A. There was a man who worked for the Post Office whose job it was to process all the mail that had undeliverable addresses.
1. One day, a letter came written in shaky handwriting to God with no actual address.
2. He thought he should open it to see what it was about.
3. The letter read: “Dear God, I am an 83 year old widow, living on a very small pension. Yesterday someone stole my purse. It had $100 in it, which was all the money I had until my next pension check. Next Sunday is Christmas, and I had invited two of my friends over for dinner. Without that money, I have nothing to buy food with. I have no family to turn to, and you are my only hope. Can you please help me? Sincerely, Edna”
4. The postal worker was touched and he showed the letter to all the other workers.
5. Each postal worker dug into his or her wallet and came up with a few dollars.
6. By the time he made the rounds, he had collected $96, which was $4 short, but he went ahead and put the $96 into an envelope and mailed it to the woman.
7. The rest of the day, all the workers felt a warm glow thinking of Edna and the dinner she would be able to share with her friends.
8. Christmas came and went, then a few days later, another letter came from the same old lady addressed to God.
9. All the workers gathered around while the letter was opened.
10. The letter read: “Dear God, How can I ever thank you enough for what you did for me? Because of your gift, I was able to fix a glorious dinner for my friends. We had a very nice day and I told my friends of your wonderful gift. By the way, there was $4 missing. I think it must have been taken by those thieves at the Post Office. Sincerely, Edna”
B. Have you ever served, but then were left with a bad taste in your mouth?
1. Have you ever served, and then felt unappreciated?
2. Have you ever served, and then became possessive of your area of service?
3. Have you ever served, and then after a while the subtle concern changed from giving to taking?
4. These are some of the perils of a servant.
5. They usually occur over time and can happen unconsciously.
6. They are terrible traps of the devil and can lead to our ruin.
C. Almost every calling and occupation carries with it particular hazards – some are subtle and others are obvious and overt.
1. Let me name some callings and occupations and I want you to consider what inherent hazards may come with it.
a. Consider the hazards of being a lawyer or a judge.
b. Consider the hazards of being a police officer, or being involved in the military.
c. Consider the hazards of being a school teacher or working as a nurse or doctor.
d. With each of them there are potential physical perils, but there are also emotional hazards, and even spiritual traps.
2. When it comes to being a servant of the Lord, whether a person is in full-time ministry, or whether they are a volunteer in a church or Christian ministry, there are also perils and hazards to avoid.
3. We might think that being a servant is about the safest thing in the world, but if we think that way, then we are making ourselves vulnerable to our enemy’s attacks.
4. We must always keep in mind the fact that all servants of God are absolutely human.
5. Every single one of us has our own areas of weakness and has the potential for failure.
6. We must take to heart Paul’s warning in 1 Cor. 10:12, “So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don't fall!”
a. In the verse that follows, Paul talks about the fact that we all face the same temptations, but that God is faithful and won’t let us be tempted beyond what we can bear, and God always provides a way out.
I. The Story
A. To help us understand the perils that servants face, I want us to turn to the Old Testament, and to lift out of obscurity a man who was a servant of the great prophet Elisha.
1. The servant’s name is Gehazi.
2. The story we want to examine begins in 2 Kings 4.
3. Before we get into Gehazi’s story, here is a little background to the story.
a. The times were hard for the people of Israel.
b. The nation of Israel was rapidly deteriorating as one wicked ruler followed another and led the people further astray.
c. Elijah had been an important prophet as he attempted to call Israel back to faithfulness, but Elijah had been swept up into heaven in a whirlwind and fiery chariot.
d. Elisha had been Elijah’s understudy, and when Elijah was swept away, God’s power rested on Elisha.
B. And so, we pick up the story of Elisha and his servant named Gehazi in 2 Kings 4.
1. 8 One day Elisha went to Shunem. And a well-to-do woman was there, who urged him to stay for a meal. So whenever he came by, he stopped there to eat. 9 She said to her husband, “I know that this man who often comes our way is a holy man of God. 10 Let’s make a small room on the roof and put in it a bed and a table, a chair and a lamp for him. Then he can stay there whenever he comes to us.”
