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.

Choose whom you will serve

“Now therefore fear the Lord and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness. Put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”
(Joshua 24.14-15)

If you believe what you like in the gospels, and reject what you don’t like, it is not the gospel you believe, but yourself.
(St. Augustine)

Believe it or not there is a correlation here. For Israel, it was easy and comfortable to revert to the gods of Egypt or Canaan. For us, it is easy and comfortable to simply reject difficult truths about God’s Word in favor of being liked by others– even others who claim to be in Christ. If I believe in the “happy things” about Christ and His Word and disbelieve the uncomfortable things, then I am the god that I worship.

Is it possible to serve two gods?

No. It isn’t. And Jesus agrees: “Either you will hate the one and love the other or serve the one and despise the other” (Matt. 6.24, speaking of money, but the principal remains).
Just as Israel, who had been brought out of slavery in Egypt needed to choose to serve the God who saved them, so now those who claim to have been brought out of slavery to sin have that daily decision to make.

Who is our God?

The God of the Bible is the one who knows what is right and wrong; He knows His own Word; He knows His own people; His knows the way to salvation. If we claim the God of the Bible as our God we have to listen to His truth, not our own.

It has become so simple to say, “I know God says, but…”, or, “What God actually means is…”, or, “Did God actually say…?” Search yourself. If those phrases escape your lips, why? What truth about God are you trying to avoid? Is this out of fear of being rejected by others? Are you unwilling to say and believe in the tough things that God calls us to say and believe about Him? Are you using carefully crafted arguments supposedly based in scripture to avoid the truth that Scripture puts forward?

Tomorrow, if you are part of a Church, you will no doubt hear the Bible taught. If you are part of a good Church, you will hear it preached with the authority of the Holy Spirit with the aim of worshipful repentance to God. Ask yourself as you sit listening to the sermon– do I accept this as God’s truth? Would I rather make God who I want Him to be? Is this uncomfortable for me to believe?

Tomorrow, don’t believe in yourself. Believe in God. His Word is truth. Choose whom you will serve and if you have chosen Yahweh, the God of the Bible, let His interpretation reign in you.

Beyond Happiness

Happy WeddingIn the past few months, this post has made its rounds. The article’s point is to state that marriage is not about you and your happiness but about your spouse’s happiness and your children having a good set of parents to raise them.

Good, but incomplete:

While I agree that we need to have an outward focus in our marriages (otherwise we’re blatantly selfish) I think that it can be (notice I didn’t say definitely is) equally selfish make the happiness of your spouse and kids the center of your marriage. This goes along with the adage- “Happy wife, happy life.” Do I want a happy life? Of course! Then I am going to make my wife happy! Whatever it takes– because I want a happy life!

Happiness, in and of itself, is easy. If my wife’s happiness was to be the chief focus of our marriage, I would have little trouble getting into the right patterns and habits to make her happy all the time. I would give her whatever she wanted, never challenge her opinion, and if she were wrong about something or caught in a sin, I would let her be wrong rather than challenging her and risking her temporary happiness.

Don’t get me wrong, happiness is a wonderful thing! If my goal were the opposite of making Emmalie happy, that would be a very bad thing. It is not wrong to desire the happiness of our spouses, but there is something that is beyond happiness to which we must aspire.

Beyond happiness is holiness

Holiness, not happiness, should be the goal of our marriage. If I look to make my wife’s holiness my goal then I am going so much further than the fleeting pleasures of happiness– I am encouraging in her something of a greater eternal benefit. I would argue that this is what we are told to do in Ephesians 5.22-33, and 1 Peter 3.1-7. In Ephesians Paul compares marriage to Christ’s relationship with the Church (and tells us that marriage is meant to be a picture of that relationship). Here, he speaks of the sanctification of the Church through Christ’s work on the Cross.

