Building up the church with the right attitude

Building up the church with the right attitude

Reading: II Kings 5:1-14.

Today, I would like to take a look at the passage a bit differently. I would like to take a look at the attitude of Naaman in the story.

The passage starts out by introducing us to Naaman. He is the commander of the armies of Aram. Aram was a city located near what is modern-day Syria. Naaman is a powerful man who has had great success as a military leader. Aram knew all about the kingdom of Israel because they have had many wars against each other.

As a military leader, Naaman expected obedience from the people that he commanded. He was the top dog. He probably held the fate of thousands of people in his hands. But Naaman had a problem. He had been developed a form of leprosy.

In the Old Testament, leprosy could refer to a form of leprosy which is incurable and led to horrible consequences, such as a person losing feeling in limbs, or even losing their limbs.

But leprosy was a name given to any skin disease, so this disease Naaman had, we presume was a nasty skin disease that was of a lesser severity than the leprosy we usually think of, as Naaman still remained in a position of power and privilege. That being said, I am sure it was very unpleasant and Naaman wants to be healed.

During one of their previous raids against the nation of Israel, the Arameens had taken a young girl captive and she became the servant to Naaman’s wife. Apparently, the girl hears Naaman, or his wife, discussing his predicament and she suggests that a prophet in Samaria, -Elisha, could heal him of his disease.
This little slave girl that had been taken from her home and family, offers advice to this great military leader. She had no rights, no home, and technically didn’t even have the right to an opinion. Yet, she has the answer to her master’s greatest dilemma. And that answer was to be found in the land of her master’s enemies.

The surprising thing about her suggestion is that he listens to her. This may have been because he was desperate to receive help with his condition.

Naaman went to his king and tells him that he wants to go seek the help of this prophet from the nation of Israel. This was probably a bit of a shock to the king. Aram and Israel were not friends. They were enemies. But Naaman was desperate

However, the king agrees to Naaman’s idea and sends him to the enemy in search of the prophet Elisha. But he doesn’t send Naaman alone or empty-handed. He sends him with a royal delegation and royal gifts that express the power that the king of Aram holds – and it is also showing his high expectations for the healing of his general. The king sends silver and gold, as well as clothing as a peace offering. He also sends the king of Israel a letter telling him what he expects.

The letter essentially says, “I am the king of Aram. This is my servant Naaman. I expect him to be healed of his leprosy.” Wow. “I am your greatest enemy, but let’s let bygones be bygones. Go ahead and heal my boy, and everything will be good between us.”

We read that “When the king of Israel read the letter, he tore his clothes and said, “Am I God, to give death or life, that this man sends word to me to cure a man of his leprosy? Just look and see how he is trying to pick a quarrel with me.” “If we haven’t fought enough, now he’s setting us up for another scuffle. I am a king, not a healer.”

He was thinking that this could be a political trap. If the king of Israel lets this general go back in the same condition that he arrived, you can bet that the army of Aram will come marching over the hill to attack them within a day. The king of Israel is shaking in his boots.

It is completely sensible that Naaman travelled down to Israel with an enormous cargo of gifts to present to the king of Israel. He was trying to create a social bond with the Israelite king. By doing this, it obligated the Israelite king to give hospitality, and in this case to find a cure for the general’s leprosy.
The Israelite king could not refuse the gift, as it would be like a new bride and groom refusing a wedding gift from a guest. By accepting the gift yet not curing the leprosy, the king would violate the required social responsibility. He could sense an impending confrontation with the Aramaeans.”
The king of Israel panicked. He tore his clothes as a sign of frustration and mourning over what he anticipated was a coming conflict. Eventually, the story got back to Elisha. Elisha told the king to have Naaman come to his home so he could heal him.

So, Naaman is sent to Elisha’s home. He arrives with all of his regalia and his entourage. He waits at the gates for Elisha to come and greet him with the respect that he is due. And he waits. And he waits. And he waits. Eventually, someone comes to the gate, but it’s not Elisha. It’s someone with a message from Elisha.

You can imagine how Naaman reacted— “I am the General, Naaman. Don’t you realize how powerful I am? I am here with gifts and garments as tribute for you to heal me. The least you can do is come to greet me personally and show me the respect that I deserve.”

But that’s not what Elisha does. He sends a messenger that tells Naaman to go and wash in the Jordan River seven times. “What? First, this so-called prophet disrespects me by sending a messenger out instead of talking to me face-to-face. Then he has the nerve to tell me to wash in the nasty Jordan River in order for me to be healed. The Jordan River is trash compared to the water that we have at home. I was better off not wasting my time with this man.”

But Naaman’s servants talk sense into him. “Just go do what he asked you to do. If he would have told you to do something grandiose, you would have willingly complied and expected a miracle. But since he asked you to do something simple, that wasn’t befitting a general, you think it won’t work. Give it a chance.”

