What do we do with Naaman?

What happens when you are compelled by outside forces to act contrary to your faith? In every generation there have been laws passed, governments established, actions taken, and popular opinions formed that have flown in the face of the gospel of Jesus; some are subtle and some are blatant. I am grateful for Desiring God’s answer to this question. They helpfully show that while we need to seek the peace of the city in which we live, we are still called by God to resist laws that not only go against the peace of our community, but go against God’s will.

But there is one chapter in Scripture that has gotten me thinking a lot about how we may act in certain situations.

The Lord pardon your servant

In 2 Kings 5 we read about Naaman, the commander of the Syrian army. We are told that “by him the Lord (Yahweh) had given victory to Syria” (v. 1). God used this man to accomplish His purposes. But Naaman has leprosy; which brings him to the (enemy) nation of Israel for healing from Elisha the prophet. Naaman at first doesn’t like Elisha’s prescription for healing (dipping in the ugly Jordan River), but once he complies with it he is completely healed! And not merely physically, but he becomes a worshiper of the true God, saying, “I know that there is no God in all the earth but in Israel…” (v. 15). He backs this up with requesting two cart loads of Israel’s dirt. He wants to stand on Israel’s soil while worshiping Israel’s God. There is no doubt in my mind (or in Christ’s, see Luke 4.27) that this is a changed man in whom God is actively working!

With this in mind, consider this interesting request that Naaman makes of Elisha when he leaves:

“In this matter may the Lord pardon your servant: when my master goes into the house of Rimmon to worship there, leaning on my arm, 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.” 1 Kings 5.18

Apparently, part of being the commander of the army of Syria is accompanying the aging king into the house of his god and aiding him in his worship of this god. Naaman knows that worshiping this god would contradict his worship of Yahweh, but he also knows that, as the commander, he has a job to do. So Naaman asks Elisha for God’s forgiveness when his job requires this godless action.

And what is Elisha’s reply? “Go in peace.” He doesn’t say that God will condemn him nor does he call him a false worshiper and a hypocrite. Elisha and Naaman both acknowledge that the action required of Naaman is not reflective of his heart. He will be worshiping the true God on borrowed ground from Israel meanwhile carrying out his duty as the commander of the army. Naaman is prepared (and pardoned) to comply with the command because he knows that it is not he, but his position that is bowing at this altar. He is acting on behalf of the nation and he recognizes that the nation and its king will be judged for this action, but he himself will be forgiven for bowing at the altar.

The Naaman option

If Naaman, a converted pagan, can be told “go in peace” when he explains his situation, what does that mean for Christians today? Religious freedom aside, what does it mean for Kim Davis? (Aside: I agree that Mrs. Davis has the freedom to do what she did; it truly seems as though she is in the right. See here and here). Are there situations that appear to contradict our faith, but are actually pardonable by God because God is looking at our hearts? This is a delicate balance for three reasons:

  1. It’s Scripturally Rare. I cannot think of many places in Scripture where God’s people are in this situation. More often we are called to carry our cross and lay our lives down for Christ. If we are unwilling to acknowledge Christ before men, He will not acknowledge us before the Father (Matthew 10.32-33).
  2. It’s a question of representation. Who am I representing by civil obedience or disobedience? There are clear, definite situations where the believer must say, “my participation in that would signify my personal approval, and God is not pleased with that. Therefore, I will not…” But there are a few places where we might say, “although I and my God do not approve of the situation, I will fulfill this civil duty. I am not defying God, but the State is, and they will answer for the laws they have passed.
  3. It has limits. In the grand scheme of things, aiding your ailing king in the worship of his (false) god is a small matter. Elisha would not have said, “go in peace” if Naaman’s request was to be allowed to kill others without cause or destroy the temple of God. I am still working through this, but I think there are places where God’s people can “go in peace”. Perhaps this will remain a case by case discussion of Biblical ethics as time goes on.

Finally, consider this: most Conservative Evangelicals have held this belief without realizing it for years by supporting Just War. We claim that murder is against God’s Commands, but when Christian soldiers are called to kill for America, we call that justified. Why? Because those soldiers aren’t killing maliciously (we hope), but on behalf of their country. This passage would defend them. It also would defend someone who signs marriage licenses for divorcees and homosexuals at the town office. It is your country, not yourself, and not your God, that you are representing. And God knows who to judge when the time comes.

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Context, context, context

If you have spent any time studying the art and science of biblical interpretation (commonly known as Hermeneutics) you know one thing very well: it all comes back to context. Everything. If you forget that aspect of biblical interpretation, everything falls. Neglecting context means that we fail at preaching the full counsel of God and only look to what we “feel like” talking about. If we ignore the forest for the trees, we end up thinking the Bible is all about somethings other than Jesus.

