The Legacy of Leprosy

2 Kings 5:20 - Gehazi, the servant of Elisha the man of God, said to himself, "My master was too easy on Naaman, this Aramean, by not accepting from him what he brought. As surely as the Lord lives, I will run after him and get something from him."

2 Kings 5:27 - "Naaman's leprosy will cling to you and to your descendants forever." Then Gehazi went from Elisha's presence and he was leprous, as white as snow.

The story of the healing of Naaman is well known to every Sunday school graduate. Gehazi's story is not as well known, even though it directly follows the account of Naaman, and is actually a part of the Naaman narrative. One reason why the Gehazi part is not as well publicized is that it has such a sad ending. It's the story of a man who left leprosy as his legacy to his family. The very leprosy that was miraculously lifted from Naaman settled upon Gehazi and his descendants.

Gehazi was the servant, or assistant, of Elisha, the prophet of God. It seems that he started out well. As we read 2 Kings 4 we could even say that Gehazi appears to be a model servant. Every time he's mentioned, he's doing what every good servant would be expected to do for his master. In fact, in many ways Gehazi was a partner with Elisha in the ministry. But when we come to the end of 2 Kings 5 we read of Gehazi's legacy of leprosy. What happened?

Gehazi committed some very serious sins. When Elisha refused to take any payment or gift from Naaman, Gehazi could not resist the temptation to try to relieve Naaman of some of his all-too-available wealth! In verse 20 we see that Gehazi said to himself, "As the Lord lives, I will run after Naaman and take something from him." Can you believe it--doing something wrong in the name of the Lord! It seems that Gehazi didn't even have much of a guilty conscience as he planned his course of action. As far as Gehazi was concerned, Naaman had come prepared to pay big money for a cure from his leprosy. Now Naaman was returning to the pagan land of Syria with all that ready silver and gold! Why not lighten the load a little for Naaman, as he traveled back to Damascus, and keep some of that treasure in the Holy Land? So what if he had to make up just a little story to exaggerate the needs of the ministry in order to twist Naaman's arm? Didn't the ends justify the means? The ends, in this case, were for Gehazi to get little of this world's goods! But wasn't this money, at least indirectly, going to be used for the Lord's work, since it was providing for one of the Lord's servants? Maybe, Gehazi reasoned, "I should put something away for retirement since the prophet doesn't have a pension plan!" The fact that a little coverup lie also had to be told to Elisha wasn't all that bad, was it? We too might question why God would give leprosy to a man and all his descendants for such an action. Admittedly it was wrong and foolish behavior, but why did God consider this sin so serious that He imposed a legacy of leprosy on Gehazi?

Gehazi's sins were serious because the testimony of the Lord was directly and negatively affected. Gehazi defiledthe Lord's work. Gehazi dishonored the Lord's servant. And Gehazi distorted the Lord's gospel. Gehazi's actions were not confined to his own private world, but affected others as well. They would not only discredit the testimony of the Lord in Israel, but would also disgrace the testimony of the Lord internationally! Gehazi's sins were very serious indeed.

Gehazi defiled the Lord's work because he lied about the ministry. He told Naaman that two young prophets had dropped in on Elisha unexpectedly (v22). They were poor servants of the Lord from the backwoods country and were in need of a little cash and some new clothes--especially there in the big city of Samaria. Nothing could have been further from the truth! It was all a made up story--yet it sounded believable precisely because it had to do with the Lord's work. It's so easy to manipulate people with heartbreaking stories about a hospital on the foreign mission field or the needs of children in an orphanage or the inner city. When these stories are true, and those who are running these ministries have true servant hearts, God can use the stirred emotions to motivate His people to meet real needs and assist His real servants. But when the stories are grossly exaggerated because the bottom line of the request for money is the wants of those who run the ministry as much as or more than the needs of the ministry itself, the Lord's work is defiled! It's always wrong to lie, but to lie about the Lord's work is defiling. Think of how the Lord's work has been defiled by the lies and exaggerations of certain TV evangelists--lies primarily for their own profit, and made in the name of Christ!

Gehazi's legacy of leprosy should be a warning to everyone involved in Christian ministry. When big money is available from donors who want to give, as Naaman did, the temptation to get at those funds is enormous, even if it means that the truth has to be stretched or compromised. Isn't it better to "create a need" rather than lose out on an opportunity for easy funding? After all, it's money that can be used in "the work of the Lord"! Lying almost seems justified because the end is what counts. In actuality, the end is a defiled work of the Lord and a legacy of leprosy! How would you like to be remembered as the decision-maker who corrupted your ministry and your family at the same time--because of the irresistible temptation of available money?

In 1 Timothy 6:9-10 we read that "people who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge them into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs." The love of money--even for ministry--defiles the Lord's work and leads to a legacy of leprosy. The "many griefs" in this text are all part of that legacy of leprosy. The godly heritage of many Christian families has been lost because of a love of money. It has not only defiled the work of the Lord, but the fallout of the love of money has had devastating effects on the families of those involved.

