Getting Off the Fence

Anyone who is involved in a significant work wants that work to continue after they are gone.  A President wants someone to follow him who shares his vision.  A CEO wants someone to come in who will continue to keep the stock strong.  A Pastor wants a strong Pastor to follow him.  And as we will read in this part of 1 Kings 19, a prophet is eager for someone to carry the baton for the next leg of the race.

Elijah had become discouraged by the threats of Queen Jezebel. The Lord cared for him in the desert and then commissioned him to anoint three men two Kings and someone to carry on the work that he had begun.

Elijah and Elisha are very similar in many ways.  Their names are similar (which is often confusing to us).  Several of the things that happened to them are similar.  Elijah and Elisha both help a widow who had a great need through a miraculous provision. Both Elijah and Elisha were involved in raising a child from the dead.  Both confronted an army and frustrated them. Elisha had a host of additional miracles but Elijah was the most prominent of the two men..

For possibly ten years Elisha served an apprenticeship with Elijah.  This morning we are going to look at how it all began.  It’s a simple account but if we reflect on it fully I think you will be surprised at what we can learn.

A Prophet Chosen

19 So Elijah went from there and found Elisha son of Shaphat. He was plowing with twelve yoke of oxen, and he himself was driving the twelfth pair. Elijah went up to him and threw his cloak around him.

Notice a couple of things.  First, Elijah did what God told him to do. The test of true love for the Lord is obedience.  In 1 John we read,

This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. This is love for God: to obey his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, for everyone born of God overcomes the world. [1 John 5:2-4]

Elijah understood this principle.  If we really love God, we will trust Him, if we trust Him then we will do what he tells us to do.

We don’t know whether Elijah was happy about anointing a successor of not.  Did he feel he was being “pushed out to pasture”?  Was he threatened by this up-and-comer?  It doesn’t matter.  Elijah understood that God’s will was always better than his ways.  He trusted God and simply did what he was told.

Second, notice that Elisha appears to have been wealthy.  Elisha was plowing twelve rows at one time.  There were 11 servants driving their oxen and Elijah.  It would be like having a twelve-row planter back in that day. This was something only afforded by only the wealthy.  I suppose it would be like Elijah catching up with Elisha as he was getting out of his new Lexus of BMW.

A Prophet Committed

Elisha then left his oxen and ran after Elijah. “Let me kiss my father and mother good-by,” he said, “and then I will come with you.” “Go back,” Elijah replied. “What have I done to you?” So Elisha left him and went back. He took his yoke of oxen and slaughtered them. He burned the plowing equipment to cook the meat and gave it to the people, and they ate. Then he set out to follow Elijah and became his attendant.

Let’s go back to the previous point that Elisha was well off.  Consider the fact that Elisha has every reason to resist going with Elijah.  He had a business to run.  He had investments to guard.  He had a prophet margin to maintain.  He had employees to manage.

Note what he does.  The first thing he does is ask Elijah if he could say good-bye to his parents.  Elijah’s response seems curt but it isn’t really.  I believe Elijah was actually saying, “I’m not stopping you from saying good-bye to your parents”. This passage does bring Luke 9:61-62 to mind.

61 Still another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say good-by to my family.” 62 Jesus replied, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.”

There is a difference in these two accounts however.  In the passage from Luke the man wanted to go see his parents as an excuse to keep from having to follow Jesus.  In this case, Elisha simply wants to show respect to his parents.  He has every intention of following Elijah.

Look at what he does next.  He sacrificed his yoke of oxen (2 of the 24 oxen) and then he burned them using his plow as his firewood.  Do you see why this is significant?  Elisha is making a clean and firm break with his past.  It would be like Jesus asking us to follow Him and then we went immediately to go and sell our home.  It was a decisive act.  Elisha has what was the equivalent of a “going away party” or a neighborhood barbecue.  He feeds all his friends and then he takes up the servant position to serve as Elijah’s apprentice.

