1 Kings 19:15-16, 21
We cannot do ministry alone. In the Old Testament, we see that Moses didn’t do it alone by implementing a succession plan as he was nearing death. The Lord appointed Joshua as Moses’s successor and Moses publicly endorsed Joshua’s leadership. Also, during the last months of his life, Moses shared some of his leadership tasks with Joshua, thus preparing the younger man for his future leadership.
There is a similar story in the books of 1 and 2 Kings. Here, the main characters are the prophet Elijah and a younger prophet-in-training named Elisha. After Elijah led a miraculous, victorious battle with the prophets of Baal, his life was threatened by the evil queen Jezebel (1 Kings 18:20-19:3). So, Elijah escaped into the wilderness where he asked the Lord to take his life. But God had other plans for Elijah: plans that began with his making a 40-day trek to “Horeb, the mount of God” (19:8). There, while hiding in a cave, God was revealed to Elijah in “a sound of sheer silence” (19:12). The Lord gave Elijah new instructions, which involved anointing several future leaders, including “Elisha son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah as prophet in your place” (19:16). Elijah was to identify and authorize his prophetic replacement.
Elijah traveled to where Elisha was plowing a field and “threw his mantle over him” as a sign of the authority being invested in Elisha (1 Kings 19:19). Elisha, in response, said goodbye to his family, offered his farm equipment and animals in sacrifice to God, and “set out and followed Elijah, and became his servant” (19:21). Though Elijah had momentarily given his prophetic mantle to Elisha, the older prophet wasn’t done with his own prophetic career, however. With Elisha accompanying him as his servant, Elijah continued to prophesy for several years until, finally, he was taken up into heaven in a chariot of fire (2 Kings 2:11). After this, Elisha took up the mantle of Elijah full-time, both literally and figuratively, as he began his prophetic service.
Unfortunately, we know little about the relationship between Elijah and Elisha. We do know that Elisha was persistently loyal to Elijah, following him all the way to Elijah’s last moment on earth. Reading between the lines, it’s easy to imagine many of the ways Elijah influenced Elisha. What we see here, only from a distance, is a relationship we might describe as mentoring. Not only did Elijah teach Elisha many things, but also and perhaps even more importantly, the two men shared life together. They walked together for years before Elisha assumed Elijah’s role as God’s chief prophet.
The example of Elijah reaffirms what we learned from the life of Moses. Part of not doing it alone is recognizing that our time of leadership will come to an end. We need to invest our lives in those who will carry on after us. Moses did this with Joshua. Elijah did this with Elisha. But mentoring is not limited to relationships in which one person prepares another for a specific job. We can also experience what might be called “life mentoring,” where two people come together to discover how to live more fully and fruitfully as disciples of Jesus.
As we think about what it means for us to not do life and leadership alone, we ought to consider seriously our own need for mentoring relationships. When we are younger, we can benefit greatly from a relationship with a more mature mentor who comes alongside us, sharing life with us, asking thoughtful questions of us, and helping us become the person God intends for us to be. When we are older, we need to be open to the possibility that God wants us to mentor others, often someone who is younger than we are. When we offer to walk alongside another person, that is a great gift for that person, to be sure. It is also a gift to those who will benefit from the mentee’s life and leadership. Plus, scientific research shows that mentoring others is a gift to the mentor, contributing to brain health and a sense of purpose that is essential for flourishing in later life.
Allow me to suggest that you reflect upon your own life in light of the relationship between Elijah and Elisha. If you’re in an “Elisha time of life,” do you have an Elijah? Are you being mentored by someone? If you’re in an “Elijah season of life,” do you have at least one Elisha? Are you mentoring someone? An essential part of not doing it alone is developing mentoring relationships marked by open sharing of life, learning, and leadership.
Ask God about what you might do in this area. Do whatever God places on your heart.
Lord Jesus, thank You the mentors in my life. Help me to know, Lord, what I should do when it comes to mentoring. I also pray for my church, that we will be a place in which mentoring happens consistently. May we learn to come alongside others for the sake of learning and growth. To You be all the glory. Amen.
1 Peter 2:4-5
Last week, I wrote about our attitudes toward God’s construction project. Today, I want to look at the project itself. What is God building and why?
First, God is building “a spiritual house.” What is this “a spiritual house”? Given the context, it seems clear that “house” is a metaphor. But does “spiritual” suggest that it describes something non-physical and invisible? Not likely, given the context. The elements of God’s “spiritual house” are visible, physical beings, including Jesus Himself and all His followers. Moreover, the creation narrative, the incarnation, and the resurrection all emphasize that physical reality matters to God. So, a more likely reading is that God is building an embodied structure (what we might call an institution) that is inhabited by the Spirit and is one in which God will ultimately fully dwell (Revelation 21:2-3).
So, what might that imply for our view of the local church? For one, it challenges me to love and care for the institution of the local church, and not just the abstract ideal of the “true invisible church.” The local church, as a community and as an institution, is redeemed but still fallen, just as we are as individual believers. In the same way that we are committed to the sanctification of the individual, we should be committed to the sanctification of our local church community and institution, knowing that God alone will complete that work in the end.
