Arrows, God’s Word and a Faith-full response

21 04 2010

My daily readings have recently been taking me through the book of 2 Kings. It is largely a sorry tale of the kings of Israel and Judah – Israel is in a degenerate state of imminent collapse and impending captivity to the Assyrians. Judah is also in decline and although threatened with the same fate is spared for the time being because of the faithfulness of a few ‘good’ men.  (May the Lord raise up ‘a few good men’ in our day and in our nation that we too might be spared.)

I met Jehoash in 2 Kings 13:14-19 in a room with Elisha who is on his deathbed.  Jehoash was king of Israel during a time when the Syrians (Aram) have been raiding and pillaging the northern tribes of Israel.  The prospect of Elisha’s death is threatening to the king because it will mean the departure of the Word of God from the nation leaving them defensless, helpless and lost.  Jehoash does not however stand out in the history of Israel – his reign of sixteen years is accounted for in four verses (v10-13) with a formulaic disinterest – but the incident with Elisha and Jehoash’s response to God’s word is set out in some detail to teach us an important lesson.

Elisha embarks on a session of ‘show and tell’ to reinforce the lesson he wants to pass on to Jehoash and us.  Jehoash is anxious to know what the future will be like, how the people of God will fare in the face of their enemy and whether victory will be assured.  He wants to hear a word from the prophet of God before he departs.  And God’s word graciously is given to him.  The word comes through the visual aid of the bow and arrows which he carries.  The narrative explains the instructions from the prophet to the king and pointedly details the required obedience of the king at each point along the way: “‘Get a bow and some arrows,’ and he did so. ‘Take the bow in your hands,’… When he had taken it, Elisha put his hands on the king’s hands. ‘Open the east window,’ …and he opened it. ‘Shoot!’ …and he shot.”  The kings attention to the word of the prophet, the instruction of the Lord is commendable to this point but there was nothing here that he could not do himself.  Furthermore, He seems to be enabled even by a sick and weak prophet’s hand – perhaps a sign of divine presence and assistance, but thus far it had been easy.  After the king’s patient attention to the prophet, Elisha offers the declaration of victory Jehoash had come to seek, “The LORD’s arrow of victory, the arrow of victory over Aram (Syria)!”

With the promise of victory before him, Jehoash is brought to a further test of character, and faith.  Elisha leads him on in obedience – “‘Take the arrows,’ and the king took them.” Then comes the command to, ‘Strike (probably ‘shoot’) on(to) the ground.’  Clearly, the king had a quiver full of arrows and until now, only one had been used.  He fires three arrows and stops.  The way the narrator recounts the story makes it clear that this is an issue – why stop!?  Why not finish the quiver? Why not strike [with] the arrows five or six times?  Why only three?  Elisha immediately reprimands the king for his hesitancy, for his lack of perseverance in the face of God’s promised victory.  He is angry over the king’s lack of grit and determination, his failure to make a ‘faith’-full response to the revealed word of God.

D. Ralph Davis calls this an account of Jehoash’s most crucial moment – standing before the word of Yahweh.  In light of brief biography which certainly painted Jehoash as another of the wicked kings of Israel the cameo of his response to God’s word through the prophet is a clear indicator of a faithless response.  Here is a king who hears the word of God and in the face of the prophet is prepared to follow that word, but when required to act upon it in an expression of his own persevering faith falls short of all that the Lord had held out to him.  As Davis says, ‘He had Yahweh’s promise (v17) and he should have grasped it with both hands.’

What is our own ‘standing before the word of the LORD’?  How do we measure up in our faithful and gritty determination to take God at his word? May the Lord help us by faith to hold firmly to his promises, to be people who persevere in them and who ‘shoot our arrows’ continuously in the assurance of the victory he offers us through our Lord Jesus Christ.

‘For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who was preached among you… was not “Yes” and “No”, but in him it has always been “Yes”.  For no matter howe many promises God has made, they are all “Yes” in Christ. And so through him the “Amen” is spoken by us to the glory of God’ (2 Corinthians 1:19,20).

