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Archive for May, 2010

Healing and the Church

May 31st, 2010

 

 

You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men.  You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.

                                                                                  Matthew 5:13-16

 

The compassion of Christ compels the Church to be concerned for people battered and bruised by this world and its sin. Whether the problems they are experiencing result directly from personal disobedience or the disobedience of others, God calls the Church to help others in their times of need.

 

The first ministry concern of the church must be the proclamation and witness to the world of the Person and work of Christ. Everyone in the world needs to know that Christ has died for his sins and that if he repents and turns to God in faith he can be saved. All real healing, especially emotional healing, must be coupled with the announcement of the gift of eternal life through Jesus Christ. In addition to the ministry of witness and proclamation Christ has called and equipped His people to be involved in a healing influence in society from the impact of sin upon this planet.

 

The Old Testament concept of total healing is also picked up in the New Testament grace gifts to the church. In the 1 Corinthians 12 passage on spiritual gifts, God spoke of xarismata iamaton, the literal translation of which is “gifts of healings”, and not “gifts of healing” as in the NIV[1]. This suggests a variety of gifts and expressions of Gospel power in this rather broad category of spiritual giftedness, and, therefore, the church enjoys all sorts of healing powers and applications including healing people from emotional damage, sin-wreck lives, and unjust social problems (Malachi 4:6) – the heart of which is always the spiritual problem of relationship with God.

 

Since when the Bible speaks of the Messianic victory over disease, it speaks in terms of total victory and complete healing, the Church should be concerned with everything that represents sickness and infirmity today, whether physical, social, emotional, or spiritual. I had wondered in writing this chapter whether it would have been better to say “the Christian’s concern” rather than “the Church’s concern.” The very phrase “the Church’s concern” may lead some to assume I am suggesting that each church should adopt a series of official positions on each of these issues, some of which are very complex and complicated problems. I am not. We must return to the basic New Testament teaching, that the Church is the people and not the leadership. God leads the Church, the people, out into the world to do His will and wherever a Christian finds opportunity to express the will and love of God for a lost world, there the Church is at work. In fact, if there is ever a perceived difference between what concerns the Christian and what concerns the Church then we have gotten off track somewhere in our understanding of the nature of the Christian life and the Church.

 

In some situations and with regard to some issues, churches can adopt positions and programs can be instituted in churches, but in today’s increasing technological advancements, the average individual would have a difficult time following all the arguments of scientists. Even well educated pastors can be easily lost in some of the discussions about gene-therapy, birth control, and even psychological illnesses. Into many fields official church positions cannot go with specificity and it is the responsibility of individual Christians working in those fields to do the right thing. This would also apply to such issues as fighting poverty and pollution, issues laden with political and economic concerns. Whereas we Christians may all agree in principle that we are against poverty and pollution, sickness and crime, corruption and emotional abuse, sincere believers often find themselves on opposite sides of proposed solutions to these issues.[2]

 

Since all New Testament healings were fundamentally encounters with Christ, we should use all such opportunities to offer healing as opportunities to share Christ. Whatever types of healings from the legacies of sin people might experience, in the central core of the event must be Christ. Healing does not replace proclamation and witness, nor can it. But let’s avoid the thought that since proclamation is the ultimate aim of the healing event that the healing itself is insignificant. Healings are not “bribes” to get people saved. They are God’s expression and disclosure of Himself, His compassion and power, that become part and parcel of the unveiling of Christ Jesus to a lost individual and a world caught up in the spirit of selfishness. The gospel in some way is being proclaimed in the healing event itself, but the revelation of Christ must not stop there. All healings should eventually bring the person and the community to understand something genuine and significant about Christ that exalts Him and encourages faith in Him. Christ must loom larger, sooner or later, than the healing itself.

 

Several years ago when my wife and I served in the Philippines our mission supported a hospital in the town of Mati, Davao Oriental, Mindanao. The hospital had not only been effective in treating diseases but also in evangelizing the area and the hospital evangelist reported their recorded conversions every year to the mission. One missionary did simple math to determine how much the hospital converts cost per dollar spent and compared it with other evangelistic methods. His recommendation was that we should close the hospital since we could make converts more cheaply with other methods. He misunderstood the nature of Christian mercy works.

 

As Christians our goal in doing acts of healings is not merely to win converts in a crass, “bottom line” type of way. We are giving a witness of the love of God through meeting the needs of others. John the Apostle asked, “If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?” (1 John 3:17)  The parable of the Good Samaritan vividly illustrates the point as well (Luke 10:25-37). We never find out what happened to the man who the Samaritan helped, whether he became a follower of God or what. The Samaritan had no thought that he should somehow show a return on his investment in time and energy in showing mercy to the man. His attitude was: here is an injured man, what can I do to help? In fact, in Christ’s story, it was the Levite and the priest who revealed that type of attitude – a sort of perverted paraphrase of Nehemiah’s words to Sanballat: I am involved in a great work and I don’t have time to come down and help you. Affirming the risky, dangerous display of neighborly love of the Samaritan, Christ commanded us to “Go and do likewise.” We are to treat others graciously and mercifully according to our power, ability, resources, and opportunities.

 

Let’s identify some key categories where sin’s damaging legacy has marred human life and where those who know Christ as Savior and Lord should be concerned about bringing healing. An exhaustive list is impossible, but some groupings should be named.

 

The Church should be concerned about social sicknesses. Social injustices, human poverty, lack of education, the spread of crime, prostitution, drug addictions, all of these should be the Church’s concerns. The gifts of God to the Church are meant not only to build up the Church through ministering to fellow believers but also to reach out and

touch a hurting and lost world through Jesus Christ. The Church’s responsibility to help people begins with the family of faith but does not end there. The example of the Good Samaritan teaches us to care for those in need with radical, dangerous, and extravagant compassion, even if they are not believers in Christ. Our care for them and help to them should also include sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ.

 

I was raised in the Southern United States in the days of racial segregation between Black and White. In those days I heard good people often argue for segregation, not only in schools, neighborhoods, and life in general, but in church attendance as well. The common phrase used was, “They do better at taking care of their own than we do,” or words to that effect. In hindsight I believe that phrase alone revealed a conscience pricked by the Holy Spirit seeking to justify itself, its inaction and continued apathy. The White majority in those days segregated the Black minority in certain areas of towns, cordoned them off, sometimes legally, always socially, and branded them inferior. The feeling was that the Golden Rule, “As you would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them,” had racial, social, and even geographic boundaries.

