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.
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
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.
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?
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?
“Show the proud God’s law; show the humble God’s mercy.”
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 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.
Have you ever had to submit to God’s will in something you disagreed with?
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