“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.’" (10)
For the past few weeks, we’ve been looking at the sins of idolatry. If you remember, an idol is anything that is more important to you than God, like Avatar or Call of Duty video game. Last week, we looked at the idolatry of money through the story of Zacchaeus. Today, we want to look at the idolatry of success through the story of Naaman. Why is success idolatry? Isn’t it good to be successful? Well yes and no. It is said that more than other idols, success makes us think that we are our own god, our own savior. In other words, we think that we’re successful, blessed by God, saved by God, or whatever because of what we have done, not because of what God has done. When success becomes more important to us than God, three things happen. 1st, we’re unsatisfied. 2nd, we’re miserable. 3rd, we suffer endlessly. So how can we overcome the idolatry of success? Let’s look at Naaman, a well prominent figure, and find out how he overcame.
First, Success leads to unsatisfaction (1).
Verse 1 says, “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….” Naaman was a man whom everyone admired and wanted to be like. He was the commander of the army of Aram, known today as Syria. He was a valiant soldier, highly decorated and honored. He was the king’s right hand man (2 Kings 5:18). He was on all the cover pages of magazines that sat near the grocery checkout lanes. Naaman was popular, he was wealthy, he was successful. He had everything! But there was a small problem. The author says in the last part of verse 1, “…he had leprosy.” In those days, leprosy was like cancer to us. Whoever got it, received an immediate death sentence. Leprosy ate at the body, destroying nerves and disfiguring the skin. Little by little, Naaman’s body parts would fall off due to the disease until he would eventually die. Naaman had everything – wealth, leadership, popularity, but under it all he was nothing but a dead man walking.
Success is something that everyone one wants. We all want to be successful at our jobs, in school, in sports, as parents, as husbands, as wives, in our church, in our community, and our nation. Success is not bad. In fact, God wants us to be successful (Gen 1:22). However, when our success or desire for success overpowers our love for God, that’s when disaster strikes. Like Naaman, we are satisfied for a little while, but sooner or later, we will suffer from some form of leprosy. We will become sick, numb, and unsatisfied. Madonna, a popular American singer, once described her unsatisfaction of success. She said, “I have an iron will, and all of my will has always been to conquer some horrible feeling of inadequacy….I push past one spell of it and discover myself as a special human being and then I get to another stage and think I’m mediocre and uninteresting….Again and again. My drive in life is from this horrible fear of being mediocre and that’s always pushing me, pushing me. Because even though I’ve become somebody, I still have to prove that I’m somebody. My struggle has never ended and it probably never will.” For Madonna, success is like a drug that gives her a sense of worth. But the drug quickly wears off and she needs mores. Even though she’s made it to the top several times, she’s never satisfied. Mary Bell, a counselor for high-level executives said that “achievement is the alcohol of our time.” People are success-aholics. They’re addicted to success. Once they complete a project or a goal, they feel good. But after that feeling goes away, they need more. So they do something else. But again, they become unhappy. Then the addiction keeps repeating itself again and again until the person becomes completely unsatisfied. .Success can never answer the question, “Who am I?” It can never define who we are before God or before others. It can never make us happy, feel accepted, or satisfied. It may work for a while, but in the end, it always fails.
Some of you are probably thinking, “This message isn’t for me. Success isn’t an idol to me because I’m not that successful The other day, my wife and I drove by the new Trump Plaza downtown. It was enormous! The only thing I could say was, “Man, I’ll never be that successful.” In some way or another, we all have a desire for success. It could be small and good, like paying off your bills. But the question is, has that desire become an idol to you? Is that the only thing you think about? Do you think that unless you’re successful at it, you’ll never be satisfied?