 

How wrong we were. Thank God that those dark days of spiritual ignorance and prejudice are passing away. Some of my best Christian friends over the years have been African Americans and I have been most blessed to learn from them and most privileged to share my faith and serve Our Lord with them. If anyone was ignorant and inferior in those days of segregation it must have been the white majority, especially the churches, that failed to see African Americans as people, made in God’s image and worthy of all the dignity and respect that we can give them. The love of Christ for all people compels us to reach out in Christian love to them all. All human beings, regardless of race, are made in the image of God and are worthy of respect, dignity, and acceptance.  Each human being needs to know the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

 

Poverty is a complicated and complex problem involving not only social prejudices but worldviews and personal habits as well. Having spent several years serving in both inner-city missions in the United States and in Third World missions overseas I am well acquainted with the difficulties and the challenges. The words of Christ, “You will always have the poor among you” (John 12:8), were not meant to discourage us from helping but to teach us that this should be a continual concern to believers.[3] Looking at the teachings in the Mosaic Law concerning the poor and blending these with New Testament teachings we can summarize the duty of the Church toward the poor in the following concepts.

 

·        We should be willing to share with the poor to help alleviate needs of hunger, shelter, clothing, medical treatment – the basic physical needs of human life. (Leviticus 19:9-10; Luke 10:37; 1 John 3:17-18)

·        We should help those who are poor to receive the respect and dignity they deserve as human beings created in the image of God, to be treated fairly in the courts and to be treated fairly by his employer. (Exodus 23:6; Deuteronomy 24:14-15; Psalm 72:4; Colossians 4:1; James 2:5-7)

·        We should help them leave their poverty by providing them with access to what they need to do so, education, business loans, and employment opportunities. (Leviticus 25:35; James 2:8-9)

·        We should not treat them any differently in Church or look down on them as though they were inferior, but value them as our dear Christian brothers and sisters. (Psalm 34:6; Romans 12:16; Colossians 3:11; James 1:9-11, 2:1-4)

·        We should carry on a ministry of Christian instruction and encouragement to them, preaching the gospel to them, helping them to stand on their own feet spiritually and emotionally as well as financially. (Colossians 3:22-25; 1 Peter 2:18-25)

 

Helping the poor is not an easy task and churches have often worked cooperatively to help address the real needs of the poor in certain areas of cities. Sometimes poor people have taken advantage of Christian compassion as at the church at Thessalonica and it is not acceptable for a church to naively and blindly continue to “help” someone who is taking advantage of their compassion. Such “help” is really no help at all and only allows and sometimes even enables someone to continue in his way of life. Yet we need to be compassionate and should not let a bad experience turn us into total skeptics.

 

A balanced approach to helping the poor is generally most effective. To really make a difference we need to do two things: to financially support people and ministries involved in providing care to the financially less fortunate and to be personally involved in a meaningful way ourselves. The “professional” helper will know better how to evaluate the people’s needs and situations, but yet we cannot merely pay someone to be compassionate for us. Each Christian can be involved in some way through voluntarily assisting and through looking out for the poor around him.

 

Virtually each of us knows someone who is financially hurting. In my years of ministry I have seen church members find a variety of ways to help others. One of my church members ran a produce company, supplying fresh produce to restaurants. He would regularly look for poor people in the church to help, dropping off some produce at their houses, giving people down and out a chance to work for him and better their situation. The Church must fulfill this command through the personal actions of its members as well as through official church programs to help the poor.

 

With regard to substance abuse, the Church should help people caught in this shameful and degrading lifestyle. Again, like with the poor, these people are very difficult to help and virtually all progress is gained only in the face of much frustration and frequent failures.  Like poverty, I would advise that Churches should financially support those healing ministries, such as Christian half-way houses, where skilled and experienced counselors can help addicts. But, like poverty, we cannot merely pay someone to be compassionate for us; we must also look for opportunities to express our concerns through personal action.

 

What about a Christian brother who is caught in some addiction? What should we do with him? Romans 14:1-4 teaches us to lovingly accept and help those “weaker brothers” and not cast them off as worthless. The only requirement on their part is that they be sincerely repentant over their weakness, admitting it as sin. And we should stand beside them in compassion and patience seeking to help them to become free from this addiction. Is the Church an army that shoots its wounded? Are we not called to help and lift up and encourage and heal?

 

The Church should be concerned about emotional sicknesses. Guilt, anxiety, depression, family disharmony, marriage/divorce, conflict resolution, these also are the Church’s concerns. Like poverty, these problems are widespread and not easy to resolve. The Church should offer both preventative help and redemptive help. We should be there before the first symptom of a problem ever occurs and we should be there as well after the storm of trouble has passed over the person or the family, helping them to pick up the pieces of their lives and start again.

 

But God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. 1 Corinthians 12:24b-26

 

It seems a terrible tragedy that in Church, the place of all places where we ought to feel free to be the most honest, we often are afraid to share with others our real thoughts and fears. The world can be a terrible, lonely place and God both calls and gifts Christians to reach out to those around us who are hurting. Several spiritual gifts mentioned in the New Testament describe those who help in these types of situations: service, encouragement, mercy, helps, and healings. Even when the emotional problems have developed as the result of personal sinful choices, the Church should be there to help people who have turned to the Lord be healed (Isaiah 6:10).

 

These five gifts are described in various ways by Bible scholars and teachers, yet the Lord did not give us very much information to work with in terms of Scriptural text in describing these gifts in detail. I think it is more helpful to see them as sharing general common ground than trying to split hairs over the precise differences between them. The call of God for the church to be compassionate is a commanding voice for all our priorities as God’s people.

 

We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. Each of us should please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. For even Christ did not please himself … Romans 15:1-3a

 

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. Ephesians 4:29-32

 

“Bearing with the failings of the weak” and “building others up according to their needs” is a good description of helping those with emotional problems.

 

Prevention ministries are important.  Healthy marriages and parent-child relationships are key concerns for the church today. With the escalation of divorce and the misery that divorce brings with it, the Church must offer help to people in need. Pre-marital counseling for engaged couples is a step of preventative care. Presenting helpful information on how to raise Godly children, both through classes and through family counseling serves is increasingly needed in today’s world.

 

The prophet Malachi described divorce as “violence”[4] and God threatened to strike the earth with a curse if the hearts of the fathers and the hearts of their children would not be turned back to one another[5]. The impact divorce has upon society is well documented and staggeringly devastating. Children whose parents have gone through divorce are almost always plagued with lifelong feelings of insecurity, they do not do as well in school, they often have difficulty in establishing healthy relationships with others, and it is not unusual for long term serious emotional problems to arise.

 

The Heritage Foundation has made the following observations about the effects of divorce on children.

