Tuesday, 26 August 2008 08:53

The Power Of God's Word

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Our Scripture reading is 2 Kings 4:8-14. And it fell on a day, that Elisha passed to Shunem, where was a great woman; and she constrained him to eat bread. And so it was, that as oft as he passed by, he turned in thither to eat bread. And she said unto her husband, Behold now, I perceive that this is an holy man of God, which passeth by us continually. Let us make a little chamber, I pray thee, on the wall; and let us set for him there a bed, and a table, and a stool, and a candlestick: and it shall be, when he cometh to us, that he shall turn in thither. And it fell on a day, that he came thither, and he turned into the chamber, and lay there. And he said to Gehazi his servant, Call this Shunammite. And when he had called her, she stood before him. And he said unto him, Say now unto her, Behold, thou hast been careful for us with all this care; what is to be done for thee? wouldest thou be spoken for to the king, or to the captain of the host? And she answered, I dwell among mine own people.

We live in a world of fighting, turmoil, suffering, and death. Hardly a week goes by without such things filling the news. The world we live in provokes important questions. Where is the sovereign God who rules over all things, both over nations and individuals? Since the word sovereign will be used many times as we study this chapter, it would be good to explain it. To say God is sovereign means that God does whatever He wants, whenever He wants it, and that no one and nothing can stop Him. His hand is at work in all the suffering and sorrow of this world, though He cannot be blamed for our sin.

Now from a biblical perspective, we can say that war, suffering, terrorism, and even disasters such as floods are the consequences of the sins of all mankind. In the long run, the man or woman who lives without God is capable of doing the worst to others. But then you also hear stories of Christians suffering tremendously along with the rest of the world, and because of righteousness. And it raises the pressing question where is the sovereign God who loves and provides for His people?

The Bible books we know as Kings and Chronicles record the history of Gods people during such times of suffering. Far too often we find here the records of armies, sin, violence, and greed. We find an entire nation turning from God and self destructing because of their sin. It is no surprise that living like this brings down the anger and punishments of God.

In the middle of all this, we find families and individuals who do love and serve God. However, they do not escape the sorrows of their times. By spending the next few weeks watching how the Lord interacts with one such family, we can begin to answer the questions: Where is the sovereign God of history, of nations, and individuals in a world groaning through sorrow, suffering, and death? What is the sovereign God of history doing in the lives of His people when they are surrounded by wickedness and going through trial?

Now our study of this passage centers on what God is doing in the life of a woman whom we know as the Shunammite. Shunem is the name of her hometown. Her real name is not mentioned in the passage, so that we focus not on her but on God as He directs her life. We simply know that one day as Elisha is traveling through the village, this woman persuades him to come to her home for a meal. Apparently Elisha was traveling from Mount Carmel, where he had a school to train the sons of the prophets as seminary students were called in those days. Shunem was about halfway between Mount Carmel and Elishas home town of Shunem. This made it the ideal place to spend the night or get some food.

Verse 8 introduces us to this woman by saying she was a great woman. This could mean she was rich. It could mean that she was a woman of important social standing in the village. It could also refer to her character. In this case all three are probably true. Somehow in a day and culture where God and His Word were for the most part hated, this woman has come to know and love the God of Israel. She rejects the idolatry of Baal worship. She also rejects the idolatrous worship of the golden calves. She follows the Lord and lives by His Word whether she has heard it preached by Elisha or one of his students. The Word of God has power in her life.

How do we know this? Because of her actions as well as her words. When she notices Elisha in Shunem, she goes out of her way to show him hospitality. She is not doing this to make people impressed with her, as a boost to her status. She is not trying to get anything from Elisha. She does it only because she wants to do something for him as a man of God, in order to honor God. We read in verse 8 that she constrained Elisha, meaning, she talked him into it. She persuaded him, she would not take no for an answer. Once Elisha realized what was motivating her, he regularly stopped to eat there as he was traveling.