The Trellis and The Vine: Finally, my brothers…

13 04 2010

Here are some more highlights that stood out for me from the Trellis and the Vine.  You should read the book for yourself, especially if you are in Christian ministry. It has so much more than I have been able to mention in these two postings on the book…

 Two fundamentals to Christian ministry are PROCLAIMING  and PRAYING.  In this sense then every Christian is called to be a vine worker in Marshall and Payne ‘s terms.  They are to be servants of Jesus (Acts 4:29-31).

 “The call to discipleship is the same for all. … To be a disciple is to be a slave of Christ and to confess his name openly before others…

The call to discipleship is thus a call to confess our allegiance to Jesus in the face of a hostile world; to serve him and his mission whatever the cost. … To be a disciple is to be a disciple-maker.” (p. 42, 43)

 Concerning the confession of our allegiance to Jesus Christ, Marshall and Payne helpfully move us on beyond the bald confession of ‘I am a Christian’ to explain and fill out the kind of confession that will characterise the disciple whose “whole aim [is] to be the glory of God in the salvation of others.  They do so by suggesting we look for ways to be living “salty lives” before the world:

  • Pray for opportunities to make a bold proclamation of the gospel
  • Look out for chances to be giving appropriate answers to questions raised by our lifefstyle 
  • Live a life that always makes the teaching of the gospel attractive 
  • Take every chance to make God known by declaring his mercies before non-Christian friends 
  • Even when ‘persecuted’ or facing opposition gently give a defence for the hope we have in the gospel

 They conclude: “The New Testament envisages that all Christian disciples will be prayerful speakers of God’s word in a multitude of different ways and contexts.”

 Two major concerns for future ministry are TRAINING and GOSPEL GROWTH.   Christian ministry then is about God’s glory and God’s people.  The people of God are trained through personal relationship with another Christian(s) who impart sound doctrine from the Bible and exemplify it by a lifestyle that is soundly based on that teaching.  Gospel growth is when these principles are applied and lived in the lives of men and women so that they move from non-faith to faith, from new Christian to mature Christian, from spiritual babies to those who can prayerfully know, use and apply God’s Word meaningfully into the lives of those around them.

 “The heart of training is not to impart a skill, but sound doctrine. Paul uses the language of ‘training’ to refer to a lifelong process whereby Timothy and his congregation are taught by the Scripture to reject false religion, and to conform their hearts and their lives to sound doctrine. Good biblical training results in a godly life based on sound, health-giving teaching.” (p. 71)

 Imitation is a vital part of this training in the New Testament. This was basic to all of Paul’s ministry. (Phil 3:17; 1 Cor. 4:14-17; 1 Cor. 10:32-11:1; 1 Thess. 1:4-7)  “The life and ministry of the trainer is a model for the trainee – not of perfection but of godly desires in an earthen vessel.” (p.76)

The nature and goal of training can be usefully summarised in three Cs.

  • Conviction – their knowledge of God and understanding of the Bible
  • Character – the godly character and life that accords with sound doctrine
  • Competency – the ability to prayerfully speak God’s word to others in a variety of ways

Three further important issues in Gospel Growth:

  1. Gospel growth happens in the lives of people. “But if people are not growing in their knowledge of God’s will so that they walk ever more worthily of the Lord, seeking to please him in all things and bearing fruit in every good work, then there is no growth to speak of happening at all.” (p. 82)
  2. Gospel growth means a readiness to lose our best people. “A commitment to the growth of the gospel will mean that we train people towards maturity not for the benefit of our own churches or fellowships but for the benefit fo Christ’s kingdom.”
  3. Gospel growth need a radical change in our thinking about people. “We see people not as cogs in our wheel, or as resources for our projects, but as individuals each at their own stage of gospel growth.”

“Training is the engine of gospel growth. Under God, the way to get more gospel growth happening is to train more and more mature, godly Christians to be vine-workers – that is, to see more people equipped, resourced and encouraged to speak the word prayerfully to other people, whether in outreach, follow-up or Christian growth.” (p.90)