal at best. But God is gracious and had great things in store for this man, as He does for us! Jacob promises to give the Lord a tenth of his money, provided that God would take care of him and bring him back, as if the Almighty needed his money!  How much like us, who so often are looking more to get than to give. It is the slanted perspective of someone young in the faith who has a long way to go in the school of God. That school with all its difficulties and disciplines was something that Jacob had not yet experienced, but would in time. Despite Jacob’s growing family and his success in business (Gen. 29-31), the life of Jacob for the most part was devoid of any vital testimony for the Lord. Like many Christians, he was knowledgeable of only the basics of the faith and had not progressed beyond a certain level spiritually. God had called him back to Bethel, the place of his spiritual beginnings, (Gen. 31:13) but that return (both practically and spiritually) had not yet occurred. Peniel would become the place in which Jacob would “turn around” would become the defining event in spiritual life.

Jacob’s Defining Moment

Nearly twenty years later, Jacob was still the object of his brother’s scorn. The events of previous years undoubtedly festered and garnered resentment in the mind of Esau. When Jacob came near Edom, it was no surprise that Jacob’s mind was already at work to effect a strategy of self-preservation.  God was still present in his life (Gen. 32:1-2), nevertheless Jacob put together a plan followed by a prayer—vintage Jacob running ahead of the Lord and asking Him to bless his self-driven efforts. How hard it is to die to self and to cast ourselves fully upon the Lord! Yet anyone who has been in similar circumstances understands how pride and self are often the last pillars to fall. His own “me first” attitude was further evidenced when he sent his family over the brook Jabbok, where he remained by  himself (vv. 21-24). It was at this juncture that the Lord began to work in a special way in Jacob’s life. God had already been at work in his life for a long time, first at Bethel and in the years that followed. But God had called him back to Bethel where he had first acknowledged the Lord and priorities of the life of faith. But Jacob, whose strength was more in his legs than his faith always ran from one problem to the next—to every place but Bethel.   

It was while Jacob was all alone at Peniel that the Angel of the Lord, an OT appearance of Christ wrestled with him all night. Often the greatest work that the Lord does in a believer’s life when they are all alone under dire circumstances. The condition was bleak: it was night and Jacob was by himself with nowhere to turn. It was a perfect situation for the Lord to work and demonstrate the truth of His promises. It is also intriguing to note that the Angel of the Lord initiated the wrestling match with Jacob. God had desired change in Jacob’s life all along, but to this point it was minimal on Jacob’s part. Now the Lord was taking further action to effect a deeper change in his life. It occurred after a long struggle that lasted all night. It was not until the Angel of the Lord was successful in getting Jacob to cling to Him and begging to be blessed that this transformation took place. What God had wanted in Jacob (and desires for us as well) was now happening. He had gotten him to the point where he was “close” to the Lord and not relying in his own strength. This same Angel of the Lord that slew 185,000 Assyrians in a single night (2 Kings 19:35) was patiently working to gain another type of victory in the heart of this heir of faith. Touching the hollow of his thigh, He aimed at his strength, making him weak but in the process helping him to prevail. And all it took was a “touch”!  It is a key principle in the school of God as 2 Corinthians 12:9 reminds us of the words of the Lord – “My strength is made perfect in weakness”.  How can we not refrain from declaring: “O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!”, Rom. 11:33?

The Ways of God                 

The scene afterwards of Jacob limping as he headed over the brook Jabbok to face up to his brother Esau is a poignant one indeed. Here was a man who had gloried in his ability to keep one step ahead of his problems, but who had been subdued by the hand of the Lord and made to sense his own frailty before God. What a sight it was – a new walk, limping instead of running; a new direction, heading toward his problems and not away from them; a new name, Israel – “prince with God”; and a new purpose, reconciliation with his brother. What a change had taken place in this man’s life! It was all part of the process of Jacob becoming the person that God wanted him to be and one step closer to getting back to Bethel, Gen. 35.

