Naaman and Obedient Faith

But Naaman was wroth, and went away, and said, “Behold, I thought, He will surely come out to me, and stand, and call on the name of the LORD his God, and wave his hand over the place, and recover the leper. Are not Abanah and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? May I not wash in them, and be clean?”
So he turned and went away in a rage (2 Kings 5:11-12).

Naaman is a man’s man with a problem. He is an extremely respected soldier– a “mighty man of valor” (2 Kings 5:1). Through him the LORD gave Aram victory. Yet he suffered from leprosy, a condition that would mean social exclusion for a lesser man.

That he would love to be cured of his leprosy is without a doubt. When he learns from an Israelite captive that the “prophet in Samaria,” Elisha, could heal him, his excitement is evident: he goes with a significant quantity of money and clothes, and eventually comes to Elisha (2 Kings 5:5-9).

Yet Elisha’s message is certainly not what was expected.

“Go and wash in the Jordan seven times, and thy flesh shall come again to thee, and thou shalt be clean” (2 Kings 5:10).

How simple! How…non-spiritual! Nothing fancy, no great declaration, just a few dips in a river. Furthermore, of all the rivers– the Jordan? Naaman is probably not wrong to declare the Abanah and Pharpar as superior to the Jordan in terms of cleanliness. How could his cleansing possibly be accomplished by such simple, non-spiritual means in such a comparatively dirty river?

Naaman’s anger is based upon his own unmet expectations, and its conclusion could have been quite tragic. Imagine if Naaman just went back to Aram and died eventually as a leper, all because Elisha did not act as he expected, and did not do what he thought Elisha should do. To think that Naaman might have never been cleansed because of his mental hangup with dipping in a river a few times!

But that is not the case. His servants spoke sensibly to him, helping him to see that what Elisha asks is not that difficult (2 Kings 5:13). He goes and does it and receives his cleansing (2 Kings 5:14)…even though it was simple, seemed rather “un-spiritual,” and was in the Jordan of all places!

Why did it work? It was not because of the Jordan River. It was not because Naaman dipped seven times. It was because God specified through His prophet Elisha that if Naaman obeyed and dipped seven times in the Jordan River, God would accomplish the healing. Could God have healed Naaman without dipping? Sure. Could He have acted exactly as Naaman originally expected? Absolutely. But God did not– God had a different plan for Naaman, and the choice was Naaman’s as to whether he would obey and receive the blessings or disobey and remain unclean.

Naaman’s example is quite instructive for us. How many times have we neglected God’s commands because we felt that it was too simple, too “un-spiritual,” or perhaps simply was not what we were expecting?

The most evident parallel is cleansing from sin. Just as Naaman was to dip seven times in the Jordan River to be cleansed of leprosy, so God calls upon those who believe in Him to be immersed in water for the remission of their sins (Acts 2:38, Romans 6:3-7, 1 Peter 3:21). As with Naaman, so with us: it is not because of the water nor because we are immersed in it. It is because God specifies through Jesus and the Apostles that if one believes in Jesus, confesses His name before men, repents of his sin, and submits himself to immersion in water in the name of the Lord for the remission of past sin, God will accomplish the cleansing of that person and will re-establish association with him. Could God forgive us our sins without being baptized? Sure. Could He act according to our expectations, or in one of the various ways that people say that salvation can be obtained? Absolutely. But God has established His plan for us, and the choice is ours as to whether we will obey it and receive the blessings or disobey and remain unclean.

Naaman almost fell guilty of holding God hostage to his own expectations and his think-so, and we would recognize his great and tragic folly if he proved disobedient despite receiving such a simple command. Yet will we prove to continue in similar folly, in regards to baptism perhaps, or some other matter of some simplicity, by holding God hostage to our expectations or “think-so” or “surely God…” mentalities?