For instance, it is easy to pull out many verses on the “issue” of Homosexuality and teach what God feels about it, but if you focus only on those verses, you miss the love and grace of God and the fact that Jesus is the center of the Scriptures and not just a fun story that appears in the second act. If you forget context, it is easy to make the Bible about you or anything other than Jesus.

Legalism

Jared Wilson has a great post on legalism (here). In it, he writes:

Legalism ISN’T any preaching of the Law or of moral exhortations (in their biblical context). But it IS preaching “do’s and don’t’s” as if they are the essential message of Christ or of the Bible.

Amen! We must remember the context of every verse or else fall to legalism. For more on this, see Paul.

Interpretations

This concern for proper context should be shown everywhere, we shouldn’t make it a habit to just take a phrase from someone and judge them for that one phrase. However, as Mike Wittmer (author of the phenomenal book, Don’t Stop Believing) wrote on the interpretation of the Koran and the Bible recently:

The Koran does not tell a developing story, as does the Bible, but arranges its chapters by length, from larger to smaller.  So unlike the Bible, where it is inappropriate to pull a verse from Leviticus to say that Christians shouldn’t eat Gulf coast shrimp (God gave us common sense for that), there is no such context in the Koran.  How can you take something out of context that doesn’t have a context?

There will be times when certain things don’t offer an actual context. It’s times like that when we need to exercise wisdom in our reading and interpretation.

How else can context affect the way you interpret? What else should we be careful about?

Update: 8/24/10: A great video about how the Bible is about Jesus- he is the context of everything.

He became like us

Couples who have been married for a while usually begin to look very much alike. I can’t help but compare this to Christ and his Church. We are told that “the two shall become one flesh. This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church” (Eph. 5.31,32). So Christ became like us once that we might continually become like him.

Reflect on this truth…

…that in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not made anything that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it… The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God…

The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth… And from this fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known… He was in the form of God, but did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father… All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation… For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

For us…

Christ came for us, lived with us, died for us, that God might be glorified. At Christmas and through the whole year, we must remember this truth. Solo Deo Gloria.

The Need for Humilty

I posted earlier on sins against the community of believers. But how do we get away from those?

A thorny foot…

Paul had the same problem. But if you notice, it wasn’t him that prevented his pride. Look at 2 Corinthians 12:7-10-

So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me,  “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

Paul could have boasted in the anything! He was well learned, a great Pharisee, everything! But God kept Him from it. That would be the first step- ask God to give you a thorn… something that prevents you from boasting.

Our Sin, Savior, and Fellowship

It is easy to say that we are all totally depraved. Some even say it happily while leading others to Christ. But happiness should not be the first emotion that we feel over this fact. We should be humbled- we must remember that we are sinful, and not just that, but bad people. Once we remember that, what ground do we have in boasting? As part of this sin, we need a savior- thus it is by His work we are saved (my grace is sufficient for you…). We are then saved unto a community- which is the proof that we can’t do anything on our own. Upon realizing you still need help, the community can be there to guide you in the Word.

Some Resources

Besides the God and His Word, I am indebted to a few people for helping me realize things about myself that I have recently posted.

First is Pastor Mark Gedicks of Windham Baptist Church (and their blog). I took a class of his, and he helped us all realize that behind every sin issue there is a greater heart issue. He truly has a great Gospel focus in his ministry, and has been (and will be) used by God in great things to come. (Thanks Mark!) As well as Josh Otte (blog) for showing me Cross Centered life, and Matt Dyer (blog) who showed me Sex is not the Problem.

Then there are some great books that I have read that opened my eyes to the selfish pride of our consumerist America (and the state of the Church) and my own heart.

On the Church:

Vintage Church: Timeless Truths and Timely Methods (Re:Lit: Vintage Jesus)
by Mark Driscoll and Gerry Breshears

Stop Dating the Church!: Fall in Love with the Family of God (Lifechange Books)
by Joshua Harris

Total Church: A Radical Reshaping around Gospel and Community (Re:Lit)
by Tim Chester and Steve Timmis

City on a Hill: Reclaiming the Biblical Pattern for the Church in the 21st Century
by Phillip Ryken

On my own heart:

Humility: True Greatness
by C.J. Mahaney

Living the Cross Centered Life: Keeping the Gospel the Main Thing
by C.J. Mahaney

Sex Is Not the Problem (Lust Is): Sexual Purity in a Lust-Saturated World
by Joshua Harris

The Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith
by Tim Keller

Unfashionable: Making a Difference in the World by Being Different
by Tulian Tchividjian

Please use all of these to help in battling your pride- here’s a quick summary of some good steps against pride:

  1. Ask God for a thorn
  2. Realize the gravity of your sin
  3. Realize the holiness of God and the greatness of Jesus’ gift on the cross
  4. Realize the power of the Spirit in the body of the Church
  5. Recognize your dependence on the Church.

