Naaman’s dilemma and our engagement with the world

Naaman’s dilemma and our engagement with the world

2 Kings 5 introduces us to a Syrian general named Naaman. He travelled to Israel to be healed of his leprosy after hearing that a prophet named Elisha could heal him. After his remarkable healing, this powerful man was changed in deep ways. He showed humility that wasn’t evident before and he confessed that the LORD was the only true God.

After his conversion to worshipping the true God, Naaman immediately started to consider the implications of his new-found faith. The first action was that he set himself up to only worship the LORD when back home in Syria, changing the routine and emphasis of his household forever. But he also faced a trickier problem. Part of his job involved going with the king of Syria into the temple of Rimmon, the Syrian god, and bowing down there. While Naaman no longer consider Rimmon a god, this was an aspect of his job he could not refuse to do. He asked Elisha for permission to do this, and Elisha gave it to him.

This is really odd. If someone came to you or I and asked if it was OK for them to worship in a foreign temple to another god, we wouldn’t need to think too hard. The answer would be no. After all, God is a jealous God. It is the first commandment to have no other gods before Him. There are countless warnings against the worship of other gods and examples of judgement on those who did. So why did Elisha say this was OK?

As usual, it would help to consider the context of this passage. Elisha is very concerned that Naaman understand grace. He twice refuses a gift after the healing, and Gehazi gets a major punishment for taking some of Naaman’s money in stealth. Elisha knows that Naaman will be the one taking the news of the true God back home to Syria. He will influence many, and it is very important that he get the right idea. He needs to understand grace clearly else perhaps the LORD will be thought of like Rimmon, a deity who will act for you if you do the right things for him.

On top of this, we need to realise that life is complicated. In an ideal world, sure, Naaman would not be in the temple of Rimmon. He knows this, which is why he asks Elisha for advice. But it is not an ideal world. Refusal to do this part of his job might mean punishment, death, or exclusion from his job. By continuing with the task, even though it is now only a motion and not a belief, Naaman remains in his position. He is in society and in a position to influence it. Being a believer is not only about stopping the world from polluting you; it is also about you influencing the world. We should protect ourselves from idols (1 John 5:21) as well as being the aroma of Christ to those who are being saved (2 Cor 2:15).

What equivalent decisions face Christians today? Let me give you a couple of examples:

  1. Should you go out for drinks with your non-Christian work colleagues after work? Many Christians will automatically say no because they feel they should not be in a bar or perhaps should not drink alcohol. Yet, if we never go with our colleagues, we miss the opportunity to build relationships in a way we cannot do at the workplace. While each Christian needs to make a decision on what is wise here, Naaman’s situation suggests a quick refusal is not the only way you could deal with this in a godly way.
  2. Should you work for a company that is outspoken on social issues in a direction Christians do not agree with? Many major companies make public statements about abortion, gay marriage, and whatever the issue of the day is. They celebrate Pride month and Black Lives Matter and all kinds of causes, some Christians might be happy with and some we might not be. The kneejerk reaction is to boycott these companies and never work for them or purchase from them. But life is complicated. If a Christian worked in such a place, they could be a great witness to a community that probably doesn’t know many Christians. Boycotting is not the only way to deal with this in a godly way.

Christians face complex decisions like Naaman did, and we will not all agree on the right line to take. When facing something like this, think and pray first. Ask for advice; that’s a great benefit of being part of a church! And consider that whatever you decide, it is not only about you. How will this decision impact those around you? What opportunities will you get for the gospel if you say yes, or if you say no?

God puts us in many decisions that require wisdom. Let’s work hard to make good decisions for the right reasons for His glory.