 

Mounting evidence in the annals of scientific journals details the plight of the children of divorce and clearly indicates not only that divorce has lasting effects, but that these effects spill over into every aspect of life. For example:

·         Children whose parents have divorced are increasingly the victims of abuse and neglect. They exhibit more health problems, as well as behavioral and emotional problems, are involved more frequently in crime and drug abuse, and have higher rates of suicide.

·         Children of divorced parents more frequently demonstrate a diminished learning capacity, performing more poorly than their peers from intact two-parent families in reading, spelling, and math. They also are more likely to repeat a grade and to have higher drop-out rates and lower rates of college graduation.

·         Divorce generally reduces the income of the child’s primary household and seriously diminishes the potential of every member of the household to accumulate wealth. For families that were not poor before the divorce, the drop in income can be as much as 50 percent. Moreover, decline in income is intergenerational, since children whose parents divorce are likely to earn less as adults than children raised in intact families.

·         Religious worship, which has been linked to health and happiness as well as longer marriages and better family life, is less prevalent in divorced families.

…The effects of divorce are immense. The research shows not only that it permanently weakens the relationship between a child and his or her parents, but also that it leads to destructive ways of handling conflict and a poorer self-image. Children of divorce demonstrate an earlier loss of virginity, more cohabitation, higher expectations of divorce, higher divorce rates later in life, and less desire to have children. These effects on future family life perpetuate the downward spiral of family breakdown.[6]

 

Divorce, both the prevention and the healing of individuals from its devastating effects, are issues that the church must address in today’s world. Western society is in a downward spiral as divorce creates more divorce in the future. Caring adults need to step into the void and pain of children’s lives and help them face the future with hope and confidence.

 

We do not abuse the gospel stories of miraculous physical healings to give them an emotional and spiritual application today, for surely they announce the arrival of Messianic healings. In 1 Peter we have a clear admonition for this age (taken from Psalm 34) that, if we follow, will bring us life and good days.

 

Whoever would love life and see good days must keep his tongue from evil and his lips from deceitful speech. He must turn from evil and do good; he must seek peace and pursue it. For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil. 1 Peter 3:10-12

 

The contexts of the Davidic psalm and of the life of mid-first century Christians shared the fact of inequities and injustices, as ours does today. The affirmation that the Lord delivers the righteous man from his troubles (Psalm 34:19) was no less true for Peter, or for you and I, than for David. The passage encourages the people of God to bear up under injustices without becoming embittered. Our ultimate deliverance will come after death, exactly the one we genuinely need and earnestly desire. All other earthly deliverances are mere testimonies to that ultimate healing and deliverance.  (See also Philippians 1:19-21.) 

 

The emotional healing that is depicted in 1 Peter 3:8-22 involves forgiveness, sympathetic understanding, faith in God, avoidance of fear and worry, study and clear thinking, keeping a clear conscience (or avoiding those things that produce guilt), avoidance of bitterness, acceptance of suffering, and reflection upon the sufferings of Christ – all of which have been known to help produce emotional healing. The sure promise of heaven is a necessary part of Christian emotional healing today, removing the fear of death as well as giving us a taste of God’s power and glory.

 

The Church should be concerned about international and intercultural relationships. War, prejudice, the plight of refugees, hatred between races, these also are concerns for the Church. Whereas I believe there is a case in Scripture for a Christian to be able to participate in a just war, not every problem between nations and people can be resolved on the battlefield. War should be an absolute last resort, taken only when all other avenues of resolving grievances have been exhausted. The old hymns were filled with the Christian hopes that wars shall cease. Most of these hymns point with hopeful anticipation to the future, to the return of Christ, such as,

 

Crown Him the Lord of peace,

Whose pow’r a scepter sways

From pole to pole, that wars may cease,

And all be prayer and praise:

His reign shall know no end,

And round His pierced feet

Fair flow’rs of paradise extend

Their fragrance ever sweet.[7]

 

But in the meantime, as we await His return, Christ has called us to be peacemakers, “For they shall be called sons of God” (Matt. 5:9), and we pray, work, and hope for peace.

 

The Church should be concerned about ecological issues. Pollution, global warming, sewage, healthy farming methods, the overfishing of the oceans, even such issues as the protection of animals and the use of fossil fuels are concerns for the Church. Typically these are issues that Christians and churches shy away from. Often they become the domain of unchristian organizations and sometimes even anti-Christian groups. Certainly the animal-rights activists are often off base on several perspectives, but yet, if we read the Bible, yes, the humane and ethical treatment of animals is taught there[8] (Exodus 23:5,12; Deut. 22:4,6-7; 25:4; Prov. 12:10). Concerned Christians must step into these areas and help to offer godly solutions. The other alternative is that only non-Christians would offer solutions for these issues.

 

As stated at the beginning of this section, by saying “the Church’s concerns” I am not advocating that each of these issues should become official programs for each church. They are too many to do that, although some most certainly could and should be. But I am advocating that these are issues where each Christian should be concerned and as God sends Christians out into society, working in a variety of roles and professions, we can and must stand for what is right as the Word and Spirit of the Lord leads us.

 

 

Healing from Diseases and Infirmities

 

The issue of physical healing is also a concern for the Church. We addressed many causes of physical illnesses in the section above as we discussed such things as poverty and pollution. In this section we will look directly at healing for the sick.

 

The Church should be involved in medical treatment of physical ills. Christians have been involved through the centuries in treating physical illnesses, expressing the love of Christ for the physically ill. Even in the development of medical cures we see His hand of influence. The modern hospital, as we know it today, is largely a contribution of Christianity that took seriously the concerns of Christ for the sick[9]. Even today, in many places of the world, missionaries and mission hospitals are the last link between sickness and death for many. But, in developed nations as well the Church should be concerned with providing healing through medical treatment for poor and needy individuals. To become a physician or be involved in another health care profession is a worthy thing to choose as one’s life work.

 

Since many, if not most diseases are caused by poverty, ignorance, and malnutrition, the church should be involved in health education and vocational education that can help people know better how to treat illnesses and how to leave their poverty. Many missionaries and health workers in poor nations have acknowledged that without health education for the people doctors will treat the same people for the same diseases over and over again. Meaningful solutions to health problems must involve health education – covering such subjects as first aid and nutrition – and vocational training, usually in the area of better farming methods and instructing in vocational skills.

 

The Church should pray for the sick. In James 5:13-16 God emphasized the obligation of the church to pray for the sick. This, like Isaiah 53:5, is an important passage to understand our responsibility toward the sick today.

 

Is any one of you in trouble? He should pray. Is anyone happy? Let him sing songs of praise. Is any of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective. James 5:13-16

 

James urged those who were sick or had sinned to ask church leaders to pray for them. He placed the initiation of this request in the hands of the sick. This admonition does not forbid us from making an unrequested visit, but it calls for sensitivity on our part to the wishes and desires of those ill.

