Love or Self

The two words in the heading of this editorial are complete opposites. Self is very much gathering in for the needs and pleasures of the receiver and not giving out.

Cover Small.jpgThe two words in the heading of this editorial are complete opposites. Self is very much gathering in for the needs and pleasures of the receiver and not giving out. Love, on the other hand is to receive into the heart and giving it all out, and going beyond what is expected and giving more.

This topic has come to our attention of late. What initially started the interest was my studying and taking the Sabbath School lesson recently on “Love verses Selfishness”. This brought it into the forefront of my mind. We are presently reading the Conflict of the Ages set again for our morning and evening worships, and reading Prophets and Kings, have noticed the contrast more than in previous readings.

P1 1 John.jpgElijah

Elijah is one character that would be in the category of love. One may well ask, really? Elijah in the category of love? His ministry was of rebuke and sternness, but it also a ministry of love. Read on and you will see.

Since the split of the ten northern tribes from the two southern tribes of Judah and Benjamin, Israel had fallen further and further into apostasy. When Ahab took the throne, his marriage to Jezebel was his undoing. “From the beginning his reign was marked by a strange and terrible apostasy. His father, Omri, the founder of Samaria, had “wrought evil in the eyes of the Lord, and did worse than all that were before him,” but the sins of Ahab were even greater. He “did more to provoke the Lord God of Israel to anger than all the kings of Israel that were before him,” acting “as if it had been a light thing for him to walk in the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat.” Not content with encouraging the forms of religious service followed at Bethel and Dan, he boldly led the people into the grossest heathenism, by setting aside the worship of Jehovah for Baal worship. Taking to wife Jezebel, “the daughter of Ethbaal king of the Zidonians” and high priest of Baal, Ahab “served Baal, and worshiped him. And he reared up an altar for Baal in the house of Baal, which he had built in Samaria.” – Prophets and Kings, p.114

We often think that God raised up and sent Elijah into the midst of Ahab's palace, but it wasn't quite like that. “Among the mountains of Gilead, east of the Jordan, there dwelt in the days of Ahab a man of faith and prayer whose fearless ministry was destined to check the rapid spread of apostasy in Israel. Far removed from any city of renown, and occupying no high station in life, Elijah the Tishbite nevertheless entered upon his mission confident in God's purpose to prepare the way before him and to give him abundant success. The word of faith and power was upon his lips, and his whole life was devoted to the work of reform. His was the voice of one crying in the wilderness to rebuke sin and press back the tide of evil. And while he came to the people as a reprover of sin, his message offered the balm of Gilead to the sin-sick souls of all who desired to be healed.

“As Elijah saw Israel going deeper and deeper into idolatry, his soul was distressed and his indignation aroused. God had done great things for His people. He had delivered  them from bondage and given them ‘the lands of the heathen,... that they might observe His statutes, and keep His laws.’ But the beneficent designs of Jehovah were now well-nigh forgotten. Unbelief was fast separating the chosen nation from the Source of their strength. Viewing this apostasy from his mountain retreat, Elijah was overwhelmed with sorrow.” – Prophets and Kings, p.119,120

It was a deep hurt in Elijah's heart to see Israel slipping further and further from God. He prayed that God would intervene and do something for Elijah's own people.

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“Elijah's prayer was answered. Oft-repeated appeals, remonstrance, and warnings had failed to bring Israel to repentance. The time had come when God must speak to them by means of judgments…To Elijah was entrusted the mission of delivering to Ahab Heaven's message of judgment. He did not seek to be the Lord's messenger; the word of the Lord came to him. And jealous for the honor of God's cause, he did not hesitate to obey the divine summons, though to obey seemed to invite swift destruction at the hand of the wicked king. The prophet set out at once and traveled night and day until he reached Samaria. At the palace he solicited no admission, nor waited to be formally announced. Clad in the coarse garments usually worn by the prophets of that time, he passed the guards, apparently unnoticed, and stood for a moment before the astonished king.

“Elijah made no apology for his abrupt appearance. A Greater than the ruler of Israel had commissioned him to speak; and, lifting his hand toward heaven, he solemnly affirmed by the living God that the judgments of the Most High were about to fall upon Israel. ‘As the Lord God of Israel liveth, before whom I stand,’ he declared, ‘there shall not be dew nor rain these years, but according to my word.’” – Prophets and Kings, p.120,121

The burden of Elijah was so strong, his heart of love for his people did not stay in his heart. When God called, he responded immediately and gave himself unreservedly to correct the course of his nation, to turn their hearts and allegiance back to God . “It was only by the exercise of strong faith in the unfailing power of God's word that Elijah delivered his message. Had he not possessed implicit confidence in the One whom he served, he would never have appeared before Ahab.”  — Prophets and Kings, p.121

A man of no station in life, to the execution of the four hundred and fifty priests of Baal on Mt Carmel, Elijah did not flinch in his faith, or give in to doubt that God had called him. After the great ordeal to glorify God in this apostate nation, Elijah did give in to the life threatening roar of Jezebel, but no until is work on Mt Carmel was completed.

