Grappling With Grace; The Perfecting of Our Faith
2Kings 4:8-37 August 30, 1998
Scripture Reading: 2Kings 4:1-7
It is not that God could not supply her if she had not this one jar of oil, it is just that God wants us to use what we have and to make the best of it.
She was the wife of a prophet and had credit with her neighbors to whom God sent her.
The oil was supplied in the pouring. The way to increase what we have is to use it. It is not the hoarding of the talents but the use of them that the Lord commends.
It must be poured out by herself. What we have is best increased by our own hand.
The oil continued to flow as long as she had jars to receive it. He will give us all the bounty we can handle.
It is our faith that fails, not his promise. He gives more that we ask. If there were more jars, he would have filled them.
The supply of the faith he provides will not fail as long as there are hearts to be supplied with that faith.
We may today not be able to expect miracles as in the time of Jesus, since we are in the age of grace, which is miracle enough. We can expect mercies by that grace as we wait on him and seek him.
What do you have? What do your friends have? Devote it to God who gives the increase. Be bold about your needs. Pour them out before the Lord. He will fulfill your needs. You can live on that.
Many a person is praying for rain with his tub the wrong side up.
-- Sam Jones, Christian Reader, Vol. 33, no. 2.
This morning’s Scripture passage leads into the passage upon which we shall dwell. They both involve the development of faith as a gift from God through the prophet, Elisha. The first woman was poor, the second was well-to-do. The first woman sought Elisha’s provision, the second initially offered her provision to Elisha. The first woman lost her husband and was threatened with losing the children she had, the second had a husband and was childless but later lost the child she was miraculously given. Both were put to severe test, but both received back their children. The first pictures for us redemption from the curse of the Law which would enslave us as impoverished debtors, the second bears the fruit of redemption as a new lease on life. Both require the development of faith. It takes faith to embrace the grace of God that throws open the prison door. It takes faith to step past the door and embrace the freedom of new life. A little faith is enough for God to work with (recall the parable of the mustard seed in Mt. 17:20?). And if we have not even a little, he will see that we have some if we will use it. He will increase it and perfect it to believe and accomplish mighty things at his hand. It is faith that pleases God and brings us reward as we are increasingly convinced that he exists as we seek him (Heb. 11:6). It is faith that connects us with God, and that is what he wants. He wants us to acknowledge that we are totally dependent upon him. This dependence upon God is a major element of our worship. We are drawn to God in adoration of his greatness. This morning’s message concerns grappling with the grace of God as he perfects our faith in spite of us that we might be drawn toward his unlimited supply of greatness in our behalf. The process may be difficult to understand, but the purposes of God are perfect. And we are his purpose.
There are 6 players in this O.T. drama and 6 scenes. The players are Elisha and his servant, Gehazi, and the household of the Shunammite woman with her husband, her son, and their servant. The 6 scenes are the movements of the Shunammite’s faith in the following outline as her faith is perfected by the hand of God’s grace.
Scene 1: Shunem, vv. 8-10; The Establishment of Faith
Recall a similar story in 1Ki. 17 regarding the raising of the son of a widow in Zarephath by Elijah?
Scene 2: Shunem, vv. 11-17; The Reward of Faith
Some years after this we find this woman had occasion to be spoken for to the king (2Ki. 8:1-6), but for now she was content.
The Jews hold that Gehazi’s motives in suggesting the gift of a child for the woman was engendered by his own lust. As the story unfolds, it does seem that she doesn’t trust him.
Jewish tradition also holds that the son who was born to the Shunammite woman was Habbakuk. But the time in which he ministered to Judah was about 250 years later which leaves this speculation in doubt. All the sons of miraculous birth recorded in the Bible, like Isaac, Samuel, John Baptist, became heroes in Israel’s history - except this one is not mentioned.
She had received a prophet in the name of a prophet (Mt. 10:41) and now receives a prophet’s reward.
Scene 3: Shunem, vv. 18-24; The Testing of Faith
Is God fickle? Does God toy with our emotions? Is God inconsistent? To whom do you turn in your distress? Shall we blame God? She didn’t ask for this son. But God allowed the fears she had to come true so he could deliver her from her fears and perfect her faith. He does not want us to be tossed by the wind or unstable in our ways (James 1:6-8).
God through Elisha will not meet her deepest desire as much as he will meet her deepest need. In fact, he will match the two together. What are our fears? Perhaps God will allow them to be realized just so he can deliver us from them to focus on him more than on them. How many times have you heard of some child of God telling how they once said in their hearts, “I will not go here or there or do such and such,” only to find out later that God brought them to it? (I remember my own statement that I would never live in Chicago.) But we will allow God to instruct us (James 4:13-15). A completely humble heart will avoid exalting ourselves against God in any way.