Second, God’s building is meant to house a functioning, holy priesthood. And that priesthood is not intended, in the first instance, for a select few within the church. Instead, it is a description of God's role for all human beings. Humanity is meant to be God’s personal, embodied representative to creation. Made in the image of God, people are meant to convey God’s care to the world, and to convey the world’s cares back to God. Human beings, male and female, are meant to respond to the summons to fulfill God’s mission in the world, and to offer their service back to God with praise and thanksgiving.
Central to that priestly work is the notion of sacrifice. So, what might today’s text mean that we are to offer “spiritual sacrifices”? Does the adjective “spiritual” mean something mystical and ethereal? Again, I don’t think so. The Apostle Paul, using much the same imagery and language as the Apostle Peter, says that we are “to offer (our) bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God” (Romans 12:1). Eugene Peterson provides a helpful paraphrase for Paul’s words, “Take your everyday, ordinary life – your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life – and place it before God as an offering” (Romans 12:1 MSG). All of life and work are included in what constitutes “spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God.” And that means, among many other things, that the local church needs to make a liturgical space where the fruits of our life and labors can be brought to God on a regular basis.
But in what sense is the offering of our lives and work to be sacrificial? Sacrifices are costly, even a matter of life and death. Jesus taught, “Whoever wants to be My disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow Me” (Matthew 16:24). There are many ways each of us can live this out in our leadership and work. We carry the burdens of our team; we make painful decisions for the good of others; we give up our prerogatives so that others may flourish.
I want to focus for a moment on how this plays out in the context of the local church. Are we willing to sacrifice for the flourishing of our local church, the relational community, and the institution which embodies it? And why should the local church be that important to us? The answer for me lies in God’s intention for the local congregation to be a “living sacrifice” that models Christ’s sacrifice to the watching world. As Lesslie Newbigin once wrote, “local congregations are the hermeneutic of the gospel.” Each of our local communities is intended to be a demonstration of the gospel coming alive in practice.
Unlike Jesus, we do that imperfectly, of course. Nevertheless, in our weakness and in our struggles, we are to be signs of God’s coming Kingdom. The local church should be “precious” to us, because we are “being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”
Lord Jesus, we are grateful to be part of God’s house of which You are the Foundation and in which the Spirit dwells. Help us to be willing participants in the living structure that You are creating. Give grace to each of our local communities to be living sacrifices that point to Your great sacrifice on behalf of all.
We ask in Your Name, Amen.
1 Peter 2:4-5
As you come to Him, the living Stone – rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to Him – you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.
Yesterday, while in the office, I saw a pictorial history of the building of the church building on our Cerritos campus. There were pictures of different stages of the building as it went up. Praise God for the beautiful facility that He has blessed us with. As I reflected on the pictures, the building of the church became instructive as a metaphor for my relationship with God and the church. God too is involved in a construction project with me. Admittedly, it is a peculiar project. Instead of working with inanimate objects like wood and stone, God is constructing a building that is alive, made of human beings. Strangely, we are not only construction materials but participants in the construction process. As today’s text says, God is constructing a house made of “living stones.”
Today, I want to focus on our attitude toward the project, or perhaps more accurately, towards the construction material and the process of construction. There are three words in our text that form a continuum of how we feel about God’s project: “rejected,” “chosen,” and “precious.”
God’s construction project begins with the foundation or “cornerstone” (1 Peter 2:6), which is Jesus Christ Himself. How we deal with Jesus is essential to our participation in God’s construction project. If we reject Him, we cannot take part in it at all. But it is important to note that Jesus is not the whole building. He is “the living Stone,” but there are other “living stones” which are essential to God’s building. We are called not only into a relationship with Jesus but into a relationship with His followers in a community of faith. We cannot claim to “accept Jesus” and at the same time reject those He has called to Himself. As the Apostle John wrote long ago, “For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen” (1 John 4:20b).
So, we must choose and not reject the community of faith to which God has called us. Practically, that means becoming part of a local church where we can learn the ways of Jesus—which centrally includes being built into a living community of faith. We are both construction materials and construction participants in this work. God the Spirit is at work not only in us individually, but also with us in our relationships with one another.
Learning to love brothers and sisters who are quite different from us is hard and messy work. Loving Jesus who is sinless is a lot easier than loving your brother or sister who is not. No wonder Jesus’ final commandment to His disciples is: “Love each other as I have loved you” (John 15:12). Being part of a local faith community is costly work for each of us, but one which Jesus says is worth our very lives. And when all other hope fails, it is worth remembering that God is building something in the church that will not only endure into eternity, but where He will ultimately dwell in His fullness (Ephesians 1:23). The construction pictorial of the Cerritos sanctuary hints at God’s goal – something exceptionally functional and beautiful.
Finally, it is one thing to “choose” something and another to find it “precious.” We love our building project. I am sure at certain points, we got excited about the potential result. Of course, as in any constructions, there are times we get frustrated and even angry when things go wrong. But there is no mistake about how deeply we cared for the work, for the materials, and for the process. In the builder’s eyes, the project and all its aspects are “precious.” I find that challenging as I think about my attitude towards my local church.
How do you feel about your local church? What might God be calling you to work on in your relationships in your local community of faith?
Lord Jesus, we are grateful that You are the living cornerstone of God’s building project. Everything in God’s house is intended to be aligned with You and the way of life You taught and embodied. Help us to live faithfully before You.
Give us grace to love and live with one another as You have loved us.