Reading: 2 Kings 4:8-37: Heb. 5:11-14.
"Declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead; Jesus Christ our Lord" (Rom. 1:3-4)
Here we have the account of the death and raising again of the child of the great woman of Shunem. With this passage we find ourselves advanced, taken forward, in the matter which is before us, which is the establishment of the testimony by resurrection. We saw in our previous meditation, that what comes out in the case of the widow of Zarephath and her son is the establishment of the testimony in her through death and resurrection. She speaks to us of the testimony actually being confirmed in us.
When we pass on to the woman of Shunem, we have something still on this matter. Here it is not just the matter of resurrection itself, it is the object of resurrection, that which is to become the practical, concrete, definite expression of resurrection, the very embodiment of it. And what is that? You see, resurrection may be something, while a power, still in the abstract, still a force at work, but that is not enough. It is a great thing to know the power of resurrection as a power. But then you can know the power of a good many things as power. Quite a lot of the things of the Lord may come into our experience as power, and they may not, as such, get us very far on the road. We may know, for instance, the power of forgiveness. We may know the power of deliverance from an evil conscience. These things come to us in power, real power. There are multitudes of people in this world who rejoice today in the power which operated so many years ago, bringing them to know the Lord as their Saviour and they are rejoicing in that today, but, in the case of so many, they have never got beyond that. The power is right enough and they know it, they know that they are kept by the power of God. That is something to them, but beloved, there is something more, and I feel it is just that something more that the Lord wants to bring to our knowledge at this time.
Here you have in the woman of Shunem a very different state of things from that which we find at Zarephath. There we find a woman and her son in penury, in starvation, deep, terrible need. That need was met. When we come to Shunem we find plenty. We come into fulness, that is the place where the fulness is. She is a great woman, there are all the signs of plenty, affluence, and there being no straitness or need, and yet there is a need. There is a lack and a terrible lack. God is acting again sovereignly with His deeper thoughts. He brings His testimony in the person of Elisha in that direction. Well, you have anticipated what the matter is here. It is the question of sonship. Everything, but sonship. Fulness in a way, blessing all around, plenty, but it is all of a general order.
I think I can help you at once to understand the spiritual meaning of this by taking you over to the Ephesian letter. As we open the letter to the Ephesians we almost immediately come upon this, "Has blessed us with all spiritual blessings in the heavenlies in Christ Jesus". I think that is the woman of Shunem. "Has blessed us". Now it is not a matter of coming into relationship with the testimony, we are in and the thing is like that. We have been blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenlies in Christ Jesus. There is plenty all around us by reason of our position, but do you notice you do not get very far into that letter, not far beyond that very statement, before you find the apostle pouring out his heart in prayer. And his prayer is this, for those, mark you, who have been blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenlies in Christ Jesus, that "He may give unto you a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him; the eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that ye may know what is the hope of His calling, and what the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the exceeding greatness of His power to us-ward who believe..." - prayer for people who have been blessed with every spiritual blessing. That they might know: understanding and intelligence.
It is one thing to be in the position, it is another thing to apprehend, to be intelligently in touch with all that, to turn it to practical account, for that is the immediate issue of those words in the Ephesian letter. It is twofold; now unto the principalities and powers, and in the ages to come, manifested by the church. You have got something here which carries you beyond universal fulness and blessing as something which is yours by reason of position. You have come now to the place where you know, you understand, and, because you have understanding, you are able to count for something. Now that, in a word, is the meaning of sonship.
We have wealth in the case of this woman, but the question is, speaking spiritually, how can the wealth be made of practical account for God? That is the question. I think that is the question for us all, and that represents the object of the Lord's dealings with us which are sometimes very hard or seemingly hard dealings. Sonship is that which turns our good to account, to practical account.
Here then we have this woman of Shunem. A son is given by the sovereign act of God - born. That is true of us all as the children of God. By a miracle we have been born of God, born into His family, and as we understand now from the Word, by being born we become children of God. But does it not impress you (it is not a new thought for we have often stressed it) that even that which has been miraculously born of God is taken into death to know resurrection. It was so with the Lord Jesus Himself. And that particular Sonship, that peculiar Sonship, of Romans 1:4 relates to resurrection and not birth. The resurrection of the Lord Jesus is as the graduation of the Lord Jesus to take His position, to administrate. Up to that point, He was not administrating, He was learning. "Though He were a Son, yet learned He obedience..." (Heb. 5:8). Sonship was there, but He was in a position of a child, learning, as we have to learn, how to live out from God by faith.
