This sermon, or parts thereof, may be used with attribution.
What do you think of when you hear the word “Loyalty”?
<pause for answers>
One of the most common images of loyalty are dogs. They look to their master for food, for approval, for direction and for companionship.
Their identity is intrinsically tied up in their master. When they are separated, the dog’s world is not quite right. They long to be where their master is, even if just to sit at their feet. When they receive their master’s wrath, they reform their behavior to avoid the displeasure.
I have a dog myself.
He is a border collie, and the sweetest dog you’ll ever meet. When I’m outside with him, he follows me around, and frequently looks over to me to check what I’m doing and align himself with me.
When I go inside, he will set himself up against the closest door to where I am in the house, waiting for the moment I go outside again.
When I am watching, he will try to show-off by playing tug of war or herding chickens or chasing a ball.
He is faithful. If other people around tell him what to do, he looks to me and ignores them when I’m around.
He listens when I tell him to do the seemingly insignificant things, come, or sit or “get-out-of-it!”.
This picture reminds me of the Loyalty that we ought to have towards God. Sure, its not flattering to think about ourselves as dogs, but it’s an excellent idea of how we act in relation to our Master, our Boss - the LORD God.
The Bible uses the idea of loyalty all over the place: it is the theme across vast swathes of Old Testament. Our passage today is like many others where God’s people are presented with two options, two ways to live, two paths in life:
Faithfulness or Unfaithfulness.
serve the True God or serve Idols.
Obedience or Disobedience.
Life or Death.
Listen or Ignore.
Loyalty or Disloyalty.
As we make our way through the passage, 2 Kings 5 will shows us how peoples actions reveal their true loyalties. It shows us how loyalties affect the world around us. This passage is a challenge to think about our own loyalties, and if our own lives reveal loyalty to Jesus or otherwise.
We will break it down into five sections and walk though it:
Loyalty in Oppression (v1-5)
Loyalty Lacking (v6-7)
Loyalty through Humility (v8-14)
Loyalty Confirmed (v15-19)
Disloyalty leads to Deprivation (v20-27)
1. Loyalty in Oppression
1. Loyalty in Oppression
So where are we starting?
We’re dropping into Old Testament Palestine. It’s around 800 BC, and the Kingdom of Israel that existed under King David and Solomon is divided in two. The northern half, with its capital in Samaria is called Israel (confusing, I know), and the southern half is Judah, with its capital Jerusalem. As per usual, they are being pushed on all sides by other nations of different ethnic, religious and political backgrounds. Usually Israel or Judah is at war with at least one of these nations, and in this case it’s Syria to the north.
It’s supposed to be that the people of Israel & Judah are distinct from the other nations, following after their God Yahweh, living differently than all the pagan nations around them. They’re meant to be the Good Guys, who the other nations want to be like. They’re meant to be living by the laws and morals and attitudes of life that God gave them. Unfortunately, the Good Guys have become just like the rest of the nations. The people of Israel generally weren’t living lives loyal to the LORD, instead wanting to be like everybody else. They wanted other gods, and political allies and not to have to give their wealth to the poor and not to worry about orienting their lives toward God. They wanted good stuff from God but when it suited them they ditched him in a heartbeat.
Things are broken in the Promised Land. But there’s still some hope. God is still sending Prophet’s to Israel, with promises of blessing if they would only turn to the Lord and serve him and no-one else.
In comes this fella called Namaan.
He’s a commander, or a general we would say, of the Syrian army. Probably second in command to the King of Syria! The guy has an impressive resume, including some wins against Israel (by God’s permission). By all accounts he’s a successful and competent man. He had everything going for him, except...
He had a skin disease.
It was, it probably wasn’t nice to live with, and it probably carried a stigma in society. It could have been viewed as a curse from the gods, or as a result of some moral failure. Essentially, as long as Namaan had the disease he would be ritually impure, and viewed as broken.
In the ANE culturally people valued life in bodily wholeness, so disability, disease and sickness were seen as weaknesses, impurity and associated with death. You see that when you read through Leviticus and you come across heaps of weird laws that don’t seem to make sense to the modern mind. Why do bodily discharges make you ritually unclean in Leviticus? Because it is associated with death, and YHWH is the God of life. Same goes for skin diseases.
Those who were diseased in Israel we separated from the people in general, and had no hope of coming before the Lord in worship until they were healed and cleansed. Viewed from an Israelite perspective, the worst case, furthest from God type people are
If you tick all those boxes in Israel you are the furthest from God that you can get!