Naaman was cleansed by his willingness to humble his pride, get in the Jordan River, and obey God’s command. As such, he stands as an example of great faith in God (cf. Luke 4:27). Will we have a similar faith– faith in humility, being willing to cast aside our own expectations and suppositions in order to obey the Risen Lord? Let us seek the same commendation of Naaman and obey Christ!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Jesus, Sinners, and Pharisees

And one of the Pharisees desired him that he would eat with him. And he entered into the Pharisee’s house, and sat down to meat. And behold, a woman who was in the city, a sinner; and when she knew that he was sitting at meat in the Pharisee’s house, she brought an alabaster cruse of ointment, and standing behind at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears, and wiped them with the hair of her head, and kissed his feet, and anointed them with the ointment. Now when the Pharisee that had bidden him saw it, he spake within himself, saying,
“This man, if he were a prophet, would have perceived who and what manner of woman this is that toucheth him, that she is a sinner.”
And Jesus answering said unto him, “Simon, I have somewhat to say unto thee.”
And he saith, “Teacher, say on.”
“A certain lender had two debtors: the one owed five hundred shillings, and the other fifty. When they had not wherewith to pay, he forgave them both. Which of them therefore will love him most?”
Simon answered and said, “He, I suppose, to whom he forgave the most.”
And he said unto him, “Thou hast rightly judged.”
And turning to the woman, he said unto Simon, “Seest thou this woman? I entered into thy house, thou gavest me no water for my feet: but she hath wetted my feet with her tears, and wiped them with her hair. Thou gavest me no kiss: but she, since the time I came in, hath not ceased to kiss my feet. My head with oil thou didst not anoint: but she hath anointed my feet with ointment. Wherefore I say unto thee, Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much: but to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little” (Luke 7:36-47).

One of the difficulties with humanity involves perception. It is easy for people to look at a given person or circumstance through one particular set of lenses and to make confining judgments.

This story clearly illustrates this difficulty. Simon the Pharisee is not an evil man or an evil-willed man. We have no reason to doubt his sincerity and his passion for the Law of Moses. Nevertheless, he looks at both the woman and at Jesus through certain lenses, and does not consider any other alternatives.

The woman, according to Simon, is a sinner. To Simon, this makes her unclean, spiritually if not physically. On account of this “sin” condition of hers, she ought not even be present before himself and Jesus, at least in the eyes of Simon. It does not matter how she feels about her sin– she remains a sinner.

Likewise, if Jesus really was who He said He was, He would know these things. Simon is willing to doubt that Jesus is a prophet because He is not holding to Simon’s expectation of holiness: “surely” a prophet would withhold himself from such a sinner. He would have nothing to do with her!

It is easy to see how such narrow-mindedness leads to hardened hearts: Simon would not be alone in this. He has his own set of expectations based on his judgments. He may question other things, but those judgments are not as questioned.

Thankfully, Jesus breaks out from all such narrow-mindedness and myopia. Did Jesus know what type of woman this was? Most assuredly He did! But the woman was not some unrepentant sinner– she came and demonstrated her repentance by her actions. Jesus’ parable illustrates the reality of God’s Kingdom against the speculations of Simon: those who are forgiven more are more thankful. She loved more, therefore, her sins were forgiven!

It was a shocking statement in first century Judea indeed, but it was true– prostitutes and sinners would enter God’s Kingdom before the Law-loving Pharisees (cf. Matthew 21:31). At the close of this scene, the “sinner” woman, and not Simon the Pharisee, is forgiven, and reconciled to God.

We would do well to learn from this story and to maintain Jesus’ attitude. It may very well be that the “terrible sinners” enter the Kingdom before the “good, moral people.” The Kingdom might be full of people with whom we would not automatically choose associate. Let us not attempt to confine the work of God based upon our perspective. We might find ourselves in the wrong position before the Lord! Let us repent of our sin and mourn for it, and love the Lord Jesus!