In many ways, the life of Jacob is a composite picture of God’s work in the life of the Christian. It is certainly a portrait in miniature of God’s faithful and patient dealing with the nation of Israel as He will eventually bring them around to the point of submission, Zech. 12:10. Perhaps the biggest lesson however, is that God’s words and promises are true and He works in our lives, especially in our desperation to bring about significant change in our lives. May that be true for us as well.

Refreshment and Revival

“As cold waters to a thirsty soul, so is good news from a far country.” Prov. 25:25

I will never forget the experience. It was a sizzling hot summer day when a group of men in our fellowship played another team in a softball game. When we started, we were all very energetic and ready to play. But as the game wore on, so did we. Halfway through the arduous event, with our arms and shoulders drooping (and our spirits as well), someone showed up with an ample supply of ice cold water and an array of soft drinks. What a surprise and what a blessing! It did not take long for that source of refreshment to be tapped into and enjoyed. And did we ever appreciate it! The effect it had on me as well as the rest of the team was astounding. There was a new supply of energy and a renewed vigor in my step as I related to one of my teammates at the time. We were all refreshed and revitalized as a team and we were able to complete the task we had set out to do from the very beginning – not just to play the game, but to finish it and win.

In many ways, this seemingly trivial incident in the grand scheme of things is remarkably similar to what can occur in our life with Christ and our service for Him. Periodically, we can succumb to the heat of the day and scorching cares of life. They can wither our resolve, sap our spiritual strength and slacken our pace from pressing on for Christ. Energetic and enthusiastic at first, we are determined to do well and finish strong. But in the battle, we falter under the strain and sag in our spirit. Unfortunately for some, it has been that way far too long. The words of Paul to the Galatians seem very fitting: “You did run well, who did hinder you that you should not obey the truth?” (Gal. 5:7). Resolve can quickly fade like the setting sun (Judges 5:15).

But God in His mercy and grace has a way of helping us out in these situations just at the time we need it most. Like it was on that summer day on the ballfield, “someone” shows up (most certainly under the Lord’s direction) with a refreshing supply of “cold water” for our weary souls. How it encourages our hearts and revives our spirits! It might be a simple verse that speaks to a need at the time or an account of answered prayer that lifts our hearts. Or it may be an outstanding report of God’s power and might at work in a distant land – good news from a far country – that recaptures for us the hope that God’s ways will yet prevail. It has a wonderful way of renewing our spirits and lengthening our spiritual stride and its effect is often immediate and undeniable. Thank God for His “someones” who show up in our lives in our time of need.

From another point of view however, we can also be looking to be that “someone” to others who are within our spiritual reach. Service for Christ and prayer for His servants (both abroad and home) are ways in which we can be a source of blessing and refreshment. The battle can be heated at times and constant targeted prayer is an absolute necessity (Acts 12:5). Just as Joshua prevailed against Amalek only as Moses hands were held up and steady until the going down of the sun, (Ex. 17:12-13); so too the battles of the Lord are fought and won as God’s people are steadfast in prayer (1 Thess. 5:17). We need the help of each other to continue in prayer and those on the front lines desperately need our prayers. They need it and appreciate it! Israel prevailed because Joshua used the sword while Moses prayed. It is a tremendous picture of the means of victory – prayer and the Word of God.

God has His ways of providing help and refreshment when our steps are faltering. Whether we are on the giving end or the receiving end, He is faithful to His people and His Word. He is the source of all blessing and as the psalmist attested, “All my springs are in Thee” (Psalms 87:7). May we learn even more the meaning of these words in our walk with Christ.

