Kent A. Hansen, J.D.

Clayson, Mann, Yaeger & Hansen, Corona, California

Summary: This sermon presents the seriousness of losing sight of God’s grace.

Let’s cut to the chase—the story of Naaman ends with Gehazi stricken with the leprosy that Naaman had at the beginning. His skin is a sickly white and, in an odd congenital contagion, Gehazi’s descendants will suffer from the dread disease as well. The problem with leprosy is that it attacks the nervous and immune systems so the body does not have its usual warning defense to pain. Without that warning, small cuts and minor infections become destructive, disfiguring lesions.

Who is Gehazi and why does he suffer this fate?

A disciple of Elisha

He is the servant to Elisha, prophet of Israel, and the religious leader of the nation. Gehazi travels with Elisha. He is the man to go to for those who want an interview or favor from the prophet. Gehazi is Elisha’s spokesman and confidante. Gehazi is a useful man to the prophet, his ministry and, indeed, to the mission of Israel.

But Gehazi wants to be so much more. . . .

He was brushed aside when he sought to intervene with a wealthy woman who appealed to Elisha for the healing of her son (2K 4:25-31). Now, he watches Naaman, a rich unbelieving Gentile, show up at the humble home of Elisha bringing a fortune in gold and silver and fashionable clothing with him in the hope of purchasing his healing. He listens to Naaman try to give Elisha a good share of that fortune in gratitude for his miraculous healing (2K 5:15).

It is a defining moment. Naaman came to them to get what he could get nowhere else in the world. He is healed. He is grateful. He is wealthy. His money can do so much good: maybe an endowment for the School of the Prophets; food for the poor that Elisha is so fond of serving; an “Elisha Institute of Prophecy and Healing”; financial security for Elisha and Gehazi and their families because the fortune of a prophet in a troubled land is volatile. They can do a lot of good with Naaman’s money and can do well for themselves. What is not to like about the situation?

Blind to grace

Gehazi is astonished and angered when Elisha tells Naaman with typical bluntness, “As the Lord lives, whom I serve, I will accept nothing” (2K 5:16). Naaman presses him to accept, but Elisha refuses. Then Naaman makes an odd request for two mule loads of dirt to build an altar at home. He begs pardon for having to accompany his king into the temple of the loathsome Assyrian god Rimmon when he gets home. Elisha goes along with him on both counts (2K 5:17-19).

Gehazi stews over this while Naaman and his caravan leaves. Just after Gehazi sees them disappear beyond the first hill, he makes up his mind. “ ‘My master has let that Aramean Naaman off too lightly by not accepting from him what he offered. As the Lord lives, I will run after him and get something out of him.’ So Gehazi went after Naaman” (2K 5:19-21).

It is not surprising that Gehazi cites “the Lord” as his authority. Plans to do what you want to do any way seem justified if you can claim God as your inspiration. Turning a profit by selling to non-believers what believers know to be the gracious gift of a loving God also seems reasonable. After all, if the “Gentiles” want the same advantages, they should “join the club” and come inside too, right?

And why not “do well” for yourself while doing “good”? Didn’t our Lord himself multiply a few loaves and fish into a meal for 5,000 with plenty of leftovers? Don’t profits make it possible to do so much more good for those in need? (Mt 26:6-13).

About delusion

Jesus deals with such questions in a terse fashion: the profit motive has no place in the service of God. “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money” (Mt 5:24).

This instruction of Jesus is manifest in the idea of the charitable non-profit corporation. As a matter of public policy, the state permits enterprises to pursue charitable purposes in religion, education, healthcare, or science and exempts them from taxes on income or property so long as the mission is charity rather than profit. This does not mean that such an organization cannot turn a profit, but profit cannot be the motive for corporate existence.

If a non-profit corporation begins to serve a privileged few, compensates its employees above fair market value, builds huge reserves without meaningful operational expenditures on the mission, then the corporation is considered in the eyes of the law to be an avaricious for-profit “wolf” in the “sheep’s clothing” of a non-profit. The tax-exemption in such case is being abused to give the corporation an unfair advantage in the business market in which it is operating.

