We all need to be more concerned with the needs of others than with ourselves.
Everywhere he looked there was dust. Elijah had followed God's instructions and was taking the trail to Zarephath. The effects of the devastating drought were widespread. Crops were failing and animal herds were gradually being killed off as the months of rainless skies took their toll. Fortunately, there was still some precious water in the well at Zarephath, and as the prophet stopped to rest, he asked a passing woman to fetch him a drink. Then he made another request — one that, at first, seemed difficult for the woman — a widow — to fulfill. After all, the drought had caused a famine. Food was not readily available. "And as she was going to get it [the water], he called to her and said, 'Please bring me a morsel of bread in your hand.' Then she said, 'As the Lord your God lives, I do not have bread, only a handful of flour in a bin, and a little oil in a jar; and see, I am gathering a couple of sticks that I may go in and prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it, and die'" (I Kings 17:11-12). Here was a woman suffering from the very worst of the famine. Weak and exhausted, she just wanted to prepare one final treat for herself and her boy. Yet, as she was going about collecting for that last meal, here was a stranger asking for a share of the meager food. But Elijah had some comforting — and surprising — words for the woman. "And Elijah said to her, 'Do not fear; go and do as you have said, but make me a small cake from it first, and bring it to me; and afterward make some for yourself and your son. For thus says the Lord God of Israel: "The bin of flour shall not be used up, nor shall the jar of oil run dry, until the day the Lord sends rain on the earth" (verses 13-14). It would have been easy for the widow to tell Elijah that he was being unreasonable. She was facing certain death by starvation! Couldn't this traveler understand what it meant to watch a loved son wasting away before her eyes? But the woman didn't react in this natural, carnal way. She had the faith to believe that this man resting against the side of the well was a servant of God. And because of that belief, she did as she had been asked. The result? The jar of oil was maintained and the flour did not run out, just as Elijah had promised. And this little group did have enough to eat until the rains came again (verses 15-16).
The give way of life
This story only occupies a few short verses in the Bible, yet it is a striking example of God's way of living. This episode ranked high in the mind of Jesus Christ, for He used it as an example in Luke 4:26. Of course, this story is a tremendous illustration of living by faith. But beyond that, it also serves to show just what is meant by living the give way of life. Only by putting the interests of others first can we have those things we ourselves need. This attitude of sharing was missing from the mind of a rich man Christ talked of in a parable (Luke 12:16-21). It seems this individual, a farmer, had experienced several successful harvests. His barns were full to bursting. He had more than enough for his own needs, not just for the moment, but also for the next several years. He felt he had it made. Unfortunately, his good fortune blinded him to the plight of the poor in the society around him. So, instead of sharing his wealth with the needy, he planned to build bigger barns in which to store his produce, an action God called foolish: "You fool! This very night you will have to give up your life; then who will get all these things you have kept for yourself?" (Luke 12:20, Good News Bible). Quite a contrast to the account of the hungry widow! Yet, sad to say, this farmer displayed a common trait. It is easy to give in to the pull of the carnal mind that says: "My happiness is dependent on how much I have. Give me more money, position or goods, and then I'll be content." Yet the very things that are needful for us, including food, clothing and shelter, are promised to us by God — if we are willing to put the interests of others first. "And do not seek what you should eat or what you should drink, nor have an anxious mind," said Jesus. "For all these things the nations of the world seek after [by putting self-interest foremost], and your Father knows that you need these things. But seek the kingdom of God [by living the way that considers others first], and all these things shall be added to you" (Luke 12:29-31).
A living law
The difference between the hungry widow at Zarephath and the greedy farmer revolves around one basic law: "For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' But if you bite and devour one another, beware lest you be consumed by one another!" (Galatians 5:14-15). This same law is expressed in I Corinthians 10:24 with the apostle Paul's words, "Let no one seek his own, but each one the other's well-being." The purpose of this article is not to suggest that you go out and give away all of your money. God expects us to provide for our families, and that means, wherever possible, the provision of some kind of emergency fund for unforeseen eventualities, in addition to everyday necessities. God does not expect us to impoverish ourselves unnecessarily. Christ came that we might have abundant life (John 10:10), and it is good to try to have the best we can afford — to try to create a positive, quality environment in every way possible — without devoting our hearts and energies to the pursuit of material wealth. But if we see a need, whether a need for God's Church as a whole or something an individual requires, and we have the capacity to help, then it is our duty to do so. "But whoever has this world's goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him?" (I John 3:17). Of course, the ultimate solution to this world's poverty and other ills will not occur until Jesus Christ intervenes at His Second Coming to earth. Worldly charities and stopgap aid programs are for the most part ineffective. They treat symptoms rather than causes and thus fail to prevent food shortages and other such problems from recurring. Sometimes the best way we can give to others is to pray fervently that God will step in to set up His government on earth as soon as possible. Being concerned for the welfare of others also involves giving words of encouragement to those who are depressed, or offering of help to the elderly or sick (Galatians 6:2, 9). Of course, the greatest example of putting self-interest in second place was shown by Jesus Christ. If He had not been prepared to come to earth as a human and die for mankind, then none of us would have a future to look forward to. His was the ultimate act of giving consideration to others above oneself.
Whose interests do we serve?
So each of us must ask the question: Do we put our own interests first or, like the woman at the well, are we willing to put primary importance on service to others? If the widow had refused Elijah's request, she would have eaten that last little cake and then died. As it was, she went ahead and helped the weary traveler, and lived. What's more, she lived to see another major miracle — the restoration of her son to life (I Kings 17:17-24). She gave and as a consequence received more than she might have dared hope for. Today, that same law is in operation. As Christians we have three basic areas to overcome — Satan, the world and self. The key to fighting ourselves is to direct our thoughts toward the interests of others. Instead of thinking, How can I get the best of this situation?, we must instead ask, How can I turn this situation into an advantage for the other person? Human nature says, "Take from others, and I'll have more." God's law states: "Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom. For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you" (Luke 6:38). God's way is the only one that works, and it's guaranteed!