Faith Healing -- Godís Compassion, Godís Power, and Godís Sovereignty:
Is a Christian permitted to seek medical assistance and to use medicine?
|Copyright © 2003 - All rights retained by author|
|Written by: C. W. Booth|
Introduction -- Faith Directs Action
Yesterday the news reported that a two-day old infant died of a simple infection. The parents, apparently true believers with a deep faith in Christ, were devastated. They were heartbroken as is everyone who hears their story.
Exasperating their pain is the fact they are also under criminal investigation because they made a decision to withhold the antibiotics that would normally be used, and are routinely used, to save the lives of infants with the same commonplace disorder their newborn experienced.
Aside from the heartbreak that myself and all Christians must feel when they hear of an infantís passing, nagging away at the back of my mind is the question of why loving parents would deliberately withhold care. Of course, the short answer is that they did as their sincere faith directed them. As TheFaithfulWord.org website has said many times, doctrine dictates behavior. Biblical doctrine results in righteous behaviors of faith, whereas the end of faulty doctrine is unrighteous behavior; whether the world understands the difference is another matter. The key is not whether one has faith, but in what and in whom has that faith been placed?
Purpose of This Article -- Building Faith
It is my hope and intent to lovingly demonstrate that the Bible fully supports the merciful and kind use of medicine and medical knowledge in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, even by those who have the fullest of faith.
I entreat those who feel differently and believe differently to ponder the Scriptural evidences with me. No attempt will be made to tear down anyoneís faith in God or in the Word; indeed, every attempt will be made to encourage and reinforce that faith. This article is written to help every true believer make a biblically informed and Scripturally precise choice with regard to faith and medicine. Love, truth, and human life can and do depend on knowing the Word most accurately in this matter.
Jesus Speaks Regarding the Use of Medicine
The Good Samaritan
Jesus replied and said, "A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among robbers, and they stripped him and beat him, and went away leaving him half dead. And by chance a priest was going down on that road, and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. Likewise a Levite also, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.
But a Samaritan, who was on a journey, came upon him; and when he saw him, he felt compassion, and came to him and bandaged up his wounds, pouring oil and wine on them; and he put him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn and took care of him. On the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper and said, 'Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I return I will repay you.'
Which of these three do you think proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell into the robbers' hands? And he said, "The one who showed mercy toward him." Then Jesus said to him, "Go and do the same."
Consider the following briefest of summaries of this world-renowned story:
The Samaritan poured oil and wine into the wounds of the injured Jew and then bound up the wounds with bandages. Then Jesus tells all who have been listening to His story, "Go and do the same."
What purpose did the oil and wine serve? The only comprehensible reason to pour precious wine and oil into to a gaping wound is for the purpose of attempting to restore health to the physical wound; they were medicines. Oil was used as a medicine, a softening agent that kept the wound from becoming hard (Isaiah 1:6). Presumably this oil kept the wound from cracking open as it began to heal; such cracks would have allowed infection to invade. Wine, of course, has been used throughout time as a topical antibiotic/antiseptic. In other words, it kills bacteria (germs) quite well due to its alcoholic content. Alcohol is an outstanding germ killer. By killing the bacteria, the growing infections are arrested and can prevent many types of terrible diseases that such a spreading infection can create.
Why bind the wounds with a bandage? The bandage keeps the wound clean once it has been made antiseptic by the alcohol. It also permits the body to more easily allow the blood to clot, for if it were not bound, the free flow of the bodyís lifeblood out the open wound could result in the personís death.
That the Samaritan used medical knowledge to render assistance to the Jew is unquestionable. That Jesus was teaching everyone in Israel and all subsequent generations that the Samaritan used alcohol and oil as medicines is also beyond doubt. But here is the faith-building aspect to the story, Jesus sanctions and commends the Samaritanís actions as being "compassionate". Then Jesus tells us to "go and do the same."
Do the same? In what way, what are the "same" actions we are told by Christ to do? First, to show compassion on our neighbors. But surely that would include providing medical assistance, and medicines, in order to demonstrate that same compassion. This would be as close to "doing the same" as would be humanly possible.
Second, we are to do the same as the Samaritan with regard to being compassionate on those who are different from us. Our neighbors are those who are the saved of Godís family and the unsaved who have yet to accept His salvation.
Now Jesus does not tell us whether the Jew in His story lived or died. It was just a story that served as an example for us to follow of godly behavior. Nonetheless the point is that God is still sovereign and will determine the ultimate outcome and will determine who lives and who dies regardless of our actions. But the man full of faith will do as Jesus commanded and show compassion by rendering medical attention (using medicines) and, according to the story Jesus told, will even pay others to continue that care. The man full of faith will go and do the same.
Jesus Gives a Small Place of Honor to Physicians
When the Pharisees saw this, they said to His disciples, "Why is your Teacher eating with the tax collectors and sinners?" But when Jesus heard this, He said, "It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick. But go and learn what this means: 'I DESIRE COMPASSION, AND NOT SACRIFICE,' for I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners." Matthew 9:11-13
Jesus in this short speech does not deride the multitudes for seeking help from physicians. Indeed, He states a truth, "those who are sick" are the ones "who need a physician". God desires compassion for the sick and the sinner, such as the Samaritan showed to the Jew. God has not withheld the physician from those who are ill just as He has not withheld Himself from the sinner who needs a savior.