And so, Naaman listens and obeys the instructions. He goes to the Jordan River and washes seven times and is healed. He is made whole. His skin becomes like a young child’s. He even proclaims personal faith in the Jehovah, God of his mortal enemies, the Israelites. And international war is averted, even if only temporarily.

Look at the attitudes that were present in Naaman, and, truthfully, see if any of those attitudes are present within our lives.

Naaman goes as the general of an army, not as a man that is sick and needs help. That is why he is offended when Elisha doesn’t greet him face-to-face when he arrives at Elisha’s home. That is why he scoffs at the suggestion of bathing himself in the Jordan River. That is why he is so unhappy with this turn of events.

It was not until after he set his ego aside that he received healing. It was not until he literally got off his high horse and went into a low place that he was changed for the better.

It seems to me that Naaman made 5 serious mistakes:
He was willing to pay any price to be released from his affliction – many today try to do the same thing. They think that by giving large sums of money to some charity or to a church, that God will be pleased. God is not interested in the size of our bank account – he is interested in the surrender of our will.

Peter said that our redemption isn’t by silver or gold, but by the precious blood of Christ. We cannot purchase salvation because the price has already been paid…..Jesus paid it all.

The Second thing Naaman did wrong was he went to the wrong person. He assumed that if healing was to be found in Israel that it would come from the greatest man – in human terms, that is – the King himself. But Salvation comes from God. There are people who look to men or things for their happiness and even for Salvation….but only Jesus can save us.

In Acts, we read “neither is there salvation in any other; for there is no other name under heaven given among men, whereby we can be saved”

Thirdly, he went to the wrong place. Naaman came but stood away from the door. He went to Elisha’s house, but not to Elisha. He expected Elisha to come to him. There are people who come to the house of God – but not to the Lord himself. They come so near to salvation, but still, they are lost.

Fourthly, Naaman wanted to use the wrong prescription. Elisha sent a messenger to tell him the prescription which was very simple – go wash 7 times in the river Jordan and you will be healed. We also complicate the simple things God says. In Acts, we read the Jailer asked, “what must I do to be saved?” The answer was simple, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved” Many reject the gospel message because it doesn’t fit their concept of salvation.

Lastly, Naaman had the wrong attitude. He went into a rage because he didn’t get his way. He allowed pride to get in the way of obedience. He considered the waters of Syria to be better than the river Jordon. But the deliverance wasn’t in the water! It was in his obedience to the message!

How many souls will suffer an eternity separated from God because their pride got in the way of their obedience to God? It’s not about, “What will people think of me?” but rather, what is God thinking about what I am doing?

Naaman obeys in the end and as you know, is healed.

How does all this apply to our church? We have asked God to bless this church. As God sends new opportunities our way and provides new pathways for us to serve and be brought into relationship with new people, will we scoff at those opportunities because they don’t look like the pathways that we expected? Will we refuse to move forward because we’ve never done things that way? Or will we hesitate because something does not fit our personal tastes, or isn’t grand enough or isn’t our particular flavour? Or, will we trust God to move in strange and mysterious ways that bring God glory and introduce our villages and community to the love and power of the Jesus?

But I believe it’s not enough just to want God to do great things in our church. To enable this to happen, I believe God wants us to build each other up in Christ. To strengthen us in our Bible knowledge, to strengthen us in our Faith and to strengthen us in our commitment to growing more like Jesus. My paternal grandmother lived in Southampton, and she had a little teacup that she was very fond of. The cup had flowers hand painted on it, and was given to my grandmother by a friend who had died. So it was quite precious to her, but my grandmother was a very laid back generous person, and she encouraged me and my cousins to use the cup.

The problem with this cup was that over the years it became cracked – right at the handle. You could hardly see the crack but you could “hear” it when you set it down. Now the reason it survived was that everyone knew that it was my grandmother’s special cup, and one bump and it was finished. We handled it with care. We were all conscious that it was frail, and so whenever we used it, it was with this silent understanding to be careful with it.

I think that there is a parallel here between our attitude toward that little cup and the attitude we should have towards each other in the church. I believe that the church is like a cupboard where the Lord keeps cracked and damaged cups.

  • He is able to use these for His service because He is careful.
  • He uses them but never forgets their weaknesses.

The result is that He uses fragile things to do great service because He uses them in love. In speaking of the Lord’s tenderness in the use of delicate things, Isaiah says, A bruised reed He will not break, and a dimly burning wick He will not extinguish. – Isaiah 42:3
I might add – and a cracked cup, He will not break. I’m willing to guess that even in our congregation there are a lot of “cracked cups,” even some “crackpots!!”

The cracks may not all be in the same spot for each of us, but everybody has a tender spot and, if hit too hard on that spot, will fall apart into many pieces I don’t think we’re always conscious of this and that’s why there is, at times, some broken glass lying around a church. I sincerely believe that no one ever deliberately wants to hurt anyone, and I am sure that no one wants to stamp on another church member’s sore spot, but it happens (not only in the church but at work, in families, between friends, etc.).

