Spiritual progress

The underlying message of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians was spiritual progress. Paul started by depicting his work of preaching the gospel as laying a foundation that others could build on (1 Corinthians 3:10), then he identified the type of building that was being constructed by asking the rhetorical question, “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?” (1 Corinthians 3:16, ESV). The analogy of building a house for God was Paul’s way of explaining the slow, but steady spiritual progress believers were expected to make in their growth as a Christian. When Paul talked about celebrating the Lord’s supper and receiving spiritual gifts, he was explaining to the Corinthians a spiritual process that sometimes takes place outside of our awareness. Afterward, Paul stated, “But earnestly desire the best gifts. And yet I show you a more excellent way” (1 Corinthians 12:31, NKJV).

The excellent way of love that Paul described in 1 Corinthians 13 was about an intentional effort to grow in one’s faith. Paul wanted the Corinthians to understand that there would come a time in their spiritual growth when they would have to work harder if they wanted to continue to make progress. Paul instructed the Corinthians to “Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy” (1 Corinthians 14:1, ESV), then he went on to explain that speaking in tongues compared to prophesy was useless in building up the body of Christ. He stated, “The one who speaks in a tongue builds up himself, but the one who prophesies builds up the church” (1 Corinthians 14:4). The point I believe Paul was trying to make was that increased spiritual progress has more to do with helping others to grow than helping ourselves.

The Greek word Paul used to describe spiritual progress was oikodomeo (oy-kod-om-eh’-o). Oikodomeo, as a verb, means literally “to build a house” (G3618). Paul may have wanted the Corinthians to understand that when Jesus said, “I go to prepare a place for you” (John 14:2), he was talking about an actual house or place for them to live in. Paul clarified this point in a letter he later wrote to Timothy. He said, “but if I am delayed, I write so that you may know how you ought to conduct yourself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15, NKJV). Paul was writing to Timothy about leaders in the church setting a good example for others. Paul’s reference to “how you ought to conduct yourself” meant that he was looking for a certain type of behavior in mature Christians and told Timothy that godliness was a great mystery (1 Timothy 3:16).

The Greek word translated mystery in 1 Timothy 3:16 is musterion (moos-tay’-ree-on). In the New Testament musterion “denotes, not the mysterious (as with the English word), but that which, being outside the range of unassisted natural apprehension, can be made known only by divine revelation, and is made known in a manner and at a time appointed by God, and to those only who are illumined by His Spirit…its Scriptural significance is truth revealed” (G3466). Paul eluded to this in 1 Corinthians 14:19 when he said, “Yet in church I had rather speak five words with my understanding, that by my voice I might teach others also, than ten thousand words in an unknown tongue.” Regarding spiritual progress, Paul was saying that being able to teach others the truth of God’s word through the anointing of the Holy Spirit was the ultimate expression of godliness or Christlike character.

The future

During Elisha’s ministry, the focus of God’s plan for the Israelites shifted from their past and present to their future. God used Elisha to manage the transition. Elisha’s reputation became a vehicle for him to minister to leaders inside and outside of Israel. Because people began to believe in God again, Elisha was able to direct everyone’s attention toward the change that was about to take place.

Israel’s relationship with Syria had become more and more of a problem as they fell into idolatry. King Ahab’s covenant with Ben-hadad had done little to ward off attacks. Ben-hadad II was not as ruthless as his father, but was still determined to keep the Israelites from breaking free from his control. In order to starve them to death, “Ben-hadad king of Syria gathered all his host, and went up, and besieged Samaria” (2 Kings 6:24).

The word translated besieged, tswur (tsoor) means to cramp or confine (6696). Basically, what Ben-hadad did was surround Samaria with his army so the people couldn’t go out and get food. Eventually, the situation got so bad, “an ass’s head sold for fourscore pieces of silver, and the fourth part of a kab of dove’s dung for five pieces of silver” (2 Kings 6:25).

“Then Elisha said, Hear ye the word of the LORD; Thus saith the LORD, To morrow about this time shall a measure of fine flour be sold for a shekel, and two measures of barley for a shekel, in the gate of Samaria” (2 Kings 7:1). Elisha’s prediction indicated that the situation would be turned around overnight. For the most part, people were used to seeing Elisha perform miracles, but the dramatic change he described was beyond people’s comprehension.

“Then a lord on whose hand the king leaned answered the man of God, and said, Behold, if the LORD would make windows in heaven, might this thing be? (2 Kings 7:2). What he was referring to was God’s blessing flowing freely to his people. The people  of Israel were so steeped in sin that it was unimaginable that God would suddenly make everything right.

What the people of Israel still didn’t seem to understand was that God’s blessing wasn’t dependent on them being good. God didn’t bless the Israelites because they were good people. God blessed the Israelites because they were his people. “And it came to pass as the man of God had spoken” (2 Kings 7:18).

The Israelites unbelief was the real reason God kept punishing them. In spite of continual demonstrations of his miraculous power, the people of Israel would not give up their idolatry and worship God. Finally, God brought judgment on the people of Israel through Ben-hadad’s successor, Hazael. After seeing a vision of what Hazael would do to Israel, Elisha wept.

And Hazael said, Why weepeth my lord? And he answered, Because I know the evil that thou wilt do unto the children of Israel: their strong holds wilt thou set on fire, and their young men wilt thou slay with the sword, and wilt dash their children, and rip  up their women with child. (2 Kings 8:12)