The Woman with the Issue of Blood
In Luke 8:43 we read that a woman with a disorder that caused her to issue blood, apparently in a very uncontrolled fashion, came to Jesus. Unlike the Good Samaritan, this is no parable, this is history. The woman was incurable by the physicians and doctors of her day. Not daring to touch the Master (for she would have been unclean by Jewish law due to the issue of blood as directed in Leviticus 15:18-31), she touched His garment and was healed immediately, ending her 12 year trial.
What was the response of the Lord? Did Jesus express anger that the woman had been to see the physicians and doctors of her day? Quite the contrary. Jesus was pleased that she recognized His sovereignty in faith. We are not told that He asked the woman to repent of having seen doctors or seeking medical aid. He did compassionately heal her, just as He instructed His disciples to do to others, though admittedly, many of His disciples were limited to human tools such as bandages and medicines, nonetheless, these are tools that He Himself sanctioned.
What Jesus Did Not Say
Please take note of what Jesus never said. It is nowhere recorded that Jesus said, "do not seek medical assistance for yourself, nor provide medical assistance to the helpless". Why is this important to note? Because where there is no biblical command against something, such as medicine, there is also no penalty or accountability to God for doing that thing. Consider this principle of "no law means no sin" with regard to the following verses about the Old Testament Law:
"for the Law brings about wrath, but where there is no law, there also is no violation." (Romans 4:15).
"for until the Law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law." (Romans 5:13)
Where there is no law, there is no violation, and therefore, no sin is imputed. If it is not pushing the principle too far, we can understand this to mean that where there is no explicit commandment condemning an action (in this case the action is seeking medical attention) then there is no violation of the law.
Had Jesus, or any of the apostles or prophets, created a law by commanding us to not seek medical treatments, then we would have such a command written into the Scriptures and it would be a law indeed. However, since the canon is complete and because there is no command to avoid medicine and medical treatments, we are free to seek such therapy without danger to our faith and without danger of being trapped in sin.
One might well theorize, "but is it not demonstrating more faith to forgo medicine and allow the Lord alone to heal you?" It is always commendable that one would like to be more faithful than he was the day before. However, it must be noted that since the use of medicine is not sinful, and is not forbidden by Scripture, and since there is no penalty for using medicine, then we must conclude that we may freely use medicine as an act of faithfulness IF we are grateful to God for it.
"For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with gratitude; for it is sanctified by means of the word of God and prayer." (1 Timothy 4:4,5)
God created the human mind. God created the body to heal itself most of the time, and, at other times to need compassionate help from others. God created knowledge and the knowledge of medicine. Far from being an act of faithlessness, receiving from God human medicines and medical knowledge, if it is sanctified by means of our grateful prayers and is aligned with Godís Word, is good and is therefore an act of true faith.
At the same time we must also recall the words of our Savior, "go and do the same", show compassion to others, provide medical assistance to the injured, sick, and helpless, use medicine as needed. To disobey that command does place us in peril and makes the strength of our faith suspect.
Other New Testament Endorsements for the Use of Medicine
Timothy Uses Medicine for His "Frequent Ailments"
Paul was Timothyís spiritual father and mentor in the Lord. Paul, who had the Spirit-given ability to heal other menís maladies freely and to validate the gospel with miracles, signs, and wonders says something utterly astonishing to Timothy.
"No longer drink water exclusively, but use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments." (1 Timothy 5:23)
Here, again, it is unambiguous that Paul means for Timothy to use wine as an internal medicine. Ponder the use of the words "for your frequent ailments". Some have argued that Paul was giving Timothy an alternative to the polluted and bacteria-ridden water supply of the day, thus proposing that the wine was not being used as a medication. And yet, Paul does not say to stop drinking the water, he says to use wine and water "for your frequent ailments" as well as "for your stomach". In other words, Timothy had both frequent ailments and he had stomach problems.
Why would wine help your stomach or aid in fighting the unidentified "frequent ailments"? Wine contains alcohol (else how could it make one drunk?). When ingested it does have medicinal properties. When mixed with water, it kills water-born bacteria similar in manner to antibiotic solutions used to purify the sterile injectable liquids (diluents) by which some pharmaceuticals are delivered. Red wine (in quite modest quantities) also is well documented in clinical studies as having beneficial effects on the heart and arteries, similar to the medicinal blood thinning effects of aspirin.
Still, the more revealing question is: Instead of telling Timothy to use wine as a medicine, why did Paul not simply heal Timothy? Why did Timothy not seek the Lord for healing? Why did Timothy not ask Paul to heal him? We cannot answer such questions for the answers are not given to us in the Word, and attempting to answer the unanswerable leads to foolish speculations.
For purposes known only to the Lord, God chose not to miraculously heal Timothy of his stomach problems or his frequent ailments. In light of the fact that Timothy was left in a condition of ailments, what Paul did do for Timothy was an act of righteousness. Paul offered Timothy compassionate aid. Paul told Timothy to use wine as a medication for his frequent ailments that were not going to be healed supernaturally.
Did Timothy get relief as a result of this wine-as-medicine therapy? We do not know. All we know is that Paul found it good and proper to include a statement to Timothy to seek relief from his frequent ailments through the use of a little wine which functioned as medicine. This same instruction the Holy Spirit saw fit to preserve for us as Scripture. Was Paul a man of faith? Was Timothy a man of faith?
Pray to God for healing, yes, but do not miss out on the fact that God also permits the compassionate use of medicine for our "frequent ailments".
