Reading 1 - 2Ki 4:1-7
"The wife of a man from the company of the prophets cried out to Elisha, 'Your servant my husband is dead, and you know that he revered the LORD. But now his creditor is coming to take my two boys as his slaves.' Elisha replied to her, 'How can I help you? Tell me, what do you have in your house?' 'Your servant has nothing there at all,' she said, 'except a little oil.' Elisha said, 'Go around and ask all your neighbors for empty jars. Don't ask for just a few. Then go inside and shut the door behind you and your sons. Pour oil into all the jars, and as each is filled, put it to one side.' She left him and afterward shut the door behind her and her sons. They brought the jars to her and she kept pouring. When all the jars were full, she said to her son, 'Bring me another one.' But he replied, 'There is not a jar left.' Then the oil stopped flowing. She went and told the man of God, and he said, 'Go, sell the oil and pay your debts. You and your sons can live on what is left' " (2Ki 4:1-7).
Widowed, childless, and past 80 years of age, Bill Cruxton wanted his $500,000 fortune to make a difference in someone's life. A 17-year-old waitress who had been kind to him seemed the perfect choice. So when Cruxton died on November 9, 1992 he left the bulk of his estate to Cara Wood, a high school senior who befriended him during the 13 months she worked part-time at a restaurant. Even after she quit her job, Cara kept in touch with Cruxton, running errands for him and helping him around the house. Because of his poor eyesight, she often helped him read his mail and pay his bills.
Like Cara Wood, the widow here became the recipient of another's wealth. But the riches she received came from the hand of God. The woman had known great heartache. She had lost her husband, who was of the men from the "company of the prophets". Soon she would lose her sons as well, since they were about to become slaves. The Mosaic Law gave a creditor the right to claim the person and children of a debtor who was unable to pay. They were obliged to serve as the creditor's hired workers until the year of Jubilee, when they were set free (Lev 25:39-41).
It was not a happy prospect, and the prophet Elisha, who knew her husband's devotion to the Lord, wanted to help this desperate widow. When he learned that she had nothing in her house but a small flask of oil, he told her to collect from her neighbors as many empty jars as she could -- leaving the number of jars, and the size of her faith, up to her. The woman was to shut herself and her sons inside the house and pour from her flask until all of the jars were full. Nobody else was to see or know about the miracle. Nobody needed to know about it, or Elisha would surely have been swamped with "business offers".
The woman did as Elisha instructed, and had enough oil to pay her debts and live off the rest. God's prophets were not only messengers of His judgment, but instruments of His miraculous provision for His people.
Reading 2 - Jer 52, conclusion
Jeremiah's life is one of the loneliest and saddest in Scripture. His personal experiences were bitter; the message of disaster he had to proclaim was depressing and unwelcome; and the times in which he lived were of unparalleled calamity. His cause was lost from the beginning, because the people would not hear him. He was everywhere hated and misunderstood. While intensely loving and grieving for his countrymen and his nation, he was despised and persecuted as an enemy and a traitor.
In a short period of 40 years Jeremiah witnessed a temporary resurgence of true worship, saw it fall victim first to Egypt (Josiah's death), then to Babylon and finally watched it destroy itself while trying to break free from Babylon. His books reflect the tragic drama of the situation. Out of his agony, and the agony of his people, comes the sombre note of lamentation.
When Jeremiah began his ministry, he and Josiah were about the same age. It is truly touching watching these two young men -- prophet and king -- labouring to turn the nation to righteousness as the smoldering judgments of God hovered over the land; just as two young men -- a prophet and a king -- John and Jesus, did in the days of the nation's final judgment.
It is notable that Jeremiah's ministry began just forty years before the destruction of Jerusalem and the burning of the Temple by the Babylonians, as recorded in the Lamentations. We remember that Jesus began his ministry just forty years before the destruction of Jerusalem and the burning of the Temple by the Romans. In each case we see a period of final probation given to the city.
Jeremiah's mission was to witness for God against apostate and worldly Judah. But his work was not only as a witness of condemnation; it had a far more glorious purpose. It was to encourage and strengthen the scattered, faithful remnant -- of his own day and of all the ages since. And in our present time of crisis for the Truth, and imminent judgment, its message of comfort has great and sustaining power.
When the terrible judgments came, it would appear that God had completely rejected Israel, and that all hope was gone. But the lonely prophet with his message of eventual glory was a symbol that God was still concerned with them although they had been unfaithful, and his prophecies gave comforting assurance that those who held fast would never be forgotten, and that, though these dreadful evils should come, the latter end would be blessing and peace.
Reading 3 - 1Co 13:4-7
"Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres" (1Co 13:4-7).
God is a jealous God. He demands all our love and attention. But because we love God the more, do we love our brethren less? Our love for God is different from our love for another person. If we truly love God, we will show our love for Him in practical expressions of love for others. True divine love does not exclude human love; rather, it enhances it.
1Co 13:4-7 above contain a dozen or so characteristics of Scriptural "love". We shall consider each one in turn:
"Love is patient": We have the example of Christ, who patiently taught his disciples and time after time helped them when they stumbled and lacked faith. Undoubtedly there were times when he wanted to throw up his hands and abandon the effort altogether, for they were so slow to learn and so bent on maintaining their own natural affections. But he loved them dearly; he loved them despite their inadequacies; he prayed for them; and he persisted until his efforts began to bear fruit. Can we do any less for our brethren?
