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Author:Rev. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
Title:A Test of Loyalties
Text:2 Kings 5:20-27 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Living in a sinful world

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 47:1,2,3                                                                               

Ps 36:1,2                                                                                                        

Reading – 2 Kings 5:1-19

Ps 49:2,3,4

Sermon – 2 Kings 5:20-27

Hy 70:1,2,3,4

Ps 32:1,2,5

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved in Christ, right at the heart of our life is the question of loyalty. To whom or to what do we give our strongest, deepest commitment? And that’s revealed by thinking about what we’re always pursuing—what is it that we’re always after? Am I loyal to the cause of God’s kingdom, or my own little kingdom? Am I here to follow the Lord’s way, or my way?

This is the struggle of life, the question of what always motivates us to do what we do. If you look behind the scenes of your daily choices and your monthly priorities, this is what you’ll see: a serious contest of motivations, a loyalty tug-of-war.

We see this struggle played out in our text, as Gehazi pursues personal gains and selfish goals, and not God’s glory. It’s pretty obvious what’s motivating him, but it’s important that we don’t listen to this account of someone else’s sin with a sense of pride, a pretended inability to relate. If we’re honest, we should be able to see ourselves in Gehazi’s deception, and so we also need to listen for the message of God’s grace toward us in Jesus his Son. I preach God’s Word to you from 2 Kings 5:20-27 on this theme,

Elisha’s servant pursues selfish gains, not God’s glory:

  1. Gehazi schemes and sins 
  2. Gehazi gets found out


1) Gehazi schemes and sins: In these chapters of 2 Kings we’re getting into the sandals of Elisha and joining him in his miracle-working ministry in the land of Israel. The last story that the Holy Spirit shared with us—earlier in chapter 5—was the dramatic healing of Naaman, the commander of the Syrian army. He came to Israel looking for relief from his painful skin condition, and how God showed him a surprising mercy. He was a Gentile, an enemy, someone who’d inflicted suffering on the LORD’s people, yet God healed him. He granted him not only a renewal of health but also a renewal of spirit, as Naaman was brought to confess faith in the living God.

As for Naaman, he had come to Israel with a heap of money to pay for his health care: “ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels of gold, and ten changes of clothing” (5:5). But Elisha wanted no payment for his ministry of mercy. He had even said, “As the LORD lives, before whom I stand, I will receive nothing” (v 16).

That should’ve been where the story of Naaman’s money ended: with the Syrian going back to his homeland and to a new life of worshiping the LORD alone. But the story isn’t over yet. Naaman isn’t very far down the road, when Gehazi hatches a plan to get some profit from this latest miracle of the prophet.

We meet Gehazi in some of the previous stories as the servant of Elisha. Because Elisha was often immersed in the vital activities of his ministry, Gehazi was available to help him with practical things. He’d bring messages to people on Elisha’s behalf, and he was also involved with the “sons of the prophets,” arranging food and other supplies for this small community of believers. All told, there hasn’t been much to show us the heart of this man, but now we get a most revealing glimpse into his loyalties.

Which is often how it goes, of course. Probably most of the time we’re holding steady in the daily work of going to the office, doing the school runs and the groceries, paying the bills, attending church—doing pretty well everything that’s expected of us, giving no one a reason to think otherwise—when Satan suddenly tempts in a particular way. We’re given an opportunity to get what we want, to benefit ourselves, and there’s a clear occasion to make a choice for God or for our ourselves. It’s then, in those moments of private testing, that our character is shown.

This is what happens to Gehazi. He’s caught a glimpse of all that treasure carried into Israel by Naaman, those bags and bags of money, and suddenly he wants it. He sees a chance to enrich himself with hardly any effort, and hardly any risk.   

He thinks to himself, “Look, my master has spared Naaman this Syrian, while not receiving from his hands what he brought” (v 20). To his mind, it doesn’t seem right—it’s not fair that Naaman shouldn’t have to pay for the precious gift that he’s received. So why not spread the wealth around? What could be the harm?

So Gehazi runs down the road after Naaman. We see that not only Naaman’s bad skin was renewed, but also proud heart. We hear that change, for his first question is for the well-being of Elisha and his servant, “Is all well?” (v 21). Literally he asks: “Is there shalom?” Are his new-found family members in the faith enjoying peace?