Ethan R. Longhenry

This Generation

“Whereunto then shall I liken the men of this generation, and to what are they like? They are like unto children that sit in the marketplace, and call one to another; who say,
‘We piped unto you, and ye did not dance; we wailed, and ye did not weep.’
For John the Baptist is come eating no bread nor drinking wine; and ye say, ‘He hath a demon.’
The Son of man is come eating and drinking; and ye say, ‘Behold, a gluttonous man, and a winebibber, a friend of publicans and sinners!’
And wisdom is justified of all her children” (Luke 7:31-35).

Jesus has sharp words for those in “this generation.” They were never satisfied– they always found some reason for not believing. Many did not approve of John the Baptist because he lived in the desert, eating locusts and honey, and not drinking, and preached righteousness (cf. Matthew 3:4, Luke 3:1-17). Jesus lived among the people, eating bread and drinking wine, and they condemned Him for doing that!

Jesus understands that, in the end, it does not matter what He does or does not do– the unconvinced will find reasons to justify being unconvinced. John’s statement toward the end of Revelation ought not be taken to extremes, but does present reality fairly well:

“He that is unrighteous, let him do unrighteousness still: and he that is filthy, let him be made filthy still: and he that is righteous, let him do righteousness still: and he that is holy, let him be made holy still” (Revelation 22:11).

In the end, it was only probably a very few people, if any, who were genuine seekers and yet disturbed by Jesus eating and drinking, and that with sinners. Those who were willing to consider who Jesus was and what He did would understand that He was performing His mission of seeking and saving the lost of Israel who could be redeemed (cf. Luke 19:1-8). People had really already made up their minds– they just then searched for whatever reason would work to justify it. The fact that Jesus ate and drank, and that with sinners, was an easy justification. So was the belief that He was born in Nazareth, and thus could not be the Messiah (cf. John 7:41, 52). The Pharisees were willing to ascribe His miracles to the power of Satan in order to “save face,” only to be more fully exposed (cf. Matthew 12:22-37)!

Is our generation that much different than His generation? Many people find reasons for not believing in Jesus. Perhaps you have some reasons that you do not believe that Jesus is the Christ. What are those reasons? Are they really legitimate reasons, or are they justifications to make you feel better about the decision you made in advance? Could any amount of evidence be provided to help you understand that Jesus really is all that the Scriptures say He is?

In the end, let us know that wisdom is indeed justified. Bad reasoning gets exposed. Desperate arguments are seen for what they really are. Let us be honest with ourselves: are deep-seated difficulties, for whatever reason, really worth the cost of the soul? Can we see that Jesus was a good man, and that He taught good things to which people should listen? If so, how can we deny that He is the Christ, the Son of the Living God, without saying that we think that an egomaniacal lunatic is a good teacher?

Anyone can come up with reasons to not accept what Jesus teaches. But are we willing to take another look and really explore not just what we believe, but also why we believe it, and to dispense with that which is false, even if it requires a change in our lives and a dose of humility?

Let us consider what Jesus taught and did and ask ourselves– are we like “this generation,” or will we step out, be a little different, and serve the risen Lord?

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Spiritual Reality

And when the servant of the man of God was risen early, and gone forth, behold, a host with horses and chariots was round about the city.
And his servant said unto him, “Alas, my master! how shall we do?”
And he answered, “Fear not; for they that are with us are more than they that are with them.”
And Elisha prayed, and said, “O LORD, I pray thee, open his eyes, that he may see.”
And the LORD opened the eyes of the young man; and he saw: and, behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha (2 Kings 6:15-17).

By all accounts, the situation looked grim.

The Aramean king learned that Elisha was foiling his plans to raid Israel, and sent his army to end the threat.  The Aramean army comes toward Elisha– a terrible sight indeed.  Who can stand against the foe?  The Israelite army has enough problem, let alone some prophets!

We can understand and sympathize with the great concern of the servant.  According to the physical reality on the ground, there was little reason to hope.

Yet Elisha is unperturbed.  He recognizes the spiritual reality in their midst.  He knows that there are more on his side than there are for the enemy– even if such are invisible to man’s eyes.

