Tuesday, March 17, 2015

For His Sake, Not Our Own

Week 5 in our 6 week study of "True Faith" at 

A common misunderstanding to address regarding the spiritual life is that steps of faith are primarily for our own benefit or blessing. The motivation behind students’ faith should not be what they can get out of the deal. The goal of any leap of faith is ultimately God’s glory. When walking by faith, teenagers will learn that not only can they trust God, but they will also see His awesome power—something others will witness through their faithfulness. In this fifth lesson of Misfits, Elijah’s showdown with the prophets of Baal serves as a classic example of an individual’s act of faith being motivated by and resulting in the glory of God being made known among other people.

1 Kings 18:17-39(NIV)

17 When he saw Elijah, he said to him, “Is that you, you troubler of Israel?”
18 “I have not made trouble for Israel,” Elijah replied. “But you and your father’s family have. You have abandoned the Lord’s commands and have followed the Baals. 19 Now summon the people from all over Israel to meet me on Mount Carmel. And bring the four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal and the four hundred prophets of Asherah, who eat at Jezebel’s table.”
20 So Ahab sent word throughout all Israel and assembled the prophets on Mount Carmel.21 Elijah went before the people and said, “How long will you waver between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him.”
But the people said nothing.
22 Then Elijah said to them, “I am the only one of the Lord’s prophets left, but Baal has four hundred and fifty prophets. 23 Get two bulls for us. Let Baal’s prophets choose one for themselves, and let them cut it into pieces and put it on the wood but not set fire to it. I will prepare the other bull and put it on the wood but not set fire to it. 24 Then you call on the name of your god, and I will call on the name of the Lord. The god who answers by fire—he is God.”
Then all the people said, “What you say is good.”
25 Elijah said to the prophets of Baal, “Choose one of the bulls and prepare it first, since there are so many of you. Call on the name of your god, but do not light the fire.” 26 So they took the bull given them and prepared it.
Then they called on the name of Baal from morning till noon. “Baal, answer us!” they shouted. But there was no response; no one answered. And they danced around the altar they had made.
27 At noon Elijah began to taunt them. “Shout louder!” he said. “Surely he is a god! Perhaps he is deep in thought, or busy, or traveling. Maybe he is sleeping and must be awakened.” 28 So they shouted louder and slashed themselves with swords and spears, as was their custom, until their blood flowed. 29 Midday passed, and they continued their frantic prophesying until the time for the evening sacrifice. But there was no response, no one answered, no one paid attention.
30 Then Elijah said to all the people, “Come here to me.” They came to him, and he repaired the altar of the Lord, which had been torn down. 31 Elijah took twelve stones, one for each of the tribes descended from Jacob, to whom the word of the Lord had come, saying, “Your name shall be Israel.” 32 With the stones he built an altar in the name of theLord, and he dug a trench around it large enough to hold two seahs[a] of seed. 33 He arranged the wood, cut the bull into pieces and laid it on the wood. Then he said to them, “Fill four large jars with water and pour it on the offering and on the wood.”
34 “Do it again,” he said, and they did it again.
“Do it a third time,” he ordered, and they did it the third time. 35 The water ran down around the altar and even filled the trench.
36 At the time of sacrifice, the prophet Elijah stepped forward and prayed: “Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, let it be known today that you are God in Israel and that I am your servant and have done all these things at your command. 37 Answer me, Lord, answer me, so these people will know that you, Lord, are God, and that you are turning their hearts back again.”
38 Then the fire of the Lord fell and burned up the sacrifice, the wood, the stones and the soil, and also licked up the water in the trench.
39 When all the people saw this, they fell prostrate and cried, “The Lord—he is God! TheLord—he is God!”

Supporting Passages: 1 Kings 16:31–17:7, 18:1–2

Following Christ calls us to understand that we live for His glory—not our own. When we center our lives on the proclamation of His message, His glory among the nations is our desire. In this week's study, you’ll be looking at a pivotal moment in the ministry of Elijah. On Mount Carmel, Elijah battled against 450 prophets of Baal in an ultimate battle of spiritual supremacy in the land. It was Elijah’s God against Baal. In this passage, we see the raw faith that Elijah has in Yahweh and how, through his faith, God’s glory is made evident to the nations. - In the academic world, plagiarism can get a student suspended or kicked out of school. Just like writing a paper without giving proper recognition of the sources invalidates the work of the paper, proclaiming to be a Christian without giving God proper glory invalidates our proclamation of His work in the world.

