(This is a brief overview for Sunday School teachers and Bible study leaders of Lifeway’s Explore the Bible lesson for Sunday, July 27, 2022)
I’m going to suggest a couple of different ways you could begin this week’s lesson:
ONE way would be to hand your class members a slip of paper, with a question on it. Tell them you will not take up up this paper, and no one else will look at it. But write their honest answer to the question: “If you were to stand before God and He were to ask you, ‘Why should I let you into My heaven?,’ what would you say?” Give them a minute to write their answer. Then say, I want you to hold onto this; tuck it into your Bible for a few minutes, and we will come back to these later ….
OR you could start by focusing on the military aspect of this story: “Do you have a favorite military hero/leader?” (George Washington; Robert E. Lee; Dwight Eisenhower, etc.) and say that today we are going to look at the story of a man who was a military hero, by the name of Naaman …
You might also share one of my favorite stories: of former general/President Eisenhower, who on his death bed in the 1960’s, asked for Billy Graham to come see him. He had conversed with Graham many times over the years, and Graham had shared the gospel with him. Now dying, Eisenhower said to Billy Graham: “Billy, tell me again how I can know for sure that I have eternal life; nothing else matters now.”
Of course he was right; nothing EVER matters more than knowing that we are washed from our sins, and that we have eternal life.
Dwight Eisenhower had accomplished a lot of things in his life:
Supreme Commander of allied forces in World War II; President of Columbia University in New York; President of the United States! But NONE of these things washed him from his sins or made him right with God. Then you could say: the man in our story for today was just like him: an honored general, but what he needed more than anything else, was the grace of God!
We have now started the book II Kings. In the 2nd chapter of the book, EliJAH (the prophet we have been studying) is taken up to heaven in a whirlwind, and EliSHA succeeds him as God’s main prophet to Israel, the northern Kingdom. In Chapter 4 we see some of the miracles God performed through him, which brings us to our focus passage, Chapter 5:1-14.
This chapter focuses around the story of a military man, Naaman.
:1 introduces him. One thing you could do here is to point out (or have your class look at this verse, and call “what ‘accomplishments’ or achievements do we see here from Naaman. (I see at least 5 here in :1)
– “captain of the army of the king
– “a great man”
– “highly respected”
– “by him the LORD had given victory to Aram”
– “also a valiant warrior”
THIS IS QUITE A LIST OF HONORS, isn’t it?
But all of that couldn’t overcome the ONE BIG NEGATIVE in his life: “but he was a leper.” THAT’S a BIG negative! Leprosy is very treatable today, but it was not in ancient times. It was deforming, crippling, and incurable by man. EnduringWordcommentary.com gives this description of leprosy:
“Ancient leprosy began as small, red spots on the skin. Before too long the spots got bigger, and started to turn white, with sort of a shiny, or scaly appearance. Pretty soon the spots spread over the whole body and hair began to fall out – first from the head, then even from the eyebrows. As things got worse, fingernails and toenails become loose; they start to rot and eventually fell off. Then the joints of fingers and toes began to rot and fall off piece by piece. Gums began to shrink and they couldn’t hold the teeth anymore, so each of them was lost. Leprosy kept eating away at the face until literally the nose, the palate, and even the eyes rotted – and the victim wasted away until death.” (You can get this quote from my notes on http://www.shawnethomas.com; I’ll put a link in the comments)
So this leprosy was a BIG deal; scary, and incurable by man.
And Naaman’s leprosy is symbolic of the state of ALL of us before God. Leprosy symbolizes sin. Sin has infected ALL of us; it deforms us spiritually; it cripples us in every area of life; and like leprosy in those ancient times, we have no cure for it. Like Naaman, all of the honors and accomplishments of our lives can’t atone for it. (You might reference President Eisenhower here; all he had been on earth, couldn’t earn him eternity with God.) Our salvation from sin has to come by God’s grace.
I think THE MAIN EMPHASIS of this text is this picture this gives us of salvation. (There are a couple of other good applications you can make too, which I’ll talk about in a minute …)
But so much in this chapter is a great picture of the gospel:
— Naaman had a problem that no human could take care of
— all his honors and accomplishments could not help him with it
— Only God could save him; it would not involve his own “works” — it was just “wash and be clean”
— and he had to HUMBLE himself and obey what God said in order to be saved
This is such a picture of salvation, isn’t it? Our sin is something NONE of us can deal with. The biggest honors and accomplishments of our lives can’t pay for it.
