Editor's note: The following column was originally a deacon ordination sermon, based on 2 Kings 5:1-27, delivered by Michael Ruffin on June 10, 2012.
Often the best service we render is done in secret with no one but the Lord knowing about it, Ruffin observes.
It is a tale of two servants, one a young girl and the other a grown man.
She was a servant to the wife of a leprous Syrian general; he was a servant to a prophet of the Lord.
They both served but they served in very different circumstances. They both served but they served with very different motives. They both served but they served with very different results.
The general she served was named Naaman; he was a very successful and powerful man in Syria. There was only one thing – he had leprosy, a skin disease that caused him to have to be isolated from his larger community.
One day this young girl, who served as a slave because she had been stolen away in a raid from her home in Israel, shared the word of the Lord with her mistress: "If only my lord were with the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy."
Here are some things worth noting about the young girl's service.
First, it was anonymous. We never learn her name; she is just a young servant girl from Israel serving in Syria. True, her story has come down to us through the centuries but we cannot call her by name. No doubt she also labored in anonymity in her own time and context.
Second, it was coerced. She did not want to be a servant; indeed, no one would want to be taken into service in the way that she was. She had been stolen away from her country, her town, her friends, and her family by a marauding army. Then, she had been forced to serve the very ones who had taken her and who no doubt had killed many of her loved ones. It is hard to imagine that she was anything other than miserable in her circumstances, even if they were, because of the stature of those she served, comfortable.
Third, it was gracious. Even though she was a prisoner and even though she was a slave, this young girl offered a gracious word to her captors; she spoke out of a desire that her master be healed and in so doing she pointed him to the God of Israel.
Fourth, it was costly. It cost the girl her pride – these were her owners she was helping, after all. It cost her desire for revenge – she could have just watched Naaman live in isolation until he withered away and died. And it cost her grace and mercy – because such is what that kind of action requires.
Naaman did go to Israel and, after some adventures in travel, he ended up at the house of the prophet Elisha, who told him to go dip himself seven times in the Jordan River and he would be healed.
After some pouting about it, Naaman finally did as Elisha instructed him and, as a result of his submission, was healed.
The general was naturally very pleased and he offered to give Elisha a gift in appreciation but the prophet refused, even after further urging by Naaman.
That's where our second servant, this one Elisha's servant, comes into the story. Here are some things worth noting about his service.
First, it was credited. We know that this servant's name was Gehazi, and because we know his name, it is a name that goes down not only in history but also in infamy.
Second, it was selfish. Gehazi decided to get something for himself out of the situation with Naaman. While Elisha had refused the general's gift, Gehazi pursued him to get something for himself. Perhaps he was motivated by ill feelings toward the Syrians as well, since he said, "My master has let that Aramean Naaman off too lightly by not accepting from him what he offered. As the LORD lives, I will run after him and get something out of him." Regardless, Gehazi wanted to get something for himself out of the situation.
Third, it was dishonest. Gehazi used his position, his master's name and a concocted need ("My master has sent me to say, 'Two members of a company of prophets have just come to me from the hill country of Ephraim; please give them a talent of silver and two changes of clothing.'") to get some things for himself. He lied about his master and he lied about a need, all out of selfish motives.
Fourth, it was costly. Elisha confronted Gehazi when he returned and said, "The leprosy of Naaman shall cling to you, and to your descendants forever." So Gehazi's service – or rather his misuse of his service – cost him a lot. When he tried to play by the rules of the world, he got the disease of the world on him.
The word "deacon" means "servant." You who are being ordained, you who are being installed, and you who are being confirmed as deacons are being ordained, installed and confirmed as servants.
Always keep that word uppermost in your thinking when you think about your role. You are called to serve and for no other reason.
Also keep in mind this tale of two servants that we have experienced today.
Be willing to have your service cost you something. Service costs something but let your service cost you what it should cost a Christian servant, namely, your pride, your arrogance, your insistence on your own way, and your sub-Christian motives. Do not let it cost you your witness to Christ or your growth in Christ because you let your self-centered motives get in the way.
Be willing to be anonymous. True, we are today setting you apart by name and it is you in particular that we are setting apart to serve. But often the best service we render is done in secret with no one but the Lord knowing about it. Be willing to serve that way.
Be willing to serve where you are, even if where you are is a difficult place. You won't be carried off into slavery but you may well find yourself in circumstances that you'd like to escape.
But those circumstances just may be the ones that provide you with the best opportunity to serve someone else. Service rendered when you really see no reason to serve may be the most meaningful service of all.
Michael Ruffin is pastor of First Baptist Church in Fitzgerald, Ga. He blogs at This Preaching Thing.