We can only imagine what the servant felt when he suddenly sees the angelic host with its fiery chariots.  He, no doubt, felt amazement and wonder.  Stupefied is probably more like it.  None of it was visible a moment earlier.  Yet, in the blinking of the eye, everything was different.

Yet nothing was really different.  The angelic host was always there.  The servant simply did not perceive them!

This passage seems to teach us that there is a spiritual reality in our very midst that we do not perceive.  If our eyes were opened, we might feel amazement and wonder, utterly stunned at all that is around us.  Everything would seem different, but nothing would really be different.  It is always there, just past our physical senses.

Let us remember this when we feel alone or discouraged, believing that our situation is hopeless.  We may be struggling with a temptation to sin; we may feel some persecution for our faith; we might be experiencing some kind of trial, physical, spiritual, or otherwise.  It may seem that the forces of evil and darkness are too numerous, and we despair of victory.

Yet, as it is written,

Ye are of God, my little children, and have overcome them: because greater is he that is in you than he that is in the world (1 John 4:4).

In Jesus Christ we will have the victory.  There is no force greater than His Lordship.  We just need to have faith that an overwhelming spiritual reality is all around us, and that there are more for us than there are for them!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Philosophy of Christ

As therefore ye received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and builded up in him, and established in your faith, even as ye were taught, abounding in thanksgiving. Take heed lest there shall be any one that maketh spoil of you through his philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ (Colossians 2:6-8).

The first century world of the Colossians was steeped in philosophical positions. Platonists, Peripatetics, Stoics, Epicureans, and all kinds of permutations of these and other philosophies taught their various doctrines.

The seductions of philosophy have enticed believers in Jesus Christ since the beginning of the religion. Yet, as Paul warns, our faith cannot be rooted in the presuppositions of worldly philosophies that may include some truth, yet also be founded on some errant views.

Instead, we must maintain the “philosophy of Christ”: believe in Him, be rooted in Him as the Lord, as a servant in His Kingdom, walking in His paths. As Christians, we may jointly affirm some truths with various philosophical systems, but we must always remember that our foundation is Jesus Christ, not Plato or Aristotle or Descartes or Derrida.

Let us make sure that our Christianity informs our view of worldly beliefs and philosophies, and not allow our faith in Christ to be compromised by greater faith in philosophical principles than God’s revealed truths!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Gideon’s Perspective

And Gideon said unto him, “Oh, my lord, if the LORD is with us, why then is all this befallen us? and where are all his wondrous works which our fathers told us of, saying, ‘Did not the LORD bring us up from Egypt?’ But now the LORD hath cast us off, and delivered us into the hand of Midian” (Judges 6:13).

Gideon (and Israel) experienced difficult times: Midian and the people of the East were strong, and Israel was greatly humiliated and oppressed.  Where was God in all of this?  If God is as great as the fathers made Him out to be, where is He?

What Gideon did not consider was Israel’s great sin in serving the Baals (Judges 6:10, 25-26).  He did not consider that God handed Israel into Midian’s hands because they transgressed His covenant (Judges 6:1).  He did not consider that Israel remained stubborn and did not heed God’s voice (Judges 6:10).

The situation was quite different than it seemed through Gideon’s eyes.

There are many times in our own lives when things do not seem to make a lot of sense.  We see pain and suffering and difficulty.  We read the stories about how God delivered people in the past, and yet there is no delivery for us.  Many want to know where God is in all of this.

Yet just as God was there in Gideon’s day, God is here today (Matthew 28:20, Hebrews 13:8).  We may be experiencing God’s chastening for our sins.  We may be experiencing trial so that our faith can be properly tested.  God may have something entirely different in store for us.  In the end, it may even turn out for our own good.

Wisdom teaches us to remember that our perspective is limited, and we often neglect to remember that there are many other factors involved that we may not understand.  We can let our doubts, questions, and difficulties separate us from God, or we can let them teach us to trust Him more.

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” saith the LORD. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9).

Ethan R. Longhenry