Bible Study: Balancing Act

How should the church treat outsiders?

A Syrian army commander once had an extraordinary encounter with God’s people—and dealt with everything from selfless love to loud irritation. Many non-Christians today probably have similar experiences. The Old Testament account says a lot about our personal contribution to the world’s view of the church. And the takeaway might be more of a mix than we think.

 

Read

Before you begin, ask the Holy Spirit to guide you into the truth available in the chapter. Permit yourself to ask questions that may not have answers. Wonder aloud, imagine the scene, and take note of anything that surprises, confuses, or even offends you. Remember, God is the best teacher.

Key Passage: 2 Kings 5:1-27

 

Background

It’s the age of the prophets in Israel. Things are tense between the Israelites and the Arameans, their enemies in Syria. Meanwhile, the prophet Elisha lives near the Jordan River and is known for the miracles he performs to glorify God.

 

Reflect

An Israelite girl has been taken captive in Syria and is serving in the home of Naaman, the Syrian army commander. Though she’s essentially his prisoner, she pities Naaman, who has leprosy, and wants him to be healed by Elisha.

  • In 2 Kings 5:3, while speaking to her mistress about Naaman’s illness, the servant girl begins with achalay. Usually translated “O!” or “If only!” the Hebrew word expresses strong yearning. What do you think she was feeling about Naaman? God? Herself? Now think of someone you know who’s not a Christian. Can you identify the same feelings in your own heart?

  • Think about what Jesus says in Matthew 5:44-45. Does it make you uncomfortable to ask God’s favor for non-Christians, even with no expectation that they will turn to Him? Now read 2 Kings 5:3. What impact, if any, do the servant girl’s words have on your mindset?

  • After reading the letter from the king of Aram, Israel’s king “tore his clothes and said, ‘Am I God?’” (2 Kings 5:7). Why do you think he responded this way to a stranger in need? Do you have personal experience of God’s faithfulness that would help you respond differently?

 

Continuing the Story

God opposes the proud, but He draws the humble close (James 4:6). It’s something everyone’s got to learn—and the sooner the better.

  • A saying among street evangelists goes like this: “Show the proud God’s law; show the humble God’s mercy.” Now, notice that Naaman is described as “furious” when Elisha won’t come out to greet him and that he also feels offended by the seemingly meaningless action required of him (2 Kings 5:9-12). What do you think Elisha meant to accomplish with his strange reception?

  • “Show the proud God’s law; show the humble God’s mercy.”

  • Have you ever had to submit to God’s will in something you disagreed with? Based on Elisha’s strategy, do you see any relationship between pride and the law? Between humility, obedience, and blessing?

  • 2 Kings 5:12 says that Naaman “went away in a rage.” Can you think of a time when you’ve seen a nonbeliever respond this way on coming face-to-face with God’s requirements? How can the church handle this issue with sensitivity and love?

  • Was there ever a time when you had to “close the door” on someone while making it clear where to find God, should he or she wish? Describe what made this difficult. Since then, if you’ve noticed a change of direction in that person, what may have contributed to it?

 

Reflect

In 2 Kings 5:21-22, Elisha’s servant goes in pursuit of Naaman’s treasures. A chapter later, the prophet instructs the king of Israel not to slaughter the Syrian army but, rather, to give them a feast and let them return home.

  • Gehazi secretly claims Naaman’s gifts (2 Kings 5:20-27)—and is punished. Why is Gehazi’s choice wrong, according to 1 John 2:15 and Matthew 10:8? What do you think his motivation was?

  • Have you ever had to submit to God’s will in something you disagreed with?

  • Have you seen Christians whose desire for what the world has is greater than their desire to give the world what they have? Can you find evidence either way in your own life?

  • Consider the Lord’s words in Matthew 5:16. Why do you think Elisha refused Naaman’s gifts? What impression of God’s people do you think Naaman received from Elisha and Gehazi?

  • In 2 Kings 6, Elisha shows mercy for the Syrians, who’ve come to kill him, finally putting an end to the hostilities between Israel and the Arameans. Knowing when to close the door and when to be tender is possible only through an intimate relationship with the Lord. What might be counterproductive one day could be the key to a beautiful turnaround the next.