 

The phrase “anoint him with oil” (James 5:14) has been interpreted by most Evangelicals to refer to applying medicine rather than indicating some type of religious ceremony involving oil. Oil was a common medicine of that day, mentioned, for example, in the story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:34). The word translated “anoint” in this passage is significant (5:14). Chrio, the common word for religious anointing, was not used, rather aleipho was used and means anointing in general, putting one thing on another. We find this word in Matt. 6:17, describing putting oil on the hair for personal grooming and in Luke 7:38 when Jesus’ feet were anointed with perfume. The Greek word chrio carried a distinctly religious and sacred connotation, but aleipho carried no such distinctly religious identity. James seemed to be describing the application of medicine and not some religious ceremony.

 

James reminded believers that intercessory prayers offered in faith are powerful and effective, not the oil. Christian faith stands in contrast to the meaningless rituals of other religions in which certain elements are believed by the devotees to contain mystical and magical power. The idea that oil can serve as a source of magical healing is clearly an unchristian concept. “The prayer offered in faith” is what God will use to heal, not some religious ritual. All medical treatment should be offered “in the name of the Lord” (5:14). Like the Good Samaritan, we ought to offer and seek medical treatment when sickness comes. All healing is miraculous healing and if we have faith in the medical treatment it is because we have faith in God and the natural laws He put in place at creation and maintains to this day.

 

Note the positive force of this passage – God heals today! Often healing is not experienced because the people of God (1) do not pray at all; (2) try to pray with unconfessed sin; (3) pray selfishly; (4) pray without faith; and (5) pray alone, not with others. James made the point that the prayer of a righteous man, such as Elijah, is powerful and effective, but part of the intent of his epistle is to bring the people to unity of purpose and sharing of ministry. If we try to dismiss this entire passage and suggest that it has no meaning for us today, we are in error. The clear teaching of the Bible, in James 5 and 1 Corinthians 11, is that some physical healing is available for Christians and churches today!  And that healing requires faith on our part to experience.

 

While acknowledging that it is not always God’s will to heal we should not hesitate to faithfully pray and pray in faith for healing.  If we ascribe sin as the cause of every sickness and doubt as the reason for every lack of healing we will certainly turn into judgmental, condemnatory, hypocritical people. While personal sin causes some sickness and doubt prevents some healing that God offers, we cannot assume that every case is like this. We must, however, be certain to pray in faith for the sick. We should come to the aid of the sick person like we had just left five minutes earlier the occasion when Jesus healed someone miraculously, with full confidence of faith. If this is true for every physical illness it is also true of every emotional illness and spiritual problem – even demon possession. We can come to people scarred and marred by the sin of this world with full confidence that God can heal that person.

 

I have heard it said that faith is not believing that God can act but believing that God will act. I like part of that sentence, yet it also lends itself to be misunderstood. Faith is trusting in God’s love, His mercy, His power, His capacity to act, and, with regard to physical infirmities, faith is the trust that God shall, in His time and His way, put an end to all sickness. In that sense, faith is believing that God will act, but faith also trusts that when He remains silent or we cannot see His action that God’s heart toward us has not changed. His action remains in the future. As the prophet Habakkuk said,

 

Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior. Habakkuk 3:17-18

 


[1] William D. Mounce, The Analytical Lexicon to the Greek New Testament, Zondervan Publishing House, 1993. Iamaton was also used in 1 Cor. 12:28, 30

[2] I have known some to fight for the poor man’s economic advancement by seeking to lessen the pollution standards of some greenhouse gasses for the sake of employment.

[3] See Deut. 15:11

[4] Malachi 2:16

[5] Malachi 4:6 – If Israel did not repent God threatened to strike the land (eretz) with a curse, dealing with Israel as He had with Edom bringing total destruction. See Mal. 1:4.

[6] Patrick Fagan and Robert Rector, “The Effects of Divorce on America,” published by The Heritage Foundation, 214 Massachusetts Avenue NE, Washington, D.C.

[7] Matthew Bridges, “Crown Him with Many Crowns”.

[8] I prefer the words “protection of animals” rather than “animal rights”. The latter seems to suggest an elevation of the status of animals and a demoting of the status of humans.

[9] We readily admit that there are many non-Christian doctors and nurses and that many hospitals are run by secular and even atheistic states. Other religions had their influences as well, but it is inconceivable to imagine the existence of the modern hospital as we know it today, and thereby modern medicine, without the influence of Christians. Historically it was Christians, monastic orders often, who set up hospitals. See Encyclopedia Britannica, “Hospitals”, online version.

Healing for Today

Healing in the New Testament

May 30th, 2010

 

 

When they had crossed over, they landed at Gennesaret. And when the men of that place recognized Jesus, they sent word to all the surrounding country. People brought all their sick to him and begged him to let the sick just touch the edge of his cloak, and all who touched him were healed.

                                                                                  Matthew 14:34-35

 

I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.

                                                                                  John 16:33

 

Therefore, we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

                                                                                  2 Corinthians 4:16-18

 

To keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassingly great revelation, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger from Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

                                                                                  2 Corinthians 12:10

 

The New Testament rings with the excitement of miraculous healings and miracles. The healings of Christ revealed His compassion and power. The healings announced that God was active in their midst! Nothing could possibly have grabbed the attention of the masses like the power to miraculously heal.

 

Three Greek words are commonly translated “to heal” or “to cure,” in the New Testament: therapeuo, iaomai, and sozo. A fourth would be added if we include diasozo.

 

·        Therapeuo meant in its original form, “to serve” or “to attend [to someone]”, and came to be associated with caring for the sick or treating the sick. The word is found 43 times in the New Testament, 40 in the synoptic gospels (mostly Matthew and Luke) or Acts and is generally translated “heal” but at least once was used in the sense of “serve” in Acts 17:25, “He [God] is not served [therapeuo] by human hands.” Matthew used the word when linking the healing ministry of Jesus to Isaiah 53:5 in Matthew 8:16-17.

·        Iaomai meant “to heal” or “to make whole” and was used at least 22 times to describe physical healing (example Matthew 15:28) and several times to describe, figuratively, spiritual healing: Matthew 13:15; John 12:40; Acts 28:27; Hebrews 12:13; 1 Peter 2:24, all of which, except for the Hebrew passage, was used to translate rapa from Isaiah. Luke the physician in his writings used the word 15 times.

·        Sozo meant “to save” and is translated “to heal” in Mark 5:23 and Luke 8:36. The Mark passage referred to a child who needed healing and the Luke passage referred to a demoniac who needed to be made whole.