Works of the Flesh (part three)

As believers, we must be willing to let the Spirit work through us. Not allowing His power to change us could be evidence of our having an appearance of godliness but denying its power (2 Timothy 3:5). In light of that, many things must be put to death within us immediately.

(Jealousy, Envy, Fits of Anger)=Selfishness Manifested

I feel like Yoda, “fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering…”

There is a definite link between all of these sins of discord, and it is unfortunate indeed. The above three are at the root of the matter. At the very heart of all divisions among believers is jealousy. As noted, jealousy could essentially be used in conjunction with selfishness.

A selfish person is out to make himself great, or relieve pain and stress from his own life, meanwhile neglecting others. So it manifests itself in these three sins. Now, there is a time of anger (godly anger being that against social injustice or disunity among believers), and God is described as jealous (Ex. 20:5 and many others). But this is refering to jealous and anger that stems from selfishness.

My example

Billy is Jim’s friend. One day, Jim decided that instead of hanging out with Billy (as they had done all week) he would hang out with his friend Jack from Chicago whom he hadn’t seen in over two years. Billy is immediately selfish, and thus jealous of Jack, and envious of their friendship. This shows itself when, in a fit of (selfish) anger, Billy decides to not bring Jim fishing with him so that Jim can think about how he should be a better friend towards Billy. That is selfishness manifested in jealousy, envy, and a fit of anger. Ultimately- it is pride. Billy is prideful, thinking that he is the only one worth spending time with and prideful in thinking that any other friends that come in must have less time with Jim then Billy does. Do you understand how stupid that is?

Enmity, Strife, Rivalries, Dissension, Divisions

These selfish actions lead to the above outcomes if they are not checked and corrected. Following the example I gave, there then is an enmity, which leads to strife between Billy and Jack. The two begin to be rivals for Jim’s attention. Dissension follows with the ugly outcome of division. Billy and Jim are no longer friends. The relationship between Jack and Billy is strained and eventually broken, and the three are in dire need of reconciliation.

The Only Hope

What if we start the story again. Only this time, Billy understands a few things:

  1. The world (and more specifically Jim) does not revolve around him
  2. He doesn’t have to always be with Jim to be his friend
  3. We need more than just one person impacting our life
  4. Christ suffered greater rejection than anyone ever (even God the Father turned His back on Him)
  5. Christ did not react in this manner, but instead gave his life for the Church
  6. As told by Philippians 2, we are supposed to reflect this humility

Humility

This is probably the most difficult thing to achieve in life. Billy is within all of us. The father who oppresses his kids; the husband who is controlling over his wife; the pastor whose word is greater than the Bible in his church. And as soon as I mentioned these examples, you immediately thought of someone you need to tell this to. Again, I say STOP IT! You know you are dealing with pride issues when you hear a challenging sermon, and instead of dealing with your sin, then dealing with your sin, then dealing with it again, then one more time- you focus on eight other people that need to hear the message. Hello Mr. Pharisee.

Works of the Flesh (part two)

As believers, we must be willing to let the Spirit work through us. Not allowing His power to change us could be evidence of our having an appearance of godliness but denying its power (2 Timothy 3:5). In light of that, many things must be put to death within us immediately.

Idolatry, Orgies, Sorcery, Drunkenness

This is not the order in which they appear in Scripture, but I feel that these four fit together quite nicely in today’s society. One would argue that (with the exception of drunkenness) these are all taboo in America. I would argue differently.

Idolatry

Our idols are no longer made of stone or wood, but we sacrifice for them none the less. I have heard it said that if you wish to discover what you truly worship, look at what you make the most sacrifices for. If you stay up late every night playing video games; if you squander all of your family’s money away for season tickets to the Sox; if you consistently leave the Church service early (or get there late) because you want to miss the part that you don’t like, if family comes first only if it conveniences you; if your dog, the lawn, your ministry, your business, or the NFL draft are more important than your son’s soccer game; if your boyfriend convinces you to leave all to follow him- you have a worship problem, and there are idols in your life. By this definition, I can’t think of anyone I know that does not have idols in their life. Myself included.