All was His by birth, but He did not inherit it until resurrection. He was destined for the throne, but He did not reach it until resurrection. All things were from eternity to be put under His feet, but they were not so until resurrection. In resurrection He was determined the Son of God in this full sense: that now He enters upon His administrative work in heaven. Sonship is therefore in its fullest sense bound up with resurrection, so that even that which is born of God by the miracle of that sovereign act, has to come to that crisis where it knows resurrection in order to enter upon the practical expression of its relationship with the Lord.
In our previous meditation in connection with the widow of Zarephath, speaking about God having a need, we saw that she never came to know her need met until she had taken account of God's need, as represented by Elijah. In that connection, we spoke of the parable of the pearl of great price as fitting in with Ephesians 1:18: "the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints" and the church as being of infinite price to the Lord.
Now, in connection with sonship, we could take another parable, for it seems to me that this is the very thing that lies right at the heart of a parable which has been used primarily for evangelical or evangelistic purposes, the parable that is known commonly as the parable of the prodigal son. That is not a Bible term. I do not say that this is not to be used or that it has no place in the gospel, I think it has. But the real point is missed if we do not see exactly what the Lord Jesus was after in that parable.
You see, the background of that parable is Israel. The elder brother comes in, and you know that the parable was used like a sledge hammer against the Jews. They stood in the position of that elder brother. Well now, for the moment the point is this. There was a transition which took place in the life of that son known as "the prodigal". By birth he was in the family, he was a child by birth. He had a claim to inheritance and he lodged his claim. He stood in relation to the father's fulness, the father recognised that relationship. He was in the house, he was in relationship, already in relationship, with the father. But what happened was that he virtually died. The father's double declaration afterward was, "This my son was dead and is alive". After that, shall we call it resurrection, for that is what it was in figure in the thought of the Lord, after that resurrection, the relationship is on an entirely different footing. He is no more a part of the family than he was before, he is no more begotten or born than he was before, but he has come into a knowledge of his father which he never had before. Before he may have used the word 'Father'. That was a title, a formal title of relationship, but he came to know what 'Father' meant. Through the ordeal of his life, he discovered something in that, that he had never seen before. He had never known all that that title held and meant until he came on to resurrection ground.
Then you notice all the other things that were new. A new robe, new shoes, and new food such as he had never had before - the fatted calf. This was all new to one who had been a child for a long time. He was on resurrection ground. The eyes of his heart were enlightened, he saw and knew as he had never seen and known before. It was transition. May we not say that in the New Testament sense, before he was a child, and afterwards he was a son. He had, at any rate, come to know what sonship means. It seems to me that the supreme thing about the whole matter was this, that, whereas he craved to be made a servant, the father put him in a place of honour which he had never held before, elevated him, gave him a ring, the token of authority in the house, the seal of right, of jurisdiction in the house - able to take responsibility. Of course, it is all a marvel of grace, we never reach anything, only through grace. Let no one think that we ever come to higher levels of spiritual life and position on any other around than the ground of grace.
There is no attaining to some special prize other than by the grace of God. That is not our point for the moment. You see what sonship in the full sense means, that is the point. It is something more than just being a child as a born one. It is one set in position. Well, that is nothing new, but I feel that what is in that is what the Lord really is after in the case of every one of us and desires to bring with special emphasis to us in these days. We have got to see that sonship is something of special value to the Lord. It is not just our coming to a position, our arriving at a position of advantage. It is something which means everything to the Lord.