11 One day when Elisha came, he went up to his room and lay down there. 12 He said to his servant Gehazi, “Call the Shunammite.” So he called her, and she stood before him. 13 Elisha said to him, “Tell her, ‘You have gone to all this trouble for us. Now what can be done for you? Can we speak on your behalf to the king or the commander of the army?’ ”
She replied, “I have a home among my own people.”
14 “What can be done for her?” Elisha asked.
Gehazi said, “Well, she has no son and her husband is old.”
15 Then Elisha said, “Call her.” So he called her, and she stood in the doorway. 16 “About this time next year,” Elisha said, “you will hold a son in your arms.”
“No, my lord,” she objected. “Don't mislead your servant, O man of God!”
17 But the woman became pregnant, and the next year about that same time she gave birth to a son, just as Elisha had told her. (2 Kings 4:8-17)
2. So, we notice in that reading the role that Gehazi played as Elisha’s servant.
a. Elisha lays down to rest and he sends Gehazi to get the Shunammite woman.
b. She stands before Elisha, but Elisha speaks to her through Gehazi.
c. Who had the good idea to provide a child for the woman? Gehazi came up with the idea.
d. Who got the credit for the idea of providing a child and the actual provision of the child? Not Gehazi. Rather, Elisha got the credit.
3. How might that have made Gehazi feel?
C. Let’s see what happens next. The story continues with verse 18.
1. 18 The child grew, and one day he went out to his father, who was with the reapers. 19 “My head! My head!” he said to his father.
His father told a servant, “Carry him to his mother.” 20 After the servant had lifted him up and carried him to his mother, the boy sat on her lap until noon, and then he died. 21 She went up and laid him on the bed of the man of God, then shut the door and went out.
22 She called her husband and said, “Please send me one of the servants and a donkey so I can go to the man of God quickly and return.”
23 “Why go to him today?” he asked. “It’s not the New Moon or the Sabbath.” “It’s all right,” she said.
24 She saddled the donkey and said to her servant, “Lead on; don't slow down for me unless I tell you.” 25 So she set out and came to the man of God at Mount Carmel.
When he saw her in the distance, the man of God said to his servant Gehazi, “Look! There's the Shunammite! 26 Run to meet her and ask her, ‘Are you all right? Is your husband all right? Is your child all right?’ ” “Everything is all right,” she said. (2 Kings 4:18-26)
2. So the “miracle child” that God gave the Shunammite woman grew up and was old enough to visit the fields on his own.
a. While doing so, the child suffered from something. It could have been a blow to the head, or sunstroke, or some internal injury, like a stroke, but whatever it was, it caused the boy to die in his mother’s arms.
b. Naturally, the mother thought immediately of Elisha the prophet – if anybody can help, surely he can! So, she went to see Elisha.
c. What did Elisha do when he saw her coming? He send Gehazi to find out what was up.
d. What did the woman tell Gehazi? She said, “Everything is fine.”
e. Was everything fine? Not at all! (Talk about being ignored or devalued!)
D. So the woman rushed by Gehazi and moved on toward Elisha.
1. The Bible says: 27 When she reached the man of God at the mountain, she took hold of his feet. Gehazi came over to push her away, but the man of God said, “Leave her alone! She is in bitter distress, but the LORD has hidden it from me and has not told me why.”
28 “Did I ask you for a son, my lord?” she said. “Didn't I tell you, ‘Don’t raise my hopes’?” (2 Kings 4:27-28)
2. Why did Gehazi try to push the woman away from Elisha?
a. Gehazi is obviously committed to Elisha. He wants to be a protective shield around him.
3. It’s so easy for those with a servant’s heart to get tunnel vision become protective and possessive.
4. When that happens to servants, then they can lose sight of the needs of others and lose sight of the real mission.
E. Let’s see what Elisha ordered Gehazi to do next.
1. The Bible says: 29 Elisha said to Gehazi, “Tuck your cloak into your belt, take my staff in your hand and run. If you meet anyone, do not greet him, and if anyone greets you, do not answer. Lay my staff on the boy’s face.”
30 But the child's mother said, “As surely as the LORD lives and as you live, I will not leave you.” So he got up and followed her. (2 Kings 4:29-30)
2. So, we see that Elisha laid out a plan to minister to the boy that included Gehazi.
a. The servant was dispatched to the bedside of the mother’s dead son.
b. We can be sure that Gehazi’s heart was beating fast as adrenaline ran through his veins.
c. He must have anticipated an exciting and miraculous response as he obeyed the prophet.
d. Surely, he would be involved in a miracle, but let’s see what happened.