Luke Was Known as "the Beloved Physician"
Luke is given the title "the Beloved Physician" in Colossians 4:14. This was no reference to his work in the past. Titles in the New Testament were given as a matter of recognition to current activities, professions, and gifts. Consider Philip the Evangelist, Paul the Apostle, Agabus the Prophet. That Luke continued to practice medicine, in obedience to the command that Christ gave to his disciples to "go and do the same" (imitating the righteous deeds done by the Good Samaritan) is all but certain. It is also all but certain that Luke was a man of faith.
Jesus is the Great Physician
Many of Godís faithful servants have rightly pointed out that Jesus is called the Great Physician. They feel that if one were to resort to human medicine or human medical knowledge that such an act will deny Jesus of His title before men. I humbly offer that this is a misunderstanding of the concept. Jesus did heal menís bodies while He lived on the Earth. In heaven, He continues to heal menís souls.
That Jesus is the Great Physician is undeniable. However, resorting to the compassionate use of medicine on Earth does not deny Christ His sovereign title, nor does it demonstrate a lack of faith in Christ. Whether supernaturally, such as the manner in which the woman with the issue of blood was healed, or by the touch of human hands, as Jesus illustrated with the example of the Good Samaritan, God still controls the outcome. A bird does not fall from the sky without His decree (Matthew 10:29). We cannot add one day to our lives by our actions or our worry. By using the gifts, the minds, the talents, the kindness, the compassion that He bestows, we never rob God of His sovereignty or His glory. Every act of man, be it an act of compassionate healing, or an act of overt murder, is only granted its earthly outcome by consent of God. No man dies except that God permits it. No man is healed and lives except that God wills it (James 4:15).
Consider that Jesus is also called the Wonderful Counselor. Does this mean we would deny Him His due if we sought counsel from other believers? The fact is that we would be denying our Lord if we did not seek counsel from others, for He has commanded us to do so (Proverbs 15:22). In fact the word "admonish" in Romans 15:14 is "noutheteo", the Greek word from which Jay Adams derived the title of his Bible-only counseling ministry, Nouthetic Counseling. The Wonderful Counselor Himself has commissioned us to act as counselors to one another on Earth.
Jesus is also called the Great Shepherd. And yet, we still have pastors who shepherd us on Earth (Ephesians 4:11-14). This does not steal any glory from God. Again, this is the way that God has taught us, indeed commanded us, to behave. He is the perfect example, we are the imperfect imitators. And imitate Christ we must, for this is what we are commanded to do (1 Corinthians 11:1).
Jesus is the Great Physician. He has called us all to be good Samaritans and care for the physical wounds (and the spiritual wounds) of our neighbors with the compassionate use of medicine and medical knowledge. We will not heal others perfectly, God alone does that. We will not counsel others perfectly. God alone does that. We will not shepherd other perfectly, God alone does that. But we are compelled by His Word to try. To not try is to deny Him, to be unfaithful, and to be uncompassionate.
Old Testament Examples of the Use of Human Medicine
Oil as Topical Medicine
In Isaiah 1:6, the rebellious of the Lord are said to be sick, bruised, and wounded, lacking bandages to bind the wounds and lacking oil to soften the wounds and the welts. By this reference we know that oil was commonly used during the Old Testament era as a medicine for keeping wounds soft. Keeping wounds soft prevents them from cracking open and once again becoming susceptible to bacteriological infection.
God Commands Hezekiah to Use Medicine
Hezekiah was about to die of an infection, even the prophet Isaiah foretold his death. But Hezekiah petitioned God with prayer and tears, and God granted him another 15 years of life. The mechanism of Hezekiahís healing was a simple medicine applied to the infected area, which was done by the very command of God through the prophet Isaiah.
Diagnosing and Preventing the Spread of Leprosy
The infection of skin leprosy was greatly feared in ancient Israel. While today leprosy has been virtually eliminated from the planet due to the use of antibiotics, it was a terrible disease for thousands of years. No effective medications or restorative treatments were available. However, an elaborate diagnostic procedure and the subsequent quarantine protocol were presented to the Israelites in great detail in Leviticus 13. While the diagnostic and outbreak containment protocols were not treatments, they are certainly a display of medical knowledge that were endorsed and instituted by God, in other words, a practice of medicine.
Physicians in the Bible
Job Knew About Doctors
As early as Job 13:4, physicians as a professional group are mentioned in the Bible. Job is generally held to be an historical record of a faithful man who lived just prior to Abraham. While Jobís friends did not make "worthy" physicians (a term of sarcastic criticism leveled at his friends by Job given his friendsí faulty counsel and their poor understanding of God and His ways), it is notable that Job knew that such men as "physicians" existed. Job did not denigrate the profession of physician, he accused his unknowledgeable friends of being poor ones.
Jeremiah Knew About Medicine and Doctors
Similarly, Jeremiah 8:22 speaks of skin medicines (balms) and healers (physicians). Here, God is saying that you can use all the medicines and healers that you like, but the infirmity of the spirit being described is not physical, so no human ointment or doctor is going to help the patient. The fact is that Israel had turned to idolatry and her heart was wicked and sinful and spiritually diseased. Once again it should be noted that God did not forbid the use of balms (medicines) nor decry the presence of physicians, but rather He was stating that you cannot heal the spirit with medicines for the body. Sin can only be "healed" through repentance. Central to our discussion is the fact that God felt comfortable comparing a sin condition to a disease and human physicians to God as the Healer. If Israel had no physicians or medications then the comparison would have had no meaning to the ancient Jews.
