Tuesday, 23 September 2008 05:55

The Limitations of God's Servants

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Let us read 2 Kings 4:27-33: And when she came to the man of God to the hill, she caught him by the feet: but Gehazi came near to thrust her away. And the man of God said, Let her alone; for her soul is vexed within her: and the LORD hath hid it from me, and hath not told me. Then she said, Did I desire a son of my lord? did I not say, Do not deceive me? Then he said to Gehazi, Gird up thy loins, and take my staff in thine hand, and go thy way: if thou meet any man, salute him not; and if any salute thee, answer him not again: and lay my staff upon the face of the child. And the mother of the child said, As the LORD liveth, and as thy soul liveth, I will not leave thee. And he arose, and followed her. And Gehazi passed on before them, and laid the staff upon the face of the child; but there was neither voice, nor hearing. Wherefore he went again to meet him, and told him, saying, The child is not awaked. And when Elisha was come into the house, behold, the child was dead, and laid upon his bed. He went in therefore, and shut the door upon them twain, and prayed unto the LORD.

Last time we paused and left the Shunammite woman in the crisis of her life. In deep pain and yet by faith clinging to the promises of God, she wrestled at His feet. How often the life of faith is like this clinging to Gods Word like a drowning man clings to a life rescue float, hanging on to the promises of resurrection, eternal life, and freedom from sin even in the face of death, sorrow, and sin. Gods children can do this because Gods ways, painful as they may be for a while, always end in triumph and victory. To use the words of Romans 8, after a list of the most desperate need we can face in this world, the apostle can say, in all these things we are more than conquerors.

Now as we start to consider the triumph of Gods ways in the life of the Shunammite woman, we need to start by considering the limitations of his servant, Elisha. We need to start here for a reason. God will use Elisha as an instrument in His hands to raise a dead boy back to life again. It would be possible to preach on this in a way that makes Elisha some kind of hero, a name it claim it victor over death. This would be a mistake. It would also rob God of the glory of this triumph, and credit Elisha with something he did not do. That is why the passage begins by stressing the limitations of Elisha, the man of God, in order to put all the focus on the power and faithfulness of his God!

We see these limitations in Elisha in verses 26 and 27. When Elisha looks out from Mount Carmel and recognizes the Shunammite woman coming towards him, he sends Gehazi, his servant, to find out why she is coming. He does not know why. When she falls at his feet in her pain, Elisha is still in the dark. When Gehazi tries to push her away, Elisha forbids it with these words: Let her alone, for her soul is vexed [in deep distress] within her; and the LORD hath hid it from me, and hath not told me. Elisha has to shrug his shoulders and admit, I have no idea what is going on.

Not only is Elisha limited in his knowledge, but also in his power. He sends Gehazi rushing back to the upper room with all haste. Gehazi may not even stop to exchange greetings and news with anyone on the way. In those times, it was good manners to stop and talk with everyone you met. This could take 15 minutes or more, and was the only way to spread both good news and bad. Gehazi has to run up to Elishas guest room and lay the staff of the prophet on the boy, claiming his body in the name of the Lord. But nothing happens. Elisha does not have the ability to raise this boy from the dead. Also not when he is there in person. He can only pray. He is completely dependent on God. Without Gods truth, and without Gods power, he can do nothing. The Lord Himself has to reveal to Elisha what to do and what to say.

Why does the text go out of its way to stress the limitations of the servants of God? Because it can be a subtle temptation among Gods people to think more highly of Gods servants than they should. We have seen how much the Shunammite woman did for Elisha. She opened her home, built an addition as a private retreat, and honored him by how she spoke to him. For the most part, this was to the glory of God. After all, she did it to honor God and His Word which had such power in her life. Yet, is it possible that she did not always remember as much as she should have the fact that Elisha was only a servant, with his limitations and shortcomings? Is it possible that she gave too much honor to Elisha, rather than to his God? Why is it that in verse 30 she is unwilling to leave Elisha? Why does she insist on him coming personally and immediately, not even giving him the time he needs to pray and to find out from God what is to be done? Why wont she leave him for a moment?