There are three signs that come when you have made success your idol. 1st, it brings you false security. 2nd, it distorts your view of yourself. 3rd, it makes you think that you cannot maintain your self confidence unless you remain at the top. Successful people think bad things won’t happen to them. They have some form of false security and a distortion about themselves. “I’m successful, what could happen?” But when bad things do happen, they don’t know how to react. After the economic crisis began in 2008, many former wealthy and successful individuals committed suicide. One was the chief financial officer of Freddie Mac, the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation. He was found hanged in his basement. There are also those who think they can’t maintain their self confidence unless they remain at the top, like Tiger Woods. Of course, it’s not only famous people who get affected by success. We all do. Christians think if they go to church and pray, then God will protect them from harm. Others think that if they live a good life, then karma will bless them. But what happens if some tragedy strikes or you sin or something doesn’t go as planned? How do your react? Is success an idol to you?
God put this story in the Bible as a lesson to all of us. Naaman’s leprosy represents the reality that success can not deliver the satisfaction we’re looking for. It may satisfy us for a while, but it never lasts. Many successful people testify, either by word or by their actions, that success is a fast-fading deception. Success can never satisfy the deep longings of our hearts.
Second, Success causes continuous misery (2-13).
Verses 2-3 say, “Now bands 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 .’” Naaman’s wife’s servant girl came with good news. There was chance for Naaman to be healed! The message was simple. He had to go to Samaria and see a prophet. But to Naaman, this didn’t make any sense. He thought he had to go directly to the king of Israel who would then command the prophet to heal him. To Naaman, only successful people had direct connection to someone as powerful as God. Today, many people believe that if you live a good life, work hard, and are successful, then God will bless you and will listen to you and do whatever you ask. But if you don’t, sorry Charlie. This is how Naaman thinks. So, he ignores the servant girl and heads to the king of Israel taking with him “ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels of gold, and ten sets of clothing” as well as a letter of reference from the king of Aram that read, “With this letter I am sending my servant Naaman to you so that you may cure him of his leprosy” (5-6).
When Naaman arrived and gave the king of Israel the gifts and the letter, he expected the king to say, “The king of Aram wants me to heal you? What an honor!” But “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!’” (7) When the king read the letter he was mad! So mad that he tore his royal robes in front of everybody. Imagine the look on Naaman’s face. What the king was saying to him was, “Are you crazy? God is not a god that you can control. He can’t be bought or appeased or even be pleased because of what you have accomplished. He is the only one who can kill. He is the only one who can give life. And he is the only one who can heal! It’s up to him whether or not he’ll do it. And it’s up to him who he’ll use to do it, not me!” We are not in the place of God. We can’t decide what will make us happy and what will not. We can’t think that success is what God is after and that he’ll bless us and heal us if we are successful. Naaman is after a God who can be put into debt, but this is a God of grace, who puts everyone else in his debt. Naaman is after a private God, a God for you and you, but not a God for everybody. But this God is the God of all people.
Verses 8-9 say, “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.” Naaman left the king’s palace and went to Elisha’s humble abode. Naaman expected Elisha to come out, receive his gifts, and heal him. But instead Elisha shocked him by remaining in his house and sending a servant to him instead saying, "’Go, wash yourself seven times in the Jordan, and your flesh will be restored and you will be cleansed.’ 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 any of the waters of Israel? Couldn't I wash in them and be cleansed?’ So he turned and went off in a rage. 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”!’" (10-13)
Naaman was furious! He expected that Elisha would accept his gifts and heal him right on the spot or at least tell him to do some great thing so that he could be healed. He thought if God wouldn’t heal him right then and there, then at least God would ask him to do a mighty thing, like bring back the broomstick of the Wicked Witch of the West, or return the Ring of Power to Mount Doom. But instead Elisha told him to do a humbling thing, something that anyone could do, to go and wash seven times in the Jordan. “Just wash yourself” was a command that was hard because it was easy. To do it, Naaman had to admit he was helpless and weak and had to receive his salvation as a free gift.
Here we learn something very important about God. God does not operate on some great thing we have accomplished or on some great that we can do, but he operates on the basis of shear grace God doesn’t want us to come to him and say, “Look what I have done for you. Look how much I’ve suffered.” Such a life only causes misery because we feel we have to be continually successful at something in order be blessed and healed by God. God wants us to simply come to him and wash. That’s it! Until we learn that God is a God of grace, whose salvation cannot be earned, only received, we will continue to be enslaved by our idols and live in utter misery.