F. The Bible says: 31 Gehazi went on ahead and laid the staff on the boy’s face, but there was no sound or response. So Gehazi went back to meet Elisha and told him, “The boy has not awakened.”
32 When Elisha reached the house, there was the boy lying dead on his couch. 33 He went in, shut the door on the two of them and prayed to the LORD . 34 Then he got on the bed and lay upon the boy, mouth to mouth, eyes to eyes, hands to hands. As he stretched himself out upon him, the boy's body grew warm. 35 Elisha turned away and walked back and forth in the room and then got on the bed and stretched out upon him once more. The boy sneezed seven times and opened his eyes.
36 Elisha summoned Gehazi and said, “Call the Shunammite.” And he did. When she came, he said, “Take your son.” 37 She came in, fell at his feet and bowed to the ground. Then she took her son and went out. (2 Kings 4:31-37)
1. Praise God that the boy was healed, but how do you think Gehazi felt when he obeyed Elisha and nothing happened?
2. How do you think Gehazi felt when Elisha burst on to the scene and brought the boy back to life?
3. Who was sent to tell the woman her son was healed? Gehazi.
4. To whom did the woman show appreciation? To Elisha, not Gehazi.
G. Let’s notice how Gehazi’s next experience is the same song, second verse.
1. The Bible says: 38 Elisha returned to Gilgal and there was a famine in that region. While the company of the prophets was meeting with him, he said to his servant, “Put on the large pot and cook some stew for these men.”
39 One of them went out into the fields to gather herbs and found a wild vine. He gathered some of its gourds and filled the fold of his cloak. When he returned, he cut them up into the pot of stew, though no one knew what they were. 40 The stew was poured out for the men, but as they began to eat it, they cried out, “O man of God, there is death in the pot!” And they could not eat it.
41 Elisha said, “Get some flour.” He put it into the pot and said, “Serve it to the people to eat.” And there was nothing harmful in the pot. (2 Kings 4:38-41)
2. So we learn that famine had struck the land and the servant, Gehazi was told to whip up a pot of stew.
a. Inadvertently, poisonous gourds were dropped into the stew and nobody could eat it.
b. But then, Elisha the prophet told Gehazi to get him some flour, then Elisha put it into the pot and the stew was made edible.
3. So, here again, we see that Gehazi obediently did the work, but Elisha got the credit.
4. Gehazi couldn’t even make the stew correctly, and I’m sure Gehazi experienced some frustration and a little embarrassment.
5. How would it feel to always be preempted by the prophet? Not good!
H. As we turn to our last story, Gehazi faces two more perils, but the final one will prove to be too much for him.
1. As we turn to 2 Kings 5, we see that the story involves a man named Naaman, who was a high-ranking Syrian soldier.
a. Naaman was a man of influence, wealth, and pride.
b. Unfortunately, Naaman had leprosy, and he eventually turned to Elisha for healing from his dreaded disease.
2. The Bible says: 9 So Naaman went with his horses and chariots and stopped at the door of Elisha’s house. 10 Elisha sent a messenger to say to him, “Go, wash yourself seven times in the Jordan, and your flesh will be restored and you will be cleansed.”
11 But Naaman went away angry and said, “I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call on the name of the LORD his God, wave his hand over the spot and cure me of my leprosy. 12 Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than any of the waters of Israel? Couldn't I wash in them and be cleansed?” So he turned and went off in a rage. (2 Kings 5:9-12)
3. We assume that the messenger Elisha sent to answer the door was Gehazi.
a. Gehazi ends up being the bearer of news that the Syrian officer did not want to hear.
b. Notice who gets caught in the crossfire of Naaman’s angry rant – Gehazi.
c. Gehazi had neither rank nor authority, yet his duties put him in a most unpopular position.
d. Gehazi didn’t generate the news, he just delivered it, and yet he is the one who absorbs the explosion.
e. Have you ever been there?