On the one hand this is understandable. When God uses His servants in your life, He reveals Himself through them. His truth and His grace are heard from their lips. His wisdom flows through them. His kindness at times sparkles on their faces. However, it is easy to forget that all these things are gifts of God through His servants to His people. Really, all the servants of God are limited in their knowledge and power. All Gods servants are completely dependent on Him for all they say and do. If this is true even of a prophet whose sermons and words were often inspired directly by God Himself, how much more is this true of the servants of God in the New Testament who are simply to echo the written word? Even an inspired prophet has to use the ordinary means of grace. God does not tell them everything.

This is true of the pastor or elders or others in leadership. Of course you can respect someone who has been a mentor and teacher for you. Of course Scripture speaks of counting the elder who rules or teaches well worthy of double honor, and of being esteemed very highly in love for their works sake. But dont make any servant of God your idol. Dont make them pale substitutes for the Lord Jesus Christ, for they will certainly disappoint you. Dont forget that there are times when every servant of God has to say, I dont know the answer. Or, I cant do anything about it, I cant change it. Sometimes God lets His servants feel and face this both for their sakes as well as yours. This way Gods servants shrink back down to their proper size, and God gets the focus and the glory.

Has God given you a position of leadership or influence in the church or in the home? Are you called upon to lead others? Do people come to you with their spiritual questions, struggles, or cares? There is nothing wrong with having to say in response, I dont know the answer. I cant fix it. Why does God let His servants feel this, over and over again? Because His servants are always in danger of falling into two temptations. On the one hand, you can fall into the temptation to think that you are really quite something. When God uses you to be a blessing to others, you can start to be impressed with yourself and almost develop the mindset of a Christian star who deserves special treatment. On the other hand you can become discouraged and think that the work God is calling you to do is not accomplishing anything. You can wonder if it is any use to go on.

God has His answers for both of these temptations. When you get a big head, God has His ways of bringing you back down to size. He guards the triumph and glory of His sovereign ways by using servants who are totally dependent on Him.

God also has his answers for the other temptation of thinking your work is not accomplishing anything, that it is no use going on. Elisha must have had to wrestle with discouragement too many times. Didnt Elijah, his mentor and master, have to complain that there was no one left in Israel who still worshipped the one true God? God had to answer that there were still 7000 who served Him. But what are 7000 compared to a nation of hundreds of thousands? God could have given no greater encouragement to a prophet struggling to bring His Word in extremely difficult times than to use him greatly to raise a dead boy back to life! After all, this only happened two times in the entire Old Testament!

The beauty of this text is that God allows the miracle to unfold in such a way that the Shunammite woman is taught both the limitations of Gods servants as well as that God ministers to His people through them. And Elisha is taught both his limitations as well as the tremendous encouragement of being an instrument in the hands of God to do great things!

Do you see how even before the resurrection itself, God is taking most tender care for the spiritual wellbeing of both Elisha and the Shunammite woman? At times when His people become confused with His ways, the temptation is very real to think God is harsh, rough, and mean. Nothing could be further from the truth! He is most tender and compassionate. He has His eye on every detail, and on every need.

The ultimate example of God bringing victory through weakness is again the Lord Jesus Christ. What does the birth of a little baby do to solve the problem of a world full of wickedness and pain? He lies there seemingly helpless, in the manger, the feeding trough of animals. He is homeless, wandering through the land with nowhere to lay His head. He has no political power or influence. In fact, He is condemned and executed on a Roman cross. There even God the Father hides His face from His own Son. He has to cry out in great anguish, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?[Matthew 27:46]

When you think about it, it seems like this is the ultimate dead end road. That is why the discouraged disciples could say to each other, We thought He would be the deliverer of Israel. But now He is dead, and it is all over. No wonder the apostle Paul had to admit that the preaching of the cross was foolishness to the Greeks, and a stumbling block to the Jews.

But precisely in seeming weakness, God wins the victory over sin, sorrow, and death! His cross is the greatest victory the world has ever seen. It is the decisive moment in world history, and will determine the eternal future of every single human being, including you. Once again you are being called to believe in a crucified Savior. And as you learn to follow Him, even the most dead end roads and lives can be brought to victory through Gods triumphant power!

Pastor E. Moerdyk

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