And Gehazi is ready with his lie—“All is well”—even as he’s in the process of destroying the peace. He puts a lie into the mouth of his master, “Just now two young men of the sons of the prophets have come to me from the mountains of Ephraim. Please give them a talent of silver and two changes of garments” (v 22).

Like most of the lies that we tell, this one is believable—that’s why they often work. Naaman probably knew that Elisha had a group of people depending on him, not only for faithful teaching, but sometimes also for decent meals. So it sounded plausible: two people had just come to Elisha place from the famine-stricken hill-country, and they’re in dire need. Won’t you please help? 

Naaman gives a generous response. The request is for one talent of silver, but he wants to give two. Two talents of silver is about 70 kilograms worth: a small fortune, handed over into Gehazi’s greedy hands. Together with the two changes of clothing, it’s a big load for someone on foot, so Naaman sends two of his servants to help carry it all back.

Arriving at the city, Gehazi takes the treasure from the servants and then sends them on their way. Obviously he doesn’t want them to meet up with Elisha or any of the sons of the prophets, lest his lie be found out. And the treasure he stores away in his house. He’ll act like sinners so often act when we’re worried about being found out: he’ll act like nothing at all has happened, and he’ll make sure he covers his trail.

That is one of the insights we can draw from this story, for here God offers us a glimpse into the schemes and deceptions of the human heart. We sometime pursue our own interests with creativity and subtlety. We want what we want, but we fear being found out, so we plot and hide and conceal.

Notice too, the complexity of sin. First of all, Gehazi was ensnared by a love for money. Being a follower of Elisha in apostate Israel at this time involved physical hardship and pain, and perhaps it all became too much for Gehazi. Perhaps he wanted a way out, and when he saw the flash of silver and gold, he saw instant possibilities for himself: security, pleasure, freedom. Money can’t buy happiness, but it sure helps—and so this can become our new loyalty. I want to earn more. I want to store up a good amount for the future. I like the good things that money allows me to do, so my priority becomes acquiring more of it. Having money means I can drive a better car, live in a bigger home, enjoy nicer holidays, and feel more secure. But a love for material things is idolatry.

And a love for material things so often generates more sin. Think of what Paul writes in 1 Timothy 6, “Those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts… For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil” (vv 9-10).

This is exactly what happens to Gehazi: his desire to be rich breeds an entire flock of transgressions. We’ve already seen that wanting to get his hands on the money meant that he had to lie and deceive. Along the way, he also commits blasphemy, swearing in God’s name probably to try to fool himself that he’s doing right: “As the LORD lives, I will run after him and take something from him” (v 20).

Gehazi also becomes unloving; see how he refers to Naaman as “this Syrian”—he’s decided that he wasn’t someone really worthy of kindness, anyway, since he was a Gentile. And later he persists in his lie when speaking to Elisha, “Your servant did not go anywhere” (v 25). In a matter of a few verses, Gehazi has trampled on at least five of the commandments. And all because of his sudden desire for wealth.

Again, it’s a realistic picture of the nature of all sin, not just the love of money. If you’re going to commit a sin—and I mean a deliberate sin, where you set out to do something which you know is against God’s will—then along with that one sin there will often come a whole web of additional sins in a supporting role.

Maybe your habit of sexual lust or your love for drinking means that you have to lie to your parents or be deceptive to your spouse, and it means you no longer worship God with your whole heart, and you have no time for other people. Or maybe your spirit of pride breeds a quick annoyance with other people, and words of gossip, and a lack of trust in the Lord. We could multiply the examples, for sin so often does this: it grows and spreads.

Beloved, that’s a lesson for us about the power of sin, and it’s something that should warn us about letting sin take root in our lives. Let us realize how sin—even one that at first seems without risk—how sin has a way of leading and drawing us much farther from God that we thought possible. Be warned that allowing one sin into your life can mean the appearance of a whole tribe of transgressions. And so we should examine ourselves: What sins are we still allowing to grow in our lives? What sins are near the root of our heart? Are we seeking to repent of these things?