Notice how she holds her tongue. The seeds of faith are evident as she makes plans to trust again for life the one who gave it (Heb. 11:35). She makes no preparation for burial but for resurrection.
Scene 4: Carmel, vv. 25-28; The Maturing of Faith
The woman bypassed Gehazi and made directly for Elisha.
Her response was patient. Can we be as patient in trust of God that ‘all is well’ when we are faced with death in our household?
The loss of a mercy should never make us undervalue the gift of it. Even though the providence of God may disappoint us, we must be sure that the promises of God will not. Hope in God will never make us ashamed. She did not press God for a son, so she has nothing to be ashamed of in asking for him back.
Scene 5: Carmel and Shunem, vv. 29-31; The Re-testing of Faith
The woman, who apparently never trusted Gehazi, would not entrust herself or the final disposition of her son to him, but rather stayed with Elisha until he could reach Shunem.
The delegation of Gehazi was too cheap a response. The minister himself must go. And the woman had no expectation of Gehazi, but she knew that Elisha was holy. It is the Spirit that prevails, not the flesh.
Jesus’ disciples failed to exorcise a demon similar to the way in which Gehazi failed to resurrect (Mk. 9:17-29; parallel Mt. 17:14-21).
Scene 6: Shunem, vv. 32-37; The Deliverance of Faith
Regarding Gehazi, the mere routine fulfilling of duties will never effect successful spiritual results. It takes heart and soul. Gehazi is here for us as a negative example of one who will not bear fruit because of wrong motives leading to ineffective spiritual power.
See how Elisha identified body and soul to his cause? See how fervent in prayer?
Tradition has it that when God breathed life into Adam, he sneezed as the first evidence of it. But here we see he sneezed seven times as complete proof of life, and of the expulsion of the malady which affected his head.
Both fear and hope are closely intertwined. We may be well to do physically but be spiritually and emotionally bankrupt. If we invite Christ in, he will uniquely meet our needs (Rev. 3:20; Rom. 8:32).
Christ doesn’t need our worship but desires it for our own sakes, that he might meet our deepest needs. What is in our hearts? He will reveal it and deal with it. We dare not make an idol even of a child. In the development of our faith, God may allow our worst fears to be realized in order to put them to death and purify our faith from anything that contaminates it.
What is it that would separate you from his love? Is it trouble? Or, for the child of God, is it trouble that confirms him for you as you turn to him in the midst of your trouble? It is the existence of war that enables the making of heroes. (“Saving Private Ryan,” the coward whom no one would shoot - S. Rom. 8:35-39.)
Faith on a full stomach may be simply contentment--but if you have it when you're hungry, it's genuine.
-- Frank A. Clark, Christian Reader, Vol. 35, no. 2.
Satan trembles when he sees The weakest saint upon his knees.
-- Hymnwriters William Cowper and John Newton. Leadership, Vol. 16, no. 1.
He (the character in a novel) believed in Communism the way most people believe in God; he would not be greatly surprised or disappointed if he turned out to be wrong, and meanwhile it made little difference in the way he lived.
-- Ken Follett, of a character in his novel Triple. Christianity Today, Vol. 36, no. 9.
Faith does not wish, hope, or desire--faith receives.
-- Ord Morrow, Christian Reader, Vol. 33, no. 2.
Faith is not believing that God can, but that God will!
-- Abraham Lincoln, Christian Reader, Vol. 33, no. 2.
Is prayer your steering wheel or your spare tire?
-- Corrie ten Boom, Christian Reader, Vol. 33, no. 2.
A person who has faith is prepared for life and to do something with it.
-- Sadie and Bessie Delany, Christian Reader, Vol. 33, no. 2.
Title: Fear of Falling
In May 1995, Randy Reid, a 34-year-old construction worker, was welding on top of a nearly completed water tower outside Chicago. According to writer Melissa Ramsdell, Reid unhooked his safety gear to reach for some pipes when a metal cage slipped and bumped the scaffolding he stood on. The scaffolding tipped, and Reid lost his balance. He fell 110 feet, landing face down on a pile of dirt, just missing rocks and construction debris. A fellow worker called 911.
When paramedics arrived, they found Reid conscious, moving, and complaining of a sore back. Apparently the fall didn't cost Reid his sense of humor. As paramedics carried him on a backboard to the ambulance, Reid had one request: "Don't drop me." (Doctors later said Reid came away from the accident with just a bruised lung.)
Sometimes we resemble that construction worker. God protects us from harm in a 110-foot fall, but we're still nervous about three-foot heights. The God who saved us from hell and death can protect us from the smaller dangers we face this week.
-- Greg Asimakoupoulos, Naperville, Illinois. Leadership, Vol. 16, no. 4.