“For we have great joy and consolation in your love, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed by you, brother.” Philemon 7

Moving Beyond Mediocrity

The scene is a far too familiar one: the regularly scheduled elders meeting begins with a brief, but generalized time of prayer. It is then followed by the usual routine of going around the table, each elder being asked what they would like to discuss. What usually follows ranges from the urgent to the trivial – and everything in between. It may be punctuated with a passionate exchange of differing opinions or it may simply proceed in the typical, unexciting “business as usual” format.  A few important items may be discussed at length, but by the end of the meeting, it resembles more of an administrative task force than a spiritual strategic planning and implementation think tank.  Unfortunately, the minutia of assembly life often wins the day – the withering details that cause the heads and hands to droop even lower than when the meeting first began as it comes to a rushed and nebulous conclusion. 

If this has been your experience in the meetings in which you serve as an elder, take heart – you are not alone! Too many elders meetings are characterized by such a routine, a routine that needs to be adjusted, if not radically overhauled if the local church is make a difference in the world. Considering the gravity of the present decline in our culture, it is incumbent upon all elders to maximize their time, sharpen their focus, and identify and address the significant spiritual issues affecting congregational life. True, there will always be minor “housekeeping” details that need to be addressed, but to exclude the more serious issues that require deeper spiritual dredging should never be neglected. They need to be brought up prayerfully examined, discussed and properly dealt with. The vitality and wellbeing of the congregation is at stake, a condition for which the elders will have to one day give an account, Heb. 13:17.  If the elders don’t do the job, who will?

With this in mind, I would like to suggest some helpful reminders to revitalize and improve the elders meetings. Here they are:

Prepare Your Heart

Prior to the elders meeting, each elder should privately commit this meeting to the Lord in prayer. As under shepherds of God’s heritage, prayer for everything affecting the local assembly should be the regular exercise of every elder anyway. Since this position was one that was desired (1 Tim 3:1), there should be a readiness to bathe their responsibility in prayer and an eagerness to do so. Done regularly, this can only help to elevate the tone of the meeting and steer it away from the mundane. In so doing, elders can practically demonstrate what Paul exhorted the Philippians to do, to “approve the things that are excellent”, Phil. 1:10.

Establish An Agenda

Another helpful reminder for effective elders meetings is to be prepared with an agenda ahead of time – not your agenda, but the elders! The temptation can arise to come to this meeting without adequate preparation and simply react to the items that are put on the table. Without planning forethought on each one’s part, effective elders meetings will struggle to stay afloat. To facilitate this, elders in some fellowships arrange in advance to collect agenda items in order to assemble and prioritize a master list. This can be done through emails or by phone by designated elder who collects all agenda items. This will help keep the meeting on track and effectively move it along at an even pace. Each elder should certainly be encouraged to keep an ongoing list between meetings so there is not a frantic last minute attempt to quickly put together such a list.     

Budget Your Time

Another important element of effective elders meetings and a must if they are to be revitalized is to adequately budget the time allotted. The length of elders meetings may vary among local congregations, but one thing is usually the same – items brought up first on the agenda have the luxury of being given a lot more consideration time, while items that come up at the end are time-deprived. This is accentuated when the typical order is routinely followed and the elder who unfortunately is last in line has only minutes to talk about what is on his list. This is why a pre-arranged and prioritized list is so important – it avoids a lop-sided agenda and keeps the discussion balanced.  It is also the reason why the order of discussion should be varied. If this is the format followed, try switching it up and changing the order. In the same vein, try also alternating who leads the discussion each month, quarter or year. It will go a long way in keeping things fresh.     

Keep on Track

Staying on track is also an imperative for effective elders meetings. We have all experienced the curse of getting off course. The question is asked: “How is brother so and so doing after his surgery?” “Well, he’s fine. He is out of rehab but his car is in the shop”.  To which another elder replies: “Maybe we need to arrange rides for him. By the way, have we serviced the church van lately?” Another elder replies, “No, not lately. Who is responsible anyway for servicing the van and why don’t we get a maintenance schedule established? This is a problem and we need to fix it”. And off the discussion goes into orbit, requiring a lasso a mile long to bring it back. A simple question of asking how a person in the assembly is doing ends up going in a completely different direction. And we wonder why we run out of time by the end of the meeting? If we are to get accomplished what really needs to get accomplished, it will require disciplined thinking and planning and bringing the discussion back to center. Not easy to do, but critical!  It is standard operating procedure in the business world, why not do it even better in the house of God, which is the “pillar and ground of truth”, 1 Tim. 3:15?

