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Order Of Worship (Liturgy)
Life for a widow can be lonely and hard. My mother was a widow for close to 25 years, during which time she often worked two jobs. When my father died at age 45, our family was deep in debt. He had no life insurance, and because of their indebtedness, my mother spent the next quarter-century living a very frugal life, working hard to pay off the debt that had accumulated when my father was yet alive.
Although my mother’s life was not easy as a widow, it was not nearly as severe as the life that this unnamed widow in second Kings Chapter 4 had. This widow, like my mother, was a godly widow. We see from verse 1 that she had been the wife of a man from the company of the prophets. The company of the prophets was an ancient version, you might say, of seminary professors. They were teachers of God’s word and they came under severe persecution.
Whether the widow’s husband had been put to death by wicked Queen Jezebel, who put many other prophets of the Lord to death, or whether he died by natural causes, is not recorded. But we do know that she had two sons with her husband. And now that she was deep in debt, unable to pay her creditors, her sons were about to be taken away in order to be slaves to the creditor.
That sounds very harsh to us, but that was permitted by the Law of Moses. And that's also why when God gave Moses the law he made provision for the freeing of slaves so that they would not be in perpetual servitude because of debt. And the Lord also made provision for a kinsman redeemer, such as Boaz who rescued – redeemed – Ruth and Naomi.
But this widow apparently did not have nearby kin to serve as a kinsman redeemer. Consequently, the creditor was ready to take her sons and use them as his slaves. That sounds so harsh to us, but it also reminds us of a truth that we don’t think about often enough, especially in our culture where so many people use credit without thinking of the consequences.
The widow’s debt reminds us that anyone who borrows becomes the servant of the lender. Proverbs 22:7 spells that out clearly: The rich rules over the poor, and the borrower is the slave of the lender. But that isn't what you read when you get an offer from a credit card company, is it?
The offers are always tempting, telling how we can have what we want now and pay for it conveniently later, often with no interest for the first 6 or 12 months. However, I have never received a letter from a credit card company that gives the biblical view on credit card debt, that the borrower is a slave to the lender. Never have I received a letter that read: “Congratulations, you are pre-approved as an honorable slave. Based on your repayment history, you would make a good one!” But that is exactly what happens when you go into credit card debt.
And you know as well as I know that there are many millions of people who have sunk themselves into so much debt that they will never dig their way out. And when the bills are not paid, the borrower may lose everything. That was the case with this widow. Her husband had died. She was deep in debt. She had no means to pay the bills that she owed. And the creditor was coming to take her two boys as his slaves.
Because of her situation, and because she was godly, she looked to the servant of the Lord for help. She 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?”
There are many people today, deep in debt, unable to pay their creditors, who would evade the answer to Elisha’s question. They would want to evade his question, “Tell me, what do you have in your house?” because their house is filled with things that they went out and bought on credit and now cannot afford to pay for.
But that was not the case with this widow. She obviously had not gone out and spent money recklessly. Instead, she apparently used the funds that had been borrowed to supply food for her sons, and to provide a meager living for as long as she could before the bottom fell out.
She replied to Elisha, “Your servant has nothing at all, except a little oil.” The oil that she had was common, yet essential. It was used for baking, for cooking. Undoubtedly it was not a full jar of oil, it was probably close to the bottom of the jar.
Nevertheless, Elisha told her to go around and ask all of her neighbors for empty jars. He said, “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.”
As the widow did what Elisha had told her to do, enlisting the help of her sons, do you think she marveled, as a godly woman, at how God can, and often does, use that which is small, insignificant and unusual for great blessing? It should not be surprising that from one little jar all the other vessels would be filled.
After all, from one family on earth came the entire nation of Israel. And that nation is not just the physical nation of Israel, but the Israel of God, all those who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and are saved from their sin are descendants of Abraham, justified, as he was, by faith in God. And how many Christians are there? Can you count the number of grains of sand on the seashore? Can you number the stars in the sky? If you can, then you know the number of believers throughout all of history who will be in the glory of heaven together – in the new heavens and the new earth reigning and ruling with Christ eternally.
The entire church, Old Testament and New, is one family, all descendants of Abraham, for If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. (Galatians 3:29). And to top it off, you know the age of Abraham and Sarah. At the time of Isaac’s birth – Isaac being “the child of promise” – Abraham was 100 and Sarah 90 years old. Truly, “What is impossible with man is possible with God.” (Luke 18:27)
Or, to look at it another way, consider the twelve disciples. These were twelve very common men, some like Peter, a fisherman, or, like Matthew, a tax collector. Luke seems to have been the most educated, a doctor. But from these twelve men – of whom one was a terrible impostor – the New Testament church was born.
Bible scholar FF Bruce has written a book on church history with an appropriate title. Instead of your standard History of the Church, or The Church Through the Ages he simply titled the book, The Spreading Flame. It is an appropriate title because the New Testament church has spread like a flame. From twelve common men who followed a carpenter’s son, the world has been profoundly changed as the New Testament church has spread the gospel message around the world.
And that should not surprise us. With God all things are possible. God is able to use what is small and insignificant in your life and my life to be a great blessing, just as he did with a widow so long ago.
Responding in Faith and Obedience
However, a second truth that we see in this passage is that we must respond in faith and obedience to realize the blessings of God. Consider what the widow could have said. She could have repeated her initial statement, “Your servant has nothing... at all, except a little oil.” And then she could have offered a protest, “The little bit of oil I have certainly can’t fill all sorts of jars from my neighbors!”
Most of us would probably understand if she had expressed doubt about the solution that Elisha was offering her. After all, have we always responded in trusting faith to the commands of God? Would it not be understandable if she responded as Sarah did? You recall that Sarah laughed when the Lord said she would have a child at an elderly age.
