Study 2 - Standing Before God
Elijah didn’t mince his words when he encountered the king. ‘As the Lord, the God of Israel lives, before whom I stand, surely there shall be neither dew nor rain these years, except by my word’ (1 Kings 17:1, NASB). Elijah spoke with all the authority of one who came from the presence of God, so that in meeting Elijah, Ahab was really being confronted by God. Pharaoh had a similar experience when he met Moses.
The backslidden western world waits to be confronted by Christians who’ve come from the presence of God with a clear, uncompromising message. So often we hope we can impress people in the world by being more like them, employing their methods. Our real need, though, is for Christians who know God intimately and can powerfully and authoritatively declare his Word because they live before him.
Elijah’s proud boast was that he stood before God. The world too often detects our uncertainties. We don’t sound like people who genuinely know God. Our message often lacks credibility because it lacks assurance. We seem to carry our doubts into the battlefield. We even fear to be called narrow-minded or opinionated, forgetting that we serve a narrow-minded God who commands all men everywhere to repent. He leaves no room for negotiation and is willing to back an uncompromising prophet with signs and wonders to prove his authenticity. In this case, he decreed that there would be no rain until Elijah said so.
Living in the world
Although Elijah lived before God, he wasn’t cut off from his society. Later in the story we’ll meet Obadiah, who had a rather different story. We’re told that ‘Obadiah was a devout believer in the Lord’ (1 Kings 18:3). Here was a man who genuinely knew and feared God, but his master was not so much God as Ahab. As Ahab’s servant, he made no meaningful impact on his nation. Beware the danger of being so enveloped within the system that you are compromised and cannot make a real impact on it.
In contrast, a hundred prophets who were contemporaries of Elijah withdrew completely. They all hid themselves away and also became totally ineffective.
A monastic group called ‘The Inclusi’ did their best to forsake the world by shutting themselves in a little monastery. One day someone who was feeding them through the slit windows asked, ‘Are you alive?’ And the answer came back, ‘I believe I am dead to the world.’ If we become like that, no one will even know that we exist. By all means be dead to the world’s values, but still make sure your presence is felt!
Elijah said, ‘I stand before God,’ but he was also totally involved with what was happening in his nation. As he confronted Ahab he was saying, in effect, ‘You cannot shake me off or ignore me. I will be seen and heard!’
Jesus didn’t hide himself away from the crowds. He put himself where it really counted, earning the title ‘friend of sinners’, yet remaining both untouched by their sin and unwilling to adjust his message to accommodate them.
‘Standing before God’ has all kinds of implications for the way you behave in your marriage, your friendships, your business affairs, your school. You might find yourself saying, ‘No, I can’t enter into that transaction,’ or ‘I won’t get engaged to you.’ When the response comes, ‘Why not?’ you answer, ‘Because I stand before God and his will affects my decisions.’ If some wonder why you don’t withdraw from the world and hide out in a monastery somewhere, let them know you intend to live a life honouring God wherever he’s put you – in school, at your job, or wherever. Your example will confront people with the reality that God desires all of us to honour him.
The Lord is saddened to see Christians hiding their testimony and compromising their faith. How will the lost ever get the chance to hear the gospel? God wants us to create situations in which we can vindicate his name. Be where the people are, yet be totally distinctive. You will make mistakes, but you must trust God to give you boldness, courage and wisdom to handle increasingly provocative situations.
‘The church at Ephesus faced a culture characterized by immorality. We, too, live in a culture tolerant of sexual immorality. It is popular to be open-minded to many types of sin, calling them personal choices or alternative lifestyles. But when the body of believers begins to tolerate sin in the church, it is lowering the church's standards and compromising its witness. Remember that God's approval is infinitely more important than the world's. Use God's Word, not what people around you are willing to accept, to set the standards for what is right or wrong.’