Expatriated Jews Made Use of Egyptian Physicians
Joseph had the Egyptian physicians embalm the body of his father (Genesis 50:2). Why would physicians be embalming dead bodies instead of healing the injured and sick? Most likely the Egyptian physicians did both healing and body preservation, even for the Jewish expatriates. Healing and body preservation are each facets of the profession which lent increased skill and knowledge to each other. One who studies dead bodies can learn from that experience and apply the knowledge to healing so as to prevent death.
Strong Drink / Wine as an Anti-depressant
In a very controversial (and hotly debated) passage of Scripture, alcohol is described as being inappropriate for kings and rulers, but is recommended to ease the pain and anguish of the dying. Assuming this passage can be taken to mean exactly what it appears to say, then the administration of alcohol as a form of anti-depressant is sanctioned by the Bible.
[Note: this passage should not be taken as a contradiction to or an exception regarding the numerous and clear passages that identify drunkenness and alcohol addiction as sins.]
As in the New Testament, the Old Testament also demonstrates that the Jews and even the Egyptians used medicine (balms, oils, and wine) administered by physicians. These earthly medicines cannot heal the spirit of sin, but they are able to be used compassionately to treat the broken and diseased body. Treatment received gratefully does not guarantee health, for the sovereign God controls the outcome of all treatments, but it does permit us to obediently exercise compassion to our neighbor, our fellow Christian, and to our family members. God nowhere forbids the use of medicine, but He does demand our compassionate care for the ill.
James 5--Is This Passage a Prohibition on Medicine and Doctors?
Of great concern to those who desire to be faithful to all that the Word of God commands, is James 5:13-20. From this passage some find the foundation of a philosophy and the subsequent tenets of that philosophy. It must be well understood that no two churches likely will ever believe quite the same thing about the philosophy of faith healing, however, I have done my best to generalize the most common of those tenets.
The passage under consideration is James 5:13-20.
13. Is anyone among you suffering? Then he must pray. Is anyone cheerful? He is to sing praises.
14. Is anyone among you sick? Then he must call for the elders of the church and they are to pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord;
15. and the prayer offered in faith will restore the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up, and if he has committed sins, they will be forgiven him.
16. Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.
17. Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the earth for three years and six months.
18. Then he prayed again, and the sky poured rain and the earth produced its fruit.
19. My brethren, if any among you strays from the truth and one turns him back,
20. let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.
Some issues and questions arise which need to be addressed regarding how the tenets of faith healing are derived from this passage. I will provide a brief summary of them here. My goal is not to "debunk" faith healing, nor to damage the sincere faith of those who have passionately embraced this passage, but rather to demonstrate that not all the assumptions found in the above tenets (or philosophy) of faith healing can be derived from a proper interpretation of this specific passage.
Where does illness come from?
All illness is a result of the sin of Adam and Eveís rebellion in the garden. In fact, animal death itself was first introduced into the world as a direct outcome of Adam and Eveís sins (Genesis 3:19). That was the introduction of the general concept of illness. Prior to sin, there was no illness, no curse, not even thorns and thistles, and no animal ever died. After sin was first committed, all beasts, every animal, and all humans become ill, get old, and eventually die. Through the unrighteous act of one man, sin and death entered the world to afflict all flesh (Genesis 3, 1 Corinthians 15:21).
Animals do not sin. Animals always do the perfect will of the Creator. They do not always do the perfect will of their human owners, but they always do what God directs them to do. As perfectly obedient creatures, it is interesting to note that they still become ill, and they still suffer the same fate as all living things--they die. They become ill not because they commit sins, but because the curse on the Earth mandates that all living things are subject to the rules of the curse: thorns will grow even in the fields and gardens of the righteous; all the faithful of the family of God will become old and worn out (Isaiah 51:6); and all animals and humans will be subject to illnesses.
Jesus told us that the man born blind was "ill" not because he sinned and not because his parents sinned, but that God could display that the Son is the Light of the World.
Not to put too much emphasis on this one historical event, please permit me to point out some obvious, and not so obvious understandings from the entirety of Chapter 9.
Where does illness come from? God is the one who invoked the curse on the Earth after Adam and Eve sinned. And God attributes to Himself the reason that men are born with infirmities.
When Job was first accused by Satan, God called him the most blameless and God-fearing man on the planet. And then God allowed Satan to take away his family and his fortune, but in all this Job did not sin.
In Chapter 2 of Job, God again calls Job the most blameless and God-fearing man on the planet. God then permits Satan to strike Job with illnesses, of which Satan chose boils (bacteria-filled skin infections) from his head to his feet. Job was now a very ill man, riddled with infection all over his body, and yet, he was the most blameless and God-fearing man on the planet.
God is the one who brought to Job his adversity, or so claims Job. Was Job correct? After all, Satan is the one who struck Job ill. However, the Bible says that "Job did not sin with his lips" when he identified God as the true origin of his ills. In other words, Job correctly realized that God is the One who is sovereign and that Satan is only capable of doing what He permits.
Job received his illnesses not because he sinned, but because he was so blameless that Satan wanted to make an example of him by destroying him and his faith. God, of course, wanted Job to grow from the experience; to learn that He was an entirely sovereign God who did not answer to men, giving out prosperity as well as adversity. And as Romans 8:29 tells us, all things, good an bad, work together by Godís design to make us "conform to the image of Christ". Through adversity we grow to be more like Christ. This is the very lesson of James 1:1-4.