Only the blood of Jesus from the cross can save us.
We have to humble ourselves, admit we’re sinners, and ask Jesus to wash us, and we can be saved. But that is the ONLY way for that to happen!
So there are several elements in this text which teach us about salvation by grace:
— First, all those “honors” of Naaman couldn’t save him. And our honors and accomplishments can’t save us either.
Eph. 2:8-9 says it is by grace that we are saved, not by our works
— Then look at :5 What is the significance of what Naaman took with him?
— 10 talents of silver
— 6000 shekels of gold
— 10 changes of clothes
I read various estimates of the worth of these things. As some of you know from the NT, a “talent” is a weight. Ten talents of silver (and I read where 6000 shekels is 2 talents of gold) is a HUGE amount of money. One estimated it at $1.2 million that Naaman brought! Perhaps he and the king thought they BUY this healing/deliverance. But he couldn’t. Elisha wouldn’t accept any of it.
And again, this is a picture of our salvation. We can’t “buy” it.
— Psalm 49:7 “No man can by any means redeem his brother, or give to God a ransom for him — for the redemption of his soul is costly, and he should cease trying …”
— I Peter 1:18-19 says we can’t be redeemed by silver & gold, but only by the blood of Christ.
We see another important element of salvation here in :11.
??? Why do you think Naaman was “furious”?
Think of all we’ve seen he had accomplished; all his honors. Yet Elisha sends a “messenger” out to him to tell him what to do; like he couldn’t be bothered to address him himself?
It appears that Naaman had an issue with PRIDE. Pride is one of the greatest obstacles for people to come to the Kingdom of God.
This is a good word for a lot of people. Especially for “accomplished” people like Naaman. Proud people. “Self-made” people. They are used to “pulling their own weight,” and being recognized for what they have DONE.
It can be hard for that kind of person to be saved by grace through faith.
— it can be hard to admit that you are a sinner
— it can be hard to humble yourself and say that you can’t save yourself
— it can be hard to receive salvation as a GIFT, that JESUS bought for you, and not based on anything you have done.
But that is what must happen for a person to be saved. You must HUMBLE yourself, admit your sin, and ask Jesus to do for you what you cannot do for yourself. That’s being “poor in spirit” like Jesus talks about in Matt. 5:3; you must be poor in spirit to get into the Kingdom of Heaven.
That’s why Jesus said it is hard for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. He’s bought everything he wants in every area of his life — but he can’t buy this! He has to HUMBLE himself, and ASK for it. And if he doesn’t, he will not be saved.
HUMILITY, admitting your spiritual poverty, and asking Jesus to save you, is a key to being saved.
And then Naaman’s cleansing here is also a picture of how pure God makes us when He saves us:
:14 says “and his flesh was restored like the flesh of a little child and he was clean.”
— +x Isaiah 1:18 “though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow”
??? Have you ever seen something you *thought* was white, until you held it up to something else?
Back when we were living in our first church parsonage, it had snowed, and my wife Cheryl decided to put out some popcorn on the snow to feed the birds. After a while I looked out the big front window, and I was puzzled: I said, “Cheryl, you didn’t BUTTER that popcorn, did you?” She said of course not! But I said, look how YELLOW that popcorn looks, on that fresh white snow! I’d have said popcorn was white; but it’s nowhere near as white as that snow.
Which just emphasizes what the Bible says here, that Jesus makes us white as snow!
I John 1:9 says He’ll cleanse us from ALL unrighteousness
Like the old hymn says; “Now wash me and I shall be whiter than snow.”
THAT is what happens when He saves us by His grace. He makes us absolutely pure, clean, ready to enter the kingdom of Heaven!
So use all of these insights here in I Kings 5 explain the gospel:
— Sin has infected us all, like leprosy
— nothing we can do or buy will save us
— we have to humble ourselves and receive it
— and when we do, He makes our souls as white as snow!
