Gifts of the SpiritThe gift of Healing
We can speak of healing or health in the physical, psychological, social and spiritual sense. Salvation ultimately involves healing in all these areas. One of the gifts of the Spirit given to the church for upbuilding and outreach, is healing, but healing in what sense? In 1 Corinthians chapter 12, Paul the apostle refers to a ministry of healing - a gift of healing. We are unsure what this ministry of healing involves, and for that very reason, Christians take up a number of opposing positions, using, in many cases, the same Bible verses to support their own view.
i] Some argue that the Christian ministry of healing is nothing more than practical medicine. God certainly heals his people, but on most occasions he uses natural means. There are miraculous healings, but these are very rare. The great occasions of miraculous healings are associated with new moves by God in the affairs of mankind, e.g. Moses, Elijah, and Elisha, and Jesus. The apostles could heal, but their healings served only to verify the continuity of the ministry of Jesus in and through His "sent ones". Once the veracity of the New Testament church was accepted, miraculous healings ceased. The lack of any mention of a healing ministry as such within the great bulk of the epistles, shows it has no place within the New Testament church.
ii] Others argue the opposite. Not only will Jesus forgive our sins, but He will heal our diseases if we ask in faith. Jesus gave his disciples authority to heal, that authority is ours today to be exercised by those who have the gift of healing.
So we have two opposing positions, and numerous positions in between. Where does the truth lie?
Healing can be of two types, normal or miraculous. With normal healings the tissues repair, recover, or replace themselves after injury to the extent possible by that tissue. Recovery varies, depending on the nature and degree of the injury, the support given by the rest of the body, and the element of time. The Bible contains many examples of this type of healing, which it does not hesitate to describe as God's work.
Miraculous healings are quite different. They are a "striking interposition of divine power by which the operations of the ordinary course of nature are overruled, suspended, or modified". Such healings have occurred at great moments in God's Revelation, eg. the Exodus, during the ministry of Elijah and Elisha, during the life of Christ, and in the ministry of the apostles.
1. The Old Testament
For the people of Israel, God's chosen people, God was their healer, Ex.15:26, 23:25, Ps.103:3. He brought them from the bondage of Egypt to experience restoration in the new Eden, the Kingdom in the promised land. Physical well-being, health and healing, was achieved by the rigorous health laws, and miraculous intervention. A long and healthy life was one of the blessings of the Kingdom.
Inevitably a problem developed when the righteous continued to suffer disease and early death. Personal sin may be the cause, but the book of Job showed that this was not always the case. Job had to accept that God's ways are beyond knowing.
By the later prophets, healing was defined spiritually. Salvation now meant eternal life, life in the hereafter, rather than healing for long life now, Isa.26:19. God was not abandoning the righteous when they died of disease, murder, persecution or war, for He would raise them up to new life beyond the grave.
2. The Gospels
The healings of Jesus were similar to those of Elijah and Elisha. They were miraculous in nature. Their characteristics were: instant, complex, Mk.2:12, unlimited, Lk.7:20-22, Jn.11:44, but ultimately temporary, i.e. death followed in the end.
Their purpose was to display, in experience, the gospel. The reality of the coming of the new age was to be seen in the blind seeing, the lame walking, the deaf hearing, the prisoners released (exorcism), and the poor having good news preached to them, Matt.11:2-6. Such significant signs announced the coming Kingdom. The significance of these miraculous signs was derived from the Old Testament prophets. They predicted that these spectacular events would proceed, and be associated with, the coming Kingdom.
To effect the proclamation of His message, Jesus gave authority and power to His disciples to heal, cast out demons, and declare the gospel (the good news of the Kingdom). This they did, and were astonished at the results, Lk.10:27. When it came time for Jesus to leave His disciples, He promised that they would do even greater works, Jn.14:12. That is, they had the power and the authority to display the gospel in experience as well as word. As Jesus said "If I, by the finger of God, cast out Satan, then you know that the Kingdom of God is close unto you", ie. messianic signs (including healings), in association with God's revealed word, display the reality of the coming Kingdom.
Yet even during Jesus' ministry, He revealed that miraculous messianic signs would not remain as the prime authentication of the gospel. In John 14-17 He indicates that the reality of the gospel will center on the Love of the brotherhood. This is how Jesus is made real, Jn.13:35, 17:22. These are the "greater works" we are able to perform. Self-sacrificial love, more than anything else, displays the true nature of the coming Kingdom. Obviously this is so for Gentiles (non-Jews) who have no understanding whatsoever of messianic signs.