Husbands: If you are to love your wives as Christ loves the Church, you are to pursue her sanctification (holiness) beyond her (or your) happiness. Pursuing her holiness is, in this case, how one “loves his wife as his own body.” You strive to take care of your body, don’t you? Focusing on temporary happiness at the expense of leading in righteousness is akin to eating all of those sweets at Christmas that later led to horror and discomfort in your bowels. We need good, fulfilling food; so do our wives. Nourish your wife. Cherish her. Aid her in holiness. Don’t give her only what tastes sweet if it will lead to the sourness of un-righteousness.

In 1 Peter we see that wives are commanded to submit to their husbands. Whatever you think about the idea of submission, know this: the purpose of this submission is the salvation and sanctification of the husband (1 Peter 3.1,2). Is your husband an unbeliever? Win him over with your grace, kindness, and compassion for him. Show him that the Spirit works in you and makes you submissive. Is he a believer? Encourage his growth in Christ by your submission to him. Show him what submission looks like so that he will continue to have a good example for submitting to Christ.

Marriage can bring a whole range of emotions: happiness, sorrow, anger, and joy. But if our goal is mutual holiness then even the sad moments of hurt and pain will be used to advance that goal. Aiming for happiness, even if it is the happiness of your spouse, is aiming too low.

Being a blessing

Two elderly couples are sitting at two different tables at the same restaurant. Both couples are professing Christians who are involved in their respective local Churches. Both frequent this restaurant quite often.

One couple (the ones I happen to be sitting with) is jovial: laughing with the waitstaff, smiling, and sharing concerns about the Church while expressing their desire to remain faithful there. The other–seated a table away– not so jovial. I don’t know the exact nature of their conversation, but I do know the response the waitress gives: “I am sorry… for that I do apologize.” This apology, as marked by the look on her face, was not for something she had done but for something they had complained about. Something meaningless and unimportant; it is just food, after all.

And how do I know them to be believers? As they leave they excitedly greet our dinner companions and it’s explained that this couple was there when our host came to Christ.

I wish this was an anomaly, but it isn’t. I have been in multiple situations where I have witnessed professing believers (once right after an Easter morning service) enter the community and trash Christ’s name through their attitudes–meanwhile wearing their “Church” clothes.

Our gracious host

Christmas is coming. This is a time where the Church remembers in a special way that Christ didn’t count equality with God something to be grasped but made himself nothing and became a man for the sake of dying a humble yet terrible death on our behalf. We sometimes miss the part about humility–and us having the same mind.

Our host that night didn’t. True, our waitress was also slightly emotional, but for a different reason; our host handed her this letter to the editor he had once written:

I am writing relative to a hard-working group of people in our society today. My wife and I enjoy dining out frequently, and we notice the hard-working waiters and waitresses who serve the public in our local restaurants. We watch them try to be pleasant, courteous and efficient as they work. We see them try to give service as they serve food, clear tables, carry heavy trays and deal with unhappy costumers. They work hard for the minimum wage (which is lower than the state minimum). We also feel there are many people who do not leave the proper gratuity (at least 15 percent) that is expected today.

We know there are days and weeks set aside to honor nurses, teachers, secretaries and other service people. This is a fine thing to do. They deserve it. We also think of those faithful wait-people who deserve to be honored for a job well done.

Passing on humility

Christ came to call us to be part of His Kingdom through His death and resurrection. What does that resurrection do for us? Well, for starters, it affects our attitudes so that we are no longer walking in the ways of the flesh but in the Spirit with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal. 5.22-23). But these attitudes are worthless if left unexpressed. Our responses must be kind and good, gentle and loving, and spoken with patience and self-control. If they are not, is Christ glorified? If we recognize our failures, is He glorified in our apologies to the victims of our words? Many of us who are in Christ would do well to check our hearts and invite more of the Spirit’s control whenever we interact with unbelievers.

Maybe then we can do as this gentleman did–recognize the good that others are doing and respond with love and admiration to them.

