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BIBLE CHARACTER: Man of God

A few people in Scripture are given the title “Man of God” …..

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One day a woman made a thoughtful comment to her husband. A travelling prophet had been in the habit of calling at their home in Shunem, in order to break his journey, while on the road. Hospitality had been offered to the man, and while the woman served his meals and spoke to him, she began to form an opinion of his character. Turning to her husband, she remarked, “Behold now, I perceive that this is an holy man of God, which passeth by us continually” (2 Kgs.4:8-9 KJV). What led the woman to make this observation? Was there something distinctive about Elisha that caused her to regard him as a holy man? How would we recognize a “man of God” today?

 

Some years ago, my wife and I discussed this matter. The Scriptures have much to say about godly people. According to the Bible, godliness is a vital characteristic that should mark the lives of men and women who serve the Lord. We agreed that men and women who are godly are unlikely to be popular in the world. Also, not all who profess to believe the gospel can be given the description “man (or woman) of God”.  Some people appear to be more Christ-like and have a way of radiating His presence. We can perhaps detect something godly in a person we meet — but what does the Bible reveal about the person who really knows the Lord?

 

 

TRUE CHARACTER

Returning to the visitor at Shunem, we discover that Elisha is repeatedly called a “man of God” in Scripture. Elijah, his predecessor, was identified as a “man of God” by a captain who had been sent to apprehend him (2 Kgs.1:9). If Elisha himself had any desire to be a “man of God” as well, he certainly began on a positive note by spending time in the company of one who was known to be a “man of God” too. During his visits to Shunem, Elisha was called a “man of God” on a number of occasions (2 Kgs.4:9,16,21,22). Later, a gift of bread and corn was brought to this “man of God” (2 Kgs.4:42). It was “Elisha the man of God” (2 Kgs.5:8) who heard of the king’s distress and invited the great Naaman to his humble abode.

 

At least seven years later the woman from Shunem still recognized Elisha as a “man of God” (2 Kgs.8:2); and at the end of his life — although sick and bedridden — he was still seen to be “the man of God” (2 Kgs.13:14,19). How can we account for this? Is there a simple explanation that will enable us to understand why, throughout his life, Elisha could be described in this way? Perhaps the answer can be discovered in 2 Kings 2:9. Just before Elijah (the earlier “man of God”) was called into the Lord’s presence, Elisha had requested a double portion of his spirit. Could this account for the vision, purpose, and power that marked Elisha’s life?

 

 

A FEW OTHERS

There are just a few others of this kind in the Bible. In 2 Chronicles 25:7 an unnamed “man of God” came to Amaziah with a message from the Lord. Another is named but remains virtually unknown. How many of us are familiar with Igdaliah, who is referred to as “a man of God” in Jeremiah 35:4? David, the psalmist, in spite of a life that was not perfect, is described as “the man of God” (2 Chr.8:14). A prophet, whom we read of in 1 Kings 13:1 as “a man of God”, was still remembered as “the man of God” about three hundred years later (2 Kgs.23:16-17). Like David, he was not a perfect individual. The account of his life in 1 Kings 13 tells of how he had experienced an untimely death because he had disobeyed the Lord. This proves to us that men and women of God have not attained sinless perfection. Rather, they are people who have enjoyed close fellowship with the Lord, have been His messengers, and have — to some degree — represented Him by living godly lives.

 

With the passing of many centuries, we can look back and recall men and women who have been used by God in singular ways. Preachers and servants of the Lord who have achieved remarkable things for Him may bear the hallmarks of being true people of God. The Lord has His men and women in each generation. The record of their lives can inspire us to be filled with the Holy Spirit and live for the glory of God too.

 

There is, however, one person in the New Testament who is addressed as “man of God” and teaches us some important lessons about how we can be people of that calibre. His name is Timothy — and at once we realize that he was a younger rather than an older person. Some, in fact, had despised his youth (1 Tim.4:12). He was somewhat timid by nature and of a fearful disposition — for Paul encouraged him to be bold (2 Tim.1:7). He also had some health problems which caused Paul to give him medical advice (1 Tim.5:23). In spite of these apparent weaknesses, Timothy was a true man of God. In the concluding part of the first epistle that he wrote, Paul exhorted Timothy as a “man of God” to do three things. He must flee, follow, and fight (1 Tim.6:11-12).

 

 

TO FLEE

“But thou, O man of God, flee these things …” (1 Tim.6:11).

This formed the first part of Paul’s exhortation to Timothy. What “things” are these to which the apostle is referring? Earlier in the chapter Paul had mentioned the wrong doctrines that some were teaching. “If any man teach otherwise,” he wrote, “and consent not to wholesome words … he is proud, knowing nothing” (v.3—4). Some were doing this very thing. The substance of their teaching was unhealthy, spiritually speaking, rather than the “wholesome words” that characterized the ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ. The four gospels record His teaching in detail. We must often ponder the simple and yet profound truths that He taught.