More Reasons for God Bringing Illness to Men
For what possible reason does God bring boils, illnesses, lameness, and blindness to men? In Paulís specific situation, it was to bring Paul to the point in his life where he realized that he needed to be saved by Jesus Christ, the Messiah. On the road to Damascus it was God Himself who struck Paul blind.
It is interesting to note that Paul remembered this great lesson about Godís way of bringing men to repentance. When Paul was confronting Bar-Jesus (the false prophet also known as Elymas) Paul attributed to God the fact that Bar-Jesus would be struck temporarily blind.
As one final example of God demonstrating His authority over sinful man, we need to look at Jacob. God came to visit Jacob during Jacobís time of anxiety and fear. Instead of accepting Godís comfort, Jacob wrestled with God all night, finally giving in to God only when He touched Jacobís leg, dislocating his hip at the thigh. After that, Jacob walked with a limp. We are never told whether he ever fully recovered from that limp.
It is God who actually brings affliction and adversity. Not to torment men, but sometimes to save them from their sins and sometimes just to bring glory to Himself. He made the blind man sightless not because the man sinned but so that Jesus might heal him so that the works of Jesus might be shown to the world through that man. He allowed righteous Job to be covered in boils so that Job, and all men who read of his story, might learn more about Godís sovereignty. God is also the One who struck Paul blind so that Paul might be saved and become an apostle, and He is also the One who struck Bar-Jesus blind. God also purposely caused the dislocation of Jacobís hip, causing him to walk with a limp, as a life lesson that God keeps His promises to men (and oft times even through men) even when man is too fearful and frail to believe it.
God is love. God is merciful. God is also the potter and we are but the clay. He molds us to accomplish His secret plans. His secret plans bring Him glory, even as they mold us to be conformed to the image of His Son. Consider the words of the Psalmist.
Is it true that to become well again, the sick person must first repent of their sins?
During their ministry together, John and Peter were going to the temple to pray. They walked past a crippled beggar who was soliciting passers-by for money (Acts 3:1-10). This man expressed no faith in Jesus. This man expressed no repentance for his sins. This man did not even ask the apostles to heal him. Nonetheless, Peter healed the man. Is healing always the natural outcome of repentance, and, is repenting always required before one is healed of illness? No, not according to this historical Scriptural account. And the reason for this is because not all illness is a result of the sick person having committed a sin.
Please consider this second example from Scripture that gives us knowledge that illness is not always the direct result of the sick personís sin, and that repentance is not itself always the immediate cure for illnesses. Luke 5:17-26 tells us that a crippled man was brought to Jesus. Instead of healing the man, the Lord forgave his sins. But the man was still lame. After using the forgiven man as an object lesson to the crowd (and one of the lessons is that forgiveness and healing are two separate miraculous events), the Lord did indeed show compassion on the manís physical body and He did heal the man. But it must be noted that before he was healed, just after Jesus made the man sinless by forgiving him his sins, even though the man was completely sinless and blameless for that moment in time, he was still in the throes of his debilitating illness. He was still lame until Jesus also healed him. Even though he had been forgiven, he still needed to be healed. Forgiveness and healing are two separate miracles. One can, and does, occur without the other.
Ponder Acts 5:15b,16. "Öthey even carried the sick out into the streets and laid them on cots and pallets, so that when Peter came by at least his shadow might fall on any one of them. Also the people from the cities in the vicinity of Jerusalem were coming together, bringing people who were sick or afflicted with unclean spirits, and they were all being healed." It is arguable that many of these ill people were converts to Christianity and that this is why there were healed. However, it must be noted that even those who had evil spirits were being healed. Since it is not possible to be sealed and owned by the Holy Spirit of God and also be dominated by demons (both the words "possession" and "dominated" mean to be "conquered and owned by"), we know that at least some of these people were not yet even Christians. Without even so much as a personal saving faith in Christ, and certainly without expressing repentance for sin, all these people were healed. All. God is capable of compassionately healing the sinful sick and the righteous sick. Healing is not always based on the degree of faith one has or on how sinless one is.
This principle, that the sick and demon possessed were often healed without having a saving faith in Christ is also spelled out in Matthew 8:13 when the Roman centurionís servant was healed, not on the basis of the servantís faith, nor on the basis of the servantís repentance, but on the basis that the Roman had compassion on his servant, and that Jesus also had compassion on them both. Again, in Matthew 15:22-28, a Canaanite woman sought out Jesus on behalf of her daughter. We do not read that the daughter sought Jesus, nor expressed any faith, nor even repented, only that the mother sought healing on behalf of her daughter. Just as sickness is not always caused by a personís own sins, healing is not always given on the basis of the ill personís faith or repentance.
That said, we must be careful to note that James 5 does indeed warn that some illness is truly a result of publicly displayed sin. Therefore, it is necessary for every sick person to evaluate their life and repent of the sins they find within themselves. It is for this reason that James 5:15 says that if the man prays and if he confesses his sins, then his sins will be forgiven him. While we saw that Scripture does not support the theory that all sin is a result of the sick person having sinned, and that even the unrepentant sinner can be (and in truth almost always are) healed, some illness is the result of publicly displayed Christ-defaming sin. As an ill person, it is always good medicine to search your heart and root out any sin. This alone may not guarantee your recovery from illness, but it will guarantee your forgiveness from your sin.
