The story this week that links to July 3 is about how God’s Holy Spirit works in our lives to bring back the good order which God put there in the first place. As usual we’ll take fairly full excerpts on the Bible readings to tell their own stories. which weave together to create the bigger story.
See The Living Word study (July 3) for individuals and small groups with verse by verse commentary, reflections and questions on the Bible readings
2 Kings 5:1-14 —Elisha’s testing word leads to Naaman’s healing
Luke 10:1-11, 16-20 — Jesus appoints 72 to go out to restore others
Galatians 6:1-6, 7-16 — Life in the Spirit means restoring others gently
We’ll be learning from the story of the Syrian Army commander Naaman who needed healing that only God could bring. To be restored, he had to go to the man of God over in Israel and do what he said — a challenge to his ego which he found very difficult.
Then in the New Testament we look at the story of the sending out of the 72 who Jesus commissions to take the good news of God’s grace and God’s kingdom to the small towns and villages in Judea.
To round off we have some teaching given to the church in central Turkey which is about how we can all help each other to be restored personally, when we slip from following Christ’s ways.
To set the scene, Psalm 30 speaks of personal difficulty, and how our praise of God through the pain brings a sense of Him hearing and giving us His peace:
1 I will exalt You, Lord, for You lifted me out of the depths and did not let my enemies gloat over me.
2 Lord my God, I called to You for help, and You healed me.
3 You, Lord, brought me up from the realm of the dead; You spared me from going down to the pit.
4-5 Sing the praises of the Lord, you His faithful people; praise His holy name. For His anger lasts only a moment, but His favour lasts a lifetime; weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.
6-7 When I felt secure, I said, “I will never be shaken.”
Lord, when You favoured me, You made my royal mountain stand firm; but when You hid Your face, I was dismayed.
8-9 To You, Lord, I called; to the Lord I cried for mercy: “What is gained if I am silenced, if I go down to the pit? Will the dust praise You? Will it proclaim Your faithfulness?
10 Hear, Lord, and be merciful to me; Lord, be my help.”
11-12 You turned my wailing into dancing; You removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, that my heart may sing Your praises and not be silent. Lord my God, I will praise You forever.
Psalm 30 (NIV)
Let’s now look a bit more closely at Naaman’s story. This high ranking and successful military officer had an embarrassing problem — the skin disease called in the Bible leprosy. There was no known cure for this and he didn’t know God. He had more wealth than anyone could count but no amount of money could buy what he desperately needed. Let’s hear the story in 2 Kings 5:
1 Now Naaman was commander of the army of the king of Aram. He was a great man in the sight of his master and highly regarded, because through him the LORD had given victory to Aram. He was a valiant soldier, but he had leprosy.
2-3 Now bands of raiders from Aram had gone out and had taken captive a young girl from Israel, and she served Naaman’s wife. She said to her mistress, “If only my master would see the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.”
4-6 Naaman went to his master and told him what the girl from Israel had said. “By all means, go,” the King of Aram replied. “I will send a letter to the King of Israel.” So Naaman left, taking with him ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels of gold and ten sets of clothing. The letter that he took to the King of Israel read: “With this letter I am sending my servant Naaman to you so that you may cure him of his leprosy.”
7 As soon as the king of Israel read the letter, he tore his robes and said, “Am I God? Can I kill and bring back to life? Why does this fellow send someone to me to be cured of his leprosy? See how he is trying to pick a quarrel with me!”
8-9 When Elisha the man of God heard that the king of Israel had torn his robes, he sent him this message: “Why have you torn your robes? Have the man come to me and he will know that there is a prophet in Israel.” So Naaman went with his horses and chariots and stopped at the door of Elisha’s house.
10 Elisha sent a messenger to say to him, “Go, wash yourself seven times in the Jordan, and your flesh will be restored and you will be cleansed.”
11-12 But Naaman went away angry and said, “I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call on the name of the LORD his God, wave his hand over the spot and cure me of my leprosy. Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Couldn’t I wash in them and be cleansed?” So he turned and went off in a rage.
13-14 Naaman’s servants went to him and said, “My father, if the prophet had told you to do some great thing, would you not have done it? How much more, then, when he tells you, ‘Wash and be cleansed’!” So he went down and dipped himself in the Jordan seven times, as the man of God had told him, and his flesh was restored and became clean like that of a young boy.
2 Kings 5:1-14 (NIV)
Strangely, in this man’s house was a young girl who did know God. A young Israelite girl, taken captive as a slave during one of the frequent raids between Aram and Israel, she knew of the reputation of the travelling prophet, Elisha, who had a base nearby in Samaria. She dared to mention to her mistress, Naaman’s wife, that if the master of the house could visit the prophet he could receive his healing.
Naaman has his servants load up a train of horses and chariots with silver and gold as a gift, or possibly a bribe, to the man of God. He also carries a letter of introduction from the King of Aram to the King of Israel. He has all the credentials for a high level reception.
But when he eventually finds Elisha’s house in Samaria, he is met, not by the man of God but by his servant with a message for him. He is to do something quite simple and not unfamiliar — to dip himself seven times in the river Jordan.
Enraged by this lack of proper protocol and the suggestion that he should prefer the muddy waters of Israel’s River Jordan, he has to be helped by others in his entourage to remember what he is there for — and go and do as the message instructed. He then receives the blessing of complete healing.
What does this teach us about God’s restoration early in the story? Naaman was not only an outsider to God’s own people and the covenant, he was the military commander of their greatest enemy.
You could say that nobody was LESS likely to receive healing than him.