For this reason, the Apostle Paul gives us three very simple rules for handling “cracked cups” in such a way that we don’t inflict further damage. These rules will help us avoid damaging others who are sensitive and already suffering from broken and weak parts.

if you were here last week, you will remember that John read from Ephesians.  Apparently, the Ephesian Christians had been very zealous for the Word of God, to obey it and teach it properly. They wanted to do the ‘right’ thing. But in their enthusiasm about guarding against false doctrine and teachers, they were becoming suspicious and mean-spirited with one another. In this context, Paul writes to them giving instructions about how to better love each other and avoid hurting those who were already damaged.

He gives them three rules in handling the “cracked cups” of this world, and in the church.

Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.– Ephesians 4:31-5:2

Rule N0 1 – Be Kind
The English word “kind” in the Greek means literally “to do good.” This includes saying, thinking, and doing good things for others. Kind people are givers, not just takers. And their kindness strengthens other people as well. So, one of the ways to make the church grow is through kindness. People respond to kindness and will work and sacrifice for one who is kind. And, if we wish to avoid damaging each other we must consciously practice kindness towards each other; openly, generously and without prejudice.

Rule N0 2 – Be Tenderhearted
To be tenderhearted doesn’t mean that a person is soft or a wimp. Tender-heartedness is that quality of character where one is so moved by another’s condition that he not only feels sympathy but will take some kind of action; today we call it empathy. Tenderheartedness is present when we:

  • Feel sorry for the crack in the other, not feel superior because we have no crack in that spot in our own character.
  • We want to help heal the damaged spot in the other, rather than criticize and condemn the other because of their weakness.
  • We are willing to handle with care the delicate condition of our brethren, not just discard them because of their defects. (“Can’t help people with cracks like that.”)
  • We have to have compassion for the damaged Christian because that’s the only kind of person in the church: damaged Christians! There ought to be a sign that says ‘Damaged people are welcome here!’

Rule N0 3 – Forgive Each Other
Some say “forgive and forget.” Others say “I’ll forgive but I’ll never forget.”  Well, forgiving is not about forgetting. Some things done to us we will never forget. God doesn’t ask us to forget; He asks us to “let go.”
Forgiveness is the letting go, the giving up of our legitimate right to collect on a debt. Forgiving an offence or a debt is considering it paid, it is not forgetting that it was once owed. People offend us, bump into our weak areas and we deserve to receive an apology or have a right to be compensated. Forgiveness is that action where you cancel the debt someone owes you.

And also, We need to forgive the weaknesses we see in others that don’t directly offend us or affect us but get on our nerves! They don’t steal from us or insult us but the way they are offends our sense of how we think they should be. They don’t live up to our scorecard (not the Bible) but our opinion of how people should be, and that bugs us. We need to remember that God has handled us so tenderly, so carefully, that we are still in one piece; and the greatest miracle of all is that He continues to use us despite our delicate condition. God has overlooked all of our cracks in Christ Jesus.

We ought to extend that same kind of mercy towards others when they offend us or bug us.  In summary, Paul concludes with another key idea ….The love of the saints for one another is like a fragrant aroma to God; as was the sacrifice of Jesus. The love of God in Christ, –this is the glue that repairs the cracks. This is the way God puts us back together after we’re all cracked and broken: with His love. And we, in the church, are the channels for this love and the agents that He uses in repairing all the cracked and broken lives that come to Him through faith in Jesus Christ. Without this kind of love, we cannot grow in a way that is pleasing to God.

I pray that spiritually speaking, this first year in this building can be the first phase of us as a church to go out into the fields the high-ways and by-ways and begin to harvest this harvest that is ready to be harvested.

  • To remember again the purpose to which we have been called.
  • To remember again our destiny.
  • To remember our future, and also remember if God is for us who can be against us.

But firstly, we have to build each other up – to grow as Christians – to be protected with all the armour of God.

Can we build this house? I say yes we can as long as we stay connected to the purpose. as long as we continue to lift Jesus up as number 1. – as long as we stay alert to our attitude. as long as we learn from characters like Naaman, and throw away our self-importance, throw away our egos, and throw away anything which gets in the way of following our Lord. To be humble and really want to be used in God’s ministry on earth. To do what God wants even if it seems a little odd, even if we are outside our comfort zone.

So, to all of us cracked cups; let’s offer our brokenness to God today by coming to Jesus in repentance. Let Him love you, let Him repair your damage with His love, let Him cover your weakness with the blood of His cross, let him help us to love each other, teach each other, give Christian service to each other, help each other learn more about Jesus, and so build each other up – Lets build this church as Jesus wants it to be built, keeping our eyes on him and not being distracted by earthly things. Amen.