There is much more in the Word of the same nature that could be added to these passages, but these are sufficient, I think, to indicate something we need to lay to heart. I always feel that one of the great factors in our own spiritual enlargement is a real active concern for others; not in the sense that we look after another's vineyard and neglect our own, become "busy-bodies" as the Apostle would term it, occupied with everybody's business except our own, but that there is a right and proper and fruitful concern for others. What the Scriptures that we have read bring before us is that God's great revelation of purpose in the Church is not going to be realized without some tremendous and terrific conflict. There have to be those who throw themselves into that conflict for that end.
The Importance of Taking the Initiative
So here the Apostle says, "What great conflict I had for you and for them of Laodicea," and for many others. "Striving according to His working which worketh in me mightily." "Epaphras ... a servant of Christ Jesus ... always striving for you in his prayers." It is the laying to heart of this matter about God's desire for His people in such a way as to draw us into tremendous spiritual conflict over it. Now, we are meeting the conflict perhaps, without seeking it directly, but it is a very true thing that very often the advantage is with those who take the initiative. Do you not recognize that when the enemy takes the initiative in the matter of spiritual assault, we usually find ourselves at a disadvantage? When it comes from his side, we turn in upon ourselves, we begin to ask questions. We find ourselves sometimes almost paralyzed by the pressure, the tenseness and the forms in which his assault comes. It affects us in such a way as almost to overwhelm us and put us out. That is because he is taking the initiative, and he knows enough of strategy in warfare to know that it is with the one who takes the initiative that a great deal of the advantage lies.
Now we shall always of course meet that and he will always be doing it, bu what about the other way around? Paul met a very great deal of the onslaught of the enemy upon spirit and mind and body. It came along every line and by every channel and means conceivable. He tells us a good deal about the nature of his conflicts, spiritual and temporal, in his ministry and life, but Paul by no means left things there. He also makes it perfectly clear that he took the initiative as well, and these words which we have just read concern the initiative of the Lord's people on this matter. If the enemy is out with all his might and all his cunning to frustrate this purpose of God in the saints, namely, their coming to the fullness of understanding, their having the full knowledge of Christ; I say if he is out by every means to frustrate that, there has to be some initiative from the other side. There has to be a real throwing of ourselves into this matter in a spiritual way against this assailing of the children of God, so that God's end shall not be frustrated.
"What a great conflict I have for you," says the Apostle, "striving." You know how he uses that word in his Corinthian letter about the Olympic games. "If a man also strive for masteries, yet is he not crowned, except he strive lawfully" (2 Timothy 2:5). He sees this man in the arena or on the track stretched out, throwing himself into the battle, striving for the mastery. It is the same word. And here it is striving for the mastery over the enemy and for the will of God, that His people might know the mystery over the enemy and for the will of God, that His people might know the mystery of God, even Christ, unto all riches of the full assurance of understanding, and so on. Well, the emphasis is clear and does not need a great deal added to it of words from me.
My deep feeling is that there has to be another side to our concern about this matter of the Lord's desire for His people to come to fullness, beyond the personal, and until that other side is brought in the end will not be reached. That means there must be those who will really throw themselves in to strive, by the enablement, the energy of the Spirit, to strive over this matter.
An Old Testament Illustration
When I was thinking about this, there came back to my mind the very familiar story of Elisha and the Shunammite, and her son. It seems to me to be the point of this very matter. Elisha, as you will know, sets forth in type that which was ordained to remain here on this earth after the Lord was risen. Elijah and Elisha had passed through the Jordan, the Cross, and Elijah had been translated to heaven. The great issue upon which that continuation of the testimony here depended was that there should be with Elisha a double portion of his master's spirit. His request was that. He was put on probation over that. He was tested and drawn out concerning that, but, having been approved, Elisha received a double portion of the spirit of his head. The sons of the prophets always spoke of Elijah in those words- "Knowest thou that the Lord will take away thy master from thy head today?" (2 Kings 2). Elijah was his head. Now when the head was received up into heaven, the double portion of the Spirit came upon Elisha. He was here on this earth in the power of the Spirit to maintain and carry on a testimony of life, so that at every move, in every connection, Elisha is found meeting conditions of death. He is called upon to prove that the Spirit is with him as the Spirit of resurrection by having to encounter death in many forms.
Among these many instances is the one of the Shunammite's son, full, I think, of helpful features and elements if we were dealing with it as a whole. We only have one thing in mind at the moment. Here, for instance, in grace the Lord had visited her and given her that son; for I think it is quite evident that she had closed that chapter in her life as something which would never be. You remember she asked the prophet not to mock her, and then later when the son died, she said, "Did I desire a son of my lord?" as much as to say, I had closed that chapter, that was something which I killed in my heart, I was no any longer thinking in that direction; you did that. It was something that could not be, but the impossible was done. The thing that she no longer dared to think about or hope for had become an actuality by the grace of God. It was something God had done in grace, and the son existed.
Now the son dies. Strange mysterious ways of God, to give something altogether of Himself, something beyond our powers and beyond our expectations, and then, having done something so much of Himself, to allow it to fall under what like a mere calamity, to die. Strange ways of God! The Lord does do strange things, things that are strange to our understanding. He is beyond us.
When the boy is dead, there is one there who has not been by the way of the Cross and the anointing, namely, Gehazi. He was not there to go through the Jordan with Elijah and Elisha. He did not come back again across the Jordan in the power of the anointing, triumphant over death. He was not under the anointing of the double portion; he was a mere professional, not an anointed one. He came to a very sad end, a very tragic end. The leprosy of Naaman the Syrian clave to him. That, by the way, happens to people who take up Divine things not crucified, uncrucified people, unanointed people. Gehazi went to this death chamber and tried to do something for this boy, and nothing happened, and he had to go away acknowledging that there was nothing. Elisha came, and you remember his procedure. He went in and he stretched himself upon that body, hands to hands, feet to his feet, lips to his lips, eyes to his eyes. He got right down on this situation, so to speak. He got into it, he identified himself with it, he made himself a part of it. But he was in the good of the power of resurrection. it is safe to do it when you are there. He was under the anointing, and because he was a man under the anointing on the ground of resurrection, he could come into touch with that situation, not to his own undoing but to the undoing of it. It was as though he literally lifted that boy out of death.
Few things in the New Testament more amply describe that sort of thing than these words about Epaphras: a servant of Jesus Christ striving for you in his prayers. It is like that. I am not just giving you Bible study. This is the point: I do not believe things are going to happen until we get down to it. I believe God is waiting for a getting down to this situation. There have to be some people who really do get down to it.
(continued with # 2 - "The Factor of Prayer in Relation to the Lord's Purpose")