·        Diasozo meant  “to save thoroughly” emphasizing complete healing, Luke 7:3, and when used in the active voice is often translated “escape”, meaning “to bring safely through a danger”. The word was used in Acts 23:24 to convey the idea of safe passage.

 

In summation, therapeuo stressed the act of healing or treating, “to treat”, iaomai, stressed the result of treatment, “to cure” or “make whole”, and sozo stressed salvation, “to save”.  But we should not try to make these words significantly different from one another. In their contexts they each carry the idea of healing, complete restoration to a state of health. They were not limited to healing from diseases but included being healed (or being made whole) from demonic possession and spiritual unsoundness.[1]

 

The miracles of Christ testified to the fact that the Messianic era of healing had begun. Matthew 8:16-17 is a key passage to understand the link between Christ Jesus and the prophecy from Isaiah 53:5. This event happened in Capernaum following the healing of Peter’s mother-in-law.

 

When evening came, many who were demon-possessed were brought to him, and he drove out the spirits with a word and healed all the sick. This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah: “He took up our infirmities and carried our diseases.” Matthew 8:16-17

 

It is interesting that both Matthew and Peter quoted Isaiah 53:5. Matthew quoted this passage (8:17) to affirm that the Messiah would have a healing ministry, stressing physical healing. Peter used it, however, to describe the total social and spiritual healing that the Messiah would have in the future (1 Pet. 2:13-25). From Peter’s context, dealing with bearing up gracefully under unjust treatment, he was referring to the inner spiritual and even emotional healing that Christ was then (and now) doing in the lives of believers and would perfect in the end time. In light of what was said earlier, let me stress again, that Isaiah’s prophecy about healing included but was not limited to physical healing.

 

D. Craig Blomberg, in the New American Commentary on Matthew, has given some very helpful comments on the significance of this passage and Christ’s healing ministry then and now.

 

Charismatics have regularly appealed to this verse in maintaining that there is healing for physical maladies in the atonement. Inasmuch as the healings consistently function as pointers to God’s in-breaking Kingdom, one should expect the present blessings of God’s reign at times to include miraculous recovery from illness. But to require such healing of God this side of eternity loses sight of the future aspect of the Kingdom. Only in the world to come will sickness and death be banished altogether from believers’ lives. Claims that so far all who were sick in Jesus’ presence seem to have been cured must be balanced with the data of John 5:1-15, in which Christ selected only one of many sick people to receive healing. Nor is it adequate to reply that the others didn’t ask either. Jesus frequently worked miracles to create faith where it was not already present (e.g., Mark 4:35-41; 5:1-20), even while refraining from such activity in similar situations elsewhere (e.g., Mark 6:1-6a; 8:11-13). There is physical healing in the atonement for this age, but it is up to God in Christ to choose when and how to dispense it. Perfect healing, like the believer’s resurrection body, ultimately awaits Christ’s return.[2]

 

Others have agreed with Dr Blomberg, in fact, most Evangelicals and Protestants have taken this position. Leon Morris made the following observations.

 

Matthew’s quotation is from Isaiah 53:4, part of a chapter which is one of the classic passages for our understanding of the atonement, emphasizing as it does that Christ bore our sins. Matthew is telling us that in bearing our sins Jesus did something about our perennial problem of sickness, some believers understand the passage to mean that Christ has dealt with our sicknesses in such a way that if we really trust him we will be delivered from all illness; some even go on to rebuke the sick, assuring them that if they had faith they would be cured of every ailment. I cannot find this in Scripture. Paul had his “stake in the flesh” (2 Cor. 12:7), an expression that he does not explain and which has puzzled commentators. But whatever it was, it was certainly a physical ailment of some sort (it was “in the flesh”). Paul wanted to be rid of it and asked the Lord three times that it be taken from him. It may be significant that he asked only three times and then accepted God’s answer for him: “My grace is sufficient for you”. No matter how great our faith, every ailment is not going to be removed from us in the here and now. Again, Timothy had “frequent infirmities” for which Paul bade him use medical help (1 Tim. 5:23). And we should not forget that Jesus apparently regarded the use of medical help as normal (Matt. 9:12). The New Testament writers never take the line that any one who really trusts God will never have to endure sickness and pain.[3]

 

Yet Matthew was saying that the final answer to sickness and pain is found in Christ and Christ alone. Only through Christ is our sin problem resolved, will we receive a new body, a new earth, and Satan be destroyed forever. His acts of healings were powerful announcements of His Messianic credentials and demonstrations of His compassion and power.

 

Even John the Baptist questioned whether Jesus was the Messiah, presumably because Christ did not inaugurate the full expression of the Messianic Kingdom immediately. John sent emissaries to ask Christ if He were the one or should they expect another (Luke 7:20). Jesus’ response was to connect two prophecies from Isaiah and His ministry to affirm to John that the age of Messianic healing had begun. He said: “Go back the report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor” (Luke 7:22). The two Isaiah passages, chapter 35 and 61, both are passages predicting complete Messianic victory over the conditions that limited the nation of Israel. They dealt not only with physical infirmities, but also with forgiveness (spiritual problems), fears (emotional problems), injustices (social problems), and even geographic changes (need for a new world), all of which depict a future Messianic victory. Christ did not bring total victory during His earthly ministry – it awaits a future unveiling. His words to John reveal exactly that type of theology.

 

Several traits are shared by the miraculous healings of Jesus. First, all of the healings were graphic and undeniably genuine. They were objectively observed through the senses. A fever went away immediately (Luke 4:39). A paralytic picked up his bed and walked (Luke 5:17-26).  A man born blind can see for the first time, and understand immediately what sight is (John 9:1-34). The man born blind represents a miracle not only in the eyes but also in the brain. Others today who have been healed of life-long blindness through modern medicine have required some visual therapy to understand this new sense that they are experiencing.  Even though the man Jesus healed had never seen before, he was immediately given the capacity to interpret sight. These are typical of the healings of Jesus. The man born blind who was healed even publicly debated the Pharisees who were seeking to discredit Jesus. The miracles of Jesus were not at all like the so-called “miracles” of modern day so-called “healers”, where there is plenty of room for enquiring minds to doubt that anything happened. It is interesting that the Pharisees never brought up in the trial of Jesus that He had made false claims of healing people. In spite of their desire to discredit Him they had to resort to false witnesses to twist what He said. No one could deny what He did.

