The second incident was that of Naaman, the leper commander-in-chief of the Syrian army. You will recall the story, so I will not give you details. We will just take him up where he set out with his great retinue to visit Elisha with a quest for his healing, having been advised by the little captive servant maid in his home that there was a prophet in Israel, and if he would go to him she was sure he would heal Naaman, her master, of his leprosy. Well, he arrived with his retinue, and you will remember that Elisha did not even go out to meet him, did not make any fuss of him at all, and did not even see him. He sent his messenger, his servant, to find out what it was all about, and then gave his command: “Go and wash in Jordan seven times” (2 Kings 5:10). Poor Naaman had a lot of trouble over that! “Are not Abanah and Pharpar, rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? May I not wash in them, and be clean?” (2 Kings 5:12). He had to get down very low, off – as we say – his high horse of personal importance and pride in order to receive. That is by the way, and you can take all these details in as we go on. That is not the message.
Having at last had his pride overcome, and having come to see that it was either his pride, on the one side, or his healing on the other – he could choose which he liked – he came down on the side of healing, and went and bathed himself in the Jordan seven times, and was made whole.
Now, I say there are a lot of details in the story; it is full of instruction. But I want to get to our one thing, this matter of enlargement, the way of the enlargement of the testimony, and I want to take you over to the Gospel by Luke, chapter four. You will remember that the Lord Jesus had come to Nazareth, where He was brought up: “He entered, as his custom was, into the synagogue on the sabbath day, and stood up to read. And there was delivered unto him the book of the prophet Isaiah. And he opened the book and found the place where it was written, The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he anointed me to preach…” (Luke 4:16-18). There we are on the ground of the Holy Spirit. We have come right back to Elisha, to this double portion of the Spirit, this anointing of the Spirit: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me.”
Now note! After He read the portion, stopping at a very significant point, He said:“Today hath this scripture been fulfilled in your ears”(Luke 4:21). And then He went on to say: “No prophet is acceptable in his own country”. “Anointed… prophet” – we are in spirit with Elisha all the time. Now listen: “There were many lepers in Israel in the time of Elisha the prophet; and none of them was cleansed but only Naaman the Syrian”(verse 27). “In Israel… the Syrian”, the outsider, the one of another nation. They saw the point in Nazareth and were filled with anger. They thrust Him out and took Him to the brow of the hill upon which their city was built, intending to cast Him over. Mark, in referring to this incident, said: “He marvelled because of their unbelief… and he could there do no mighty work” (Mark 6:6,5).
This is the point. The Lord deliberately struck a blow that day at the narrow prejudice and exclusiveness of Israel, and said: ‘In the days of Elisha the Lord went outside of Israel.’ Israel had plenty of lepers, but the Lord went outside of Israel to meet Naaman, the Syrian. The Lord’s thought is not some little, narrow, exclusive, bigoted thing that thinks it is everything and has everything, as Israel did. The Lord’s thought is as big as everybody who is in need, be he Syrian or Jew, or any other. Christ is big enough for all the nations.
That was the great trouble. You see, they were filled with anger when He struck at their exclusiveness and said: ‘Really, what you people need is spiritual enlargement, to get away from this narrowness, this littleness, this straitening of your Lord and making Him so much smaller than He really is. You need enlargement.’ They were angry!
You notice that almost exactly the same thing happened when this same Holy Spirit made Peter go right away up north country to the house of a Gentile, Cornelius, the centurion. The Holy Spirit made him do it against his own will. Peter had said: “Not so, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean” (Acts 10:14). But the Lord said: “Arise… go with them.” The Holy Spirit was in charge, as sovereign. He is going to extend the bounds of this testimony, and is not going to tolerate this little thing, with its smallness and exclusiveness – shut in. He is removing the grave clothes. Fullness is His thought for all. Now Peter had to go because the Spirit made him go, and when he was there the Spirit let him know very effectively that this was what He was doing, because later Peter says: “As I began to speak, the Holy Ghost fell on them”(Acts 11:15). Well, when Peter got back to Jerusalem he went into a pretty hot fire! The Apostles at Jerusalem hauled him over the coals for breaking the bands of Israel, for forcing open the nations. All Peter could say, almost apologetically, was: “If then God gave unto them the like gifts as he did also unto us, when we believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I, that I could withstand God?” (Acts 11:17).
You see, that is what brought about the death of Stephen. That is why they gnashed upon him and stoned him to death. Why? Well, if you read Stephen’s address to them you will find that it was all against their nationalistic limitation and smallness and prejudice, and Stephen gathered it all up in this one phrase: “Ye do always resist the Holy Ghost” (Acts 7:51). The Holy Ghost is for enlargement, and is against littleness, smallness, narrowness and exclusiveness, and if He is, we ought to be against it. To make Christ smaller than He is is to resist the Holy Ghost. There were many lepers in Israel, but to none of them was the prophet sent, but to Naaman, the Syrian. I think we should see the point of that.
Enlargement is the Lord’s thought. Not only fullness of the vessels, but enlargement of vision to embrace all for whom Christ died, and to love all who are subjects of His grace.
