Freedom

2 Kings 5:1-14

1 Naaman, a general for the king of Aram, was a great man and highly regarded by his master, because through him the LORD had given victory to Aram. This man was a mighty warrior, but he had a skin disease. 2 Now Aramean raiding parties had gone out and captured a young girl from the land of Israel. She served Naaman’s wife.

3 She said to her mistress, “I wish that my master could come before the prophet who lives in Samaria. He would cure him of his skin disease.” 4 So Naaman went and told his master what the young girl from the land of Israel had said.

5 Then Aram’s king said, “Go ahead. I will send a letter to Israel’s king.”

So Naaman left. He took along ten kikkars of silver, six thousand shekels of gold, and ten changes of clothing. 6 He brought the letter to Israel’s king. It read, “Along with this letter I’m sending you my servant Naaman so you can cure him of his skin disease.”

7 When the king of Israel read the letter, he ripped his clothes. He said, “What? Am I God to hand out death and life? But this king writes me, asking me to cure someone of his skin disease! You must realize that he wants to start a fight with me.”

8 When Elisha the man of God heard that Israel’s king had ripped his clothes, he sent word to the king: “Why did you rip your clothes? Let the man come to me. Then he’ll know that there’s a prophet in Israel.”

9 Naaman arrived with his horses and chariots. He stopped at the door of Elisha’s house.
10 Elisha sent out a messenger who said, “Go and wash seven times in the Jordan River. Then your skin will be restored and become clean.”

11 But Naaman went away in anger. He said, “I thought for sure that he’d come out, stand and call on the name of the LORD his God, wave his hand over the bad spot, and cure the skin disease. 12 Aren’t the rivers in Damascus, the Abana and the Pharpar, better than all Israel’s waters? Couldn’t I wash in them and get clean?” So he turned away and proceeded to leave in anger.

13 Naaman’s servants came up to him and spoke to him: “Our father, if the prophet had told you to do something difficult, wouldn’t you have done it? All he said to you was, ‘Wash and become clean.'”  14 So Naaman went down and bathed in the Jordan seven times, just as the man of God had said. His skin was restored like that of a young boy, and he became clean. (CEB)

Freedom and License

The story of Naaman and Elisha is, I think, very much a lesson in simple obedience to the Lord. It’s a lesson that every child has to learn. Children need to learn to be obedient to their parents and other authority figures. But for adults in 21st century America, obedience is not something we like hearing about because we put so much emphasis on freedom.

As a people who value freedom, we don’t want to hear about the requirement of obedience because we think obedience might in some way limit our freedom. But when we think that way, that obedience limits freedom, what we fail to understand is the ironic truth that our freedom actually comes through obedience. Our freedom is nothing less than a direct result of our obedience. When we exercise license, which is the opposite of obedience, it’s then that we actually find ourselves enslaved.

In fact, when you look up the word license in any dictionary you’re likely to find the word lawlessness as a synonym. License is the choice to be subject to nothing but yourself, abandoning and disregarding everything else. The irony of our modern age is that it’s through license that we’re enslaved, though we think we’re exercising our freedom; and it’s through obedience that we’re free, though we think it limits our freedom.

Take this story of Naaman and Elisha. Now, there are a lot of things going on here. Naaman was a great warrior, and he was the commander of the armies of the Kingdom of Aram. In fact, the Biblical text says he was “a great man.” The king of Aram really liked Naaman, because Naaman had led the Arameans to victory in battle over the Kingdom of Israel. We’re told that the Lord had allowed this to happen.

Naaman also had a problem in that he suffered from a skin disease, which would have been a source of stigma for him. Among the many spoils that the army of Aram brought back with them from Israel was a young Israelite girl whom Naaman had enslaved and given to his wife as a servant. It’s this slave girl who suggests to Naaman’s wife that the great warrior might find healing at the hands of the prophet who is in Samaria. So Naaman’s wife told Naaman, Naaman told the king, and the king decided to send Naaman to Israel—the land whose armies he had just defeated in battle—for healing.

You can only imagine how pleased the King of Israel was to see Naaman again. He read the letter that the king of Aram sent along with Naaman and interpreted it as an attempt by the king of Aram to pick a fight; as an excuse to go to war again with Israel and humiliate them even further. The king of Israel was so upset that he tore his clothes, which was a gesture of despair. He didn’t know what to do! All he knew was that he couldn’t cure Naaman because only the Lord can do such a thing.

Enter Elisha, the man of God and successor of Elijah. He hears of the king’s despair and sends him a message asking, “Why have you torn your clothes? Let him come to me, that he may learn that there is a prophet in Israel.” When Naaman arrived on the doorstep of Elisha’s house, Elisha sent his servant to Naaman and told him, “Go wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored and you shall be clean.”