Third, success brings endless suffering (2-3).
Every Bible story stresses that God’s grace and forgiveness is free to us, but to the giver it’s very costly. To forgive someone for their wrongs is not easy to do. It’s easier to get revenge. But to forgive means that you have to absorb the loss and debt upon yourself. The other person is free, but to you, it comes at a great cost. If you remember, back in verses 2-3, we were briefly introduced to a young Israelite servant girl of Naaman. When she was captured, she was probably 12 or 14 years old. She lived with her mom and dad and had her whole life ahead of her. But that all soon ended. Her parents were either taken away and sold or were killed right before her very eyes. This girl naturally and understandably could have been angry and bitter towards Naaman. When she found out that he had leprosy, she could have easily kept her mouth shut and watched him receive his due suffering.
Those who set their hearts on getting to the top, but instead find themselves on the bottom, will usually become bitter and will look for people to blame for their failures. They might even seek revenge as we have seen too many times in our work places today. However, this girl did not fall into this trap. She didn’t say, “Ha! He lost another finger today.” Instead she said, “If only my master would see the prophet!” This girl really wanted to relieve Naaman’s suffering and save him. Why? She could have easily made him suffer horribly for his sins. She could have made him pay for what he had done to her, for abusing her. Instead, she led him to the prophet for healing. This servant girl decided to absorb pain in order for her master to be healed. She did what the Bible tells us to do. She did not seek revenge, but rather she trusted God to be the judge of all. She forgave him and became the vehicle for his healing and salvation. Ultimately she became a foreshadow of the greatest Suffering Servant of all, Jesus Christ.
Fourth, Salvation (14-16).
Verses 14-16 say, “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. Then Naaman and all his attendants went back to the man of God. He stood before him and said, ‘Now I know that there is no God in all the world except in Israel. Please accept now a gift from your servant.’ The prophet answered, ‘As surely as the LORD lives, whom I serve, I will not accept a thing.’ And even though Naaman urged him, he refused.” The way to salvation and healing assaults our worship of success as every point. To be cured, Naaman had to first accept a word through a servant girl and then through Elisha. This was hard for him to do. But when he finally did, his flesh was completely restored.
After being healed, Naaman tried to give a gift to Elisha. But Elisha would have nothing to do with it. Elisha wanted Naaman to know that his healing didn’t come as result of what Elisha did nor of what Naaman did nor of what the servant girl did, but it came only by the grace of God. What the servant girl and Elisha did was admirable, however they weren’t the ones who could heal Naaman of his leprosy or forgive him of his sins. The only one who can completely heal us from leprosy is Jesus Christ. The servant girl didn’t have a choice to be taken from her home and made into a servant and slave. Jesus however freely left his heavenly home and became a servant to all. The servant girl didn’t want to be abused. Jesus however was beaten and abused in our place. The servant girl and Elisha could only tell Naaman what to do to be cleansed. But Jesus knew the way to true cleanness. It was by offering himself as a sacrifice of atonement on the cross for our sins. In the end, Naaman was healed from his leprosy. Jesus however took Naaman’s leprosy upon himself. Jesus suffered and died from the disease of all of our sins. He did so in order to give us salvation. That is why Jesus is the only who can take away our sins and make us clean. He is the true Suffering Servant.
Our desire to do something great or to be successful only leads to unsatisfaction, causes continuous misery, and brings endless suffering. The only way to break this is by seeing what Jesus our Great Suffering servant has done for us. When we do, then we can finally understand that God’s salvation does not require us to do anything great, because Jesus has already done it. That’s why we can “just wash”. Jesus did it all for you, and he loves you. Through Jesus, we can have everlasting satisfaction, happiness, and salvation. To end the idol of success, we must replace it with the desire to know what God has done for us through his Son Jesus Christ.