Is not Paul an example of a faithful man acquiring "a bodily illness"?
Paul is yet one more example of when an illness is brought upon a man, not necessarily as a punishment for sin. He is also an example of how the illness will not be lifted just because the man is repentant and has a strong faith. I am not here referring to Paulís "thorn in the flesh" since that passage is hotly debated as to whether Paulís thorn was a bodily ailment or a reference to his persecutions.
Rather, I am calling to mind Paulís own comments regarding his vision.
but you know that it was because of a bodily illness that I preached the gospel to you the first time; and that which was a trial to you in my bodily condition you did not despise or loathe, but you received me as an angel of God, as Christ Jesus Himself. Where then is that sense of blessing you had? For I bear you witness that, if possible, you would have plucked out your eyes and given them to me. (Galatians 4:11-13)
Whether Paulís eyes were damaged as a result of the beatings he encountered, or whether they became infected (bodily illness) and therefore damaged his vision is not fully understood. But the Galatians expressed a desire to give Paul their own eyes if only that had been possible (today, that may well have been a possibility).
Further evidence that Paulís eyesight was permanently damaged due to bodily illness at Galatia is given by Paulís own words. "See with what large letters I am writing to you with my own hand." (Galatians 6:11). Paul is verifying that the letter is his, even though he could not have written anything but the greeting due to his failing eyesight. Why does large handwriting indicate failing eyesight? I myself have had near perfect vision my entire life, but as I have aged, my close-up vision has failed. When I make notations to myself, I must use large handwriting so that I may read my own notes at a later date without my reading glasses. Paul is here indicating to the very Galatians who knew and loved him that while he could not author the entire letter in his own hand, he was relying on someone else to write down his words (probably Sosthenes, 1 Corinthians 1:1, or Tertius, Romans 16:22) and that they could believe the contents of the letter because he had signed the greeting himself. The greeting, of course, was in large handwriting because that is how the visually challenged often write to compensate for degraded vision.
What lessons do we learn from Paulís struggles with his vision? That even those who healed others could succumb to "bodily illness" which can result in lifelong disability. Noting that Paul recovered from his beatings, wounds, and cuts at the caring hands of the Galatians who nursed him back to health, but that he suffered permanent vision loss as a result should provide all the faithful believers with understanding that illness happens as part of Godís own plans and is not always the result of personal sin and is not always miraculously healed through repentance or faith. Who among us had more faith than the Apostle Paul, who healed others freely, who saw the resurrected Lord, and who personally authored more than half of the New Testament? And yet, this man of faith, through bodily illness, had to rely on scribes to be his eyes and hands through the remainder of his life.
Is it the strength of faith that obtains a miraculous healing for the one who is sick?
This point does not need to be belabored. We saw from previous biblical examples that God does not always heal the man full of faith while at the same time He does heal the unsaved, the newly saved, the soon to be saved, and those who were only looking for a hand-out.
If all these people with their different levels of faith (and lack of faith) are healed from their illnesses, then what does James 5:16a mean when it says that "the prayer offered in faith will restore the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up"?
How many of the great men of God have died over the centuries? All of them. And all men alive today will also die, almost always due to acute illness or the illnesses related to aging. If James 5 were a guarantee that righteous men need only pray for healing and they would always be healed, then we would have a crisis of faith on our hands; for everyone gets ill, and everyone dies. In other words, if James 5 is a guarantee that the truly righteous will always overcome illness, but we still see all the faithful get sick and die (as they actually do), then no man in the past 2000 years has had "true faith", and that ought to scare us, or, it ought to make us question whether we properly understand James 5.
The plain reality of this phrase in James 5 (the prayer offered in faith will restore the one who is sick) is that it is tied to the context of the entire passage. And the context is wrapped around the expression, "and his sins will be forgiven". This concept of repentance and forgiveness is repeated at least three times in just a few verses of this short passage.
It is my personal belief that this phrase, indeed this passage, is all about the specific instance of when a personís illness is supernaturally brought about by God as punishment for their gross public sins. In those instances only is this a guarantee of both forgiveness as well as recovery. How do you know if your illness is caused by God as penalty for unconfessed public sin? You do not know. It is for this reason that every time you are sick, it is good and proper to call the church elders to administer oil (quite likely this means medicine, but we will not press this point), hear your confession of public sins, and pray with you while you repent.
Why would you confess your sins to the elders? Because all public sin requires public repentance. Consider the most famous of biblical examples in this regard. 1 Corinthians 11:30 tells us that many of the church members were weak, sick, and dying because they participated in the communion service by acting like selfish pigs with regard to the food at the "breaking of bread" and therefore dishonored God. This is a public sin that requires a public repentance. This is also one of the few instances in the Bible where a personís own sinful behavior is identified as the root cause for their illness.
I do not believe that James 5 is a blanket promise of recovery for all illnesses all the time. The context of the passage strongly argues against such an interpretation. It is best to understand this passage in the light of unconfessed public sins. If God is indeed punishing you for such a public sin that you have previously refused to confess, then, as a result of being punished you confess it and repent, God will forgive you the sins, but will also restore your health.