This is like the Russian general who is head of the defence staff going to find a Pentecostal church in Ukraine to receive healing ministry there.
This episode confronts our prejudices about who we think may find grace with God, and as we go on to the next part of the story, it is reminding us that God’s mission is always much bigger and broader than we would make it.
Next we join the group of disciples who are being sent out to towns and villages in Judea to proclaim the Kingdom of God and find people of peace who will receive them and their message about Jesus. Let’s hear the story in Luke 10:
1 After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where He was about to go.
2-4 He told them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into His harvest field. Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves. Do not take a purse or bag or sandals; and do not greet anyone on the road.
5-7 “When you enter a house, first say, ‘Peace to this house.’ If someone who promotes peace is there, your peace will rest on them; if not, it will return to you. Stay there, eating and drinking whatever they give you, for the worker deserves his wages. Do not move around from house to house.
8 “When you enter a town and are welcomed, eat what is offered to you.
9 Heal the sick who are there and tell them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’
10-11 But when you enter a town and are not welcomed, go into its streets and say, ‘Even the dust of your town we wipe from our feet as a warning to you. Yet be sure of this: The kingdom of God has come near.’
16 “Whoever listens to you listens to Me; whoever rejects you rejects Me; but whoever rejects Me rejects Him who sent Me.”
17 The seventy-two returned with joy and said, “Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.”
18-20 He replied, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you. However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”
Luke 10:1-11, 16-20 (NIV)
Most of the people who lived in Judea were Jews., but there were some Gentiles. So that might be a problem if they were to stay in a house, sharing their hospitality —Jews were not supposed to do that. But Jesus’s instructions are explicit: Don’t be constrained by ritual laws but focus on the main task of bringing God’s peace and order to people who need it. His central instruction is to heal the sick who are there and tell them, “The Kingdom of God has come near to you”. This is Jesus’ message.
And this message of restoration can be received by anyone who receives the Master’s disciples. To receive them, and to hear their message, is to receive Jesus Himself.
As the disciples go out, Jesus tells them not to go out equipped, but to be vulnerable, to be reliant on God and on other people to give them hospitality, not to pick and choose, and and to receive the hospitality that they are given.
This means two things. Firstly, they have to pray and expect to be reliant on God – on His providing through others.
Secondly, they have to rely on His working through them to bring His presence to those who are hearing about His kingdom. This takes practice. It requires a different kind of confidence — not in what we know and can do, but the expectation of God being present and working through us.
We have to learn to let go of our competence – and exchange it for faith, for spiritual confidence in God.
We learn that the coaching the disciples received, and for some of them, previous practice in Galilee, paid off.
They returned, full of joy that the enemy’s schemes proved powerless and where demonic involvement was evident, it was quickly overcome. Jesus counselled them: not to rejoice because they had seen the power of God working, but to rejoice because they knew they were the Lord’s, with a destiny in heaven.
Which is where the glory belongs. This was His way of teaching them that the glory didn’t stay with them. It is always God’s glory.
So the lessons for us are these:
1. God’s mission is always bigger and broader than our idea of mission, and will take us beyond where we want to go.
2. We cannot be self-reliant and also reliant on God. We have to let go of what we think we know, so that God can do through us what only He can do.
3. We like to talk up the numbers, and exchange stories. But God does not share His glory. All the results are His alone — something we too easily forget.
From a success story, we move to teaching about failure. In the life of the Spirit, we all slip up, we all become confused at times and even born-again Christians of many years standing are prone to become deceived. But we are in this kingdom life together, and so restoration happens together — perhaps as we share in the Lord’s presence around His table.
Let’s hear the teaching that Paul wrote for these believers in central Turkey:
1 Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted.
2 Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfil the law of Christ.
3-5 If anyone thinks they are something when they are not, they deceive themselves. Each one should test their own actions. Then they can take pride in themselves alone, without comparing themselves to someone else, for each one should carry their own load.
6 Nevertheless, the one who receives instruction in the word should share all good things with their instructor.
Galatians 6:1-6 (NIV)
Paul makes an interesting distinction and it is more easily seen if we change the order. He teaches that each one should carry their own load having earlier said that we are to carry each other’s burdens.
We are responsible for our own walk with Christ. We know what our responsibilities are, and they are for us to carry, and carry out responsibly.
But life has a habit of imposing more than responsibilities. The difficulties of life can feel like too heavy a burden dash because they are. Paul is addressing believers in a Christian fellowship. This is what happens in the small group or in open prayer sharing around the communion table. This is about relationships, about taking seriously the Great Commandment to love one another. Love accepts that we all need some extra grace at times. Love knows that what seems like a brother’s or sister’s lapse could just as easily be our own. Love does not draw comparisons with ourselves.
And he says that by living this way, mutually sharing the joys and the burdens, we fulfil the law of Christ — and he probably means this Great Commandment principle of love. This is what God intends for us, to have opportunity for personal restoration, big or small, week by week.
Naaman was a complete outsider to God. He discovered that God had grace for him and his need when he turned to God. The disciples sent out on mission saw restoration happening among the variety of people they were staying with. We see how believers in the church are learning to practise personal reconciliation and restoration.
The bottom line is that God is always about His work of grace and restoration, healing and restoring what needs to be brought back to His good order. When we deal with our pride and self-sufficiency, God is able to do His work in us — and through us. When we acknowledge our need of realignment, we release what He has always intended to do.
And the bottom bottom line: we must never hold on to the glory because it isn’t about us, it’s about Him. He is the only one who is allowed to count up the numbers.