If you go carefully into the Word with this thought, you will see how it is borne out. You turn to Hebrews 12:5-9: "My son, despise not thou (do not make light or little) of the chastening (the child training) of the Lord, nor faint (lose heart) when thou art rebuked of Him: for whom the Lord loves, He chastens, and scourges every son whom He sets by Him". Get the literal language and you see what it means. "We have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence; shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live?" Why is the Lord taking this course with us, these measures: chastening, child training, discipline, a hard school under the hand of the Lord, the rod of the Lord, if you like. Not the rod of judgment, that is the devil's insinuation. The rod of judgment for you and me in Christ fell on Christ long ago. It is the rod of training, putting us right, keeping us right, steering us in the right direction. Why is the Lord taking this way with us? Because of the destiny with which so much is bound up for Him. He has an inheritance in the saints, "the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints". It is beyond our comprehension, our understanding, but there is the fact. In the counsels of God before times eternal, God invested in the church something of tremendous value to Himself. All His purposes of the ages are bound up ultimately with the church as the administrative instrument thereof, to be the fulness of Him. Now, that is altogether beyond us, but there is the fact stated, and we must believe that God has something which is precious to Himself in the saints. God is seeking to secure that which is for Himself.
Well, if that is true, then sonship, being that state, that spiritual state which is the realisation of God's desire and design, sonship must be of tremendous value to Him, and so He is working at it, working at sonship in us, seeking to bring us to sonship. It is something of great value.
Only two things remain to be said. What is sonship really now in practical terms? It can be something in our minds, something quite nebulous, indefinite. Yes sonship, of course, is spiritual growth, that you become something more spiritually. You are increased and enlarged in spiritual measure. That is sonship. Yes, quite true, but that is not practical enough for me, that is not practical enough for the Lord. What is sonship in practical terms? It is this, beloved: being where you can, and you do, take responsibility in relation to the Lord's testimony, that you are not now primarily and pre-eminently a taught one, but you are teaching others. That is Hebrews 5:11: "Of whom we have many things to say, and hard of interpretation, seeing ye are become dull of hearing. For when by reason of the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need again that someone teach you the rudiments of the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk". They were babes. Well, we have often said it is not wrong to be a babe when it is time to be a babe. But the apostle puts his finger upon the time factor. "When by reason of the time ye ought to be teachers". Later he explains that that means those who have their senses exercised, their spiritual faculties of perception and apprehension and insight exercised, developed, where they see and can tell others what they see, the things that the others are not seeing. They know, not by a reasoned out process of logical deductions and inductions, but they have spiritual insight, they know spiritually, and the Holy Spirit has taught them and they can teach, because taught. They can give that spiritual knowledge, not doctrinal information, but spiritual knowledge because they know in this way. Having their spiritual senses exercised to know.
Oh, beloved, do take this message to heart! It is a great and glorious thing to be in the first clauses of the Ephesian letter, "blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenlies in Christ Jesus". That is true of all of us if we are in Christ Jesus. What does it mean? What is its practical value? It is something more. That we "may know what is the hope of His calling, and what the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what the exceeding greatness of His power to us-ward who believe". To know, know in a spiritual and living way so as to be able to take responsibility in the testimony.
Now I ask you, specially those of you who have the position of the widow of Zarephath, you have had an experience, you know something of having your own need met, of coming into touch with the testimony of fulness. Yes, and perhaps more. God has done something in your life through a deep experience so that the testimony is in you and you are able to say, 'I know, I know it is true'. Now, beloved, there is another step. We have got to take responsibility, and the question which comes to everyone of us is: are we taking responsibility for the testimony? Not only in touch with it and benefiting by it and knowing something of it, but are we taking responsibility or are we leaving responsibility with our ministers, those whom we regard as the responsible people for the testimony?
Well then, the letter to the Ephesians, which is dealing with this whole range in spiritual principle, will lead us on, and you can just obliterate all chapter divisions, they are not there in the letter originally, and you must go straight on. "When He ascended up on high, He led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men. He gave some apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints unto the work of the ministry for the building up of the body of Christ" (Eph. 4:8,11-12).
Those whom you call the responsible people for the testimony are the apostles and prophets, and so on, and you have forgotten that they are given to the church in order to equip you for the work of ministry - to take responsibility. It is the church that has got to take responsibility. The Divine, the sovereignly given gifts from the risen, ascended Lord are only to equip the church to take responsibility for the testimony. They are not the ones who bear the responsibility of the testimony. Their responsibility is to make the church a responsible thing.