Apparently, Naaman had it worked out in his imagination how this meeting with the prophet would go, and he’s mightily let down by how it actually turns out. Naaman’s response indicates that his pride, his ego, has been wounded. He became angry and left Elisha’s house saying, “I thought that for me [because he is a great man and he obviously knew it] he would surely come out, and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, and would wave his hand over the spot, and cure the leprosy!” His national ego has also been wounded. Naaman deems that the rivers of his homeland are better than all the waters of Israel combined. If he just needed to take a bath, wouldn’t it be better to wash in the refreshing waters of the Abana or the Pharpar instead of the little trickle that the Jordan is?

“Wash seven times in the Jordan? You’ve gotta be kidding me! My rivers back home are way better. Couldn’t I wash in them and be clean?”

At first, Naaman refuses to submit himself to obedience, and so he’ll remain a prisoner to his leprosy. He chooses license—his own will and his own way—instead of obedience and freedom, and so ironically remains enslaved. It isn’t until Naaman’s servants speak up and say, “Now think about this for a second, Master Naaman. If he had told you to go and do something difficult, you would have readily done it. How much more should you be willing to submit yourself in obedience to his command to find true freedom when all he said was ‘wash in the Jordan seven times and you’ll be clean?'”

So Naaman decided to give obedience a chance. He went to the Jordan, immersed himself seven times just as Elisha had commanded, “and his flesh was restored like the flesh of a young boy, and he was clean.” Through obedience to the word of the man of God, he found true freedom.

True freedom requires obedience. The freedoms we enjoy as American citizens are guaranteed to us by the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of The United States of America. But we’re only able to enjoy those freedoms when we’re obedient to the words and laws contained in those documents. It’s when people choose license, which is lawlessness and lack of responsibility, that freedom is extinguished not only for those who exercise license, but for others as well. On the other hand, obedience to the Constitution by all, guarantees true freedom for all.

The Scriptures talk about something quite similar here. When we choose to be obedient to Jesus Christ we find freedom from sin and death which, before we believed in Jesus, held us as captive as slaves. We were enslaved to sin, and the result of that enslavement is death. But in choosing Jesus Christ, in being obedient to the word of God and the teachings of Jesus Christ, we’re able to find freedom from all the things which try to hold us captive.

When talking about the teachings of false prophets, Peter says, For they speak bombastic nonsense, and with licentious desires of the flesh they entice people who have just escaped from those who live in error. They promise them freedom, but they themselves are slaves of corruption; for people are slaves to whatever masters them.” (2 Peter 2:18-19, NRSV).

License or licentiousness looks good, it looks like freedom; in fact it’s almost always concealed in the guise of freedom. It sells itself to us as freedom, and we buy it thinking it is, indeed, freedom. But what we really get through license is slavery, “for people are slaves to whatever masters them.” What we get through choosing our own selfish way instead of God’s way is slavery.

One example. God has given each of us everything we have, and God wants us to give a tithe—10%—in return, both as acknowledgement that God alone is the source of all we have, and as a sign of our thankfulness for having received all these things. God knows that money has a way of enslaving us in such a way that almost all we can think about is having enough, and almost all we do is done with the aim of getting more so we can have enough, and we can’t stand to give it away because we need it: every penny! We rationalize reasons for ourselves why we can’t give.

A few Annual Conferences ago, Bishop Coyner addressed a question about one of the largest churches in Indiana that hardly gave a penny for their tithe to the Conference, District, and General Church. He said, “If you’re looking for an excuse not to give, you’ll find one.” The problem with what that church was doing is that it’s license: it’s choosing my way instead of being obedient to God’s way. It is, at its root, disobedience and it leads only to our continued bondage, even though we may falsely think it’s freedom.

The only way to find freedom from our enslavement to money is to be obedient to God’s command and learn how to give generously. When a person is able to give money away, that person is no longer a slave to money, but is truly free. Believe me, tithing feels really good! And it isn’t just the act of giving that feels good, it’s everything that goes along with it: joy, peace, gratitude, contentment. These are some of the byproducts of tithing. People who give a tithe find joy in giving. There is a kind of release that comes from giving the stuff away.

Tithers generally don’t worry about money and financial issues because there is an overwhelming sense of peace that comes from giving. Tithers usually find that once they start tithing they are more grateful for the things they have than they were before they started tithing. Tithers find contentment with what they have and don’t get caught up in the highly frustrating game of keeping up with the Jones’s. Freedom truly comes through obedience.

This is true with every area of human life, not just the command to tithe. Love your neighbors; Love your enemies; Pray unceasingly. Everything God commands us to do calls for obedience, and in that obedience we find very real and true freedom.

On the other hand, license, lawlessness, lack of responsibility, choosing our will over God’s commandments, ironically leads toward our enslavement every time. Obedience to God’s commandments in all things is what gives us true freedom. It’s how Naaman found freedom from his skin disease, it’s how Christians find freedom from all the entanglements of life that tie our hands and haul us off bound and gagged. In all of this we have a simple choice: license and slavery, or obedience and freedom. It’s our choice; choose wisely.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen!

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