This move from the miraculous can also be identified in two other pieces of Biblical evidence:
i] Jesus does not reaffirm the disciples' power to heal in His final commissioning, Matt.28:18-20 (Mark 16:17-18 is not recorded in the most ancient manuscripts).
ii] The gospel writers do not apply the simple equation; Jesus healed = we can heal.
At Pentecost the Kingdom comes in power and we move into a very difficult theological area. The problem lies with the "now" and "not yet" nature of the Kingdom. We are in it, but it is still to come. This tension can be seen in passages such as Romans 8:10-11. Although our bodies are dead, our spirits are alive and God "will give" life to our mortal bodies, Phil.1:21. "For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain". Complete healing, social, physical, and psychological, must await the resurrection. Yet the future reality of the Kingdom has burst into the present, thus salvation (spiritual healing) is a present reality, if only partial, ie. a foretaste or a reality to come.
Jesus' disciples, following in the footsteps of the master, proclaim the gospel both in signs and words. Acts emphasizes the signs of life-style (social healing), and relationship to God through the Holy Spirit (baptized, filled, etc. with the Holy Spirit, ie. spiritual healing). Thus Acts emphasizes spiritual healing rather than physical healing.
The disciples do perform miraculous healings, and so verify their apostolic ministry as authoritative messengers of Christ. On some occasions the healings are quite marvelous, Act.5:15-16. Yet we are not left with the idea that the apostles had a general gift to cure the Christian community of any illness. This is evident in the fact that so many "great ones" suffered from illness, 1 Tim.5:23. 2 Tim.4:20, Phil.2:30, 2Cor.12:7-10.
Jesus, in his high priestly prayer (Jn.17:14-19), states that he has sent his disciples into the world as he was sent into the world, but that he does not want them taken out, rather just kept safe from the evil one. Earlier he said that to be a disciple required cross-bearing, suffering as he suffered, Mk.8:34, 38. In Acts we see the disciples struggling against the evil one. They are caught up in a world of sin and rebellion, and so experience sickness. Even so, Paul may have his thorn in the flesh, 2 Cor.12:7 (an unknown disease), he may be stoned, shipwrecked, etc., but through struggle, suffering, and pain, the Kingdom will be victorious.
Thus, to bring in the Kingdom the disciples have to struggle against a massive Satanic attack. None-the-less they can be sure of ultimate victory. Even after massive opposition Paul reaches Rome, the center for world government, and there he finds an acceptance of the gospel.
4. The Epistles
The epistles emphasize social and spiritual healing. There is little mention of physical healing as such.
i] 1Corinthians 12:9 mentions the gift of healing. It is not defined, but it would be proper to assume it was in line with the miraculous healings of Jesus and the apostles.
ii] James 5:14-15 speaks of prayer and medical attention (curative effects of oil) for the sick. This is a difficult passage, for it is hard to believe James is giving us a blanket promise for healing by means of prayer. Points to note:
The strong Jewish flavour of this passage indicates that healing and salvation may be equated.
Prayer must always be "according to God's will".
Faith is a sure trust, based on revealed truth, thus the "prayer of faith" is only valid when God's will in the matter has been determined. Personal conviction or blind determination is not enough.
The sickness may be linked to sin in the church, and in particular, the Lord's Supper. Paul reminds the Corinthians that some had died in the church as a result of their misuse of the Lord's Supper. James may be referring to a similar situation and therefore calls for confession to lift the blight hanging over the church.
The gift of Healing
There are those in the Christian church who believe it is God's will to heal both body and soul. Thus physical healing is promised to all Christians and is available to all who pray the prayer of faith. Many have reported amazing cures, while others are plagued with guilt and doubt when their prayers fail to bring relief.
In reality Divine intervention outside of the natural healing process is very rare. Dr. Louis Rose studied the phenomena for 20 years and claimed that characteristics of so-called miraculous healings were gradual, partial, and spasmodic in relief, rather than a healing of disease, and were usually confined to the psychogenic and psychosomatic types of illness.
We are bound to accept the following realities:
i] The lack of any promise of freedom from disease or automatic healing of disease in the scriptures.
ii] The necessity to share in the sufferings of Christ. God allows us to struggle in this world of decay and corruption because of what can be achieved in that struggle for us and others. He is able to comfort us in our pain, for Christ similarly suffered and died, Heb.2:10. As the Lord said to Paul "my grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness", 2Cor.12:7-10.
iii] The necessity of death. Mankind is mortal, Rom.5:12, Heb.9:27. Even though we may survive sickness, accidents, murder, and war, we will ultimately die of degenerative disease. It is a misnomer to say someone died of natural causes.