So, here’s Namaan, a Syrian career-military guy who has a skin disease. And, through God’s providence, he has an Israelite slave that he kidnapped during one of his raids against Israel. This young girl, stolen from her home and family, was put to work in the enemy household and would have every reason to be bitter and angry. You would expect her to heap curses on the head of her master and mistress, but she doesn’t.
Instead, when she hears about the issues he master has, she tells them of a mighty prophet of God in her home country that could help. She holds out hope that her oppressor could find healing. You can see it in v3!
She said to her mistress, “If only my master would see the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.”
The maid holds out hope of healing! Imagine that! There is a possibility he could be healed!
Isn’t it interesting that this enslaved little girl, still holds onto the God of Israel and his prophet despite her situation. She knows that the LORD works through that prophet doing miracles. Who knows how much faith she has, but she knows God works through his prophet.
The slave girl certainly puts high stock in the God’s prophet, a man loyal to the LORD. So much so, that her advice is enough for Namaan to make arrangements to go investigate this prophet. He trots off to put in for health leave, by getting permission from his boss.
This little slave girl, speaks of the power of God’s representative here on earth, and puts Namaan on a path to an encounter with the LORD. She’s an inspiration to us!
This girl, enslaved maid in a foreign land, one of the lowest in her society is able to affect the spiritual destiny of this powerful man.
I don’t know about you, but sometimes I feel like I’ll never do anything of significance for God, yet here we have this reminder that low status and dark circumstances don’t stop God from working though us.
Never think that your influence is insignificant brothers and sisters! God uses us where we are, even if the circumstances seem most unfavorable!
God might use your words in ways you never imagined! Your Gospel influence could be what puts another person on the path to faith.
Do you know what is one of the most effective missionary forces in the world today?
Christian Filipino maids.
These young ladies end up all over the world working in family homes doing menial labor and sharing their faith where possible. These girls do unimpressive work, sometimes in poor conditions, often in places that might scare us, yet that is where they show their loyalty to the LORD by sharing the gospel.
Don’t think that because you’re not some rock-star evangelist that you cannot serve God’s kingdom. Instead, wherever you are, remain loyal to the LORD, even if it is in slavery like the little girl in this story, and use the opportunities as they arise.
You may be planting seeds of faith!
You may be nurturing a growing understanding of God!
You may be the lucky-duck that helps someone turn away from sin to the living God!
Brothers and sisters: show your loyalty to the Lord by serving him wherever you are!
2. Loyalty Lacking
2. Loyalty Lacking
So Namaan has a chat to his boss and arranges a trip to Israel. Being the important dignitary that he is, the first port of call is the King of Israel. Just like if an important dignitary comes to Australia, they meet the Prime Minister in Canberra, so too Namaan goes off to meet the King of Israel with letters of introduction and gifts.
Namaan is probably thinking, “If there’s a powerful miracle working prophet in Israel, he’s going to be on the King’s payroll.” Surprisingly the King doesn’t give a thought to the prophet! So the king starts to freak out! See v7:
As soon as the king of Israel read the letter, he tore his robes and said, “Am I God? Can I kill and bring back to life? Why does this fellow send someone to me to be cured of his leprosy? See how he is trying to pick a quarrel with me!”
The King of Israel is worried! His first response is one of selfish concern!
He’s not concerned with Namaan or his disease, he’s worried that his northern neighbors in Syria are looking for a fight! He thinks they’ve sent Namaan as a trick, because obviously “I, the King of Israel can’t heal Namaan”. He thinks they’re looking for pretext for war when he comes up empty handed. The king feels like he’s being trapped into being a poor host who can’t help. He tears his clothes as a sign of despair.
It’s a sad state of affairs. The king of Israel, King of God’s people, ought to be familiar with the Prophets of the Lord. Instead he looks inward to his own devices, instead of outward to God’s help through his representative. Instead of turning to God for help, he just says “I’m not God, I can’t do it.”
In the same breath as he recognizes that God is able to heal Namaan, he fails to turn to God to supply his need.
The King’s loyalty is lacking. The King of Israel is supposed to be a model person. They are the model of what is good and right, the example for everyone to follow. They ought to be morally upright, very spiritual and wise. Yet here the King of Israel fails on most of those criteria;
he doesn’t turn to God,
fails to have concern for Namaan,
and can’t advise Namaan on how to receive healing from God.
This story presents a weak king, in a long line of weak kings, who is more concerned with himself than helping others. His loyalty to the Lord is lacking, thinking only of his own inability, and not of the Lord’s extraordinary power or his representative the prophet.