Keep Good Notes

Finally, there is a need to record items discussed and decisions rendered if we are to have effective elders meetings. We so easily forget and need our memories jogged as to the details surrounding certain decisions, especially in the months afterwards. Notes should be taken, duplicated, and stored for easy retrieval. Copies should be promptly provided to each of the elders. A collective “To Do” list with specifics included and a date in which items on the list should be accomplished should be assembled. Furthermore, efforts should be taken to employ every elder for the tasks at hand. It helps avoid the “armchair elder” syndrome that can characterize many elders’ meetings – a lot of talk, but little or no action. 

Effective elders meetings are definitely needed if we are to make any spiritual headway for Christ. These have been just a few suggestions for elders to help things run more smoothly in a job that receives very little thanks and can be excruciatingly difficult at times. Regardless, it is a position that should emote from every member of the local church an attitude of acknowledgement, submission and loving respect for those who serve the Lord in this way, Heb. 13:7; 17; 24. Anything that can be done to make it more efficient, more effective will help foster admiration and appreciation for the challenging work that they are engaged in. And for those who faithfully serve in this capacity, keep in mind that through the tears and through the years, the Lord holds out a special reward, a crown of glory that will not fade away, 1 Peter 5:4.   

Pressing On

Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me.  Phil 3:12

We sing the hymn regularly (or at least we use to in years gone by):  

I’m pressing on the upward way, New heights I’m gaining every day;
Still praying as I’m onward bound, “Lord, plant my feet on higher ground.”
Lord, lift me up and let me stand, By faith, on Heaven’s table land,
A higher plane than I have found; Lord, plant my feet on higher ground.

The next stanza really brings it home:

My heart has no desire to stay, Where doubts arise and fears dismay;
Though some may dwell where those abound, My prayer, my aim, is higher ground.

We sing this hymn both as a prayer and an admission that we are not where we should be with the Lord. There is indeed far more ground to be gained in our walk and service for Him. Though we would like to think that we are “gaining new heights every day”, we are more like Joshua who was told by God that despite his advanced years, there was “much more land to be possessed”, Joshua 13:1. It seems to be the same for many of us. Truthfully, for all the personal devotions we have had, the messages listened to and the Bible studies attended, we really should be a lot further along in our lives for Christ than we are.

So why aren’t we gaining new heights every day?  Why are we so vulnerable to the doubts that arise and the fears that dismay?  Admittedly, there are a lot of personal hindrances in the Christian life, but the chief reason may fall squarely on us. It really boils down to a matter of the heart. God says, “My son, give me thine heart”, Prov. 23:26. If our hearts are not fully occupied with Christ, they can become easily occupied with other things.  We can easily be lured off center. At best, we are unprofitable servants and like Paul can attest, “In me, that is in my flesh dwelleth no good thing”, Rom. 7:18. Truth be told, our hearts lean toward Egypt. We glance back there from time to time and then wonder why we are not satisfied with manna from above. Frankly, it shows that we still have an appetite for things that we developed a taste for in our former life, Num. 11:1-6. In the words of another hymn writer, we confess, “prone to wander, Lord I feel it, prone to leave the God I love”.  It is not that He leaves us – He will never do that (Rom. 8:39; Heb. 13:5) – but we can and do drift from Him. We would like to blame it on everything and everyone else, but when it comes right down to it, we are at fault because we allow the “little foxes” to come in and spoil the vines, Song 2:15. These are just some of the personal hindrances that keep us from gaining higher ground.   

