20 Gehazi (who was the servant of Elisha the man of God) thought, My master let this Aramean Naaman off the hook by not accepting the gift he brought! As surely as the Lord lives, I’ll go after him and accept something from him. 21 So Gehazi pursued Naaman.
2 Kings 5:20-21
Sometimes people do dumb, selfish stuff that can undo the good they’ve done. Don’t be a Gehazi.
Here’s the story. A foreigner named Naaman came to the prophet Elisha to get healed from leprosy. He couldn’t get healed in his homeland, and his servant suggested he try Elisha. After some initial insult and hesitation it worked, which is an interesting story in its own right. After Naaman gets healed, he tries to pay Elisha, who refuses. Then, Naaman returns to his own country praising YHWH as the only true God.
But Naaman isn’t satisfied. Gehazi (Elisha’s servant or maybe disciple) knows Naaman is rich. Gehazi probably doesn’t like foreigners. Gehazi probably didn’t like the way Naaman treated Elisha at first. Whatever is going on in his head, Gehazi does not understand what it means to serve the Lord.
So Gehazi goes after Naaman, makes up an elaborate lie along the lines of “on second thought, we have some friends who need some money.” Naaman pays up without question, and Gehazi heads home. Long story short (or short story even shorter), Elisha calls him out and Gehazi gets Naaman’s leprosy in some epic poetic justice.
So where did Gehazi go wrong?
Forgot the Why
First, Gehazi forgot why he and Elisha were doing ministry. Elisha was probably the most powerful prophet Israel had ever seen. He was given a double portion of Elijah’s (his teacher) power. He could have gotten rich. He have could have been a ruler. He could have pulled strings, but Elisha was interested in one thing—giving glory to God. So when Elisha heals Naaman, the goal is that a people far off—who worship a different God—will know that YHWH is the one true God. Elisha doesn’t accept money because he doesn’t want any accusations of greed to muddle the message the Naaman will carry back with him. Mission accomplished.
Gehazi doesn’t understand that. It seems that he thinks the goal of their ministry is to get rich or get recognition. He sees Naaman as someone of importance that doesn’t grasp how important Elisha is. See, Naaman cares more about the ministry of Elisha than the ministry of God. How often do we get defensive about our way of doing things, of the little tribes that we belong to, that we forget what we are about? We create little rivalries. We demand attention for the “great” things going on in our little world. I see this happening in our fragmented world church all around us. “My preacher, my method, my ministry, my size or style of church is better than yours.” Our little tribal squabbles are in danger of leprosy.
But broken systems are made up of broken people. We act like Naaman on a smaller scale, too.
Naaman wasn’t content for God to get the glory for his ministry (or Elisha’s). He wanted to make sure they got their due as well. Over the years I have seen so many people do amazing stuff for the Lord just to turn around and demand recognition for it. Singers get their feelings hurt when they don’t get enough solos. Volunteers storm out of meetings because their name wasn’t mentioned among the helpers of a certain ministry. Church members griping about this or that messy ministry while they clean up, demanding a reckoning instead celebrating a vibrant (insert the offending ministry’s name). This leads to the same thing every time. First, I want recognition. Then, I get bitter about being the “only that cares” about such and such. Then finally, I start doing ministry with vengeance in my heart.
It destroys culture. It destroys teamwork. There is no love, and at the end of the day God is less glorified than He would have been if we hadn’t lifted a finger. In case anyone is feeling called out, this temptation is greatest for pastors who spend countless hours doing ministry in so many directions that no one would want to keep track or care about. The temptation to be bitter and petty gets me sometimes, too.
In the story, Naaman’s punishment was leprosy, but in the church the attitude itself becomes the infectious skin disease. Let’s work for God.
Try to hide what you do unless you need to collaborate or avoid duplication. That way if it goes unnoticed, you and God can laugh about your sneakiness.
Celebrate someone else getting recognition for something you helped with. God sees and blesses the hidden things.
If you find yourself cleaning up after someone else, or doing something everyone else forgot about, thank God for putting it on your heart because we all have different ministries. Rejoice that you get to be a part of the kingdom.
If you do feel a need to address chronic oversight, check your heart and do so from a place that builds up the kingdom of God and not you.
Don’t undo what God is doing in your midst. Don’t take the wind out of the sails of the Spirit’s move. Don’t kill culture. Take a step back; check your heart, and remember why we are doing anything at all.