1. As the one true God, His glory is not to be shared (1 Kings 18:17–24).

Elijah was surrounded by people who claimed to be the people of God but gave their worship and allegiance to idols—specifically worship of the god Baal. The people were torn between following the Author of their faith or the chosen god of their king (or, specifically, his wife Jezebel). Elijah boldly called out those who “waver[ed] between opinions” and told them to determine whether Baal or God was the true deity and to follow the right one. He knew that God alone was worthy of worship; therefore, His glory could not be shared with anyone or anything else. Look at it kind of like this - Sports are driven by rivalries. Yankees vs. Red Sox. Lakers vs. Celtics. Patriots vs. Colts. Auburn University vs. University of Alabama. For most fans of one of these bitter rivalries, liking both teams would be unfathomable. A passionate New York Yankees fan rooting for the Boston Red Sox would be considered crazy. In an even greater way, we cannot claim to be a follower of God but give our allegiance to someone or something else.
We must stop worshipping God with our mouths and denying Him with our actions. Being a follower of Christ demands that God receives all of our attention. We must take up our cross and follow Him. Taking up our cross requires us to set aside personal agendas, fame, and comfort so that God might receive the recognition (and priority) that He truly deserves.

2. Denying God the glory that He deserves is man-centered idolatry (1 Kings 18:25–29).

Elijah told the prophets of Baal that they could call on their god first. They called upon their god all morning to send fire. Elijah’s mocking made the prophets try harder. In an effort to coerce Baal to hear them, they even cut themselves to gain his attention. These false worshipers were not only focused on a god who wasn’t real, but their actions communicated that they thought their own works could provoke some sort of action from him. Their idolatry focused on their own actions; the worshipers were at the center of their own false worship. Part of the gospel story is about God saving humanity from the eternal destination that it truly deserves. People did nothing to deserve redemption. That’s the beauty of the gospel—God reconciled man to Himself (2 Cor. 5). His grace has nothing to do with human effort but everything to do with the glory of God (Eph. 2). - We must realize that God’s redemptive story has very little to do with us but everything to do with His glory. God saved us so that His name might be made known to all the nations. God restored Israel in 2 Kings so that the nations might know of God’s mighty power. God saved you so that His grace and sovereignty might be made known to the nations. We are not at the center of our salvation—God is. When our faith becomes centered on us, it is no longer faith but idolatry.

3. A life of true faith is motivated to bring God’s glory to all people (1 Kings 18:30–39).

One of Harry Truman’s famous quotes was, “It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit.” In our case, as Christ-followers, we shouldn’t be concerned with getting the credit for the way that we live. But it does matter that God gets the glory for His work in and through our lives. 
After the prophets of Baal failed in getting their sacrifice to burn, Elijah began to prepare his altar—by repairing it and dousing it with water. Elijah prayed to the Lord and asked Him to remind the people that He was the covenant God of Israel. Elijah asked God to bring fire so that all the people would know that He, Yahweh, was the true God! Elijah’s whole purpose was to glorify God, not himself, and his prayer made his motivation known to all in attendance. God acted for His glory, brought fire to the drenched sacrifice, and many of the people praised Him as God. - It is so easy to be selfish. Even in our relationship with God, we often desire to do what benefits us best: We leave a church because it no longer “meets our needs.” We passively support missions so that we don’t have to wholeheartedly go. Even our prayer requests generally reflect only what we’re feeling or what we want. Our goal is to get to the place in our relationship with the Lord where we can say, “Despite whatever’s going on in my life—the victories or defeats, the joys or the sufferings—may God receive all the glory.”

So what's the big idea of the passage? 