But there are also outward hindrances that keep us from living life on a higher plane. There are a lot of adversaries to the Christian, 1 Cor. 16:9.  We live in a day in which the word of God is being denied, if not attacked. There is a “famine” in the land, Amos 8:12. The room is getting darker as the curtains of this age draw to a close. There is not much to encourage us as we watch the nightly news. Scripture calls this system, “this present evil world”, Gal. 1:4. It is contrary to the things of God and all we stand for. The world hated the Lord when He walked on this earth and it hates Him now when He is faithfully represented by His servants who walk in His steps, Luke 23:35-36; John 15:18, 1 Peter 2:21. Through various means, it enslaves the lost as it promulgates its philosophies and distracts and even derails the saints, causing them to leave to their first love and affection for the Savior, Rev. 2:4.  The glitter and glamour projected by the world and its ways are but a thin veneer that disguises the anti-God values that characterize it. Daniel’s prophecy of successive world empires portrayed it perfectly – valuable in the eyes of man (Dan. 2), but in actuality horrific and beast-like in the eyes of God (Dan. 7).  It is worse than we may even think, yet many of us are taken up with its ways.  We need to turn from it and take our cue from Demas’ defection (2 Tim. 4:10) and also the men in Elisha’s day when they said of Jericho, “the situation of the city is pleasant….but the water is bad and the ground barren”. It is an apt description of this world, 2 Kings 2:19. Like Jericho, the world offers nothing to refresh and satisfy the soul.  

The main reason for all of this opposition that keeps many living on a lower plane is due to the instigation of the avowed enemy of our soul, the devil. He possesses a vast array of weaponry in his arsenal to make the path of the believer as difficult as possible to tread. Through temptation, deceit, imitation, lies, inferences, and a plethora of other snares and devices (2 Cor. 2:11), he is able to dupe those who are rely on instinct rather than seeking the guidance of the Lord. He works tirelessly to keep the unsaved under his sway and to thwart believers from advancing to higher ground.

So, what is our recourse then? How do we gain ground as Paul encouraged the saints at Philippi to do? How are we to “press on” in the midst of so many hindrances and ardent opposition? One way is to stay focused on the bigger picture. Keep your eye on the goal – the prize of our high calling in Christ Jesus.  One day we will be in heaven and this “light affliction” which lasts but for a moment will yield eternal reward, 2 Cor. 4:17. In the words of another, “It will be worth it all when we see Jesus”. As a well-known evangelist once stated: “I have read the last chapter of the Bible and we win!”.         

Another, way to keep pressing on is to stand on the promises of God’s Word. God has given us light for the path and all along this path are the promises of His Word. There are the promises of His presence, of His power, and of His provision. He has told us clearly, that “…He will never leave us nor forsake us so that we may boldly say the Lord is my helper what can man do unto me?, Heb. 13:5-6. Like Jacob, He will be with us and keep us in the way that we go, (Gen. 28:15) and He finish the work that He began in us, Phil. 1:6. This promise of His faithfulness to should motivate us to live even more for Him, that we may do that we may be well-pleasing to Him, 2 Cor. 5:9.       

Yes, there are so many things to discourage us when we look around – defections to the world, disagreements with others, disappointments with ourselves – things that can keep us living on a lower plane. But when we look to the Lord and His Word, there is so much more that will brighten our path as we journey toward our home in Heaven. Press On!

“But the path of the just is as the shining light, that shineth more and more unto that perfect day”, Prov. 4:18.

Believers Beware!