Now then, sonship, that step in advance, is coming to the place where we do take responsibility. Are you children still being taught, needing to be taught, in the place of being taught all the time, or are you taking some measure of responsibility? Have you taken a responsible attitude for the testimony? I am not asking you to go out and begin to talk about things, but have you on your heart taken responsibility that, as far as the Lord enables you (and you will not know how far He will enable you before you move) you do move in faith that others may come into the knowledge of the risen Lord in the power of His risen life? That may be ministered through you. It is important. The Lord is working at that with you and with me. I tell you how you prove it: it will get you into a lot of trouble, a tremendous amount of trouble. And again and again you will come to the place where you say, "I will never talk about it again! It brings me into conflict, brings me into touch with all the powers of hell, and makes trouble for me everywhere. I am not going to talk so much about it". In fact, you are going to decide from time to time that you are going to resign from this! I have been there more than once! But here I am talking to you as much as ever. Why? You cannot help it, you have got to get on with this thing. It is far too living and real to be a theory you can give up. It has become you. It has been wrought in you. You have got to resign from yourself in order to resign from it. It is too much a part of your very life. Are we getting there? Is that sonship in the case of all of us? The Lord wants people who are taking responsibility in His testimony.
Now, the last word, of course, is that it comes by resurrection. Just as everything before has come through resurrection, so now this comes in the same way, by the same process. We come to take responsibility, to be responsible members of Christ's Body, to have ministry - and let that not be a technical word or phrase or idea. We have that to minister when we go through experiences which are like death experiences and prove Him in the power of resurrection. This Shunammite's son was born by an act of God, but sonship necessitated that even so, he should die and be raised. It is sonship that is in view. It is the law of God. There is no other way of coming to the place of responsibility. And our usefulness to the Lord (for that is what is in view) is increased and enhanced by every fresh experience of death on the one hand, and resurrection on the other. The church will go that way, and I think we could well return to our parable of the pearl of great price.
You see, the pearl is something unique amongst jewels. You have in the Bible a whole set of precious stones, but the pearl is not a precious stone. It is something other, something different. What is it that makes it unique, makes it stand alone, makes it represent preciousness to the Lord in a transcendent sense? Well, it is that it has come to know the fellowship of His sufferings. The pearl is formed by secret, silent suffering. It is a matter of blood, a wound, wounds, bleeding wounds. You can get a shell that is not a pearl, brittle, crumbling in your fingers. There has been no blood there, no giving there. But the creature bled and gave out its life and that pearl is because life was poured out in suffering. "The fellowship of His sufferings". Where does that land us? In the heavenly City, new Jerusalem, every gate of one pearl. It is through those gates that all the fulness that is in that City is going out to the nations, and through those gates the nations are bringing in to His worship, to His glory.
It is just a parable of the special honour, the special relatedness to the Lord in service, in vocation, in usefulness. Gates - they are things for service, for important export, for distribution of wealth and for the bringing in. Yes, pearls, something which stands in relation to the Lord in a vocational sense, because it has come to know not only the power of His resurrection, but the fellowship of His sufferings. I think that is what Paul was after in Philippians 3. He had seen something, a place of transcendent value to the Lord, and he cried, "That I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being made conformable unto His death" (Phil. 3:10). "I fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for His body's sake, which is the church" (Col. 1:24). I think you catch the idea of the thought of value to the Lord. That is sonship - value to the Lord, usefulness to the Lord. It comes through the deep experiences of death and resurrection as we go on with the Lord, passing from the place of being above all things taught ones, those who are being taught, to the place where we are able to teach others also.
What does this all mean? You perhaps have not grasped altogether what death and resurrection mean. Well, we can put it in another way which is very true to the experience of both of these women, the widow of Zarephath and the woman of Shunem. They had their hearts broken. There was a brokenness which God brought about, right at the very centre of their being. If you like to call death and resurrection that, you may, for the effect is that: broken in ourselves, broken in our own strength, in our own wisdom, in our own confidence, yes, broken in every part of the self-life. And then we know what the Lord can be to a broken one: strength to those who have no strength; wisdom to those who have no wisdom. Yes, every kind of supply to those who have none because they have been broken.
The trouble with so many is that they have not yet been broken. Let it be understood what brokenness spiritually means. It does not mean to get into a state of worry and trouble about your problems. To be broken is something deeper than that. In order to be responsible ones, we have got to know what it means to be broken. We can never in the power of the Holy Ghost preach a crucified Christ, unless we are crucified preachers. It is the Cross wrought into us - that is death and resurrection. But that is the way to the responsibility of sons.