 

Connected with what He taught is “the doctrine … according to godliness” (v.3). Some false teachers preached a kind of “prosperity gospel” and connected gain with godliness (v.5). Many today follow this pattern and teach, wrongly, that God will bless materially those who fulfil certain conditions. The truth of the matter is that “godliness with contentment is great gain” (v.6). What a great thing it is to be godly and contented! We must not be deceived by the “prosperity teaching” that has snared many gullible souls. Charles Simeon, a preacher of more than a hundred years ago, pointed out that the purpose of preaching is to humble the sinner, exalt the Saviour, and promote holiness. Paul would have approved of that summary.

 

Not only must wrong doctrine be forsaken. As a man of God, Timothy needed to flee from wrong desires. Nobody can argue with the plain fact that “we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out” (v.7). It is said that before Alexander the Great died he instructed that when his body was taken to its burial his hands should be unwrapped so that everyone could see that they were empty. Those who have a strong desire for riches can be snared and ultimately destroyed. The love of money is a root from which all kinds of evil can develop, bringing “many sorrows” (v.9—10). Wrong desires of a sexual nature also need guarding against. We must “flee” from such things too (2 Tim.2:22). When Joseph was seduced by Potiphar’s wife, he took the wisest course of action; he fled from her presence (Gen.39:12). It is vital that we flee from the things that will hinder our spiritual progress. When temptation presents itself, run from it!

 

However, the man of God must not always be running away! There is a right course to follow, and the next exhortation must now be considered.

 

 

TO FOLLOW

“But thou, O man of God … follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness” (v.11).  

Being righteous means being right, or just. We could never make ourselves righteous before a holy God. Only Christ can make us righteous. This verse, however, speaks of our conduct before men. The Lord is righteous and appreciates righteousness (Ps.11:7). He wants His people to be seen as righteous, just, and fair in society. Are we trustworthy and reliable at work? Can godliness [God-likeness] be seen in our lives? Our Heavenly Father wants us to display His character, being holy as He is. Such things do not come easily. We must “follow after” these qualities, asking the Lord Jesus daily to fill us with His Spirit and to lead us in the paths of righteousness.

 

The other four characteristics are all part of the fruit of the Spirit listed in Galatians 5:22-23. Faith, or faithfulness, means simply taking God at His Word and trusting Him. Without faith we cannot please God, so it is important to exercise trust in Him daily. Love was one of the clearest features in the life of the Lord Jesus. He has commanded His followers to love one another (Jn.13:34). Love is not simply an emotional feeling. In Bible terms it involves obeying God’s commandments (Jn.14:15) and helping those who are in need (Gal.6:10). Patience literally means “abiding under”. The word speaks of endurance under trial and accepting whatever God allows without complaint. Meekness is not weakness! The Lord Jesus was “meek and lowly in heart” (Mt.11:29) without being weak. Rather, think of the strength that He displayed as He fulfilled His purpose and willingly went to the cross to die. Meekness means that I will not demand my rights and push myself forward ahead of others.

 

There is a wonderful balance about this teaching. The man of God must not only flee from things that are wrong; he must also follow the things that are right. This calls for daily determination to please the Lord. We must look to Him for help. There are bound to be distractions and enemies — and this brings us to the final part of the exhortation.

 

 

TO FIGHT

“But thou, O man of God … fight the good fight of faith” (v.11-12). 

We must never imagine that the Christian life is an easy-going pastime. We are not to be like fish drifting with the current and tide. We are engaged in a contest! We must swim against the prevailing godlessness that is all around us. The word “fight” speaks not so much of hand-to-hand combat as of striving like an athlete who is intent on winning the race. The Greek word used here gives us our English word “agonize”. The conditions are demanding. We must strive to overcome every spiritual enemy. Like the “runner” of Hebrews 12:1-2 we must lay aside every weight and move forward in the energy of the Spirit of God, looking unto Jesus.

 

Not only must Timothy take heed of the dangers that faced him. He had also to take hold of eternal life (v.12). Although possessing it already, Paul challenged Timothy to hold that life in such a way that it would motivate him. He must be gripped by the wonder of it and live his life on earth in the light of eternity. Like the Lord Jesus who was faithful before Pontius Pilate, even though it led Him to die, Timothy must “keep this commandment” and continue to live out his “good confession” (v.12—14). Like every true man of God, he must have before his vision the return of the Lord Jesus Christ from heaven (v.14).

 

 

THREE THINGS

Three things had been presented to the man of God by his spiritual mentor. Timothy must flee from false teaching and wrong desires; he must follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, and meekness; he must fight the good fight of the faith — taking heed to the warnings he had been given and taking hold of eternal life. The demands may be great, but we have not been left without help. The Holy Scriptures in our possession equip “the man of God” fully to undertake every good work (2 Tim.3:16—17). It is a fact that none of us can be real men and women of God without valuing the Scriptures and spending time learning from them.

 

The woman of Shunem perceived that Elisha was “a holy man of God” (2 Kgs.4:9). May the Lord give us the desire to be holy men and women of God so that others recognize that there is something different about us too.