Dangers in the Day of Famine  – 2 Kings 4.38-41

As the return of the Lord draws closer each day, the need for spiritual discernment among Christians will be of the utmost importance. The devil knows that his time is short and as the last days come to a close, he will pull out every stop and utilize every device in his arsenal to waylay the saints and waltz the unsaved to their destruction. Paul reminded Timothy that in the latter times “some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils…”(1 Timothy 4.1). Peter likewise warned: “But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you…” (2 Peter 2.1). There have always been false prophets in the world and false teachers in the Church, but toward the end of the last days their presence and power will intensify as Satan drags his own net across the sea of humanity and over a world system in which he has long held sway. Christians are to function as salt and light, but as the world grows increasingly corrupt and plunges more deeply into spiritual darkness, the Church’s testimony and influence in the world will be largely nullified unless spiritual vigilance is maintained. What can happen when believers are not spiritually discerning can be seen from an interesting episode in the ministry of the prophet Elisha.

THE SETTING

Elisha lived during one of the darkest times in Israel’s history. His mentor, Elijah had in his day boldly prophesied to King Ahab that it would not rain because of the sin and idolatry that characterized the nation. Knowing the Scriptures as he did provided the man of God with the impetus to make such a powerful statement. Accordingly, a famine swept over the land, paralleling the spiritual famine that prompted it. To counter the effects of this spiritual famine, Elijah established schools for the sons of the prophets at strategic locations across the land. These schools were for the benefit of young men whom he personally discipled, drawn together by a desire for mutual encouragement and edification. Upon Elijah’s translation to heaven (2 Kings 2), this duty was transferred to Elisha his protégé who picked up the mantel and followed in his steps. On this occasion, Elisha requested that his servant put on a great pot following a time of spiritual instruction and boil stew for the sons of the prophets. But without saying a word, this servant apparently acted independently and went out into the field, gathered a lapful of wild gourds, and brought them back to be sliced into a pot of stew. When it was offered to the sons of the prophets, they could not eat it and cried out to Elisha, “There is death in this pot!” With that, Elisha instantly ordered that meal be put into the pot, which miraculously counteracted the effects of the poisonous gourds.

THE SIMILARITY

As we put the magnifying glass upon this portion of God’s Word, there are a number of present-day similarities that immediately jump out. First is the similarity between Israel’s condition then and the world’s condition now. Just as there was a spiritual famine in the time of Elisha, so too there is a spiritual famine in our world today. The prophet Amos wrote: “Behold, the days come, saith the Lord GOD, that I will send a famine in the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the LORD” (Amos 8:11). For Israel, disobedience to the word of God brought about God’s judgment, resulting in a lack of rain causing conditions in which healthy food was scarce and harmful food was in abundance. In our world, the profusion of harmful, poisonous “food” expressed through the arts, literature, philosophy and other forms of media simply substantiates the fact that there is a “famine” in the land – a dearth of the hearing of the words of the Lord, brought on by a widespread repudiation of God’s truth (Romans 1). Consequently, there are spiritual dangers at every turn. Paul wrote Timothy: “Take heed to thyself and to the doctrine” (1 Timothy 4:16), emphasizing the need to be watchful in his personal life and the spiritual food that he ate. How much more should the Body of Christ in these perilous times?

THE SERVANT

Another similarity can be seen in the actions of Elisha’s servant. Like this servant, many well-meaning, but naïve believers can also be guilty of gathering harmful “food”, that is false doctrine and introducing it into the assembly, bringing about much distress among the Lord’s people. The fact that he might have acted independently only highlights the need for personal accountability in the Body and the importance to closely monitor the spiritual actions of the younger generation. Perhaps if he had stated what he was going to do, this disaster would have been averted. Could it be that he thought that a few more items introduced into the stew were necessary to fill up the “great pot” or even to make it more tasteful? If so, it could easily represent the enthusiastic, but erroneous intentions of many novices in the Lord. After all, it was a “great pot” and like the Word of God, it is a sufficient provision for the people of God with no additives needed!