Elisha’s actions give us a glimpse of his heart.  It reveals his commitment not only to Elijah, but ultimately to the Lord.

Personal Questions

Think about this short account.  As I look at Elisha’s response to Elijah I have some questions. First,  Why do we find the matter of commitment so difficult?  Where is this kind of resolve is in my life and in the lives of Christians around me? Where is that radical discipleship?  I have three answers.

First, some are not true believers.  The first answer would be that not everyone who claims to be a Christian is a Christian.  Jesus said, “Many will say to me, Lord, Lord! and I will say, “I never knew you.”

Many people “play church”.  They want to be well rounded in life so they have a religious segment to their life.  This religious segment may be important but it is irrelevant to all the other areas of life.  Their “religion” is compartmentalized. This is why we often see so-called believers who are living lives inconsistent with the gospel.  They are not really any different at all.  They are not true believers.

Before these people can be committed they must make an initial commitment to Christ.  They must recognize that sin permeates every area of our lives.  They need a Savior for ALL of their life.  Can I be so bold as to ask, “Have you placed your trust in Jesus as the Savior of every element of your life?   Have you received Him as Lord of all?  If not, I encourage you to do so today.

The Second reason we aren’t committed is because we don’t understand what commitment is.  There are several reasons for this.  On the one hand everyone is asking for commitment.  It’s a catch phrase.  We are asked to be

  • Totally Committed to our job (we need to be willing to put in extra hours)
  • Totally Committed to our hobby (committed to exercise, diet, sporting activities)
  • Totally Committed to our family
  • Totally Committed to financial goals
  • Totally Committed to the committees and groups on which we serve
  • Totally Committed to the church

Do you see what happens?  It’s an impossible task.  You can’t be totally committed to more than one thing!  We will either go crazy and have a nervous breakdown, give up and become apathetic, or we will define total commitment as something much less than it was meant to be.  We say it is simply, “Trying your best”.

We also don’t understand commitment because most of the commitments we are asked to make are short term.  We are committed to our jobs until we retire or change jobs.  Committed to our hobbies until we lose interest.  Committed to our diets until we reach our ideal weight.  Committed to our committee for as long as we serve.  There is a sense in which we are committed to our children until they are on their own.  Even in marriage we are committed only until we die (or in some cases until the relationship is no longer satisfying).

Do you see how this is different from what God wants from us?  We want to know, “what’s the duration of my commitment?”  Jesus answers, “Forever!”  It is something we do not understand.

We also don’t understand the idea of commitment because we have a negative and stereotypical image of what Christian Commitment involves We tend to view total commitment to the Lord as; having to be at the church every time the doors are open, needing to volunteer for any ministry that needs to be done, give the majority of our money to the church, and to conform to every expectation of those around us.  In short, we see Christian commitment as boring and distasteful.

However, that is not Biblical commitment.  The total commitment that Jesus asks for is for us to be willing to make Him Lord of every area of our life.

  • We don’t necessarily give up our hobbies but we do see them as a potential mission field where we can talk to others about Christ.
  • We will we use our jobs to honor the Lord by engaging in ethical practices and good treatment of those who are under us.
  • We don’t have to give up all our friendships but we do need to allow our relationship with Christ to impact our friendships.  We may need to change some of our behaviors be we don’t have to give up our friends.

Biblical commitment means serving Christ in every area of our lives.

There is a third reason we are not committed:  we have forgotten what is at stake.  We are committed to our jobs, our families, our reputation, our craft, our health and our happiness but have forgotten that all of these things ultimately lead no where.  At the end of life none of these things can help us. The only thing that has true meaning is our relationship with Christ.  What we have forgotten is that we will not enjoy anything truly, until we have come to serve and enjoy Him fully.  When we pursue Heaven we get the enjoyment of earth thrown in.  When we pursue the pleasures of earth we get neither.  This may seem like a side issue . . . but it’s not.  It is the most basic issue of life.