Purity | Week One

In youth group, we are going through a short series on purity. Over the next few weeks, it is my intention to post summaries of what we have discussed with each other regarding the topic at hand. Here is the content of Week One: Our Motivation for Purity.

What is purity?

Right off the bat, we need to be clear that sexual purity is not the only thing we mean when we say purity. Purity is much bigger than the realm of sex. Purity (read: holiness) is something that God requires of us at all times (see Lev. 11.44-45Matt. 5.48; 1 Pet. 1.16). Every command God made was so that His people would be holy and devoted to Him. So purity, then, needs to be defined as being clean and set apart from the things of this world. Or, as Paul says:

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as living sacrifices, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

Why should we be pure?

So that’s the what of purity. But why should we care about how pure or impure we are? Does it really matter that much? After all, Jesus became sin on our behalf in order to give us His righteousness, right? So shouldn’t that mean we can just do what we want and He’ll forgive us? The temptation here is to give  a list of physical and earthly reasons for rejecting the ways of the world and serving Jesus exclusively. So, if we think of sexuality, we could say, “You don’t want an STD, do you? What about pregnancy? Have you thought about your future spouse? Wont it be great to tell your husband/wife someday that you waited for them?”

These aren’t necessarily bad reasons… but they are incomplete reasons at best. Here are two (better and more complete) reasons for being pure according to what God has called purity.

  1. God said so. The old adage, “God said it, I believe it, that settles it for me” is a bit off. Regardless of whether or not I necessarily believe something that God has specifically said, it should be settled by virtue of His saying it. So when (in the above verses) God calls us to purity in our lives and doctrines, we have two choices: we can believe in His Word and obey Him or we can re-write and re-think what God has said and decide to believe in our own, fallen interpretations of His Word. But, as Augustine said, “If you believe what you like in the gospel, and reject what you don’t like, it’s not the gospel you believe in, but yourself.”
  2. Speaking of the Gospel. Our second reason for obedience must come from Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. Paul says, “at one time you were in darkness, but now you are light in the Lord”. And elsewhere: “…do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?” Jesus died for us to save us from our sins and the effects of sin so that sin might not rule over us.

What if we haven’t been pure?

It is unavoidable. No one has avoided impurity perfectly. We all have slipped up and fallen. So what hope is there? I leave you with Chandler:

Holiness in Marriage

Here is something that Emmalie and I have found to be eternally true of our marriage:

Here’s one profound, awe-inspiring, worshipful truth that we’re beginning to learn along the way: Marriage isn’t primarily about the love story that exists between us, but it’s about what God has done in love to involve us in His story. 

There’s a whole lot of happiness to be had in marriage. But God-wrought holiness does not always come easily or feel happy—at times, it feels more like a mess.  But it is beautiful. Not because it’s about your story or mine, but because it’s about God’s.

Isn’t that encouraging when we think about our marriages? Look at our messy lives- how often do we despair over how things are going? Isn’t it encouraging to think that this is about God and not us? It’s about our holiness and not our happiness?

Read the whole post here.

To become holier

Yesterday marked six months since this:

Six months and counting

I have been incredibly blessed by God to have Emmalie as my bride. The grace that she has shown me has been a great showing of God’s loving kindness for us. We are in no way perfect people, but God has used her in my life and me in hers for His glory. Praise be to our God for that! I have also learned some things over these past few months.

The chief thing I have realized increasingly is that which should be remembered daily: I am more of a sinner than I would ever dare to admit, and God is more gracious and holy than I could ever imagine. When you intentionally devote yourself to a sinner just like you, you figure out how great of a sinner you really are. I have found out that my words decisions affect more than just me. I have discovered my selfishness. Yes, God is using my marriage with Emmalie to make me holy first, happiness was and is always secondary to our growth in holiness together. I pray we never forget that.

To my beautiful bride, Emmalie, I love you and am excited to spend the rest of God’s appointed time with you- as long as we both shall live- learning how to be redeemed sinners together.