But emphasize that like Naaman, it is ALL, ONLY by His GRACE!
Now: if you had your group fill out the slips of paper, indicating what they were trusting in for salvation, you might have them look at them again, and challenge them:
If what they wrote was based on anything they DID: going to church, getting baptized, giving offerings, doing my best to keep the Commandments, etc. this is salvation by WORKS. And they need to realize that these things will NOT save them.
They must humble themselves, like Naaman, and trust in what GOD did to save us, through the death of Jesus on the cross.
This scripture passage is a great vehicle to share the gospel!
THERE ARE A COUPLE OF OTHER GOOD APPLICATIONS IN THIS TEXT:
— :2-3 A little girl used the position she had to witness to this “great” man! I’m sure that girl never thought about being taken captive as part of “God’s plan”! It just seemed like what one might call “an accident of war.” Naaman had led Aram on a raid, they took some prisoners, among them this girl, and now she was a servant for the commander’s wife. Little did she know, that this was all in God’s plan, and He would use her in this position to touch this great man for the Lord!
This is just a good reminder: we should all use the places where God has put us, for His kingdom.
Where has God put YOU? Why are you in that neighborhood; at that job; have the connections you do; know the people you know; have the skills you do? THESE THINGS ARE NOT BY ACCIDENT. They are all in God’s plan and providence, and He has you where you are, for His purposes. Be watching for how God wants to use you there!
??? Can you/someone in your class share of how God used them on the job/in the hospital/in your neighborhood, to witness/care for someone???
We should be watching for these opportunities. We are not where we are by accident; just like that little girl, God has placed us where we are for His purposes.
— A second application is that as “proud” as Naaman seemed to be, still he was humble enough to receive input from “lower” people.
??? Who did he listen to in this passage???
— a little servant girl in :3-4
— “his servants” in :13. He not only commanded them, he was also willing to LISTEN to them.
One of the most famous Christian salvation testimonies is that of Charles Spurgeon. He went from church to church hoping to hear how to be saved. Famously he went to a Primitive Methodist Church during a snowstorm, where a substitute layman was preaching because of the storm. Spurgeon said the man was a “stupid” preacher (he used that word back then!). He could tell he wasn’t educated; and he could only preach for about 10 minutes; Spurgeon didn’t think much of him. BUT HE DID LISTEN TO HIM: and when he said “Look to Jesus” Spurgeon did, and he was saved. The preacher wasn’t much in the eyes of the world, but Spurgeon humbled himself and listened, and was saved.
There’s a lesson for some of US in that! Maybe about your preacher! Maybe about someone else God wants to speak to you through.
??? Are there sometimes people we are not willing to listen to, because of their age, or economic, or social background? Could it be that God is testing our humility to listen to some good input from an unexpected source???
— Another application here comes from how Naaman had a PRECONCEIVED IDEA of how God should do things.
NOTICE in :11 he says: “Behold I thought …” and he had it all planned out as to how God was going to do it:
— He will come out to me
— and stand and call on the name of the Lord God
— and wave his hand over the place
— and cure the leper
But that’s not what God had in mind at all! It wasn’t according to Naaman’s plan — but it was GOD’S!
This should challenge some of us today: Do you have a preconceived idea about how God is going to do something in YOUR life, or your church, or a situation you are close to?
— maybe you think God should heal someone, when He intends to take them to heaven for an ultimate healing
— maybe you think God should take some “thorn in the flesh” out of your life, but instead He is going to leave it there, to make you dependent upon Him!
— maybe you want God to provide for/bless something you are doing, but HE is going to re-direct you in another direction instead!
There’s SO many areas this can apply to in our lives: ourselves, our church, our KIDS, our family, our business/job, on and on.
Don’t “put God in a box.” He rarely seems to do things the way that WE “expect” Him to do them. Be humble enough, and willing to follow Him in HIS direction He gives you, and not just what you expect Him to do in your preconceived ideas. Remember Isaiah said “His thoughts/ways are higher than ours”!
CONCLUSION: There’s a LOT of good lessons here; especially regarding salvation by grace. I hope some of these things will help you with the lesson for Sunday.
God bless you as you share this weekend the good news that we can be washed as white as snow from our sin by the grace of God in Jesus!