But, instead, this widow responded with faith. She and her sons went to her neighbors and asked for jars, even though it must have seemed like an unusual request coming from her. The neighbors were undoubtedly surprised. What would a poor widow lady and her two sons, who had nothing to speak of, on the verge of bankruptcy, do with a bunch of empty jars?
Her act of faith teaches us that to realize God’s blessings we must respond in faith and obedience to the word of God. That is essentially what Jesus said, when he said to the blind men who desired to be healed, “According to your faith be it done to you.” (Matthew 9:29)
I realize that prosperity preachers have taken those words of Jesus totally out of context. They have declared that we simply need to “name it and claim it,” and if we have enough faith God will provide whatever we want, just as surely as he provided oil for this poor widow so long ago.
But while we recognize the false claims of the prosperity preachers, many of us who are Reformed in our theology do not seem to give credence to the power of faith that is exercised in a Christian’s life. We can so easily reason that since God ordained all things and all things are in his sovereign hands, our exercise of his gift of faith will not have a consequence on the realization of his blessings.
Yet again Jesus assures us, “According to your faith be it done to you.” And again, in Matthew 17:20, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”
Many of us need to learn to exercise our faith through increased obedience to the commands of God, just as this widow responded with great faith and obedience to the command that God’s servant gave her, – even though it was an unusual request.
God Knows and Meets the Needs of His People
A third truth in this passage is that God knows and meets the needs of his people, and he has a special concern for the widow and orphan. In our responsive reading we read those familiar words from Matthew 6 where Jesus says, “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?”
The words of Jesus are, in a certain sense, illustrated by this unique passage of Scripture in 2 Kings 4. Both the widow and Elisha trusted, with a child-like faith, that God would work through whatever means were necessary to provide for his people. After filling all the jars with oil, the woman went to Elisha and told him that all the jars were full. He showed no surprise; he simply said, “Go, sell the oil and pay your debts. You and your sons can live on what is left.”
God knew the needs of that widow, and God enabled her to provide for herself and her sons. He knows your needs and mine as well. He does feed the birds of the air and he does clothe the lilies of the field. No wonder Jesus said, “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?”
And as the Lord provided for this widow, whose name we do not know, we can be fully assured that the Lord knew her name. We can be sure that he called her by name and had a special concern for her as a widow. Psalm 146:9 says, The LORD watches over the sojourners; he upholds the widow and the fatherless, but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin. Proverbs 15:25 adds, The LORD will tear down the house of the proud, But he will establish the boundary of the widow.
What a blessing that the Lord watches over His people! What a blessing that he expresses special care for widows and the fatherless! In the Old Testament era it was very hard to be a widow. Admittedly, there were laws for gleaning in the fields so that widows could provide for themselves. There was also the provision of a kinsman redeemer, both provisions exemplified by Boaz and Ruth.
But outside of that, it was very hard for a widow to make ends meet in the Old Testament era. And the same was true in the early New Testament church. The first deacons were appointed in the church in order to take care of the widows who were struggling. In Paul’s letters to young Timothy he gives specific guidelines for the care of widows.
Still today, God has great concern for those who are widows. James 1:27 gives us a definition of religion that God our Father finds acceptable. James writes, Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.
God has great concern for all his people. Whatever age you are, and no matter what your marital status, you can take great comfort in God’s care for you. You and I are to take great comfort that he will indeed provide for us even as he provided for this widow so long ago. But for the many who are widowed among us, there is a special comfort in knowing God’s specific concern for widows and the fatherless.
God’s Provision for the Greatest Debt
While we are to be very thankful for God’s provision for each one of us, we cannot help but see that God’s provision to pay the widow’s debt points us to his payment for our greatest debt, sin. How did Jesus teach us to pray? “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.” It wasn’t just a widow back in Elisha’s day who had a debt so large that she could not pay it. The same is true for you. And the same is true for me. Each one of us has a debt, a tremendous debt that none of us can pay; it is the debt of sin.
None of us can pay the debt of our sin. No angel in heaven, even as mighty and powerful as Gabriel and Michael, could pay that debt. The only one who could pay the debt of that sin is Jesus Christ. He is truly human to represent us, and he is truly God, thus all-powerful to forgive those whom he represents.
Jesus frequently spoke to the disciples about the certainty of his death, phrasing it as the means to pay a ransom. He spoke of his death as a price paid to redeem a slave, as was done in the Old Testament era. For instance, in Matthew 20:28 Jesus explained how “...the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many."
The word “ransom” refers to the amount of money paid to set a hostage, a captive, free. That is exactly what Christ has done for us. We have a debt of sin that we could never pay, just as the widow had debts she could never pay. We were enslaved to sin and Satan. But just as God provided for the widow, through Elisha, God provides for the payment of our debt through Christ.
He has purchased our pardon and paid the debt for our sin. That is why 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 reminds us, You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body.
The promise is there, but it is only realized by faith. The free offer of the gospel is extended to all, but each one, by God’s grace and enabling power, must believe the promise. The same was true for the widow. The promise of the payment of the debt was offered. The means was stated. But she needed faith that the oil would be provided. She believed and was spared.
May the same be said of you and me, that we heard the promise of the gospel that Jesus can, and did indeed, pay the debt of your sin and mine.
May we not only hear, but also respond in saving faith to the only One who could pay the debt, giving his life as a ransom for many – for all who truly believe in him alone for their salvation from sin. Amen.
- sermon outline -
2) We must respond in faith and obedience to realize the blessings of God (3-6)
3) God knows and meets the needs of His people (7; Matthew 6:26) and has a concern for the widow and orphan (James 1:27)
* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Ted Gray, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service. Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 02/1, Rev. Ted Gray
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