Weekly Meditation: 3rd July 2016
2 Kings 5:1-14
When Paul wrote to the Galatians, it was with a message of God’s grace (2:16,21; 3:14,18 etc). He was almost desperate that his readers should not be misled into keeping the laws of Judaism, as some were urging them. When we read the entire letter – as a letter should be read – this is clearly his purpose in writing.
Therefore, in chapter six we must be careful not to read into Paul’s words the teaching that salvation is by works. Some of his phrases sound like that – ‘a man reaps what he sows’, ‘[if he] sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit he will reap eternal life’ (6:7-8); or ‘let us not become weary of doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest’. Paul cannot mean those verses to stand alone, and this shows the danger of ‘proof-texting’, taking a verse or two out of context to prove a point. Paul’s overall argument is that salvation – eternal life – comes only because of the cross of Jesus (6:14). No one can keep the law perfectly, therefore we need a saviour.
Yes, of course there is a ‘harvest’ from doing good (6:9-10). Our ‘doing good’ might win more disciples for Christ; if we do good to our ‘family of believers’ we will have the joy of a happy, thriving church, and we will feel at peace. But our doing good will not purchase eternal life for us. Only the blood of Jesus can achieve that.
The story of Naaman demonstrates the difficulty that some have in accepting God’s grace. Naaman arrived at Elisha’s house to request healing from his leprosy. Accompanied by horses and chariots he had no vestige of humility, and when he was told by Elisha’s messenger to wash seven times in the river Jordan, he was offended (2 Kings 5:9-10). He had expected Elisha himself to speak to him. He thought that Elisha should at least ‘stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, wave his hand over the spot and cure me of my leprosy’. He had expected something more, something dignified, something that would make him feel honoured; and he believed the rivers of his own country were better than ‘any of the waters of Israel’ (5:11-12).
Yet healing was being offered him freely, if only he would take it (5:16). Fortunately for Naaman, his servants wisely persuaded him, reasoning that if he has been asked to do “some great thing” in order to be healed, he would have done it (5:13-14).
Many individuals are like Naaman. They cannot believe that salvation is so simple; they feel they must perform works or keep rules to be saved; and they want to feel they deserve their salvation. This was the trap into which the Galatians were falling.
God does not want his people to be inactive, though. The good works that Paul encouraged the Galatians to do are exemplified in the seventy-two whom Jesus sent ahead of him in Judea (Luke 10:1). Their task was to be the workers for Jesus’ harvest, spreading the good news of the kingdom whether it was welcomed or not (10:10). But salvation comes from God alone, through the blood of a sinless saviour. To believe differently is to cast this priceless gift back into his face.
By Susan Thorne