THE SOURCE

The vine which was the source of the problem is also a key similarity. When the servant left the house, he was venturing outside, a dangerous place in the time of famine. As it was then, so it is now—the world is filled with “wild vines” that look healthy enough and that grow in abundance, but are actually deceitfully poisonous, as seen by the adverse reaction that it had upon the sons of the prophets. The fact that he returned with his lap full in a time of famine was prima facie evidence that something was dreadfully wrong! Vines often lie close to the earth and as such remind us of the origin and the emphasis of all false doctrine and the “dirt” that surrounds it. The apostle Paul voiced this truth when he stated in Colossians 2:8: “Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ”. Believers need to be on their guard and need to have a Berean spirit to make sure that all spiritual teaching accords with Scripture, lest in the course of time they find out in a hard way, that it is not. Believers beware!

THE SONS

Further, there is also a valuable lesson illustrated in the sons of the prophets. These would-be disciples made the common mistake that many of God’s people make – they ate anything and everything put before them! At the least, they should have inquired as to what was in the stew. Unfortunately, they soon found out! They were not told, neither did they ask. There is one thing however, that they did do correctly – they went to a man of God who was more experienced and wiser than they. They knew something was wrong, but they did not know how to correct it. Note this carefully young people—do not go it alone, take your questions and your quandaries to those who are older and more mature in the faith and undoubtedly they will give you valuable advice that will keep you from harm.

THE SOLUTION

What was the solution to this whole mess? When Elisha’s help was solicited, the solution came by introducing meal into the pot of stew. Meal, especially fine meal speaks of the moral and consistently fine life of Christ (C.P. Lev. 2). The antidote for any false doctrine comes down to a proper understanding and application of the Person and Work of Christ. This is what will undo the adverse effects of false teaching. Note that the servant was not exhorted to throw out the pot or even tip it over, but rather he was given the task of counteracting its contents with that which was nourishing to the sons of the prophets. Nor was the servant ostracized for bringing the poisonous gourds in. As a matter of fact, the servant was the very one who was given the task to purify the stew. What a lesson there! How many believers through the centuries have picked up some poisonous gourd and brought on adverse consequences or even personal suffering, has witnessed the miraculous turnaround that results from feeding on a diet rich on the Person of Christ?

CONCLUSION

The Apostle Paul commended the Philippian believers for their spiritual discernment when he said: “And this I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and in all judgment” (Philippians 1:9). That same spiritual judgment is what believers everywhere (especially elders) need to exercise if they are to avoid the dangers that abound in the day of famine.

The Danger in the Delay

When the Lord was with His disciples in the Upper Room on the night before His death, He gave them this wonderful promise: “In My Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go, I will come again, and receive you unto Myself; that where I am there you will be also” (John 14:2-3). That promise—that He would personally return for His own has been the blessed hope and joyful expectation of believers everywhere from the time that He ascended to the Father unto the present day. Despite the fact that this truth has been either forgotten or neglected by many Christians throughout the centuries, it still remains a purifying hope for all those who love His appearing. It points to a joyous reunion and brightens the countenance of everyone who can truly say, “He loved me and gave Himself for me” (Gal. 2:20). But while we wait for His return, there is work to do and dangers to avoid. What those dangers are is clearly pictured for us in the episode of Israel and the golden calf in Exodus 32.

During their wilderness sojourn, Israel had grown impatient waiting for the return of their leader Moses from Mt. Sinai where he had gone to receive instructions concerning the Tabernacle. He had been there for an extended time and was to come back at a time appointed by God. But while Israel waited for him, they had forgotten their high calling, lost their sense of purpose and became occupied with other things. In their compromised condition, they approached Aaron who capitulated to their demands for an alternative and sensual form of worship. Instead of correcting them, he accommodated their weakened spiritual state and fashioned a molten calf from their earrings and subsequently proclaimed an unauthorized feast to the Lord. The result was confusion and devastating judgment from the hand of the Lord. (v. 35; 1 Cor. 10:7)