Enlargement of Ministry
The third story is that of the sons of the prophets coming to Elisha and saying: “The place where we dwell before thee is too strait for us. Let us go, we pray thee, unto Jordan, and take thence every man a beam, and let us make us a place there, where we may dwell” (2 Kings 6: 2).
Here is the question of enlargement again, from another standpoint and in another way. What is it this time?
Well, first, enlargement is the vessel being full, and all the vessels being full.
Secondly, enlargement is the enlargement of vision, the end of all personal and collective introspection. It is a most fatal thing to be turned in upon ourselves, and all the time to have a narrower vision than the Lord’s vision.
Now we come to the sons of the prophets. What is this? The testimony is again involved, and it is involved in the matter of service. You see, they are the sons of the prophets, and now it is the question of service amongst the Lord’s people: an enlargement unto service for the testimony of Jesus. I think the best way in which we can get at this is to come right over to our New Testament at once.
We have two letters in the New Testament – of course, we have several twin letters in it – but we have this set of twins in the Corinthian letters, and I need not tell you what is in them. I think everybody knows what is in the first letter to the Corinthians! It is a sorry state of no testimony in the city. Oh, what an appalling spiritual smallness there is in the Corinthian church in that first letter! The second letter? Well, it is the enlargement of ministry, isn’t it? “Therefore”, says the Apostle, “seeing we have this ministry” (2 Corinthians 4:1), and he gives much light on what the ministry is. I am not going to deal with those details, but it is all a matter of enlargement unto ministry. The cry of the Apostle to the Corinthians is this: “Our mouth is open unto you, O Corinthians, our heart is enlarged… be ye also enlarged” (2 Corinthians 6:11,13). ‘Your trouble is that you are too small, too little in yourselves, and too petty in your spiritual life and your spiritual measure.’
What was it that made them small and destroyed their ministry? Well, read the first chapters again and you cannot miss it. “Each one of you saith I… I… I… are ye not carnal… after the manner of men?” (1Corinthians 1:12; 3:3). And then he speaks about the natural man – “Now the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God… he cannot know them”(1 Corinthians 2:14). He is under a veto, an embargo, a limitation. Live on the ground of the self-life, whatever form it may take, intellectually, emotionally, volitionally, or in any other way, and you will be a little person spiritually. You will be a petty person spiritually, all tied up, limited, and you will have a very small testimony. But “he that is spiritual judgeth all things” (1Corinthians 2:15).
It would seem that between the two letters something happened, that they had escaped from the littleness of the natural life and the natural ground unto something more of the Spirit. They had become enlarged in their spiritual life, in their hearts and in their minds, enlarged by the power of the Holy Spirit – and then you have the ministry: “We have this ministry” (‘We have this testimony’) “We have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the exceeding greatness of the power may be of God” (2 Corinthians 4:7).
Oh, we need this basic work to deliver us from ourselves! That is it, isn’t it? In every form, in every way – our self-estimates, our self-will, our self-strength! All that, and then the place of our habitation will be enlarged, we will build something bigger, and the testimony will go on and there will be a ministry.
I know how simple, perhaps elementary, are the things that I am saying, but they are basic, and very important.
The Place of Jordan
In closing I want to remind you of the place that Jordan had here in the life and ministry of Elisha. He started at Jordan with Elijah; it was at Jordan that he came into his ministry. Naaman had to go and wash seven times in Jordan before he came into the enlargement that the Lord was bringing about. The sons of the prophets went to Jordan to cut down wood, and it was there that the axe-head came off and went to the bottom, and the iron was made to swim.
Well, here you are. 1 Corinthians is the natural life which goes downward. 2 Corinthians is the spiritual life of resurrection which comes upward. There is no service in our downward gravitation, is there? We are no use to the Lord like that! Get down, and you are no use to the Lord at all. Follow your own natural life and you get out of the Lord’s use. But when His Divine resurrection life comes in by the Holy Spirit, the iron swims. That which would otherwise always go down is made to rise. The power of His resurrection is at work. It is the reversing of our natures, bringing us into the life of the Spirit and the ministry, and the testimony goes on.
May the Lord write these lessons deeply in our hearts and make us really understand His thought for every one of us: His spiritual fullness – nothing less. That is your birthright – to have of His fullness. There are no special classes for this. It is for all – “they were allfilled”. That is the Lord’s thought for you and for me – to be filled. It is His desire, and He desires that we should have our vision continually enlarged. Oh, God save us from becoming smaller in any way than the thought of the Lord Jesus! The Lord save us from becoming exclusive, shut in, tied up with limits that He does not put upon things! Christ is so great. We need never fear that we shall out-measure Christ, especially if we live in and walk by the Spirit. We shall not find that the Spirit’s way is cramping, closing in. The Spirit’s way is unto Jerusalem, Samaria, and to the uttermost parts of the earth, the fullest bounds of Divine grace. And our testimony – it is only another word for ministry – ministry sometimes seems very professional. We think of the ministry as being that of some special body of people. Call it ‘testimony’, and then we are all in it. Our testimony will be effective, will be released when we are ourselves delivered from what we are naturally. Do you know yourself? Oh, the terrible limitations there are in our natures and temperaments! We are all made in one way or another, and there are terrible limitations in our make-up. The Holy Spirit can lift us free of ourselves and our natural make-up, and enlarge us with the enlargement of Christ.