Friends, does this sound like your loyalty? Do you wander through life, inward looking and worried about just getting by rather than turning to the Lord to receive his powerful promises?
Does your attitude to life reveal loyalty to the Lord? Or obsession with yourself?
3. Loyalty through Humility
3. Loyalty through Humility
This despair of the King seems to go on for some time, because word gets around to Elisha, and Elisha says “Umm, hello? Why are you freaking out? Send him to me so he can see God’s power.” See in v8:
When Elisha the man of God heard that the king of Israel had torn his robes, he sent him this message: “Why have you torn your robes? Have the man come to me and he will know that there is a prophet in Israel.”
So, Namaan heads down, pretty keen to meet this guy who might be able to heal him. As an important dignitary, he turns up with his fancy ride and his entourage at Elsiha’s place. And Elisha doesn’t answer the door. Instead Elisha sends a message: “go wash in the river seven times.”
Imagine that! Imagine the top military commander from China rocks up at your door, limo, dress uniform, assistants and aides all over the place, and instead of answering the door, you send him a text message: “Hey mate, wanna get healed? Just pop down to Flooding Creek and go for a swim, that’ll fix her right up.”
Namaan is ticked off!
Who does this guy think he is? The prophet could have at least come out and put on a show with some religious ceremony mumbo jumbo! See v11:
But Naaman went away angry and said, “I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, wave his hand over the spot and cure me of my leprosy.
Namaan goes on to say, that the Jordan river is not that impressive, in-fact if it’s water that will do the trick, there are much better rivers in Syria that he could have washed in!
In that moment, Namaan feels like he’s wasted his time and energy, and been hugely disrespected. Why should he listen to this insolent fellow, and wash in the pretty-average Jordan river seven times?
Well, his servants try to calm Namaan down and say “look, he did say that you could be healed. That’s good right?”
What has Namaan got to loose. He has the hope of healing held out to him. He could be whole and restored if he humbled himself and obeyed the command.
Here Namaan takes steps of loyalty to the LORD. He swallowed his pride and sought healing through the simple act of washing himself in the unimpressive river.
There was nowhere else to turn to for healing. He had to submit to the second hand message from the prophet in the hopes that he might find restoration.
What happens? v14...
So he went down and dipped himself in the Jordan seven times, as the man of God had told him, and his flesh was restored and became clean like that of a young boy.
The great man humbles himself by following the instructions of God’s prophet, and it means restoration, wholeness, new life!
The simple submission results in healing from Elisha’s God, the Lord God of Israel. The healing is not from Elisha; he doesn’t even bother to show up. The healing is not from the water; there is better waters in Syria. The healing is from Elisha’s God, YHWH! But in order to receive from God he had to humble himself, swallow his pride and submit to the simple commands. Namaan begins his loyalty to the LORD through humility. He receives cleansing through humility.
Brothers and sisters, the same goes for us. We stand far removed from Namaan and his place in salvation history, but the principle remains the same:
We begin our loyalty through humility.
In order for us to receive cleansing, in order for us to enter God’s kingdom we recognize that we don’t have it in ourselves to fix our purity problems. We are broken and impure people who need external help to be cured. We may not carry signs on our body of impurity like a leper, but our hearts are defiled. We are sick with sin from the inside out.
When we come before God we have to put away pomp and ceremony. We have to swallow our pride listen to what is said: “It is a great word that Jesus has spoken to you; will you not do it? He says to you, ‘Wash, and be clean’.”
When we come before Jesus Christ, hat-in-hand, humbled, Christ will cleanse us. He will wash us! “the blood of Jesus ... cleanses us from all sin” (1 Jn 1:7), he will “cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 Jn 1:9).
As sinners we stand before God as impure, unholy, defiled, and carrying the stench of death. We beg Jesus like lepers, “Lord, if you want, you can make us clean.” And Jesus stretches out his hand and touches us by his Spirit, saying, “I want it; be clean.” (Lk 5:12–13).
We receive our spiritual cleansing from Jesus, and we pledge our loyalty to him. And even though the cleansing of Christ is spiritual and invisible, we symbolize the cleansing by baptism. We undergo a ritual washing of our body that mimics the spiritual cleansing of our souls. We submit ourselves to God, and are consecrated as his own.
Loyalty to the Lord begins with humility.
It can be easy to dismiss the simplicity of our salvation it you know. How often have you thought “Believing in Jesus for the forgiveness of sins is just too easy. Surely there’s something else to do?”
“Only Repent and believe? What else do I have to do to get to heaven?”