 

Secondly, with one, possibly two, notable exceptions, each of the healings was instantaneous and complete, not partial. People were made well, not better. This was an important aspect of His healings – Christ brought wholeness. The one notable exception was the healing of the blind man in Bethsaida who was touched twice by Christ to complete the healing (Mark 8:22-26). After the first touch of Christ he said that he saw people but they looked like trees walking around – the meaning being that he could not clearly see their features. Many sermons have been preached on this event as illustrating that we need more than one touch of Christ in our lives – some of these sermons have been doctrinally correct, some have abused other New Testament teachings. This curious event does nothing to detract from the fact Christ did not leave the man in this half-cured state. He completed the healing and that should be our emphasis. The other possible exception would be the ten lepers who were healed on their way to show themselves to the priests (Luke 17:11-19), but even then the impression was that they were healed within the time frame that Christ intended.

 

Thirdly, regarding faith, it is important to note that faith was not mentioned in every miracle. When faith was mentioned it was affirmed and encouraged. The faith that invited healing was faith in Christ, not faith in faith alone nor faith that healing would occur. In fact, the healings of Jesus were fundamentally encounters with Him. They were primarily about Christ and who He was, and only secondarily about healing. Christ asked the two blind men following Him asking Him to have mercy on them, “Do you believe that I am able to do this?” (Matt 9:27-31) He did not ask, “Do you believe you will be healed?” His question was a matter of their faith in Him. He took them directly from where they were to what they could see – they could see Him and could trust Him. This was and still remains an important aspect of the incarnation, God is with us and Christ put a face on the Name of God.  Someone could very well have been able to have said, “I don’t know if I can believe that I will be healed, but I do believe that You, Christ, can do whatever You desire.”[4] The occasions when He healed because of someone other than the sick person petitioning Him were still, for the petitioners, encounters with Christ. The evidence of the in-breaking of the Kingdom of God through miraculous healings and even resurrections from the dead was so overwhelming to the people that they could hardly have imagined that things so grand and wonderful would be possible.

 

The understanding of the nature of faith, how we define it and understand what it is, is an important issue that tends to divide Evangelicals and Charismatics. Although we have One Lord, we each tend toward separate definitions of faith. Some Charismatics tend toward a position where faith is seen as a power all its own, that generates force all its own. Evangelicals see faith as an attitude that trusts in another’s power. For example, I have faith my car will start when I turn the ignition key, but I don’t believe that my faith apart from the ignition key will start the car. Faith has no power itself. By definition, faith is weak, helpless, useless, until it is invested in someone who can help, then faith becomes as powerful as the one it is invested in but can only go as far as his will allows.

 

The lack of faith in Him from the people of his hometown, Nazareth, stopped Him from performing miracles there. But, we need to be careful if we suggest from this that He was powerless without their faith because that was clearly not the case. Sometimes it seemed that faith was not present in the one healed until after the healing (Matthew 9:32-33 and Peter’s mother-in-law). Yet Jesus rebuked the people who asked for a sign so that they might believe (John 4:48).  He graciously responded to the man with the demoniac epileptic son who honestly said, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief” (Mark 9:24). The boy was healed, even though the father expressed a struggling, developing faith. In the entire scene it seems that Jesus was more concerned to win the father to faith in Himself than to heal the son. Miracles did not always make a difference in people’s attitude toward Christ (John 12:37) and sometimes even seemed to prevent some people from coming to Him (Matt 12:38-42).

 

As concerning the miracles themselves, wholeness and not longevity was what was sought after and what was offered. This is important to understand because all of those healed became sick again and ultimately died. There was not always a direct relation between demon possession and sickness but these two situations were usually dealt with in the same contexts in the gospels. Jesus told the parable of a man who had a demon and the demon left the man but missed his former home (Matt. 12:43-45). When he came back to the man he found his life swept clean and put in order, so the evil spirit found seven of his fellow demons and they all, a total of eight, went back inside the man. Jesus in this parable was teaching that He was coming to do more than merely heal and cast out demons. Those actions alone offered no guarantees for the future!  One cured could become sick again and even a cured demoniac could become demonized again. Jesus’ ministry was and is the ministry of ultimate and complete redemption.

 

In spite of Jesus’ emphasis on healing, He never lost sight of the larger calling He had of preaching the good news of the Kingdom of God, about God’s ultimate Kingdom where there will be no physical illnesses or spiritual illnesses. A noteworthy event in Christ’s life was when He retreated for prayer from the masses that had come from all over Galilee following the news of His healing power (Luke 4:42-43). This happened immediately following the time of healing Peter’s mother-in-law. Christ’s words are powerful and instructive.

 

At daybreak Jesus went out to a solitary place. The people were looking for him and when they came to where he was, they tried to keep him from leaving them. But he said, “I must preach the good news of the Kingdom of God to the other towns also, because that is why I was sent.” Luke 4:42-43

 

The good news is not that this fallen world shall be immediately redeemed, nor that every sickness and problem will find immediate solution, but that the Kingdom of heaven is certainly coming in power and fullness. The announcement of this future Kingdom is the Gospel message of salvation and hope in Jesus Christ. Whether I am healed or not of my immediate problem is not the most important question because even if I am healed I will fall sick again and one day will die. What is of the utmost importance is to know that beyond this life there is basis for a sure hope that my resurrection will not be into another body that decays and another world that is fallen. The miracles of healing announced the new day that is coming. The nature of the Kingdom of heaven is announced also, and the announcement reaffirms the Old Testament prophecies. The Kingdom of heaven shall be a compassionate Kingdom.

 

Although the full expression of the Kingdom awaits the future, the Lord is also in the process of demonstrating His healing today. Theologians speak of the Kingdom as “already – not yet” indicating that Christ brought the Kingdom of God here but its complete disclosure is still in the future. Healing is not merely something that will happen in the future or did happen in the past, but God’s redemptive power to heal is present with us. Complete and lasting healing and wholeness from all that sin has done to the human heart and body will still be in the future, at the full expression of the Kingdom. The gospels do seem to give front page to the healings from physical illnesses, but other miracles of Christ testify to different types of healings. For example, the nature of the feeding miracles illustrate that in heaven there will be abundant provision and no want (the water changed into wine in John 2, as well), and the nature of the exorcisms teach us that Christ has the power and authority to banish evil. The most common words from Christ’s lips were words of encouragement, “Be not afraid,” or “Let not your hearts be troubled,” revealing His power to offer emotional healing from fears and anxieties. Christ said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you…Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14:27). His peace is the unique peace of God that guards and heals our hearts and our minds today.

 

 

The Apostles and Healings

 

 

The apostles performed great miracles in the early days of the church. Christ Himself said that their works would be even greater than His works (John 14:12). When Christ died He had little more than 500 followers but within hours of the coming of the Spirit at Pentecost there were thousands with more being added daily (Acts 2). We only have thirty-five references to Christ performing miracles, yet immediately after the descent of the Spirit we see many miraculous healings, many greater than anything that Jesus performed. Certainly His statement about “greater works” would be performed by His followers was a reference to the power of the Holy Spirit among the members of His Body the Church as they would become equipped to serve through His Spirit’s gifts.

