The ministry styles of Elijah and Elisha contrast dramatically. Elijah generally comes across as bold, confrontational, alone, and spectacular. In contrast, we can characterise Elisha as bold, compassionate, private, and ministering in the context of community. Leithart (Brazos Commentary 1 & 2 Kings, p187) summarises and compares their messages.
“Elijah’s ministry focuses on calling Ahab to repentance, but once the fate of Ahab’s house is sealed (1 Kgs. 21:17-24), Elisha concentrates on building a living community of faith withing Israel, a living community within the corpse of Omride Israel.”
While Elijah challenged the head of the kingdom, Elisha started a grassroots movement. I’m sure exceptions exist to these general overviews, but this perspective provides valuable insight into ministry and Christian expectations today.
Elisha asked for, and presumably received, “a double-portion of [Elijah’s] spirit”. So he was certainly no less spiritual, or less blessed by God, but he was less spectacular and confrontational. He didn’t challenge the throne, although the throne felt threatened by him.
This leads me to a fairly simple observation. There is a time for confrontation, and a time for healing. There is a time for tearing down and a time for building up. It’s our task to observe the times.
At times Christians need to stand up against ungodliness and injustice around us. We need to confront compromise of God’s standards in the church. We need to oppose hidden idols in the lives of God’s people. We need to call people to repentance and point them toward God.
However, at other times God needs us to wage a stealth battle, simply setting the example of “overcoming evil with good” (Rom 12:21). Elisha touched lives of those around him with the healing only God could provide. In 2 Kgs. 2:19-22 he healed a city’s water supply. In chapter 4 he restored a widow’s sons to her when they faced slavery. He healed a woman of infertility and later raised her son from the dead. At the end of chapter 4 Elisha heals a pot of poisonous stew and then miraculously feeds 100 men with just 20 loaves of bread. Elisha brought God’s healing with him. What message from God accompanies you?
- Is the confront vs heal just a personality difference between Elijah and Elisha, or do you think it’s a deliberate ministry approach?
- What guidelines would you suggest to help us decide when to imitate Elijah, or when to follow the example of Elisha?