In my devotional reading, every once in a while, I see a connection between my Old Testament reading and that which I have read in the New Testament. I am often convicted when I read what Paul says in Philippians 4:11 thru verse 13, “I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength.”
Man, do I need that “secret.” The answer of course is in verse 13 where we understand the power that Paul had, and it was a power that came straight from Jesus.
The connection that I saw in the Old Testament comes from 2 Kings 5, and it is the story of Naaman the Syrian, and Elisha, and Gehazi the servant of Elisha. Recently Mark Belz wrote a book for Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing on this wonderful story and I encourage you to get a copy as Mr. Belz unwraps so many wonderful ideas from this passage.
Now what I noticed in this story is how much money is involved in it. First the King of Aram sends a great deal of money to the King of Israel so he will heal his successful general, Naaman, from leprosy. The King of Aram absolutely loads down Naaman with cash, and in spite of that the King of Israel realized his limitations. “Am I God? Can I heal and bring back to life?”
There is a lot of good and profound understanding in the King of Israel’s statement, no faith of course, but a solid appreciation of the limitations of money. There is probably no other place where “money is no object” as much as the place of sickness for the rich and powerful. See any doctor, go to any country, endure any treatment, and pay any price to get well, if you have the money. Naaman had the cash, but money can’t buy miracles, and that is the profound human limitation and it is sometimes just what we need to learn so that we as humans will ask, at least to ourselves, “am I God?” And admit in our boundaries of power, in our finiteness, “no, I am not!”
But there was a prophet in Israel, and as you know the story Naaman was sent to Elisha, who wouldn’t even come out to meet Naaman but sent a messenger and told him what to do, and if he did it he would be healed. In spite of an initial refusal to humbly accept what he was told, and listening to his own servants, he did bathe in the river Jordon, and he was healed. This was a miracle, because Jordon’s waters are just that, waters, plain old river water. Jordon only does special stuff by the word of God, and not by any intrinsic power within itself.
Here comes the issue of money again. Naaman is suitably grateful, and has become a man of faith in the true God. He asks Elisha to take a gift, and Elisha refuses. So after some other conversation Naaman heads back to Aram, but the servant of Elisha was paying attention, and he says, “My master was too easy on Naaman, this Aramean, by not accepting from him what he brought. As surely as the Lord lives, I will run after him and get something from him.”
So Gehazi lies, makes up a story, and asks Naaman for some material goods, and Naaman gives him even more than he asks for; and I absolutely agree with Gehazi that Naaman absolutely owed the prophet and since he was an enemy there doesn’t seem to be anything wrong with shaking him down a little. Except of course Gehazi was lying, and lying to not only Naaman but Elisha too, which seems weird considering the stuff Gehazi had seen Elisha do.
Have you ever been in ministry and felt you were being taken advantage of and not being given your material due? Have you ever felt you deserved more recognition, more reward? Have you ever resented your financial limitations, the squeeze you and your family have to put up with to remain in ministry? Have you ever coveted those wealthy pastors whose parishioners seem to buy them tailored suits, give them golf memberships, lease them cars, and pay them well? Gehazi must of thought it nuts to depend on the power of God to stretch the oil, the bread, and other sustenance when here was wealth being offered as a just return for an incredible gift.
Elisha says to Gehazi, “Is this the time to take money, or to accept clothes, olive groves, vineyards, flocks, herds, or menservants and maidservants? “ I’m thinking, “heck yeah, I’m due an olive grove or two.” And then the comparison with the passage from Philippians is there to kick me in the teeth. “I have learned the secret of being content.” I pray over this, and I pray over my heart, because that is where the issue really lies. It is not my need, it is my constant ease into coveting and envy. It is my avaricious lust for more, it is my reasonable desire to have enough security not to worry, it is my refusal to trust God.
Gehazi gets leprosy for his troubles, and I am reminded Whom I serve, and my constant need to relearn the “secret,” by really believing that if Jesus is giving me strength I can do everything, especially getting though this day, and this vocation, and this calling without resentment, and complaining, and constant comparison with everyone else who seems to be doing just fine and having enough. Of course, I expect they, and you, have a similar struggle. May the Lord make us more like Paul and a lot less like Gehazi. Jesus, help us all.