 

A word of warning is critical at this point. In the inauguration of both the Old and the New Covenants there were outpourings of dramatic miraculous acts of God.[5] Both revealed God’s compassionate heart, displayed God’s limitless power, and introduced the covenants – the old and the new. But, before we long for these days to return we need to be aware that in both instances the mighty acts of God included terrifying judgments among God’s people. From the biblical evidence it is reasonable to conclude that God does not do one without the other.  In Acts, for example, we do not merely have the stories of miraculous healings but also the story about Ananias and Sapphira who were struck dead for lying about their giving record (Acts 5:1-11). As a pastor I have to acknowledge that I have observed many people doing as much as Ananias and Sapphira did.  They lied not to men but to God, but they were not struck dead. In fact, most churches would have asked Ananias to chair the finance committee and Sapphira to head the hospitality committee. But the judgment falling on them in Acts was in line with teachings of Christ: “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded” (Luke 12:48). In days of great, miraculous healing works of God, great works of judgment will also be experienced. They are always together in God’s Word. Judgment begins with the household of faith (Jer 25:29; Ezek. 9:6; Amos 3:2; 1 Tim. 3:15; 1 Pet 4:17).

 

Like the healings of Jesus, certain traits of healings of the Apostles are important to note. First, like Jesus’, all the healings in Acts were dramatic, graphic, obvious healings – observable by the senses. Crippled legs were straightened (Acts 3:7). Even Peter’s shadow falling upon the sick brought healing (Acts 5:16). Later handkerchiefs that Paul touched were taken to the sick and they were healed (Acts 19:11-12). After one miracle, even those persecuting the Church had to admit, “Everybody living in Jerusalem knows that they have done an outstanding miracle, and we cannot deny it,” even though their knowledge of the event did not result in repentance and saving faith (Acts 4:16). Second, like Jesus’, they were always complete healings. Third, and different from Jesus’ healings, the faith on the part of the person being healed seemed not to be a very important matter. What was important was the authority and faith of the healer. The apostles and the Seven (Acts 6:5-8) were the ones through whom God brought healing. Finally, the healings were opportunities to proclaim the gospel.

 

The healing of the beggar by the gate called Beautiful set the pattern and theme of the healings in the Acts (Acts 3:1-10). Similar ingredients seem to come together often in Acts: a beggar in need of hope; the reaction of the apostles; the miraculous act of God; the opportunity for proclamation; and finally, how this act influenced the expansion of the church. This pattern goes well beyond just healings and is used repetitively through out the book: human need, human action (prompted and empowered by the Spirit), divine intervention, Christian proclamation, church expansion. In that sense we could say that the healings and miracles of Acts also emphasized encounters with Christ. All of this resulted in the spread of the gospel. Consider Chart 1 below. Selected events in Acts are listed to show this consistent pattern.

 

Chart 1: The Pattern of the Book of Acts

Passage

Acts 9:1-20

Conversion of Saul

Acts 9:32-35

Healing of Aeneas

 Acts 12:6-12

Encounter with Elymas

Acts 16:16-34

Philippian jailer’s conversion

Need

Healing from blindness

Paralytic bedridden for 8 years

Elymas opposed Paul and Barnabas before the Proconsul

Paul and Silas were imprisoned, the jailer was also imprisoned spiritually

Action

Ananias placed his hands on Saul

Peter said, “Jesus Christ heals you.”

Paul said, “You are going to be blind.”

Paul and Silas prayed and worshipped

Divine Intervention

Scales fell from Saul’s eyes

Immediately he rose

Elymas became blind

God sent an earthquake

Proclamation and/or results

He immediately began proclaiming

People turned to the Lord

Proconsul saw, believed, and accepted the teaching

Philippian jailer heard the gospel and was converted

 

 

Not every situation described in Acts fits the exact pattern but most do – whether miracles were involved or acts of God we would call “providential”. Sometimes God acted independently of human action, such as the slaying of Herod (Acts 12:19-25). In all circumstances we are led to understand that the apostles and others were not acting on their own but they were being led, prompted, and empowered by the Spirit of God (Acts 1:8).  Artificial and counterfeit efforts to reproduce the acts of God were sternly condemned (examples, Acts 5:1-11; 8:20). Sometimes the gospel was not received well, such as Paul’s experience at Lystra (Acts 14:19-20), but even then the progress and expansion of the gospel is well documented.

 

In most of the places where Paul and his companions ministered we have no record of miracles taking place. Only in seven places Paul visited do we have references of miracles occurring: Cyprus; Iconium; Lystra; Philippi; Ephesus; Troas; and Malta[6]. From studying Acts alone we can surmise that Paul had a ministry in well over twenty different places.[7] What is recorded more often is his service, his preaching and teaching, his reaction to opposition, his work of seeking to persuade people of the gospel of Christ. Furthermore, in Paul’s writings he often mentioned illnesses that he was not allowed to heal. He visited Galatia the first time because he was ill and his suffering seemed to help endear him to the people and show his sincerity (Gal. 4:13-15). In 2 Corinthians 12:7-10, he mentioned that he was afflicted. In Philippians 2:25-30 he mentioned that Epaphroditus was ill. In 1 Timothy 5:23 he advised Timothy to “take a little wine” for his stomach problems – presumably an ulcer. In 2 Timothy 4:20 he said that he had to leave Trophimus sick in Miletus.

 

Yet Paul did assert that he had worked miracles, by God’s power, of course, and that these were the evidence that he was an apostle (2 Cor, 12:12). Hebrews 2:4 also testified that the miracles gave evidence to the authority and role of the apostle, verifying their teaching. Another important aspect of New Testament teachings: that miracles are always identified with the apostles. Even Stephen one of the Seven, who “did great wonders and miraculous signs among the people” (Acts 6:8), the apostles ordained. His ministry was associated with theirs.

 

It must also be acknowledged that there was no incident in the New Testament that even remotely resembled the modern “faith healing” services of today.  Not once in all the teachings of the apostles were the church leaders they commissioned and challenged instructed, commanded, or commissioned to perform miraculous healings. Rather the emphasis was always on teaching the Word of God and caring for the people.

 

As Paul instructed others serving as elders and bishops of churches, his emphasis was on teaching and keeping watch over the flock of God, the local churches entrusted to their care. To the Ephesians elders he said, “I commit you to God and to the word of his grace, which can build you up” (Acts 20:32). To Timothy he said, “Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke, and encourage – with great patience and careful instruction” (2 Tim. 4:2). To Titus he said, “You must teach what is in accord with sound doctrine” (Tit. 2:1). Peter, also, said to the elders, “Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers…being examples to the flock” (1 Pet. 5:2-3). It is abundantly clear that the main charge given to servant-leaders of the local churches was in the realm of teaching the Word of God and loving and caring for the people.