And there’s something more. Worse than any of the other sins that Gehazi commits in his scheme is how he distorts the truth about God. By accepting Naaman’s money, he is also saying something about the kind of God that the LORD is—that He’s not so different from other gods.

Let’s unpack that for a moment. Remember again how Elisha had been so adamant in refusing Naaman’s gift after he was healed. Elisha even swore an oath, “As the LORD lives… I will receive nothing” (v 16). That’s because he wanted to impress on him that the LORD is a God of grace. God is willing to heal Naaman the enemy and outsider for free: this kindness wasn’t because he was an important person, or because he had a lot of money, but simply because this is what God is like. The LORD is a gracious and compassionate God, abounding in love and rich in mercy for the lost.

And that makes God very different from every other god—also the many gods that Naaman was familiar with. For a pagan or gentile (back then and today), the key question is always about manipulating the gods, getting them to do what you want. So you sacrifice and burn incense, you pray and suffer, until you bend the will of the gods in your direction. But the true God isn’t like that. He doesn’t have his hand out, looking for payment, but He shows kindness freely, even to someone who is the most undeserving.

So for Gehazi to run after Naaman and take his money after all sent a subtle message: the God of Israel is a taker, like every other god. God has great power and ability at his disposal, but there’s still a price tag on it. If you want to access it, you still have to pay.

We know better, course. We quickly agree that grace is free, that salvation through Christ is available to anyone who seeks it with a true faith. But it’s still a stubborn thought to get rid of, that somehow we’ve got to pay God back. Grace is given for free, yes, but God wouldn’t mind some of our donations toward the cost. And so I’ll work really hard. I’ll try to do much and be a good person and do what’s expected. We call it thankfulness, but in our hearts it might be payment in a cheap disguise. We’re happy and we feel important, because we’ve still done something for what we have.

After Gehazi has taken his money, did Naaman change his view of the LORD, ever-so-slightly? Did he now regard God as a Being whose favour you needed to buy? We don’t know. But a false message about God had been sent, all the same. His grace was a little less gracious.

In the context of Israel at that time, all of this meant that Gehazi fit right in. Gehazi was like so many in Israel, living in violation of God’s covenant of love. Israel was rejecting the LORD and seeking peace through their own means, showing allegiance to various gods and building alliances with other nations. Gehazi too, was seeking peace and stability in his own way. But God’s judgement will be against all those who try to build an earthly peace.


2) Gehazi gets found out: After concealing his money, Gehazi returns to Elisha. You can picture Gehazi standing there before his master, eyes uneasy, hands trembling, heart pounding in his chest, as Elisha asks the question which he most dreads, “Where did you go, Gehazi?” (v 25). Because he surely already knows. Elisha has this supernatural knowledge of what’s really going on. He’s a true prophet, given a powerful insight into reality.

And he might well be giving Gehazi an opportunity to come clean. Now’s his chance to bring his sin into the open. For it’s always better to confess than to be found out. When we confess, we show that we understand the true offense of our sin before the Lord. We know that it needs to be exposed before it can be forgiven. When we freely confess, we’ve probably tasted the bitterness of our guilt, and now we want the refreshing waters of God’s mercy.

But confessing is hard. It’s hard to speak about our sin to God or to others. We’d still prefer to get away with it and avoid the embarrassment of being a failure. So we’re familiar with what Gehazi does next, as he doubles down and adds another lie: “Your servant did not go anywhere” (v 25). He reckons that maybe there’s still a chance that Elisha doesn’t know.

But Gehazi’s lying answer cannot deceive Elisha, because God has gifted him with a powerful knowledge of the human heart. So he says to him, “Did not my heart go with you when the man turned back from his chariot to meet you?” (v 26). In a mysterious way, Elisha was with Gehazi as he put his scheme into action. Somehow, he saw it all.

A prophet, of course, is a representative of the LORD, in the flesh. A prophet like Elisha has a true message to bring and he possessed special powers because he stood in the place of God among his people. So for Elisha to say that his “heart was with [Gehazi]” is a sobering reminder that God’s heart is always with us. He sees and He knows us. Like it says in Proverbs 15:3, “The eyes of the LORD are everywhere, keeping watch on the wicked and the good.” Or Hebrews 4:13, “Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight; everything is uncovered and exposed before the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.”