Nothing. It’s simple. Our religion seems stupid to the world, almost as stupid as Elijah’s command to have 7 baths to be healed. Yet, we are reminded in this passage that simply humbling ourselves, submitting ourselves to God, is all that he requires to before he makes us spiritually clean. He will cleanse us, if we will only lay down our pride.
4. Loyalty Confirmed
4. Loyalty Confirmed
Getting back to Namaan, he is understandably impressed. Healed of disease!
With the miraculous sign, Namaan is willing to disown all other gods and serve the LORD God of Israel. He hadn’t seen anything like this anywhere else. Only the LORD had healed him. See v15:
Then Naaman and all his attendants went back to the man of God. He stood before him and said, “Now I know that there is no God in all the world except in Israel. So please accept a gift from your servant.”
Namaan has a newfound loyalty to the LORD. His outward cleansing has been a cause of inward cleansing, conversion to serve the true God.
As a thankful recipient, he wants to give a gift to Elisha, but Elisha wants to make sure that there is no appearance of payment for services rendered. Elisha is not for hire. God’s gracious miracle is not repayable with gifts, so Elisha outright refuses.
Next Namaan starts to come to grips with the reality of being Loyal to the LORD in his home country.
How will he worship the LORD? In that time most people thought that each god was connected to a geographical location, so Namaan, wanting to be loyal to the LORD, wants to take dirt with him from Israel so that he can have access to Israel’s God by virtue of the fact that he has a part of Israel with him. Namaan probably wanted to make an altar or shrine with the soil so that he could sacrifice and worship at home.
So now that he has thought through his own worship, he realizes that part of his official duties as general of the army is going to the worship service for the god Rimmon. It was his job to be at the King of Syria’s side. He’s wrestling: How is he gong to remain loyal to the true God, while attending a worship service for another god?
Namaan is still coming to grips with what Loyalty to the LORD is like, and what it will change in his life. For now, he simply asks for forgiveness in advance. He knows something is not quite right about it (that’s why he brings it up) but all he can think to do is ask a pardon in advance.
Elisha is neither positive or negative about this. He simply sends the man on his way. Why doesn’t Elisha say more? It could be that he simply trusts that God will sort it out in due time as Namaan spiritually matures. Perhaps it wasn’t a problem because Namaan knew “there is no God in all the earth but in Israel,” he wouldn’t have divided loyalties.
It’s no surprise what is going on here. Often when people convert to Christianity, when they switch loyalties, it takes a while to come to grips with the implications of the Faith. We have to figure out what loyalty looks like in the situations we find ourselves in.
There are usually three different conclusions that can happen;
Carry on. Some things in life don’t change when you become a Christian. If your job, relationships or habits are God honoring then carry on.
Change it. As you examine you life in light of Christ you might find that your job, relationships or habits are not evil in themselves, but need to change. They need to be redeemed. You find you need to stop stealing from your employer by dodgying up your time sheets, you need to stop mistreating your wife, you need to stop getting drunk, you need to change your speech to cut out obscenity or gossip.
Drop it. Lastly, sometimes there are things that just have to go. There are things that are flatout wrong and must be cut out: stop sleeping with someone you’re not married too (in you mind and IRL), quit the job where you have to swindle customers, get rid of your illegal possessions.
Namaan, like all of us have to grapple with what loyalty to the LORD looks like in practice. There will be some things that are just flat out anti-God in every time and age, but there will be things that are slightly different in every age. How and who we interact with in society, what we wear, what words we use, what we eat what music we listen to, what entertainment we accept and so on will be slightly different in different cultures and places, and we should think carefully about what we do, but the overriding principle will always be “What confirms my Loyalty to the LORD?”
I personally chaffe against Namaan’s proposal to go into the temple of Rimmon and bow down, but the text is ambiguous. It is silent on whether it is OK to be an observer of the worship in this capacity.
It’s a reminder to us I think not to be too quick to judge when we see other Christians behaving in a way that is unnatural to us. Too often we Christians are quick to write off others as being unfaithful to God because our own conscience doesn’t like their form of Christian practice. Instead we should encourage the new believer to seek the Lord, and pray for them that God would grow them in faith and maturity, then go back to the Word of God for guidance. Sanctification is a process.
It’s easy to point out how others fail, but first you must look at the log in your own eye and ask yourself in your own choices and practices “What confirms my Loyalty to the LORD?”
5. Disloyalty leads to Deprivation
5. Disloyalty leads to Deprivation
The story ends with a switch. All good stories end with a switch or twist.
We have introduced here the fellow Gehazi. He’s Elisha’s apprentice or assistant.
