*Disclaimer: My featured image for this post has nothing whatsoever to do with my content.
If you’ve ever heard a sermon on the story of Naaman (found in II Kings 5) then you’ve probably come away with a great lesson on humility, trusting God’s command or avoiding greed — unlike Elisha’s servant, Gehazi. If all of this is unfamiliar to you, please read the passage. It’s great.
Naaman was a commander in the army of the king of Aram (Syria). Moreover, Naaman was at the head of the Aramean army when they defeated Israel. He was a mighty man, but he was also a leper.
Through the testimony of a captive Israeli servant-girl, Naaman learned that he might be able to be healed by Israel’s prophet, Elisha. After a journey to see Elisha, some quibbling over the method of healing and having to eat a plate-full of humble pie, Naaman was healed of his leprosy. But that is not my favorite part of the story.
While listening to a sermon by Tim Keller, my attention was pointed to two verses I had never noticed nor remember being emphasized. After Elisha refuses to be paid for the miracle the Lord performed, Naaman says this, “…please let your servant at least be given two mules’ load of earth; for your servant will no longer offer burnt offering nor will he sacrifice to other gods, but to the Lord. In this matter may the Lord pardon your servant: when my master goes into the house of Rimmon to worship there, and he leans on my hand and I bow myself in the house of Rimmon, when I bow myself in the house of Rimmon, the Lord pardon your servant in this matter” (II Kings 5:17-18 NASB).
After experiencing the work of the living God, Naaman knew he could never go back and continue his old life as if nothing had happened. However, as a high-ranking official in the Aramean kingdom, he knew that he still had to go back to a world that did not know God.
Is this not the same paradox that Christians in the 21st century face? After conversion to belief, a decision to complete surrender or simply living as a disciple from day-to-day, those who follow Jesus do so in a world that is mostly hostile to his message. As I see it, in America there are two major temptations that we, as disciples of Christ, must avoid:
1. The temptation to privatize our relationship with Christ. In a multicultural society that has largely embraced the idea that “what’s true for you is good for you and what’s true for me is good for me,” we are told that people ought to keep “religion” to themselves. Your religious beliefs should remain private because no one can possibly know what is true and so it is offensive to share your faith openly.
To privatize your faith is to live in the world, and perhaps not participate in certain immoral activities, but never speak of your faith nor for its validity in the world. Privatization often leads to compromising or neglecting values set forth by God in order to avoid conflict.
This is not an option for the Christian because if you are a believer then your entire life in every aspect — your very identity — is Christ.
When Paul went to Athens, he went to the marketplace to talk with people about the gospel. Athens was the cultural center of the world at that time, and the marketplace wasn’t just for physical goods, it was where you had to go to learn about religion, philosophy and other ideas. There was no mass media back then, and so the “marketplace of ideas” was literally the marketplace. Paul essentially took the gospel straight to the equivalent of what would be Wall Street, Harvard and Hollywood all rolled into one place. He did not set a good example from a distance and hope people would be curious enough to come ask him “what’s so different about you?”
2. The temptation to withdraw from the “world.” It is tempting, for the sake of living a “righteous” life, to try to avoid all non-believers and secular culture as much as possible. This might mean quitting a job where you have an unbelieving boss or wild coworkers. For some, it means unconditional avoidance of the secular education system. For others, it means never associating with non-believers unless it is in a purely “outreach” context.
This approach, too, causes problems. It is hard to be the light of the world when you’re doing your best to avoid any contact with the world. Jesus prayed not that his followers would be removed from the world, (by God) but that they would be “kept from the evil one” (by God).
Naaman set a great example of how to be “in the world but not of it.” As a symbol of the truth he had learned about God, he took dirt from Israel back with him to Aram to create a place of memory where he would sacrifice to the true God only. He went back to his old job, but he would never do his job the same way again. Naaman knew that his boss, the king, would not convert, but that did not stop Naaman from being an example. Naaman did not disassociate with the people in his life nor demand that the unbelievers convert immediately or he was out.
Is it possible that we, as Christians, need to stop overthinking every detail about how much of the world to be “in” and just be Christians where we are? If we will be Christ-focused and trust and listen to the Holy Spirit, He will guide us and we won’t have to put so much human effort into determining exactly what our life should look like.