 

Revisit

Over the next several weeks, use this section to review the study and consider how its message applies to your life.

Being the church for outsiders means wowing them with Christ’s extravagant love while at the same time maintaining a clear sense of right and wrong.

We’re called to live out our faith “with fear and trembling” and to uphold God’s statutes without compromise (Phil 2:12; John 14:21). But we’re also called to show the world Christ’s welcoming heart and the kindness of God. With those who don’t know Him, is it possible to show both at the same time? Can getting the balance wrong actually be damaging to people who are living far from Him?

We’re called to live out our faith “with fear and trembling” and to uphold God’s statutes without compromise.

  • Sometimes we’re afraid to love like the servant girl—afraid of displeasing God or muddying our witness. But Jesus ate with tax collectors. Loving sinners becomes a problem only when we soft-pedal God’s Word for fear of offending or compromise our principles to fit in. How about you? Do you find it easy to simply love people who don’t follow Jesus? Or do you worry that your love implies acceptance of an ungodly lifestyle? Can you ask the Lord to help you love in the way that does them the most good and brings Him the most glory?

  • On the other hand, we often hesitate to bring up sensitive topics like sin and right living. But many people around us have distorted views of right and wrong. Unable to identify sin in their own life, they’re often destroying themselves without realizing it. Do you think we’re ever called to point out the bondage others are unaware of, or be the voice of conviction for them? (Prov. 27:6). How does a strong relationship with the person help? In what ways can a close tie—such as that with a family member—be a hindrance?

  • Both for the church as a whole and in our individual witness, expressing God’s love and righteousness can be complex. To have the correct balance in any situation requires dependence on the Holy Spirit.

 

Illustration by Adam Cruft

Related Topics:  Reading Bible

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What happens to my notes

1 Now Naaman, captain of the army of the king of Aram, was a great man with his master, and highly respected, because by him the LORD had given victory to Aram. The man was also a valiant warrior, but he was a leper.

2 Now the Arameans had gone out in bands and had taken captive a little girl from the land of Israel; and she waited on Naaman's wife.

3 She said to her mistress, I wish that my master were with the prophet who is in Samaria! Then he would cure him of his leprosy."

4 Naaman went in and told his master, saying, Thus and thus spoke the girl who is from the land of Israel."

5 Then the king of Aram said, Go now, and I will send a letter to the king of Israel." He departed and took with him ten talents of silver and six thousand shekels of gold and ten changes of clothes.

6 He brought the letter to the king of Israel, saying, And now as this letter comes to you, behold, I have sent Naaman my servant to you, that you may cure him of his leprosy."

7 When the king of Israel read the letter, he tore his clothes and said, Am I God, to kill and to make alive, that this man is sending word to me to cure a man of his leprosy? But consider now, and see how he is seeking a quarrel against me."

8 It happened when Elisha the man of God heard that the king of Israel had torn his clothes, that he sent word to the king, saying, Why have you torn your clothes? Now let him come to me, and he shall know that there is a prophet in Israel."

9 So Naaman came with his horses and his chariots and stood at the doorway of the house of Elisha.

10 Elisha sent a messenger to him, saying, Go and wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh will be restored to you and you will be clean."

11 But Naaman was furious and went away and said, Behold, I thought, `He will surely come out to me and stand and call on the name of the LORD his God, and wave his hand over the place and cure the leper.'

12 Are not Abanah and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them and be clean?" So he turned and went away in a rage.

13 Then his servants came near and spoke to him and said, My father, had the prophet told you to do some great thing, would you not have done it? How much more then, when he says to you, `Wash, and be clean'?"

14 So he went down and dipped himself seven times in the Jordan, according to the word of the man of God; and his flesh was restored like the flesh of a little child and he was clean.

15 When he returned to the man of God with all his company, and came and stood before him, he said, Behold now, I know that there is no God in all the earth, but in Israel; so please take a present from your servant now."

16 But he said, As the LORD lives, before whom I stand, I will take nothing." And he urged him to take it, but he refused.

17 Naaman said, If not, please let your servant at least be given two mules' load of earth; for your servant will no longer offer burnt offering nor will he sacrifice to other gods, but to the LORD.

