Singapore Bible College was founded 70 years ago to equip God’s people to share the unchanging gospel in an ever-changing world. But the world we live in has embraced a cult of convenience, pursuing consumer experiences that promise to be quick, easy, and ‘once and for all’.
These days, it seems that the gospel shared by many Christians has been shaped to fit the needs of individuals seeking happiness on their own terms, when it comes to prosperity, power, health, love, family ties, parenting, marriage life, career, studies, appearance, self-regard, and so on. To draw larger crowds, some make the message ever more ‘appealing’, or reach out through ‘seeker-sensitive’ worship services, all tailored to the traits and desires of their target audiences.
The sad result is that the gospel becomes part of a supply chain for meeting the demands of non-believers. We end up with a piecemeal approach to complex human predicaments by offering such ‘customer service’. But have we diminished the eternal truth of the gospel for the sake of convenience?
Let’s draw some lessons from the story of Naaman in 2 Kings 5:1–18. The commander of the army of the king of Aram, he was deemed a great man. However, he suffered from leprosy, an incurable skin disease. Unexpectedly, a young girl taken captive from Israel shared a piece of good news: the prophet Elisha could cure him!
But how was Naaman to be cured? For the sake of convenience, couldn’t Elisha cure him instantly from wherever he was in Samaria? Or shouldn’t Elisha cure Naaman face-to-face? Naaman travelled all the way to Elisha’s house in Samaria, but he didn’t get to meet Elisha. Instead, he was told by a messenger to wash himself seven times in the Jordan river.
Naaman’s reaction was to leave angrily! He thought Elisha would come out to greet him and put on a big show to cure him. He also didn’t think the Jordan river was any better than the rivers back home. He finally did what he was told after his servants earnestly persuaded him—only then was he cured completely.
We see from this story how inconvenient good news can be. There are also three parallels to the actions of receiving the gospel. First, there must be the desire to seek healing. Second, there needs to be trust in the healer’s reputation. Third, there has to be full obedience to the demands of the healing message, no matter how inconvenient it is. The gospel is demanding and inconvenient! In a world susceptible to the temptation of convenience, the gospel’s bearers must require their audiences to respond intentionally, personally, and even if it is inconvenient.
Naaman’s story would be echoed nearly 800 years later when Jesus was somewhere between his home district of Galilee and the foreign Samaria, where the leprous Naaman had sought healing from Elisha. Luke 17:11–19 records what happened when ten lepers cried out to Jesus to have pity on them. Jesus told them to show themselves to the priests, who could examine and declare them to be clean from the disease (Lev 13). And as they went by faith, they were cleansed! Yet, only one of them returned to kneel before Jesus and thank him. Who was this one man? Not a fellow Galilean, but a Samaritan!
What can we learn here about Jesus Christ, the ultimate gospel? First, Jesus is able to reconcile us with God, just as he was able to make the lepers clean before the priests who served God. Second, Jesus can restore us, just as he restored the lepers to religious, cultural and social dignity when the priests declared them to be clean. Lastly, Jesus brings peace even where there has been long-held hatred, just as there had been between Jews and Samaritans in his time (John 4:9).
The gospel is not about human happiness, but God and his kingdom. This inconvenient truth demands us to believe in Jesus Christ with a heart of repentance and corresponding actions that lead to transformed relationships, whether in religious, social, or cultural terms. This transformational gospel begins with the lives of individuals and brings to families, workplaces, and societies change that is congruent with the hope of the coming kingdom of God. As ambassadors for Christ, we must never diminish the gospel for the sake of convenience.