 

 

The Poor and the New Testament

 

 

As in the Old Testament, the New Testament is concerned with the plight of the poor. Jesus was one of the poor Himself. For example, Jesus was born into a poor home. This we know because of Joseph’s profession as a carpenter, the fact that they lived in the small, poor town of Nazareth, and the fact that when they gave their offering at the temple at the birth of Jesus, they gave the offering of poor people, two turtle doves (Luke 2:22-24 and Lev. 12:8). Jesus Himself professed, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head” (Luke 9:58). Jesus and His disciples were supported in their ministry partly by some women “who had been cured of evil spirits…These women were helping to support them out of their own means” (Luke 8:2-3). Paul wrote, “Though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9).

 

When Jesus said, “The good news is preached to the poor” (Luke 7:22), He showed that He did not regard the poor differently from others. Luke, more than the other gospel writers, recorded Jesus’ teachings about the poor. Christ said that when giving a banquet that we should invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind – the ones who cannot repay us (Luke 14:13-14). He commanded the Rich Young Ruler to sell everything he had and give it to the poor, “Then come, follow me” (Luke 18:22). Christ even went so far as to view money as a barrier to the Kingdom of God (Luke 18:25). When wealthy Zacchaeus was converted then and there he gave half of his possessions to the poor (Luke 19:8). Yet Jesus did not preach that the poor should not feel any obligation to give to the Lord’s work. Remember, Jesus complimented the poor widow who put her last two pence into the temple treasury (Luke 21:3).

 

His statement, “You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me” (John 12:8), was in response to Judas’ complaint about the act of Mary of Bethany to use an expensive jar of perfume to anoint the feet of Jesus. Since Christ was paraphrasing Moses (Deut 15:11), He was not dismissing our responsibility to help the poor, rather He was emphasizing that complete victory over poverty could only come through Him and His sacrificial act on Calvary. But as the scene of His betrayal was played out and recorded in John’s gospel, we note that in spite of their own lack of finances it was the custom of Jesus and the disciples to give to the poor (John 13:29).

 

With the apostles, the subject of the poor continued to be an important element of their service to the Lord and an important element of the nature of the church. Immediately upon the outpouring of the Spirit, we find a spirit of generosity was everywhere in the church (Acts 2:45). In Paul’s writings, he also stressed the importance of helping the poor. During the Jerusalem conference of Acts 15, where the issue of gentile conversion was resolved for the church, the “pillars”, James, Peter, and John, urged Paul and Barnabas to remember the poor (Gal. 2:10). They were referring to the poor of Palestine that had been experiencing a terrible drought and Paul helped to raise funds for them through his ministry among gentile churches (Acts 11:28-30; 24:17; Rom. 15:25-29; 1 Cor. 16:1-4; 2 Cor. 8).

 

James, the pastor of the church in Jerusalem and the half-brother of Jesus, stressed that the poor were to be given dignity and respect. In the church all class distinctions disappear and in the future Kingdom the rich and the poor on earth shall be treated alike (James 2:1-13). Whereas in Thessalonica some problems developed with the poor who tried to take advantage of the church’s compassion (1 Thes. 4:11-12; 5:14; 2 Thes. 3:6-15), the admonition was still present to be compassionate to the needy.

 

 

Summary of the New Testament Teaching on Sickness and Healing

 

The New Testament affirms the power of Christ to heal physical, emotional, spiritual, and social ills. Although the fulfillment of the total Messianic healing, prophesied by the Old Testament prophets, would be inaugurated in the future, the healings of Jesus and the apostles were announcements that the day of total Messianic victory was surely coming. Both Jesus and the apostles gave more importance to the ministry of proclamation than to healings and miracles. The Kingdom of God exists in the “already – not yet” tension. Like the Spirit’s presence in the believer, we may say that the miracles of healings were evidences, “down payments” on future complete healings.

 

All the healing miracles of the Lord and the apostles were graphic and undeniably genuine.  There was no room for doubt among the people who witnessed the healing that it was a genuine miracle of God. The healings of Jesus, although they met genuine needs, were fundamentally encounters with Him and the healings of the apostles were used as opportunities to proclaim the Gospel. Faith was not always required for the person to be healed.

 

Not everywhere did healings take place in the ministries of the apostles and their instructions to the elders and overseers of the churches emphasized preaching and teaching the Word of God and caring for and equipping the people of God.


[1] According to Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, three Greek nouns translated “healing”, and their corresponding meanings are: therapeia, denoted “care”, “attention” (Luke 12:42) or “therapy” (Luke 9:11) and sometimes “health” (Rev. 22:2); iama, meant “a means of healing” or “a healing”, the results of healing act, and in the plural form “healings” in 1 Cor. 12:9,28,30; and iasis, related to iama and iaomai, stressed the “process as reaching completion”, Luke 13:32.

[2] Craig L. Blomberg, The New American Commentary, Matthew, Vol. 22, Broadman, 1992, p. 145.

[3] Leon Morris, The Cross of Jesus, Eerdmans Publishing Co. 1988, p. 90.

[4] See Martha’s confession in John 11:21-22.

[5] The ministries of many of the prophets – most notably Elijah, Elisha, and Daniel – also were accompanied by miracles, but they were, likewise, accompanied by judgments against the people of God who had sinned.

[6] The miracles God achieved through Paul recorded in Acts are the following: (1) Elymas blinded, Acts 13:11; (2) a lame man healed, Acts 14:10; (3) demon exorcized, Acts 16:18; (4) in Ephesus “God did extraordinary miracles through Paul”, handkerchiefs and aprons that Paul touched were taken to the sick and healing resulted, Acts 19:11-12; (5) Eutychus raised to life, Acts 20:10; (6) healing himself from a deadly viper’s bite, Acts 28:5; (7) the father of Publius healed, Acts 28:8; and (8) a general reference to “miraculous signs and wonders” performed, Acts 14:3. Both the healing from the viper’s bite and the father of Publius occurred in Malta.

[7] Some of the references to the places in Acts are unclear whether he had an opportunity to establish a work, begin a church, or minister to an existing church. Twenty is a very conservative number. They would include: Jerusalem, Antioch, Salamis, Paphos, Perga, Iconium, Lystra, Derbe, Syria and Cilicia, Phrygia, Galatia, Troas, Philippi, Thessalonica, Berea, Athens, Corinth, Ephesus, Tyre, Caesarea, Malta, and Rome.

Healing for Today