Even here we need to offer a word of caution. If your illness is merely the ordinary consequence of an unwise or sinful act (for example many promiscuous men and women will contract venereal diseases and even HIV/AIDS as a natural consequence of their sordid behavior) then we should not expect that God will remove those illnesses from us. Those illnesses we brought on ourselves naturally, and God is not obligated to take away all the hardships we bring on ourselves on the basis of our silly and foolish actions. Such diseases as AIDS are not generally supernaturally imposed illnesses, they are the expected outcomes of doing dangerous and unhealthy activities. Just as one would not expect God to be obligated to restore the health of those who purposely ride motorcycles without helmets and other safety equipment, so we should not expect God to be required to restore the health of immoral men who knowingly take risks with their health in order to "have fun".
James 5 must be properly considered in light of supernaturally imposed illnesses that are meant to call attention to our need to repent of public sins committed against God in front of the world and His church. Only in such situations, does God guarantee us forgiveness and a healthy restoration. Of course, this restoration need not be instantaneous, as immediate healing is not expressly stated in James 5, only that the repentant one will be healed.
Does James 5 actually contain a command not to seek medical attention for illnesses?
On the day I wrote this portion of this article, I had a conversation with a pastor from a world famous charismatic television and missions ministry. He confided that he had converted from a traditional cessationist perspective to embracing a doctrine of active spiritual gifts, including miracles and faith healing, due to his personal experiences.
I asked him to articulate the experiences that caused him to change his doctrine, and subsequently his lifestyle. He related that a woman had been having a poor recovery from repeated heart attacks in spite of the medicines and expert care she was receiving, and the doctors concluded that she would probably die very soon. When he entered the hospital room, the woman was on a respirator and was gasping for air. He reached out and took her hand, and she immediately began breathing again. Within three days, she had recovered enough to return home. Her doctors wrote on her official medical chart that it was "a miraculous recovery."
The second significant experience the minister had was when a friend of his arrived at a car accident scene. The woman had been trapped in her car for over an hour while the rescue workers labored unsuccessfully to free her with the jaws-of-life device. His friend just walked up to the remains of the car, reached into the breach, and simply pulled the woman right out.
Nearing the conclusion of our conversation, I asked him, as one who felt he had the spiritual gift of healing and was actively employing the gift in his ministry, whether he would ever counsel someone to forgo medical care or treatment for any reason. He fairly well exploded that he would never urge anyone to avoid obtaining medical attention. "It is Godís choice", he said, "whether He will provide a miracle or not. He gave us brains to think with and doctors for the normal operation of life on this earth. Pray for healing of course, but if He chooses to withhold miraculous healing, it may be because He wants to use a doctor to accomplish His will in restoring you to health."
It is that same sentiment that I would echo. Pray for healing, even for miraculous healing, but do not hesitate to gratefully partake of all the provisions God has compassionately granted to us via His great mercy: godly intelligence, holy knowledge of His creation, medicines similar to those used in the Bible, the hospitality of critical care centers, the compassion of believing doctors and nurses. God is the one who gives such persons the gift of understanding injury and disease, similar to that displayed by the Good Samaritan. To toss these gifts aside as if Godís good provisions on this earth had no value should cause one to examine their heart to determine if they are indeed demonstrating proper joyful thanks back to the Creator for all He has created.
Many who have read James 5:13-20 have concluded that this passage is a commandment that forbids Christians to seek medical help when they are ill. A closer examination of the plain meaning of the text may help the sincere believer to see that this passage contains no such command. For the purposes of this exercise, we will assume that the word "sick" properly means "to be ill", though in all fairness, we must also admit that this same word can mean, "to be wearied"; as in "to be wearied in spirit from sin".
When reading James 5, look closely. There are no words in it that say, "do not seek medical assistance". Nor are there any words that insist, "medicine is for the faithless". Instead, you will find that the passage encourages the faithful believer to take action. These actions are:
The prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much. Such as permitting God to forgive you when you prayerfully repent in righteousness. Prayer can also be the mechanism of humility that God uses to permit someone to become repentant and subsequently healed of the punishing illness.
Notice that the passage does not say that the healing has to be instantaneous. Nor does it say that you may not seek a physicianís skills after being prayed for by the elders. Nor does it say that the elders cannot administer medicine. Far from being a prohibition against medicine, this passage is an affirmation that prayer is effective, and that the sick person and the elder church members are admonished to "do something".
Will the person be "restored"? We know that the prayer of the repentant will never be ignored by God. So the person wearied from sin, will be forgiven and their standing with God will be restored, every time.
Will the person be "restored" to physical health? Without prayer, we should have no expectation that God will permit physical healing. He says, "you have not because you ask not" (James 4:2). When we do pray, every prayer we pray is to be humbly couched in the words, "if the Lord wills" (James 4:15). We do not command God, we serve Him. We can ask, should ask, and must ask for healing for our infirmities. Nonetheless, if the Lord wills, we will be healed of our physical infirmities; if the Lord does not will, we will be healed in spirit only.
Does this understanding contradict what appears to be a firm promise in James 5:15? Does the passage not say that the one who is made to be ill by God because of their public displays of unconfessed and unrepented sin will be healed? Yes, it does say that, and if we were to take this one passage away from all other Scripture, such an interpretation would stand. But this passage does have a context. It is married to James 4, which is all about God lending breath and life to those He wills, and our plans must always acknowledge that only He gives life, salvation, and health. James did not write only verse 15, he wrote the entire letter. Before he ever penned verse 15 (promising healing), he first wrote that God is sovereign and all manís desires and prayers are subject first to that sovereign will. Yes, God will restore the health of the sick when they repent and when righteous men pray, but only if it fits within His secret plan for the world to do so; if the Lord wills.