That is sobering, we said. We pretend that no one sees our sin, maybe not even God. We cover our tracks. We put on a good show and say the right things. We spin a thick web of deceit around the sin we want to protect. Yet “nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight.” He sees into the darkest places of our heart—our motives and loyalties and secrets—and He hears the quiet conversation that’s always going on in our minds. God knows what we’ve done and not done, in all its ugly detail.

I remind you of these truths not to make you anxious—unless, of course, you’re hiding something and you’re fooling yourself that everything is fine with your faith and your walk with God. Yes, these truths should unsettle us if they need to: God’s heart always goes with us, even as we carry out our hidden sin.

But let these truths also encourage us, and move us to make a full and honest confession of sin. Confess your sins to God, for if we truly confess, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us in the blood of Christ his Son. Confess your sin, and ask God to create in you a new heart and to give you a steadfast spirit, so that you may rightly do his will.

Coming back to Gehazi, Elisha’s next question is sharp and reveals the true heart of his servant: “Is it time to receive money and to receive clothing, olive groves and vineyards, sheep and oxen, male and female servants?” (v 26). The prophet names some items which Gehazi hasn’t actually taken: fields of olives and vineyards, sheep, cattle, servants—but these might well be the things which Gehazi was intending to buy with the money. It sounds like that glimpse of treasure had inspired a vision of a better life: retiring to a nice plot of land where Gehazi could enjoy the fruits of the earth.

But instead, Gehazi will be severely punished: “The leprosy of Naaman shall cling to you and your descendants forever” (v 27). His life is about to become very different, transformed not by earthly wealth but by a terrible disease of the skin. It’s a sad and ironic twist: Gehazi wanted treasures from Naaman, but what he gets instead is his disease.

And this punishment wasn’t simply because of his greed, his lies and theft, but because Gehazi has shown indifference to the new work that God is doing among the Gentiles. To Gehazi’s mind, Naaman isn’t really worthy to receive God’s mercy—so let him pay for it.

Sadly, it’s an attitude which sometimes lives on. We quietly reckon that some folks just aren’t worthy of grace: they’re just too sinful, or too rough, or too much unlike us to really belong to Christ. If outsiders want to belong, they’ll have to prove themselves first! We can be stingy with God’s grace, even though it’s not ours to give.

In the end, Gehazi’s loyalty is clear: not to God’s kingdom but his own. And so the penalty isn’t just on him, but on his children and their children. It’s a punishment which illustrates what God says in his law about those who make idols, that He’ll “visit the sins of the fathers onto the third and fourth generation of those who hate me” (Exod 20:5). And just as Elisha says, the skin affliction comes upon Gehazi and he went out “as white as snow” (v 27). Such is the end of Gehazi’s service to Elisha.

Beloved, it’s not a happy story, and it doesn’t have a happy ending. But see how it leaves us with a contrast between Gehazi and Naaman, a contrast and a reversal. It’s the contrast between unbelief and faith, between the misplaced loyalty of Gehazi and the humble trust of Naaman. And there is reversal, for the covenant member is punished for his sin, while the outsider is cleansed and renewed. For the LORD shows grace to all those who fear him. When we trust in God—and when we trust him enough to confess our sins to him, and bring them into the open—God promises his forgiving grace.

We know the beautiful truth of Scripture, that God “forgives all our iniquities and He heals all our diseases, and He redeems our life from the pit” (Ps 103:3-4). That promise is ever true! For in Christ Jesus, God promises to wash us completely, even to remove all the ugly layers of sin that we’ve allowed to grow around our hearts. In Christ He tells us, “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be white as snow” (Isa 1:18).

Such is the loyal love of God. He knows our sins, He sees into the hidden corners of our hearts, yet He loves us still. He understands that our motives are often impure, that we can be most ungracious to others, and that we love to hold onto our evil. But God is faithful and loyal. And in his goodness and power, He draws us to himself, so that we may repent from sin and serve him truly.  Amen.

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2019, Rev. Reuben Bredenhof

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