The same thing is true of individuals. I tell my fourth-year dental students in my Dentistry and the Law course: “You are about to graduate and start your career. You are likely to make a lot of money. But do whatever you do because it serves others and satisfies your soul. If you are only seeking money, there will never be enough money to satisfy you. That will doom you to unhappiness.”

My words echo Solomon’s observation in Ec 5:10: “The lover of money will not be satisfied with money; nor the lover of wealth, with gain.”

Money itself is not the real problem, as the Apostle Paul wrote to Timothy about men and women who imagined “that godliness is a means of gain.” Paul said, “Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment, for we brought nothing into the world and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare; into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into destruction. For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs” (1Tm 6:5-10).

The distraction of accumulating and preserving wealth will destroy belief, Jesus said in the parable of the sower (Mt 13:22). He also said in the parable of “the rich fool” that building up a large estate or reserve to hedge against the future can be a deadly delusion (Lk 12:16-21).

When Jesus returns to earth, he is not going to ask his followers, “How much ‘stuff’ did you accumulate for me?” He is going to ask “What did you do with the ‘stuff’ I gave you to help the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick and the oppressed?” (Mt 25:31-46).

And why not “do well” for yourself while doing “good”? Didn’t our Lord himself multiply a few loaves and fish into a meal for 5,000 with plenty of leftovers? Don’t profits make it possible to do so much more good for those in need? (Mt 26:6-13).

Stewardship, power and grace

The fact is that everything that we have really belongs to God (Ps 50:10-12). We are his servants and the stewards of his wealth. We are charged to see that it is used in the expression of his love and grace to his children, not for our corporate interests or estate plans. When we start to accumulate and exploit his assets in his name for our gain he says, “Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!” (Jn 2:16).

Legend has it that in a telling moment, Pope Julius II showed the theologian Erasmus the treasures that Julius had accumulated for the church through many military campaigns and political maneuvers. Julius told Erasmus, “It can no longer be said of Christ’s Church, ‘Silver and gold have I none.’ ” Erasmus replied, “But can the Church still say, ‘Take up your bed and walk?’ ”

There is no sin in wealth in itself, only in placing the desire for it above trusting devotion to God. It is tempting, as Paul said, to desire to be rich for the good that can be accomplished with the fortune, but it is unnecessary for the advancement of mission to fulfill that desire. We are the ones to be spent. We, ourselves, are the currency in the hand of God. As Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “I will very gladly spend and be spent for your souls. . .” (2Cor. 12:15).

In commenting on Paul’s statement, Oswald Chambers wrote, “We have no right in Christian service to be guided by our own interests and desires. In fact, this is one of the greatest tests of our relationship with Jesus Christ. The delight of sacrifice is that I lay down my life for my friend, Jesus. I don’t throw my life away, but I willingly and deliberately lay it down for him and his interests in other people. Many of us are interested only in our own goals, and Jesus cannot help himself to our lives. But if we are totally surrendered to him, we have no goals of our own to serve.We tend to be devoted, not to Jesus Christ, but to the things which allow us more spiritual freedom than total surrender to him would allow” (My Utmost for His Highest [Grand Rapids, MI: Discovery House, 1992], entry for February 24).

The story of Naaman began in grace with Elisha saying without condition or reservation, “Let him come to me, that he may learn there is a spokesman for God in Israel” (2K 5:8). That is the point!

What we do in serving and healing others either points to God or to us. If our service points to God it points to life because Jesus Christ is the “author and finisher of our faith” and our only hope for eternity. If our efforts point to us, finite creatures that we are, we point to death because that is our assured end without God.

The way of grace, both its glory and its devastation, is that it is all God and none of us. Our life originates in God and continues in God, and if here and now is all that is important to us then we are only as good as last year’s tax return and this year’s financial statements. If eternity in the presence of God is what is important to us then we can work quietly and faithfully in the knowledge that we have a future and a hope provided for us. What we do now is simply a step on a journey to our Lord and our God who not only is our goal but who is also the power by which we may achieve it.

We live badly when we forget this. We take shortcuts to achievement by stepping on the backs of others, seeking to outdo them or to use them to our glory. We measure our progress by asking “Haven’t I done more? Don’t I merit more? Have they paid enough for what I do for them?”

