READ: 2 Kings 4-6, Psalm 108, Matthew 19, 2 Timothy 1
THE HONOR OF BEING SELF-SUFFICIENT
Jesus is pleased by those who are not needy, by those without a whiff of entitlement about them. When Elisha asks how he can return thanks to the Shunammite noble woman for her hospitality, she classically responds: “I dwell among my own people” (2 Kings 4:13). This is not pompous; it is a cultured and dignified woman politely saying: “I don’t need subsidy or pandering. I am blessed by the Lord and it is my honor to bless others. I did not give in order to receive; I gave because I wanted to and because I could.” Women like this (self-sufficient) please Jesus to no end. They desire nothing for the ministry they offer.
Gehazi had a completely different perspective on ministry. Elisha is aging. Elisha has nothing material to show for years of service. Gehazi has even less. Perhaps Gehazi begins to think: “What’s in it for me? How will I survive when Elisha is gone? It is all very well for him to fix poisonous stews with flour and multiply 20 loaves of barley bread to feed 100 men. But I can’t do that, so who takes care of me and my family when Elisha doddles on?” A glimpse into Gehazi’s thinking is given us by the seer Elisha when he asks: “Is it a time to receive money and clothing, olive groves and vineyards, sheep and oxen, male and female servants” (2 Kings 5:26)? Evidently Gehazi had some retirement plans in mind. He had served Elisha faithfully for years; now it was his time to be rewarded, served, and provided for.
Naaman’s leprosy descends on Gehazi, and this judgment seems harsh to us – why would a little greed deserve generations of shame? In an honor and shame culture, your sin (greed or otherwise) never just affects you. When Gehazi asked for monetary reward (after Elisha had refused it), he made both Elisha and God look petty. Gehazi sullied the honor of prophet and potentate by reducing them to “for hire” practitioners. Something precious was lost as the Great God was reduced in the eyes of the Syrians to just another charlatan who performed a service for a monetary reward.
There is another danger in accepting benefits for ministry. John Woolman points out that honorariums often buy our silence, or at least our censored speech. “Those who sometimes travelest in the work of the ministry, and art made very welcome by thy friends, seest many tokens of their satisfaction in having thee for their guest…I have experienced that, in the midst of kindness and smooth conduct, to speak close and home to those who entertain us, on points that relate to outward interest, is hard labor. Sometimes, when I have felt truth lead to it, I have found myself disqualified by a superficial friendship.” Let not the prophetic voice be extinguished because we accepted some kindness of our friends, some unintended bribe which limits the pure word of the Lord be spoken. Let not greed make us leprous – unfit to serve the Lord or His sheep.