He is overtaken by greed. Greed is insidious. It seems harmless, but then it brings destruction. This example is typical of the effect of greed.
It starts as a desire for more, something you want.
Elisha had said “no thanks” to Namaan’s gifts, and sent Namaan on his way. But Gehazi wanted a piece of the booty from the rich guy, and thought: “well if Elisha doesn’t want it, I’ll take some for myself”. So he chases down Namaan as he’s on his way, and spins a tall tale to get some of the wealth.
“Oh, some visitors have just arrived, and if the offer is still open they could do with some clothes an money.”
Gehazi’s greed leads to disloyalty.
He lies and deceives. He has to plan and manipulate. He hides his activity.
Gehazi tricks the newly converted, generous Namaan into giving him some clothes and money. Then when he gets it all back to the house and hidden, he heads out to Elisha as if he hadn’t left the building.
Elisha asks: “What have you been up to?”
Gehazi says “Nothing mate, I’ve been here the whole time”
He should know better than to lie to a true prophet, especially one who has just been involved in a miracle! Such is the nature of greed that he would lie even to God’s representative.
Elsiha, knowing what had happened curses Gehazi with the outward sign of his inward impurity. Gehazi’s heart was far from God, loyal to his own wallet over the Lord of Israel and his representative. His greed had led to lying, deceit, pride and ultimately, disloyalty. His Disloyalty led to Deprivation. He wanted wealth more than he wanted to follow God’s anointed.
Namaan’s curse was lifted when he humbled himself, and Gehazi’s pride had earned the curse. They switched places.
Despite the way that Gehazi set out to get more for himself, to increase his wealth, diversify his portfolio, he ended up being worse off. He couldn’t serve Elisha any more. He was sent out, probably ostracized from the community. A couple changes of clothes and some silver is a poor consolation for a life as an outcast leper.
Disloyalty leads to deprivation.
Unsurprisingly, the same goes for us. Disloyalty, that is disowning Jesus, leads to death. Pridefully rejecting Jesus earns us a curse. If you think you know better than God’s messenger, you got another thing coming!
Friends now is a good time to stop and think. Examine your lives and ask yourself “where is greed creeping in?”. It’s sneaky! It’s insidious! It will catch you unawares! It’s never obvious at the start, but it creeps on in, and before you know it you have a hard unrepentant heart!
When you find yourself complaining about the time you have to give up to help other people, you know that greed is on it’s way in.
When you can make plenty of time to work hard at your job, or to use your electronic devices, but you can’t seem to find time to spend discipling your children, you know that greed is a-foot.
When you can afford to live very comfortably in a nice house, with a nice car but struggle to find money to give to the poor or to the gospel work, you know that greed is at work.
When you are willing to overcharge people, to exaggerate on your time sheets, or to be less-that-truthful on your tax return, you know that greed is taking hold.
I urge you, don’t be the manipulative, lying Gehazi who’s greed got him no where! Don’t be Judas who sold out priceless Lord Jesus for a pittance. Don’t be the Israelite's hardening their heart in the desert, who’d rather have onions and garlic than the Living God!
For us here in Australia, in our land of plenty, it’s so easy to be greedy. But we need to be counter-cultural, displaying the generosity of our Lord Jesus who laid down his life to save us from these dead-end pursuits.
Gehazi’s greed was his downfall, and it will be our downfall too if we don’t kill it. Greed says that I don’t trust God to provide, I need to take matters into my own hands. Greed is an attitude of disloyalty.
Bringing it Together
Bringing it Together
This passage has taught us one unwavering thing this morning: Be Loyal to the LORD
And we have seen that driven home in 5 ways:
Be Loyal in Oppression - you may be used by God
Don’t lack loyalty like the king - Turn to God, rather than yourself
Loyalty begins with Humility - submit to the cleansing of Christ (purchased for you on the cross, its free too!)
Live in a way that Confirms your Loyalty.
Disloyalty leads to Deprivation - Greed, Pride and deceit are acts of disloyalty, and will be our downfall.
Brothers and sisters, we have received a lot of warnings this morning, but this story from Israel’s history is one of many that reminds us of the simple need to be Loyal to the Lord. For us as Christians, with the fuller revelation of God, we have a very tangible person to give our loyalty to: the Lord Jesus Christ. He is our king, and the one who cleanses us from our sinful impurity. He makes us like new. Through him we are born again. By believing, trusting, submitting, being loyal to Jesus we will receive the eternal joy and life that we long for. “He has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire” 2 Pe 1:4. “Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God.” 2 Co 7:1.
Be loyal to the LORD, and receive His cleansing.