Even outside of Israel, when the brook Cherith was dried up, Elijah was taken by inspiration to the widow of Zarephath, in the land of Zidon, where God had prepared a refuge for him. He met the widow as he came to the entrance gates of that city and was kindly to her, asking for some water and a morsel of bread. The woman was kindly to Elijah as well and due to her kindness to Elijah, she, her son and Elijah were fed for the rest of the days of the drought.

But in that time of Elijah's stay, the widow's son died. Being a widow losing her one and only son would have been a huge loss to her. She cried mightily and queried why her son had died. Instead of turning her away to grieve over the loss of her boy, Elijah as compassion on her and becomes the instrument of God to restore the life of that dead son – and God, who has the keys to unlock the grave, performed the miracle and brought him back to life. Elijah not only performed his part in bringing the boy back to life, but also brought him down from his bedroom and presented him back to his mother. The widow's response, ”And the woman said to Elijah, Now by this I know that thou art a man of God, and that the word of the LORD in thy mouth is truth.” — I Kings 17:24

P3 The Southern Work.jpgThe record of the ministry of Elijah only lasted three chapters, in I Kings 17-19, then again in one and a half chapters in II Kings, being chapters 1 and half of 2. But that ministry has had a huge impact on the church from that time forward. Malachi refers to Elijah's ministry right at the end of the Old Testament, Jesus referred to Elijah's ministry many times in the gospels, Paul referred to his work of ministry in Romans 11:2 as did James in chapter 5:17.

Such a short ministry with such long lasting results – right until the end of time. “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD.” — Malachi 4:5

“In this time of well-nigh universal apostasy, God calls upon His messengers to proclaim His law in the spirit and power of Elias. As John the Baptist, in preparing a people for Christ's first advent, called their attention to the Ten Commandments, so we are to give, with no uncertain sound, the message: ‘Fear God, and give glory to him; for the hour of his judgment is come.’ With the earnestness that characterized Elijah the prophet and John the Baptist, we are to strive to prepare the way for Christ's Second Advent.” — The Southern Work, 21/3/1905.

Elijah had a love for his people, he so willingly carried out the command of God to do all he could in his power to draw the people the true and living God – and that ministry was extreme and profound. It needed to be for the conditions of Israel at the time. His was truly a ministry of love to endeavour to win the hearts of a wayward and stiff-necked people to the Lord their God.

Ahab

Contemporary to Elijah, and also very involved in the same era, but on the other side of Elijah's ministry of love for his people, Ahab had a very different motive and direction.
“And in the thirty and eighth year of Asa king of Judah began Ahab the son of Omri to reign over Israel: and Ahab the son of Omri reigned over Israel in Samaria twenty and two years. And Ahab the son of Omri did evil in the sight of the LORD above all that were before him… And Ahab made a grove; and Ahab did more to provoke the LORD God of Israel to anger than all the kings of Israel that were before him.” — I Kings 16:29,30,33

Perhaps one could say, Ahab's biggest problem was his wife, Jezebel! But he also had choices to make, and he made bad ones. “Ahab was weak in moral power. His union by marriage with an idolatrous woman of decided character and positive temperament resulted disastrously both to himself and to the nation. Unprincipled, and with no high standard of right-doing, his character was easily molded by the determined spirit of Jezebel. His selfish nature was incapable of appreciating the mercies of God to Israel and his own obligations as the guardian and leader of the chosen people.” — Prophets and Kings, p.115

Elijah caught Ahab completely when he strode into the palace and confronted Ahab with a brief and abrupt message that it would not rain for three and a half years. Israel had become so bad that God stepped in, bypassed all royal protocol, and used a humble prophet to curb the continuation of apostasy, but also to let Ahab know that he wasn't in control of Israel in his unwise choices, neither was his wife, Jezebel. God was going to show who really was in control.

True to the prediction, it didn't rain for those three and a half years, and when the time was up, Elijah showed up and God took over the events on Mt Carmel and proved beyond doubt that He was in control. But in all this, it didn't cure Ahab's selfishness. His wife was no help to him at all.

“The evil influence that Jezebel had exercised from the first over Ahab continued during the later years of his life and bore fruit in deeds of shame and violence such as have seldom been equaled in sacred history. 'There was none like unto Ahab, which did sell himself to work wickedness in the sight of the Lord, whom Jezebel his wife stirred up.'

“Naturally of a covetous disposition, Ahab, strengthened and sustained in wrongdoing by Jezebel, had followed the dictates of his evil heart until he was fully controlled by the spirit of selfishness. He could brook no refusal of his wishes; the things he desired he felt should by right be his.

NabothP4 Prophets and Kings.jpg

“Hard by the palace of the king was a vineyard belonging to Naboth, a Jezreelite. Ahab set his heart on possessing this vineyard, and he proposed to buy it or else to give in exchange for it another piece of land. 'Give me thy vineyard,' he said to Naboth, 'that I may have it for a garden of herbs, because it is near unto my house: and I will give thee for it a better vineyard than it; or, if it seem good to thee, I will give thee the worth of it in money.'