It is clear that the apostles and some members of the early church exercised a gift of healing similar to that of Jesus. It authenticated the continuation of the ministry of Jesus in the early church as a sign to Jews of the inauguration of the Kingdom. Given that miraculous healings no longer serve as messianic signs, it is probably best to regard any continuation of the gift of healing as a heightened natural ability - a medical practitioner with a gifted touch, a psychiatrist or counselor with gifted insight, a social worker with gifted sensitivity...... This is not to say that miracles no longer happen, nor that it is improper for the church to pray for the authority to administer God's comfort and care to an ill brother.
Arguments and Scripture used to support Faith Healing
1. Healing and redemption
Jesus bore my sins and as a result there is salvation. Jesus bore my sickness/disease and as a result there is healing. The main Bible source used to support this view is Isaiah 53:4 and Matthew 8:17. "He took our infirmities and bore our sickness". "With his stripes we were healed". Also First Peter 2:24, "He himself carried up our sins in His body to the tree."
This interpretation fails to come to grips with Biblical theology.
i] A simple confusion of terms. Matthew means " bear as a burden". As the context shows, Jesus was involved in the grief of his age. Peter, on the other hand, is referring to Jesus' sin-bearing sacrifice upon the cross.
ii] Isaiah 53:4, 5 is the source idea of both Matthew 8:17 and 1Peter 2:24. It is essential to see that for the Old Testament saint, well-being was defined in terms of a healthy long life. Salvation and healing are synonymous ideas, and both are used for deliverance from sickness, an enemy etc. The prophets take up this language, but move it to the spiritual level, while the New Testament sees its fulfillment in Jesus. Jesus delivers/saves (O.T. heals) us from the power of sin (O.T. infirmities and sickness) and gives us eternal life. (Ultimate spiritual healing, a relationship with God).
2. The commission to heal in Mark
Mark 16:18 is a doubtful text. Verses 9 onwards are not to be found in the two oldest Greek manuscripts so far found. The section is obviously a latter addition.
3. The gift of healing in Corinthians
I Corinthians 12:9 mentions a gift of healing, although we know little about it.
4. The healing ministry of James
James 5:14-15 is most likely a specific situation within a church where sin, in James opinion, is causing sickness in the church. This is parallel to Paul warning to the Corinthians over misuse of the Lord's Supper. Anointing and confession are linked and is the way to lift God's chastisement of His people.
5. The healing prayer of John
In 3John 2 a prayer request by John for his readers is not a promise from the Lord.
6. The law and sickness link
In Galatians 3:13, the curse of the law is sin and death, not sickness. It is freedom or release from death. Christ's death has justified us before God, through faith, Gal.3:10-12 etc.
7. Covenantal view
We belong to the new covenant in Jesus which is better than the old, Heb.8:6. The old included healing, Ex.15:26. Therefore the new gives better healings. This is a false equation. Under the new covenant the blessing of life was for an earthly life, therefore the healing of sickness (salvation) was to life present. The new covenant is certainly greater, for it brings spiritual healing from sin (salvation) to life eternal.
In salvation God heals the whole person, both body and soul. This is true, but it is not to be realized till the coming of Christ. For instance, at the moment there are limitations to my relationship with God which will disappear on the return of Jesus. "Now I know in part, then I shall understand fully, even as I have been fully understood." Complete spiritual healing, as with physical healing, must await the last day.
9. The promise of Psalm 91
This Psalm is often used as a promise of God's protection for our bodies. This again is an example of God's salvation in a typical Old Testament way. Salvation is for now. For the Old Testament saint God's protection provided physical salvation from sickness and one's enemies. That truth must be contextualized for today.
10. The healing of Job
From Job 42:10-12, it is often argued that Job was healed because of his prayer of faith. This is an example of verse popping. The context must always be considered before drawing such conclusions. Job 42:7-10 concerns God dealing with Job's three friends. "I am angry with you"...."because you have not spoken as you ought about me". Job will intercede for you; I will surely show him favour by not being harsh with you"...."and the Lord showed favour to Job when he interceded for his friends.