Gehazi also dishonored the Lord's servant. He lied about Elisha. In concocting his story about the prophets in need, Gehazi actually put words into the mouth of Elisha. He told Naaman that Elisha had told him about the two young prophets who had come from Ephraim, and that Elisha had told him to go to Naaman with this need. Putting words into the mouth of Elisha certainly gave the story more credibility, but this story slandered the prophet of the Lord--a serious sin.

Not only did Gehazi lie about Elisha--he lied directly to Elisha. When Elisha asked Gehazi where he had been (v25), Gehazi responded without hesitation, "Your servant went nowhere." God was giving Gehazi one last chance to repent and tell Elisha what a terrible thing he had done. If Gehazi had confessed his sin to Elisha right then, the situation could have been rectified and we would have had a wonderful story of repentance and restoration! But Gehazi compounded his sin with a cover-up. When we have fallen short of God's standards in some area, and we are gently confronted by a fellow believer asking us, "Where have you been?", how do we react? How many times do pride and the desire to "always be right" cause us to compound our sins by rationalizing our actions or attempting to cover them up? The Bible is warning us here that while God is always seeking to restore us, if we refuse to humble ourselves to His restoring process, we have chosen His judgment!

Dishonoring the Lord's servants is a sin that's very easy to commit. In most churches or ministries, the Lord's servants do a lot of the "up-front" work, and are therefore subject to a lot of criticism. Criticism of the Lord's servants is dangerous business, and let's be especially careful that our comments do not put words that were never actually spoken into their mouths! Lying to or about anyone is a sin. Lying about a servant of the Lord is a particularly serious sin, however, because it's not only the Lord's servant who is dishonored--it's the Lord Himself who is dishonored! God may have to remove those who continue to misrepresent and criticize the Lord's servants from their church or area of service. And many times it is quite obvious when God steps into the situation and disciplines with the "leprosy of Gehazi." God does not allow the sin of dishonoring His servants to be masked indefinitely. The "mark of Gehazi" not only renders the believer unclean to serve the Lord, it is a reminder to fellow believers that dishonoring the Lord's servants involves serious consequences! The legacy of leprosy becomes God's warning to every potential Gehazi.

Gehazi's sin was also serious because it distorted the Lord's gospel. The gospel is God's good news. God's good news is that salvation and all of his gifts are free! In Isaiah 55:1 we read, "Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost." By lying and taking money, Gehazi distorted the good news that God's gift of healing was free. Moreover, Gehazi caused the spiritual picture in this story to be distorted. The free gift of cleansing from the fatal disease of leprosy pictures the truth that salvation, God's cleansing from the fatal disease of sin, is a free gift! "For the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord" (Romans 6:23). Gehazi's greed distorted the great truth that "It is by grace that you are saved, through faith--and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God" (Ephesians 2:8).

We can be sure that when word rippled out in Damascus about Naaman's cure, the good news was distorted. The servants who were with Naaman would have told the story about the miraculous cure, but when they were asked "How much did it cost him?" they would have had to report that a price was paid. They may have emphasized that the life-saving cure cost Naaman only $300 pounds of silver--such a deal! But they were not able to say, "It was free!" The good news of God's free gift was distorted, and the truth that all Naaman had to do was humble himself in obedience to the Lord God of Israel was lost in the distortion. How sad! And what a warning for us, to help us avoid the Gehazi syndrome. Any time unbelievers observe us asking for money for the Lord's work, we support the distortion of the gospel that many unbelievers have come to assume: God's gifts are not really free after all. Christians are all the same--always looking for money! They always want bigger and better buildings for "the Lord's work," and bigger and better salaries for "the Lord's servants." Elisha's question to Gehazi in verse 26 should be a further warning to all of us, "Is this the time to accept money, or to accept clothes, olive groves, vineyards, flocks, herds, or menservants and maidservants?"

Even though the problem of Gehazi was nipped in the bud by Elisha, its effects would be far-reaching. Questions probably began to be raised immediately about the ministry of Elisha--both his methods and his message. Think of all the labor and heartache for Elisha as he labored to undo this distortion of the Lord's gospel. And the legacy of Gehazi to his own family was far worse than mere physical leprosy. A distortion of God's good news was also part of the legacy he left to his lineage!

Gehazi's legacy of leprosy should make us more aware of the seriousness of sins which negatively affect the testimony of our Lord Jesus Christ. Defiling the Lord's work, dishonoring the Lord's servants and distorting the Lord's gospel are very serious sins indeed. They not only bring God's necessary discipline on the individuals who commit these sins. They also result in negative fall-out in the family for generations to come. Don't leave behind a legacy of leprosy.

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