Orgies

I have rarely heard this term. It is very taboo. But very real. I put it under idolatry because in ancient times, the idols and high places of the fertility gods and goddesses would actually work for their intended purposes… but only because there was consistent sexual immorality there. Now, we have people that are (as we say yesterday) inflamed with lust for one another. It happens more often when people are celebrating things then when wanting things to happen (think of the movie Fever Pitch and what happened after the Sox won a game… see what I mean about idolatry?). And, most recently, regardless of what you think of the current president, it is interesting to see a new term arise in light of his being elected: (only referring to the first definition, the others are slightly profane).

Sorcery and Drunkenness

Both of these still happen in light of our idolatry. They were huge parts of religious ceremonies in the ancient world, and bigger parts now. Do I need to take you to the Super Bowl games (or even just show you the commercials) to convince you of the effect of alcoholism in our American idols? (pun fully indended). And sorcery (which Peter Barnes says was a misuse of drugs for any purpose) is hugely evident in our world today. Just think of how some people deal with stress. They idolize their business, can’t handle the work load, come home and get smashed, or high, or both. Or they are simply prescribed drugs to relieve their emotional pain. Such is the suffering of the world today. I am reminded of this everyday when I go to work at the Pharmacy (interesting how Pharmacy comes from the Greek pharmakeia meaning sorcery). There are so many suffering because they have exchanged the glory of God for a lie. And it breaks my heart.

Jesus loves me this I know…

There is one answer to all of this (and it starts with a question): Where is your worship? If it is in Christ, then trust Him as well. Taking drugs (prescription or otherwise) will never cause you to be happy again. If anything, they worsen the situation, and feed the demons. Drinking to drunkenness ruins your relationships with those around you, and works to steal your joy even more. But we are to rejoice in the Lord always (Phil. 4:4). Nothing should be able to steal that joy. The Holy Spirit worked for Paul in prison, don’t replace that same Spirit with your prescription or beer.

Works of the Flesh (part one)

As believers, we must be willing to let the Spirit work through us. Not allowing His power to change us could be evidence of our having an appearance of godliness but denying its power (2 Timothy 3:5). In light of that, many things must be put to death within us immediately.

Given over

Paul tells us that because men exchanged the truth of God for a lie, God gave them over to their sinful desires. Men stopped loving women and were consumed with lust for one another. Such is the root of sexual (and possibly all other) sin: an exchanging of the truth of God for a lie. It manifests itself in many ways.

Sexual Immorality

This describes what is listed as adultery, but upon listening closely to the words of Jesus, it becomes evident that adultery is much more than simply sleeping with another man’s wife– this gets into lustful thoughts (Matthew 5:27) and the repercussions for this are great indeed: tear out an eye that causes sin, cut off a hand that leads astray. In other words, remove from your life things that are causing you to stumble. You cannot expect God to remove things for you if you continuously put yourself in those situations.

Impurity

It seems that each sin leads to the next. For instance, those living in sexual immorality (from the greek term porneia which gives us the word pornography) easily slip into impurity. As noted, however, it can go the other way as well. These thoughts lead to the actions. Behind every sin is a greater heart issue. Think about it: do you sin just because it is fun or you feel like sinning? Or are you immoral because your heart is deceiving you? Most of the time, we let our feelings take over our thoughts and impurity occurs. This should not be.

Sensuality

Peter Barnes, in his commentary on this book, describes this as “sexual activity beyond all bounds– the sort of caving in to sexual cravings that led to the depravity exhibited… in Sodom and Gomorrah.” If you read that story, you see that those living in these cities were very depraved in their thoughts which led to great and terrible outward sins. These men of the city observed that Lot was entertaining male guests (who turned out to be angels) and desired to rape them. That is the sort of thing that must be ceased.

Today?

Well, we still have lust, adultery occurs often, extra-marital affairs and the like also abound. But it gets worse! Even within our own evangelical circles there are pornography issues, those partaking in prostitution, strippers, and the like– even spreading to the countless amount of priests that have mournfully been involved in accounts of child molestation. Why do we let this go? From the seemingly small things of the sweet little Christian girl sleeping with her boyfriend, to the huge things of OKing (so-called) homosexual marriage even within some churches. We have drifted from where we should be. And what is the call of Scripture that has so easily been ignored?

STOP IT! Remove these things from you! Of course, we must have grace when dealing with other people, but the sin needs to be put to death- especially their sexual sin. Why do you think Paul lists four different types of sexual sin and then says and things like these (v. 21).

It must be a call from the Church as a whole, as the Bride of Christ, to the people of God to leave their sin. Inspect the heart, for that is where it begins. Help them figure out where the sin desire is coming from, and help them expunge it.