Being Good Selfishly
Based on a Sermon by Rev. J. Clark Echols, Jr.
“But Naaman became furious….Are not the Abanah and the Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the rivers of Israel?” 2 Kings 8:12
You are a good person. You aren’t in prison. You are held in some esteem in your community. You are agreeable and pleasant to be with. You can use common sense as well as intelligence and specialized training. You have a certain amount of knowledge and can use it effectively. And you have control over the powers of the lower, external, physical parts of your self. This is the Namaan in all of us: our natural man.
And yet this is also where we profane truth. That is, it is our natural man where we violate our knowledge of and affection for what is true. It is the same as saying “you only hurt the one you love.” Our natural man regularly opposes higher principles. It is the way we all are. We wake up in the morning, our feet hit the floor and, most of the time, we only want to take care of our immediate physical needs. Some say they cannot even be pleasant before their first cup of coffee. You probably have more serious conflicts than these between your spirit and your body, or between your higher, spiritual man and your lower, natural man. In some ways you may be a leper, living an external life cursed by the perversion of a spiritual truth because you have decided your idea (or feeling) is better, or more important, or more practical, or whatever.
The Lord has provided us a way out! This is the good news of the second coming. We have, first, affections for good and truth stored away deeply in our spirit which we can still occasionally feel and act from. Second, we have ideas that we have confirmed as true for us through the combat of temptations (and some of us have more of this experience than others!). And we have a sense - sometimes only vague - of what is good, based on the truths we have been taught over the years by others.
The Lord uses all these as means to raise our consciousness about just what kind of life we are living. Like the little, innocent and helpless Hebrew slave girl, trying to curry favor with her new masters, these three influences nudge us, making a promise of a cure in a place (state) and healer (the Lord) that is unexpected and rather far away!
In fact, our salvation is wrought by the Lord using the very ideas we hold dear, even though they be false. For He calls us to use what we know to ever more truly obey His Word, which we also hold dear, if at arms length. He doesn’t wrench us into some sort of alternate life than the one we already know. He comes to us where we are and asks us to take responsibility and come to Him, where He is, asking for help. And He does everything He possibly can to lift us up to Him.
One indication of this is that He is willing to let us walk away from Him, even as Namaan was ready to walk away from Elisha. Your pride protects itself and your current way of being, for it must die for you to change. Your pride says, like Namaan, “I am here, here I will stay; I have these qualities, talents and practices; them I will keep. Come, Lord, and do your job of fixing me and my world!” Actually, the cure is living according to the Word understood as to its spiritual meaning. And you do this not because YOU make sense of the Word, but because you love the Lord and are committed to being His servant.
So we come back to the beginning. You are a good person. And you occasionally want to get back at someone who has hurt you. You are a good person, and you cannot forgive them. You’re good and you need things to go you’re way (justifying it because it is the RIGHT way to do it, of course). You say you are good, and you are doing all you can, already! You’re good, and you know something is wrong (in your family, company, relationship, society), but can’t quite put your finger on it or discover how to fix it. You are a good person, but can’t seem to find enough time for the important stuff, like relationships, reading the Word, self-development, good nutrition, exercise, etc. You are really a good person, and fall asleep bemoaning how you - again - argued about money, time management or priorities.
This is the conflict between your spiritual man and your natural man. When you are dissatisfied with this situation, you realize that all you know, all your strategies, can never cure you or change the results of your same ongoing attitudes and actions.
The key is to trust the Lord. He does not ask us to give up anything that is spiritually alive. We have to trust Him that what He says has to die is actually enslaving us and corrupting our spiritual life. Refocus your pride. Be proud of your conscience, of your noble life, and of simple goodness. Your natural man is already willing to work at your life. What you must do is let it be controlled by a higher level of your life; allow yourself to lose control of the outcome. Stop striving at results and dwell in the goodness and love. And so teach your natural man - again and again - that keeping the commandments by shunning evils purifies your heart, mind and body. You will then be good unselfishly.
Lessons: 2 Kings 8:1-14; Matthew 20:20-28; Apocalypse Explained n.475:18:
“‘Naaman a leper of Syria’ represented and meant those who falsify their ideas of truth and good from the Word, for ‘leprosy’ means falsifications, and ‘Syria’ the ideas of truth and good. ‘The waters of Jordan’ meant the truths that introduce into the church, which are the ideas of truth and good from the Word, for the river Jordan was the first boundary across which the land of Canaan was entered; and ‘the land of Canaan’ meant the church. Because of this meaning, Naaman was commanded to wash himself in them seven times, which means purification from falsified truths; ‘seven times’ means fully, and is attributed to things holy, such as are truths Divine. Because ‘seven times’ has this meaning, it is said that ‘his flesh was restored like the flesh of a little child,’ the flesh being restored meaning spiritual life, such as those have who are regenerated through Divine truths.”
Preached at The Church of the New Jerusalem
February 9, 2003