The second question I have when I look at this account is this:  How Do Move Toward Appropriate Commitment?

We must begin by recognizing and ponder the true nature/character of Christ.  As we become compelled by His greatness, our priorities will change.  When we see Him as He is we will want to go to Him, be with Him, and conform to His image. We cannot truly be committed to Him until we see Him as He truly is.  Once we see Him as He truly is, we will be committed to Him.

We must start then by answering some basic questions . . . not just academically but in the heart of our being.

  1. Is there really a God?
  2. Is God really in control?
  3. Does He really love me?
  4. Is Jesus really God in human form?
  5. Is Jesus the only way to Heaven?
  6. Is there life beyond the grave?

The problem many face is this: we pay lip service to the truth but we do not hold it in our heart.  Before we will ever be committed, we must be CONVINCED of the truthfulness of the gospel.  We must ask, “Do I trust Him or don’t I?”

We Must Decide What is Most Important in Our Lives

There are lots of things that are important.  There are a lot of things that we can love, cherish, and value.  However, we must decide what is MOST important.  Here are some boldly honest questions I have to ask myself:

  • If I had to choose between your family and your God (may it never happen!), what would I choose?
  • If I had to choose between my recreational hobby and my service to the Lord, what would I choose?  (Or maybe we should ask, are we more driven by the Bible or by TV Guide?
  • If I had to choose between fame and riches and being content before the Lord, what would I choose?
  • If I had a windfall of money and had to choose between indulging some pleasure and honoring the Lord, what would I choose.

There are lots of questions just like this.  These are the kinds of things that get to our core values.  Everything can’t be MOST important to us.  These questions show us what we are really committed to.

Jesus said,

26 “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he cannot be my disciple. 27 And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. [Luke 14:26-27]

He also said,

13 “No servant can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.” [Mt. 6:24]

Let’s try to illustrate.  When an alien wishes to become a citizen of the United States of America he must renounce allegiance to his native land and take an oath of loyalty to the country of his choice. This does not mean that he cannot continue to think highly of the nation to which he has said Farewell, but it does mean that from now on he must serve the USA first and foremost.

In much the same way, we must be willing to renounce primary allegiance to everything other than the Lord.  We don’t literally hate these things but we do make them less important that our eternal relationship with God.

This sounds difficult because it IS difficult. This is something we can attain only by his help.  This leads to the third suggestion,

We must be committed one day at a time.

As we look at what commitment to Christ means it seems like too big of a mountain to climb.  It seems impossible.  However, if we truly knew at the start what was involved in raising children (the labor pain, the heartache, the emotion (good and bad).  If we knew that our heart would leap every time our child rejoiced but also break every time our child was disappointed, we might never have children.

If a couple knew all the hard work that was necessary to develop a true and lasting love, most couples would never get married.  If kids knew how much hard work and sacrifice was necessary to be a successful athlete most of them would never dream of becoming an athlete.

It is the same way with our walk with Christ.  Our goal is to live THIS day for Him.  We need to see this day’s encounters as our opportunity to faithfully share the words of hope.  We must view today’s decisions as a way to show our trust in God’s wisdom.  We must serve Him one day at a time.

To be honest, I am fascinated by Elisha’s response of faith.  I want to explain it by saying he had some extraordinary spirit in him.  I would like to think that this is not possible for the normal believer like me.  I know the truth in my heart, however.  The Holy Spirit lives in me as a true child of God. That same commitment is not only possible, it is necessary and desirable.   If I want to know the full blessing of God I have to be willing to follow Him without reservation.

I suppose we could all walk away and dismiss this as too convicting to give any attention to.  We could continue to serve half-heartedly while we try to keep one foot in the Kingdom and one foot in the world.  We could continue to go on pretending.  However, there is a better alternative and that is to learn from Elisha.  We must learn that following Christ calls for us to get off the fence and serve Him fully.  Because then and only then will God’s power be released in us and when that happens . . . who knows what God will be able to do through our lives?

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