“Naboth valued his vineyard highly because it had belonged to his fathers, and he refused to part with it. 'The Lord forbid it me,' he said to Ahab, 'that I should give the inheritance of my fathers unto thee.' According to the Levitical code no land could be transferred permanently by sale or exchange; every one of the children of Israel must 'keep himself to the inheritance of the tribe of his fathers.’” — Prophets and Kings, p.204,205

As he felt beaten, he went inside his palace downcast because he didn't get his own way and Jezebel organised that he would get his way. This experience of Israel's king, aided by his heathen and ruthless wife, was an utter disgrace of how far extreme selfishness will go.

“Jezebel soon learned the particulars, and, indignant that anyone should refuse the request of the king, she assured Ahab that he need no longer be sad. 'Dost thou now govern the kingdom of Israel?' she said. 'Arise, and eat bread, and let thine heart be merry: I will give thee the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite.'

“Ahab cared not by what means his wife might accomplish the desired object, and Jezebel immediately proceeded to carry out her wicked purpose. She wrote letters in the name of the king, sealed them with his signet, and sent them to the elders and nobles of the city where Naboth dwelt, saying: 'Proclaim a fast, and set Naboth on high among the people: and set two men, sons of Belial, before him, to bear witness against him, saying, Thou didst blaspheme God and the king. And then carry him out, and stone him, that he may die.’

“The command was obeyed. 'The men of his city, even the elders and the nobles, ... did as Jezebel had ... written in the letters which she had sent unto them.' Then Jezebel went to the king and bade him arise and take the vineyard. And Ahab, heedless of the consequences, blindly followed her counsel and went down to take possession of the coveted property.’” — Prophets and Kings, p.205,206

Naboth was subsequently murdered and Ahab received his desired vineyard. But Ahab's elation of his vineyard was short-lived.

“The king was not allowed to enjoy unrebuked that which he had gained by fraud and bloodshed. 'The word of the Lord came to Elijah the Tishbite, saying, Arise, go down to meet Ahab king of Israel, which is in Samaria: behold, he is in the vineyard of Naboth, whither he is gone down to possess it. And thou shalt speak unto him, saying, Thus saith the Lord, Hast thou killed, and also taken possession?' And the Lord further instructed Elijah to pronounce upon Ahab a terrible judgment.

“The prophet hastened to carry out the divine command. The guilty ruler, meeting the stern messenger of Jehovah face to face in the vineyard, gave voice to his startled fear in the words, 'Hast thou found me, O mine enemy?'

“Without hesitation the messenger of the Lord replied, 'I have found thee: because thou hast sold thyself to work evil in the sight of the Lord. Behold, I will bring evil upon thee, and will take away thy posterity.' No mercy was to be shown. The house of Ahab was to be utterly destroyed… It was less than three years later that King Ahab met his death at the hands of the Syrians…

“And of Jezebel the Lord declared, 'The dogs shall eat Jezebel by the wall of Jezreel. Him that dieth of Ahab in the city the dogs shall eat; and him that dieth in the field shall the fowls of the air eat.’” — Prophets and Kings, p.206,207

P5 Elijah.jpgLove or Self

In these two contrasting cases, one being Elijah, completely selfless and deeply concerned for his people, risked all of his favourable reputation, willingly obeyed God's command to do a mighty work to try to bring reform to Israel – and a mighty work he did – at the peril of his life which was threatened by the queen of the time, Jezebel.

On the other hand, there was Ahab, selfish, weak-willed and willing to be controlled by a loud, deceiving, raucous woman, who got all he desired, actually finished up very empty. Both Ahab and Jezebel finished up in horrible deaths. Ahab was destroyed at the hands of their enemy, Syria. Jezebel finished up falling off the wall of the palace onto the ground below and cleaned up by the dogs of the town.

A very important lesson for us to learn from this editorial. Elijah, a man of high integrity, zealous for the cause of God with a love for his people, denied his own comforts to do a mighty work for God, was rewarded with a ride from earth to heaven in a heavenly chariot, to receive life eternal.

Ahab, a man pleasing only himself, taking the lives of others to please his uncontrolled lusts, passions and wants, was rewarded by death at the hands of an enemy, only to secure eternal death.

What a lesson for us, friends. As you consider the above words, consider the choices you are making on a daily basis.

What sort of a character are you forming?

What gives the greatest pleasure to you?

What are your priorities?

Is it to gain for yourself and heap treasures up around you, and no one dare touch it? Or is it to have a genuine love and desire to serve and give to others, even at the suffering and denial of your own wants, or even needs?

“I was shown the saints’ reward, the immortal inheritance. Then I was shown how much God’s people had endured for the truth’s sake, and that they would count heaven cheap enough. They reckoned that the sufferings of this present time were not worthy to be compared with the glory which should be revealed in them.

“The people of God in these last days will be tried, but soon their last trial will come, and then they will receive the gift of eternal life. — Testimonies for the Church, vol.1, p.432

Love or Self? Each one of us make decisions every day. Most of our decisions will be based on whether we have a love to serve ourselves and only ourselves, or whether we choose to make decisions based on a heart for other souls. What is the motive for our decisions?

Love or Self!  Which will it be dear friends? It is our prayer that each of you will choose the love of God, and live for the good of your own well-being and the well-being of others.

 

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