18 In this matter may the LORD pardon your servant: when my master goes into the house of Rimmon to worship there, and he leans on my hand and I bow myself in the house of Rimmon, when I bow myself in the house of Rimmon, the LORD pardon your servant in this matter."

19 He said to him, Go in peace." So he departed from him some distance.

20 But Gehazi, the servant of Elisha the man of God, thought, Behold, my master has spared this Naaman the Aramean, by not receiving from his hands what he brought. As the LORD lives, I will run after him and take something from him."

21 So Gehazi pursued Naaman. When Naaman saw one running after him, he came down from the chariot to meet him and said, Is all well?"

22 He said, All is well. My master has sent me, saying, `Behold, just now two young men of the sons of the prophets have come to me from the hill country of Ephraim. Please give them a talent of silver and two changes of clothes.'"

23 Naaman said, Be pleased to take two talents." And he urged him, and bound two talents of silver in two bags with two changes of clothes and gave them to two of his servants; and they carried them before him.

24 When he came to the hill, he took them from their hand and deposited them in the house, and he sent the men away, and they departed.

25 But he went in and stood before his master. And Elisha said to him, Where have you been, Gehazi?" And he said, Your servant went nowhere."

26 Then he said to him, Did not my heart go with you, when the man turned from his chariot to meet you? Is it a time to receive money and to receive clothes and olive groves and vineyards and sheep and oxen and male and female servants?

27 Therefore, the leprosy of Naaman shall cling to you and to your descendants forever." So he went out from his presence a leper as white as snow.

3 She said to her mistress, I wish that my master were with the prophet who is in Samaria! Then he would cure him of his leprosy."

44 But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,

45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.

7 When the king of Israel read the letter, he tore his clothes and said, Am I God, to kill and to make alive, that this man is sending word to me to cure a man of his leprosy? But consider now, and see how he is seeking a quarrel against me."

6 But He gives a greater grace. Therefore it says, GOD IS OPPOSED TO THE PROUD, BUT GIVES GRACE TO THE HUMBLE."

9 So Naaman came with his horses and his chariots and stood at the doorway of the house of Elisha.

10 Elisha sent a messenger to him, saying, Go and wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh will be restored to you and you will be clean."

11 But Naaman was furious and went away and said, Behold, I thought, `He will surely come out to me and stand and call on the name of the LORD his God, and wave his hand over the place and cure the leper.'

12 Are not Abanah and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them and be clean?" So he turned and went away in a rage.

12 Are not Abanah and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them and be clean?" So he turned and went away in a rage.

21 So Gehazi pursued Naaman. When Naaman saw one running after him, he came down from the chariot to meet him and said, Is all well?"

22 He said, All is well. My master has sent me, saying, `Behold, just now two young men of the sons of the prophets have come to me from the hill country of Ephraim. Please give them a talent of silver and two changes of clothes.'"

20 But Gehazi, the servant of Elisha the man of God, thought, Behold, my master has spared this Naaman the Aramean, by not receiving from his hands what he brought. As the LORD lives, I will run after him and take something from him."

21 So Gehazi pursued Naaman. When Naaman saw one running after him, he came down from the chariot to meet him and said, Is all well?"

22 He said, All is well. My master has sent me, saying, `Behold, just now two young men of the sons of the prophets have come to me from the hill country of Ephraim. Please give them a talent of silver and two changes of clothes.'"

23 Naaman said, Be pleased to take two talents." And he urged him, and bound two talents of silver in two bags with two changes of clothes and gave them to two of his servants; and they carried them before him.

24 When he came to the hill, he took them from their hand and deposited them in the house, and he sent the men away, and they departed.

25 But he went in and stood before his master. And Elisha said to him, Where have you been, Gehazi?" And he said, Your servant went nowhere."

26 Then he said to him, Did not my heart go with you, when the man turned from his chariot to meet you? Is it a time to receive money and to receive clothes and olive groves and vineyards and sheep and oxen and male and female servants?

27 Therefore, the leprosy of Naaman shall cling to you and to your descendants forever." So he went out from his presence a leper as white as snow.

15 Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.

8 Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. Freely you received, freely give.

16 Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.

12 So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling;

21 He who has My commandments and keeps them is the one who loves Me; and he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and will disclose Myself to him."

6 Faithful are the wounds of a friend, But deceitful are the kisses of an enemy.

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