I. The good news is that Naaman later reconsidered and followed through with Elisha’s instructions.
1. Naaman dipped himself in the Jordan river seven times and was healed.
2. Naaman was so thankful that he returned and offered a sizable gift of gratitude.
3. Elisha refused to receive any thank you gift.
4. Then Naaman offered to at least give a gift to Elisha’s servant, Gehazi, but Elisha declined and sent Naaman away in peace.
J. Sadly, this is when Gehazi fell prey to temptation.
1. The Bible says: 21 So Gehazi hurried after Naaman. When Naaman saw him running toward him, he got down from the chariot to meet him. “Is everything all right?” he asked.
22 “Everything is all right,” Gehazi answered. “My master sent me to say, ‘Two young men from the company of the prophets have just come to me from the hill country of Ephraim. Please give them a talent of silver and two sets of clothing.’ ”
23 “By all means, take two talents,” said Naaman. He urged Gehazi to accept them, and then tied up the two talents of silver in two bags, with two sets of clothing. He gave them to two of his servants, and they carried them ahead of Gehazi. 24 When Gehazi came to the hill, he took the things from the servants and put them away in the house. He sent the men away and they left. 25 Then he went in and stood before his master Elisha. (2 Kings 5:21-25)
2. Perhaps this is the most subtle peril that every servant must avoid – the peril of greed.
a. Within every one of us can lurk the secret, smoldering desire to be rewarded, applauded, or exalted.
b. Perhaps Gehazi was weary of feeling used and unappreciated or perhaps he had had enough of just getting by on a shoestring.
c. Naaman offered the reward of a blank check, and Gehazi just couldn’t let it slip away.
3. Notice how in the process of greed, he fabricated a story and then attempted to cover his tracks with further lies when Elisha confronted him.
4. The Bible says: “Where have you been, Gehazi?” Elisha asked.
“Your servant didn't go anywhere,” Gehazi answered.
26 But Elisha said to him, “Was not my spirit with you when the man got down from his chariot to meet you? Is this the time to take money, or to accept clothes, olive groves, vineyards, flocks, herds, or menservants and maidservants? 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. (2 Kings 5:25-27)
5. Having been exposed and sternly judged, Gehazi experienced a horrible punishment.
a. What a sad ending to his story, but it stands as a powerful warning for all servants of God.
II. The Application
A. So what were the perils that Gehazi faced that we will also likely face?
1. First, he faced the peril of being overprotective and possessive of the one he served.
2. Second, he faced the peril of feeling used and unappreciated.
3. Third, he faced the peril of experiencing hostile, undeserved disrespect and resentment.
4. Finally, he faced the peril of hidden greed that prompted him to take what rewards he wanted.
B. From these very real and common perils, there emerges at least three timely lessons for all of us to remember.
1. First, we must remember that no servant is completely safe.
a. We who serve and serve, and give and give, become increasingly more vulnerable as time passes.
b. We must lean hard on the Master and keep focused on Him as we serve.
2. Second, we must remember that most deeds will be initially unrewarded.
a. In a couple of weeks we will talk about the rewards of a servant – God will reward, but not necessarily immediately. We must be patient as we await God’s rewards.
b. The best rewards of a servant come not from without, but from within, from the satisfaction God gives us deep down inside.
3. Finally, we must remember that our motives for serving must be honestly searched.
a. Good questions to ask ourselves include:
1. Why am I planning this?
2. What’s the reason behind my doing that?
3. Why did I say yes or no?
4. Why am I bringing up that subject?
5. Why did I mention his or her name?
6. What is my motive?
b. If Gehazi had asked those questions, he probably never would have died as tragic a death as he did.
c. I’m thankful that such extreme and immediate consequences don’t happen to us today when we do what is wrong or when our motives are wrong.
d. If we did experience such extreme and immediate consequences today, then the world, and perhaps churches would be full of people with leprosy.
C. Let me end with this classic piece on servanthood called “So I Send You” by E. Margaret Clarkson:
So send I you to labor unrewarded.
To serve unpaid, unloved, unsought, unknown,
To bear rebuke, to suffer scorn and scoffing,
So send I you to toil for Me alone…
So send I you to leave your life’s ambition,
To die to dear desire, self-will resign,
To labor long and love where men revile you,
So send I you to lose your life in Mine.
“As the Father hath sent me, So send I you.”
Improving Your Serve, Charles Swindoll, Word, Inc., 1981, Chapter 10.