"Love is kind": This English word "kind" is one of those pale, sentimental words that just does no justice to the original. We should say, instead, that love is considerate -- showing an active, involved concern for the needs of others, even to the detriment of one's own comfort. We probably all think of ourselves as being "kind", for we certainly are never "unkind"! Are we?
"If a brother or sister is ill-clad and in lack of daily food, and one of you says to them, 'Go in peace, be warmed and filled,' without giving them the things needed for the body, what does it profit?" (Jam 2:15,16).
There are times when a "kind word" is no more than hypocrisy, because it masks a failure to help in any practical way. Have we ever been guilty of such an act, in a benign, "friendly" indifference to the circumstances of others? Then we may have been courteous and civil and pleasant, but we have not been "kind" in the Scriptural sense, and we have not been loving.
"Love does not envy": The divergence of gifts among the Corinthians was a cause of envy. Likewise, envy can result today from comparisons between brethren: "Who is the better speaker?" "Why was he elected Arranging Brother?" "So-and-so wants to run everything. Who put him (or her) in charge?" The person who can ask such questions does not have at heart the best interests of the whole body. Jealousy, or envy, is a terrible disease, and often fatal in the spiritual sense. It destroys its originator much more quickly than the one at whom it is directed.
"Love does not boast... is not proud": Envy and boasting are quite closely related. They both stem from the same basic problem: love of self rather than love of others. True love does not have to be pushy. It does not need attention. It can afford to wait. Remember what Jesus said of the arrogant Pharisees -- who did their works to be seen of men: "They already have their reward." Let this not be said of us.
"Love is not rude": There is a right way and a wrong way to do almost anything. Sometimes a gentle admonition or even a stern rebuke needs to be administered. It is possible to be in the right -- even to say the right thing -- but to say it in absolutely the wrong way. A criticism may be correct in every particular, but if it is delivered with a superior or proud or overbearing manner it will not achieve a good result. As always, the principle is consideration for others: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. In short... love.
"Love is not self-seeking": Have you ever participated in a three-legged race? You may be the fastest runner at the picnic, but you'll wind up sprawled on the grass unless you can adapt yourself to the style of your partner. This principle also holds true in the ecclesia. We are all members of the one body, and we must learn to function as a unit. We are "yoked together" with our brethren in many endeavors; we cannot always choose the way that pleases us most.
Your way of doing things may always be the best, but it won't always be the one chosen by the majority. Then what do you do? Go along or "drop out"? There have been cases of members leaving meetings because of absolutely trivial disagreements, in which they failed to get their own way and just could not bend enough to go along with others. And they, and sometimes their families, have paid for that stubbornness with twenty or thirty years of self-imposed isolation.
There is an extremely illuminating passage in this connection:
"For even Christ pleased not himself" (Rom 15:3). Just six little words, but a world of exhortation and self-examination. If even Christ did not please himself, who are we to think that things should always go our way? Who are we to please ourselves in everything?
"Love is not easily angered": A person possessing the true love of God has a peace of mind that no other has. In the midst of strife and controversy, he maintains a calm and reasoning mind, and a disposition to peacemaking. He has that same inner serenity that sustained Christ through his great trials. A person in such a frame of mind cannot be offended by others. He is not provoked to backbiting or vengeance. He relies upon the grace of God, he knows that there is a final judgment that will right all wrongs, and he is not concerned about what man may do to him in the meanwhile. If God is for him, who can be against him?
"Love delights not in evil, but in truth": If ever a thought might be coupled with "Let a man examine himself", surely this is it! Don't we all do this? Don't we all listen to gossip and rumors and evil insinuations? Don't we all -- sometimes -- derive pleasure from the shortcomings of others, especially those who have previously appeared to be models of uprightness?
We judge ourselves by the standards of others, and when we do this we are glad to see them fall. We tend to think we are lifted up in proportion as our brother is cast down. But when we live by this standard we are completely corrupting Paul's teachings of the unity of Christ's body and the dependence of one member upon another. These lofty ideas lose their meaning when cooperation is replaced by competition.
"Love always protects": We need go no further than Christ's example. Christ bore our sins in his body on the tree, and more than that he bore our sorrows that he might be a perfect mediator.
The mind lingers on a picture, perhaps well-known to many. One boy with a younger one on his back. "He ain't heavy. He's my brother!" Strain is obviously there, but he bears his burden gladly. All things are relative, aren't they? Yes, in more ways than one! We are willing to do for our families what seems intolerable if done for others. Do we sit in the meeting on Sunday morning, and feel that those with whom we break bread are really our family? Or are our expressions of "Brother Smith" and "Sister Jones" merely a formal, stylized address? Let us live that family relationship of which the Bible speaks so often; let us rejoice with them that rejoice, and weep with them that weep. Let us "bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ" (Gal 6:2).
"Love always hopes... always perseveres": The Christian's life of love is a joyful existence. In the midst of sorrows and pains, he rejoices in the great gifts of the Creator. His eye is firmly set upon the hope that rises as a mountain before him. There may be a valley to traverse before he reaches that distant peak. But he never takes his eye off that glorious future; and all life's little annoyances and inconveniences are seen for what they are -- stepping stones en route to the Kingdom. Paul says in another place: "I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound; everywhere and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me" (Phi 4:12,13).
All that God has given us -- riches, talents, intelligence, health -- diminishes with the passing of time. Man grows old and dies. Only love remains, as a bridge between this life and the life to come, a bridge over the chasm of eternal nothingness. Every other gift or talent will fail, just as the Holy Spirit gifts finally ceased. The only thing that endures is the character of man, engraved in the infinite mind of God.