For the last 2000 years, Christ has been building His Church. He said He would (Mt. 16:18), and He continues to do so today. We’re told that there are more Christians alive today than at any other time in history! As born-again believers, we are part of that building, but are we being used by Christ in the building process? Does He consider us His “co-workers” (1 Cor. 3:9)? After all our many church-building efforts have long been forgotten, will anything of eternal value remain? Have we been spending our energies to sustain a set of religious procedures? Are we using our resources to work out our own religious agenda? Could it be possible that, in “that day,” the sad truth will come out that we have been pretending – playing church, protecting human interests, serving without true love? When it comes to building, I’m sure we all aspire to build well. The events surrounding the building project of Elisha and the prophets, in 2 Kings 6:1-7, are particularly instructive.
1. DEPENDENCE – knowing what and when to change
The events in the “Elisha and the floating axhead” story are set in a context of blessing and growth. The Lord was calling more young men to devote themselves to Him and the prophetic ministry. They were responding, and the place where the company of prophets met was feeling too small. Some felt the time had come to build bigger living facilities in order to accommodate the God-given growth, and set themselves in a position where God could bless and add.
Is it still effective? There was clear evidence that God had blessed the company of prophets in its current location. Why change now? Because things that were effective or necessary yesterday, may not be effective or necessary today. This does not negate the fact that they were once effective or necessary. It is not a criticism of past servants or methods. This is particularly evident with evangelistic methods on the mission field. As a son of a missionary in Colombia, I recall my father using large 16 mm “Life of Christ” films in an open-air setting to attract large crowds to see and hear the gospel. With the expansion of the electricity network into remote mountain areas, the arrival of color and cable TV, the availability of videos and Internet, the use of 16 mm films has become much less effective. It’s time to move on and use new tools to present the same gospel message.
Change? What? When? Elisha was the senior man of God within the company of prophets, but somehow he didn’t notice the need for change. The initiative came from the younger prophets. As time passes, we all get used to the current state of affairs. We can grow comfortable with behavioral patterns in our local gathering, even though some of them may appear strange to others. We can become complacent about poor Bible teaching. We can become passive in our evangelistic outreach, saying, “Let the sinners come!” Somehow we are no longer concerned that no “fresh blood” has come to Christ and joined our fellowship over the last 5 years.
It is usually the younger generation and new believers who notice needs, ask difficult questions, and who propose change. Elisha could have easily criticized the younger prophets. The current facilities had served well for years; why change? Maybe next year there’d be fewer prophets. He could have judged their motives, saying, “Aren’t you willing to be uncomfortable for God’s sake?” or “Who’s the leader here?” or “You only want a bigger place to please the flesh, to increase your status as prophets.” Instead Elisha simply said, “Go.”
Change calls for dependence. In itself it is neutral – neither good nor bad. We must carefully examine the reason for change. Does it honor the Lord? Does it violate Scripture? Is it practical? Form and content are not the same, but both are important. The meaning of Scripture remains unchanged, though its applications may vary in different and changing cultures. God’s strategy for tomorrow may be different from His strategy for today. After the victory at Jericho, Joshua could well have concluded, “I now know how God knocks down walls.” He could have then set off to march around the walls of other cities. But God had other plans. To work in step with God we cannot simply repeat the past. We must be open to something new, to the Lord’s leading, to change.
2. GUIDANCE – willingness to assume risk
As the senior member, Elisha is to be admired. There was risk involved in joining these enthusiastic younger prophets. Something could go wrong. If they stayed where they were, Elisha would feel safer and in control. In moving to something new, there was the risk of losing what had been a blessing in the past. If things went wrong, Elisha, as senior partner, would be the main target for criticism. But Elisha was willing to take that risk. He not only said “I will,” but he also “went with them” (2 Ki. 6:3-4). He accepted the young prophets’ invitation with no list of preconditions. He identified himself with this new venture.
Can we obey without risk? Surrendering to Christ’s lordship is risky. At conversion, don’t we hand over control of our life to Jesus? Will He only lead us along well-used paths where we feel comfortable? Has Christ promised to explain each one of His demands? In my student days I had a poster in my bedroom which read, “Ships are safe in the harbor. But that’s not what ships are built for.” We have not been created, called and redeemed to “play it safe.” Every new step of faith, every new endeavor has an associated degree of suspense. If we limit our service to our “comfort zone,” if we limit our ministry to “what’s been done before,” many saints will miss their God-given mission.