This disaster in the desert is filled with timely lessons for the people of God. Just as Moses, Israel’s divinely-appointed leader and deliverer went up to God, so too the Lord Jesus our divinely-appointed Leader and Deliverer ascended to Heaven subsequent to His resurrection, with a promise to return at a time appointed by the Father (Acts 1:7). But until He returns, there are dangers that need to be guarded against by the Lord’s people. One of those dangers is pressure from God’s people to steer the spiritual life of the assembly. God had specifically appointed Moses and Aaron, men of His own choosing to lead the congregation. But now that leadership was being challenged. The people knew that Aaron was in the minority and utilized the unsettled state of affairs to their advantage by gathering together and making petulant demands of him. As the pressure mounted, Aaron caved in to their request. Leaders in every generation continually need to guard against pressure from God’s people to deviate from the biblical pattern of faith and worship in order to replace it with worldly alternatives during the time that our Lord’s return is delayed. Equally, God’s people as a whole need to be reminded that His return is indeed imminent and that they should not grow weary in well-doing or waiting, and thus lose sight of the blessed hope and the sense of their pilgrim calling.

Another danger to avoid is the specter of popular opinion. Certainly Aaron could have dealt with the congregation more judiciously. No doubt feeling isolated and alone, Aaron should have nevertheless remained resolute in his convictions. But the demands of the people proved too much. Who was he to go against so many? This burgeoning movement at the base of Mt. Sinai was gathering momentum and perhaps he thought it best to give the people what they wanted to appease the situation. Besides, maybe he was having second thoughts about Moses’ return or even what he should be doing during the interim. But he should have realized that these demands were coming from people who had not been long out of the land of Egypt. Obviously, they still possessed some of the vestiges of their previous life in Egypt and needed to be instructed in the ways of God. Is it any surprise then that many of God’s people in our day, also redeemed are likewise recent emigrates from “Egypt” and similarly need to be instructed in the ways of God since they too have the residue of that land in their lives? They may be unified and fully persuaded in their thinking that a certain course of action is legitimate, but one principle in Scripture is very clear – the majority is usually wrong. Our society is continually blitzed with sensual messages and music from a variety of sources–ungodly influences that can infiltrate the lives of many of the Lord’s people, adversely affecting their attitudes and actions. If believers have not learned the discipline of keeping themselves unspotted from the world (James 1:27), they can likewise lose their spiritual focus and forget that they are passing through a spiritual wasteland en route to their inheritance reserved for them in heaven (1 Peter 1:4; 2:11). As a result, they may feel the need to look for alternative forms of worship to satisfy carnal desires, feeding on that which is contrary to the life of faith—things God never meant to be: programs that simply entertain; lavish, expensive activities that ring hollow; events that hardly satisfy the soul since they point away from the Person of Christ. No matter how popular an idea may be, if it does not stack up against the Word of God, it will also bring confusion and ultimately discipline from the Lord. How foolish to think that this type of worship, the product of their own devising can satisfy the heart as only God can! But this is what happens when God’s people like Peter look downward, rather than to the Lord (Matt. 14. There is danger in the delay!

Finally, a third danger to avoid is unbiblical proclamation. Perhaps to justify his own hypocrisy, Aaron “hallowed” the event by declaring it as a feast to the Lord, as though God had ordained or would excuse this sordid affair at Sinai. Unfortunately, some of God’s people do the same thing today, erroneously declaring the approval of God on something that has no biblical warrant. The declaration no doubt instigated further sin among the congregation. Were it not for the passionate intercession of Moses who in this instance is portrays Christ our Advocate and Great High Priest (Heb. 2:14), judgment most certainly could have been even worse (vv. 11-14).

The events of this portion are a clarion call, especially to our own generation. While the Lord tarries, there is a danger that God’s people will take the low road spiritually. The process is this: delay followed by demands, and demands followed by departure and departure by unbiblical declaration and unbiblical declaration by disaster and ultimately, discipline from the hand of God. Let us be then be faithful and true to the Lord whom we love, whose return we should look for daily, lest we bring dishonor to the testimony of Christ.

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