A person who walks by faith recognizes that God is due all of the glory—there is no room for personal acclaim. Elijah’s faith exhibited on Mount Carmel was about God receiving the glory—the glory that he was due but not receiving from the Israelites. God used the faith of Elijah to remind the people of Israel that He is their God and that He shares no glory or honor with any other supposed deity. May we recognize that God desires to use our life for His glory among the nations. Let’s not be concerned about personal preferences or comforts, but let’s live our lives for His glory and know that whatever comes (victory or suffering), it is far better to live that way than for ourselves. A difficult life lived for the eternal glory of God is far better than a comfortable life lived for the momentary pleasures of this world.

The narrative of 1 and 2 Kings covers almost 500 years. The history opens with the end of King David’s reign and ends with the conquering of Judah by the Babylonians and the subsequent exile of the people of Judah. The book of Kings is a unified work and most likely the work of one anonymous historian. The books were divided in order to fit the material onto two manageable scrolls instead of one large unwieldy one. The purpose for the book is nowhere explicitly stated. Based on the content of the book, we may conclude that the author wanted to provide a history of the monarchy, especially of the divided kingdom. As the historian detailed the contributions of the kings of the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah, he provided warnings to readers about the judgment of God that comes upon those who fail to follow God exclusively and reminds readers about the blessings of God that come to those who are obedient to God. The history is not a mere political history but a sacred history or religious commentary on the history of God’s people.
Kings also contributes to our knowledge of the culture of the ancient Near East. We learn about the wisdom of the period, warfare, famine, political intrigue, and international trade, among many other issues. Although there is no single overarching theme of Kings, the history does demonstrate God’s presence with His people even in difficult times.
This passage of Scripture is important for students because it shows the Essential Truth that [The Church is God’s Plan.] Ahab was a bad king of the northern kingdom of Israel who promoted the worship of Baal. Baal was a fertility god whose followers claimed brought productivity to the earth. The Israelites, who had primarily an agriculture-based economy, had come to follow Baal and other fertility gods in hopes that their farming activities would be successful. Elijah, the first great prophet of Israel, realized that the worship of these gods would prove detrimental to the spiritual health of the nation. Therefore, he told Ahab to gather 850 of these prophets of the fertility gods at [Mount Carmel]. The Israelite people gathered on the mountain as well. Elijah asked the people, “How long will you go limping with two different opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him.” When the people did not answer Elijah, he proposed that there be a contest. The prophets of Baal would call upon their god to bring fire from heaven upon the altar. The prophets of Baal cried aloud and even cut themselves but received no answer from Baal. Elijah prayed to the Lord, and the fire fell and consumed the offering upon the altar. The Israelites fell down before the Lord and acknowledged Him as the true God. This amazing story shows why God’s people should follow the Lord exclusively. Other gods are pretenders, but He is real. We can call upon Him, and He will answer, while the false gods have no ears to hear. If we trust in the Lord and demonstrate our faith in the Lord publicly, then this will bring glory to Him and will help those around us see that He is indeed the one true Lord of the universe. This is the purpose of God’s Church in His ultimate plan of revealing Himself.
Elijah, heavily outnumbered by his opponents, stood alone with God and challenged his enemies in order that God might reveal His glory to Israel and to the prophets of Baal. God did reveal His glory in the form of fire that fell from heaven. He demonstrated His power for a particular reason. The Lord wanted to reveal to Himself to Israel in a mighty way in order to turn the hearts of the people back to Him. He also wanted the fertility prophets to view His glory so that they would recognize the futility of their religious practices. When we trust God, He reveals His glory in and through us, but not for our own benefit. What good is it to others when we receive glory? Yet when God reveals Himself, people will either turn to Him in repentance or continue to live in rebellion against God and experience His judgment. Students often consider the question, “What is God’s plan for my life?” This is perhaps the wrong question. The right question is simply this: “What is God’s plan?” In other words, if God’s ultimate plan is to reveal Himself by means of His glory, and if He calls His people to be part of making Him known in the world, then we realize that He has called us to become part of His plan rather than fitting His plan into our lives. The emphasis is never upon us but upon God. Students need to know that they have been given the awesome privilege of being His messengers in this world and making Him known.

Small Group Questions

  • Why is it so hard to live every day for God’s glory and not our own?
  • Why is it so much more important to reveal who God is than who we are?
  • What benefits does God give His people when we live for His glory?
  • How does living for God’s glory make His name known to the nations?
  • What areas of your life are easiest to give Him glory for? What areas are harder?

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