11. The defeat of Satan and the defeat of sickness
From 1John 3:8 we can conclude that Christ has destroyed the works of the devil. It is often argued that these works include sickness. It is correct to say that all evil (this includes sickness) has its source in the Devil. It is also true that Christ has overcome the Devil on the cross. But the problem is to what extent, and in what areas has Satan been defeated? It is necessary to ask this question as our world seems to exhibit Satan's continued power. If Christ's victory on the cross has destroyed the works of Satan, then our world would have no evil in it, ie. it would be heaven. It is clear that Christ's title for Satan at the temptation, "Prince of this world", still applies today. So the following automatic equation does not apply:
Christ destroyed Satan and His works on the cross
Sickness is the work of Satan
Therefore the power of sickness is destroyed.
Actually 1John 3:7-12 itself defines the area where the devil's work is undone. Christ's victory on the cross is over the power of sin, Satan's greatest weapon. For the person who is "in" Christ, sin no longer has dominion, for Christ on the cross paid the penalty for our sins. We are therefore freed from its penalty, death is swallowed up in life everlasting, 1Cor.15:55-57. Romans 1-8 explains clearly the meaning of Christ's death, and in what areas it is effective. There is no mention of it dealing with sickness. We look forward to the return of Christ and his ultimate victory over Satan (inc. end of sickness).
12. Jesus saves from sickness
Jesus came to save not destroy. Sickness destroys, therefore Jesus saves us from sickness. This is certainly a nice sounding equation, but quite false for our present existence. The word "save" simply means rescue. What did Jesus rescue us from? Jesus certainly did undertake to deal with our present state of rebellion against God, and its consequences upon body and soul. We may well desire the full benefits of salvation now, but scripture itself sees it as a future reality associated with the coming of Christ. That we are no longer rebels now is true, but at the moment we only experience in part the physical realities of our present reigning with Christ, Tit.3:3-7. We share in the dying agonies of a rebellious race. As lights we show the only way of escape until our Lord calls us from this work to share in His glory.
13. Jesus gives life, Satan gives death
From John 10:10 it is often argue that Satan is the killer physically and spiritually, while Jesus is the life-giver physically and spiritually. It is true that Satan destroys both body and soul. Yet we need to note the following about his bodily attacks:
i] Sickness and physical death are a direct result of our disobedience toward God. the human race is responsible for Satan's power.
ii] God in his mercy restrains Satan so that most humans live quite enjoyable lives. This is known as God's providential care. There are limitations to evil, and a bias toward good.
Of Satan's spiritual attack we should note the following:
i] Alienation from God, and spiritual death, is a direct result of our disobedience;
ii] We are completely separate from God, bound in sin, dead in spirit. No taste of mercy here at all, for God cannot look upon sin.
Clearly our real problem lies in the spiritual realm, not the physical. As stated already, Christ has come to deal with our real problem, spiritual death, separation from God. It is here that Satan destroys, and it is here where Christ gives life, Jn.10:10.
14. Life to the mortal flesh
In 2Corinthians 4:10-11 Jesus promises supernatural life in our mortal flesh. It is often argued that this includes healing. It is a shame that the unbelievable beauty of this passage is lost by imposing such an extraneous idea.
Paul is amazed that the gospel is entrusted to such weak and feeble messengers, and so we are. It is like putting a treasure of fabulous wealth in a mud pot. But of course God has his reasons, for in weakness His own glory shines through. So in our service for the Lord we battle on, we are pushed down, but survive, hard pressed, but never hemmed in, taken to the end of our capacities, and yet we stand up again and fight on. Our life is a reflection of Jesus, oppressed, destroyed, a life of dying, of suffering. Yet through that death of self, that weakness, shines the resurrection power of Christ. We bear living witness, that in living for Him, He lives. So we face life, which for us is suffering, a death to self, and so show the reality of the living Christ in our lives.
A personal note
My son Paul died at age 25 from a brain tumor. I did what any believing father would do, I prayed for his healing. My whole church joined with me in prayer. If there was a gift of healing, or if the "prayer of faith" applied to physical healing, then it didn't show itself. I realize some could argue that may faith was flawed or that there was unconfessed sin in my life, but I inevitably accepted that such was the state of this age, and my son would have to accept that sometimes, as he put it, "life suxs".
Yet there was a healing of sorts available to him. In the last week of his life, when he was half paralyzed, I told him a story about a thief. He may have even been a revolutionary. He just happened to be executed on the day when they did Jesus in. This bloke had never met Jesus before, but he asked him "remember me". "When you get to your heavenly Kingdom, remember me". And Jesus answered him "This day you will be with me in Paradise." I reminded Paul that all he had to do was ask Jesus, "remember me".
Physical healing would be nice, but I can live with just spiritual healing.
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