“Know that the Lord is God. It is he that made us, and we are his, we are his people and the sheep of his pasture” (Ps 100:3). When we convince ourselves that we are necessary and that our service is indispensable to God we are going to be driven by performance rather than living generously and loving wholeheartedly in grace and trust. Living that way acknowledges that God is our providence and that we represent his providence to those who come to us for his word and healing. This principle, as a matter of bedrock truth, requires us to treat each person with equal dignity whether in our actions or those of the institutions that we establish and operate in God’s name.

Who is the “grace” ful disciple?

Gehazi’s thinking is graceless and contemptuous toward both Elisha and Naaman. Gehazi values his shrewdness over Elisha’s graciousness. When he calls Naaman, “that Aramean” it is an ethnic slur, not a compliment. He feels justified by his presumed religious and ethnic superiority to exploit Naaman.

Gehazi is also disdainful of the spiritual cost already paid by Naaman. This feared, powerful, heroic general has surrendered for the first time in his life and it is to Yaweh, the God of Israel. But actions without price-tags are irrelevant to “on-the-make” men and women like Gehazi. That’s why their usefulness to the cause of God is limited and their influence is ultimately negative.

Naaman’s priorities are gratitude and devotion. He shows a steady softening heart and opening of mind and the submission to God’s authority that are the hallmarks of true conversion.

The priorities of Gehazi are self-advancement and profit. He ignores the transformational wonder of God’s grace to focus on the bottom line of “What’s in this for me?” He hypocritically and falsely claims the authority of mission to benefit himself. When Naaman sees Gehazi coming, he stops and asks him, “Is everything all right?”

Gehazi replies, “Yes, but my master has sent me to say, ‘Two members of a company of prophets have just come to me from the hill country of Ephraim; please give them a talent of silver and two changes of clothing” (2K 5:21-22).

Trusting, open-hearted Naaman generously offers him two talents of silver—double the request—and urges Gehazi to take them. Naaman even sends two servants with Gehazi to carry the treasure.

Gehazi dismisses the servants when they get to the town, stores the loot and then goes to see Elisha. Elisha asks him “Where have you been, Gehazi?” (2K 5:25).

Vision—choice and grace

If you start out on your own apart from God, soon enough you are going to be practicing deceit to cover your inadequacy. Gehazi tells Elisha, “Your servant has not gone anywhere at all.”

Elisha then exposes him, “Did I not go in spirit when someone left his chariot to meet him? Is this a time to accept money and to accept clothing. . . .Therefore the leprosy of Naaman will cling to you and to your descendants forever.” Gehazi leaves Elisha and walks into history “leprous, as white as snow” (2K 5:26-27).

It takes a while for the neuropathy of leprosy to manifest itself by lesions on the skin. There is simply a growing insensitivity to the warnings of pain that something is wrong. Envy, ambition, greed and self-righteousness can render us just as insensitive to the growth of sin in our life until it tragically breaks out in disfiguring shame. Gehazi had been a leper for some time.

When lepers, whether of the physical or moral variety, come to us for healing because we represent God to them, we should help them with all the grace that God provides. But if we attempt to exploit their gratitude to serve our selfish interests, we take on the insensitivity, decay and disfigurement of lepers ourselves.

The story of Naaman puts these issues in stark contrast. Jesus drew its ultimate point and it bears repeating: “No one can serve two masters. The person will hate one master and love the other, or will follow one master and refuse to follow the other. You cannot serve God and worldly riches” (Mt 6:24, NCV). “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions” (Lk 12:15).

Life is a blessing of grace. You don’t deserve it and can’t afford it, even on a payment plan. That’s why Elisha refused payment from Naaman. That’s why Christ gives it to you. So I ask you, does this message find you on your way home, free, happy and open-handed in the love of God like Naaman or conniving and bargaining and on the run for what you can get out of someone else like Gehazi? The difference between those two positions is as wide as eternity.

“O taste and see that the Lord is good. Happy are those who take refuge in him” (Ps 34:8).

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April–June, 2007

Discipleship