Noah wouldn’t have built an ark. Moses wouldn’t have stretched his staff over the Red Sea. Peter wouldn’t have risked visiting Cornelius. Martin Luther wouldn’t have stuck his neck out. William Carey wouldn’t have taken the gospel to India. Hudson Taylor wouldn’t have pioneered unconventional missionary methods in China. Jim Elliot wouldn’t have died trying to evangelize the Aucas of Ecuador. Although each of these men was acting in harmony with the Lord, each was willing to risk possible “apparent failure.” To repeat the past is sometimes the Lord’s will, but it may also be a protective shield against possible criticism. Like Elisha, if we are to build well, we must be willing to assume the “risk” of obedience. The Lord only guides those willing to accept the risk of obedience. It is part of walking by faith. Are we willing?
3. TEAMWORK – the divine preference
Our Lord is sovereign. Although there are patterns to how He usually works, He is not tied to these patterns. Sometimes God calls an individual for a particular task. Like Isaiah or John the Baptist, the Lord may require us to stand alone and faithfully live out our calling. But in Scripture and history we observe that the Lord delights to work through teams. I would suggest that the Christian who prefers to serve the Lord alone, who avoids team service, limits what God can do through him or her. Let’s reflect on some of the dynamics between the wise Elisha and the younger company of prophets.
Younger wisdom: As mentioned earlier, the younger generation is usually the first to notice the need for change. Maybe the young prophets observed the inefficient use of time as they joined the long queues for the toilet in the morning. Perhaps they slept badly due to crowded, uncomfortable sleeping conditions. We can have legitimate reasons for change; our motives may be spiritual; we may even have the mind of Christ for the goal ahead. But if we aren’t careful, we may sin with our critical attitude or our self-centered way of implementing change. Notice that the prophets discussed the proposal with Elisha. They sincerely wanted his backing. I can’t imagine them saying, “We have had enough of this old place. With or without Elijah, we are going to build a new campus!” Pressure of this nature does not lead to good team work!
Notice that the prophets were not satisfied with Elisha´s agreement, they also wanted him “on board.” One of the prophets asked him, “Won’t you please come with your servants?” Perhaps Elisha wasn’t very good at chopping down trees. Perhaps he wasn’t very skilled at campus design. Perhaps he would slow down the walk to the river Jordan. But they still wanted him with them. The younger are wise when they seek to involve the older ones. Mature and spiritual older brothers and sisters are an asset on any team.
Older wisdom: Change is usually threatening, more so to certain temperaments, and particularly so to the older generation. Older people are more inclined to paint a wall than knock it down. Older people start very few new business ventures. If advanced in years, it is possible that Elisha did not particularly have the energy or vision for a new construction project. It would be easy to stop the initiative. He could have argued, “The current location has served us well. You are showing a spirit of ingratitude with the Lord’s current provision.” Or he could have argued, “We prophets are called to devote ourselves to the spiritual building up of Israel, not to material buildings.”
Instead, Elijah listened to the prophets. He supported the project privately and said, “Go.” He did not say “I will supervise the project.” Every construction project has its share of problems. But Elisha showed confidence in the company of prophets. He trusted them. When asked to join them, he replied “I will,” and went with them. Dear older brother and sister, your physical presence is very important. Not so much to supervise or control, but to encourage and inspire confidence among those with more vision and energy.
Wisdom in times of crisis: Most endeavors in the Lord’s service have their crises. Perhaps due to inexperience, over-enthusiasm or even carelessness, a junior prophet lost his axhead in the water, presumably somewhere deep in the river. In times of crisis we feel uncomfortable, and it’s natural to seek someone to blame. “If only he had been more careful. If only he hadn’t used borrowed things. The flying axhead could easily have killed a fellow prophet! Was this a divine sign that we should stop the work?” I’m sure Elisha must have had some of these thoughts, but he uttered not a word of rebuke. “Where did it fall?” he asked. And then, with God’s help, he found a solution to the crisis.
Crisis will come in the local church, in your service, in your family. Times of crisis can either split or unite, weaken or strengthen your team. They are times of opportunity. In crises, keep calm, remain spiritual, and be wise.
By Philip Nunn
With permission to publish by: Sam Hadley, Grace & Truth, 210 Chestnut St., Danville, IL., USA. Website: www.gtpress.org