What happens next makes it clear just why the Shunammite woman is doing all this. She says in verse 9 to her husband Behold now, I perceive that this is an holy man of God, which passeth by us continually. So she has a proposal we will build an extra room for him, and furnish it with a bed, table, and chair, as well as a lamp. That way Elisha can stay here whenever he visits. In those days roofs were flat, made of stone or baked clay. The stairs almost always went up on the outside of the house. So now Elisha has complete privacy. He can study, read, or rest. This shows us how focused this woman was on meeting Elishas needs. She is eager to honor God and His Word, which have had such power in her life.

It is time that you and I consider our own lives by looking in the mirror of this passage. Like this woman, you have probably heard the Word of God in various ways. What power and influence does it have in your life? How can we test ourselves?

By looking at the evidences of the grace of God in her life, evidences pointing to the work of the Holy Spirit in her heart. The first evidence is that she becomes hospitable. She makes sure the prophet has a good meal whenever he is in town. She provides for Elisha at her own expense by building and furnishing a room for him. This was not the end of the matter either. In verse 13 Elisha can say to her, Behold thou hast been careful for us with all this care.

This is to be true of all Gods people. We could quote many New Testament texts saying the same thing. Hebrews 13:2 says, Be not forgetful to entertain strangers. In the qualities to look for in an office bearer in the church, we find this requirement, given to hospitality. Jesus Himself talked about giving a cup of cold water to the thirsty. Is this evidence of Gods grace found in your life? Do you befriend the stranger, those in need? Do you do it focused on their comfort, rather than on what is in it for you? We could make this question more specific. The Shunammite was doing this for Elisha especially because he brought the Word of God. Do you keep your eyes open to serve those who serve God and you by bringing His Word to you? Do you look for ways to help, rather than waiting for them to come asking?

A second evidence of the power of the Word of God in the life of the Shunammite woman is her respect for her husband. In verse 9, and later on as well, she has a great idea for serving Elisha and his ministry. Instead of just doing it on her own, she asks for the approval of her husband. This is certainly radically out of step with our modern culture and our own sinful nature. But it is clearly Gods will. She respects the authority God has established in a believing home, even though she seems to be the more capable perceptive person when compared to her husband. She holds up his leadership, rather than taking over from him. She is great in her submission. What about you? Are you respectful of the authorities God puts over you in the home, the workplace, school, or wherever it is?

There is a third evidence of Gods work in the life of this woman. She is content with Gods leading in her life. When Elisha wants to express his appreciation for all her care, she has nothing to ask for. Elisha even offers to put a good word in to the king or commander of the army, but her answer is simply that she is well looked after among her own people. She lives in a little town like Shunem, certainly not a power center in Israel, but she is content. She wants no special privileges. She is great in contentment.This does not mean everything is going her way in her life, as we will see. But she is content to serve God and to leave her life to His leading and will. Are you content with where God has put you, what He has given you or not given you?

The fourth fruit of the Holy Spirits work is that she was willing to openly side with Gods prophets in a time when the kings and people of Israel hated them. Ahab called Elijah the troubler of Israel, and referred to another prophet like this I hate him. Jehu, king of Israel, once described a prophet like this: You know these babblers and their talk. If you count the numbers, only a handful of people in Israel have any respect for God and His prophets. And this woman still builds an apartment on the room, for all to see! It is a public confession of faith that she takes her stand with God and those who speak His Word.

What amazing fruit Gods Word has had in her life! What a comfort this is when we find ourselves surrounded by people who are openly hostile to God and His Word. Many turn a deaf ear or a rude sneer to Gods Word. But even in times like this, the Word of God can bear striking fruit in a rich bold public way, even in a nation of compromisers and idolaters.

What a convicting test too. It takes away every excuse for not bearing such fruit ourselves. We have the Word of Christ even more fully in the New Testament. We live after the day of Pentecost, so that the Holy Spirit has been poured out. There is not a single good reason why you should not be such a person yourself. You have been given every reason to bear such fruit. Does the Word of God have this power in your life? If not, it can still begin! Maybe this very message will be used by God to begin by convicting you and making you want to live this way. In the weeks to come, we will learn many things about God that can with the work of His Spirit produce such fruit.

Pastor Eric Moerdyk

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