Summary of James 5
Whatever else you take away from this passage, take time to meditate on the fact that this passage in no way forbids seeking medical aid. It demands that we first call upon God when we are ill, and that we share our burdens with the elders of the church who must also pray. But God does not end His compassion there, and He does not utter any command that compels us to take no further action. Nor does this passage demand that all healing must occur via a miracle. If God wills, He may use a doctor, a nurse, a drug, and the healing touch of time (which He also created for our benefit) to "restore" the one who is wearied and sick.
Scope of the Use of the Gift of Healing in the New Testament
In the New Testament the gift of healing was something more than we expect of the gift today. We saw already that many times the person being healed had no part in the healing; they did not always pray, they did not always seek Jesus, they did not always get saved, they did not always repent, they sometimes possessed no faith, yet they were healed.
Beyond that, many times the person with the gift of healing had the ability to heal everyone and anyone. Consider the following passages that indicate that all were healed by the gifted. Not some, but all. I often wonder what the lesson ought to be for us today from these passages regarding our expectations of those who presently acknowledge they have the gift of healing?
The news about Him spread throughout all Syria; and they brought to Him all who were ill, those suffering with various diseases and pains, demoniacs, epileptics, paralytics; and He healed them. (Matthew 4:24)
When evening came, they brought to Him many who were demon-possessed; and He cast out the spirits with a word, and healed all who were ill. (Matthew 8:16)
But Jesus, aware of this, withdrew from there. Many followed Him, and He healed them all (Matthew 12:15)
for He had healed many, with the result that all those who had afflictions pressed around Him in order to touch Him. (Mark 3:10)
Also the people from the cities in the vicinity of Jerusalem were coming together, bringing people who were sick or afflicted with unclean spirits, and they were all being healed. (Acts 5:16)
God was performing extraordinary miracles by the hands of Paul, so that handkerchiefs or aprons were even carried from his body to the sick, and the diseases left them and the evil spirits went out (Acts 19:11,12)
"Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. Freely you received, freely give. (Matthew 10:8)
Just what should we expect from those who today have the gift of healing?
It is my sincere hope that you have come to understand how it is that God uses human medicine in His sovereign plan for the faithful, showering compassion on His creations and commanding that they do the same to one another. Why then continue writing? What else is there to say? In the following section I wish to illustrate how we actually use human medicine in every day life with no-one, believers or unbelievers, considering such use to be a demonstration that God is not in control. While these examples are not strictly from the pages of Scripture, they are valid in so much as they touch every one of us on a regular basis.
Common Examples of Everyday Medicine that Reminds Us that God is Sovereign
Why do mothers constantly admonish their children to wash their hands before they eat? Because kids get their hands dirty in the most awful ways imaginable. Eating with dirty hands makes kids sick, and washing them keeps them healthy. In fact, a medical doctor who instructs men in the methods of biblical counseling (instead of psychological counseling) once told us that hand washing was the single greatest act of medicine as it prevents the most common and damaging of viral and bacterial infections from invading our bodies.
Hand washing kills bacteria and germs. It is preventative medicine. Killing germs that can kill us is the purpose of hand washing. This does not deny God, nor does it deny faith. Truly, God can always bring about any manner of illness He thinks will mold us and bend us into conformity with the image of His Son. But as far as God has put it upon us to be good stewards of our bodies and our children, we will continue to require them to wash their hands and kill those bacteria and to destroy those viruses.
This is also why women have traditionally washed their dirty dishes. If they did not sanitize them, but served a hearty dinner on them still covered with the stinking rotting refuse from previous nutritious meals, illness would certainly be the outcome. Bacteria can double its colony size hourly in the right conditions. Anyone who abuses their body, their health, or their family by intentionally serving food on bacteria-laden dishes, is not being loving or compassionate; and they are certainly not wise. So they wash their dishes to destroy the bacteria and preserve their good health.
Destroying bacteria is the same thing and the only thing that antibiotics do. The only difference is that antibiotics kill bacteria inside the body. It is not a bad thing to kill the dangerous forms of bacteria, in fact, as we have seen, it is the right thing to do. In a similar manner, using alcohol, penicillin, garlic, or a sulfate to kill harmful bacteria that has entered the body through a cut or through the mouth is not simply wise, it is loving and compassionate. It is what Jesus taught us to "go do".
Even through the use of bacteria-killing medicines (wine, garlic, sulfates) God remains in control and sovereign. Will the patient survive? Only God knows and only God controls the outcome. But have we done His will? Have we acted compassionately and in love? Have we done all that He has enabled us to do? That is the test of faith.
When bacteria get settled into teeth, the infection wears away the hard surface of the tooth. After a prolonged invasion (assisted by our enjoyment of the perfect bacteria-growth medium: sugar) a hole develops exposing the nerves of the tooth and causing substantive pain. This is a cavity. The typical cavity is nothing more than an untreated bacterial infection.
In the normal course of living, we think nothing of going to the dentist and having the tooth "healed". This is most often accomplished by drilling away the infected areas and then filling the gap with an amalgamation of metals and glue. Once the nerves are again covered and the bacteria is removed, the pain ceases.
Why would we view this type of medical procedure as being any less offensive to God than curing a sick loved oneís bacterial infection of the lungs with antibiotics? Are we not commanded by God to be compassionate and to use medicines for the purpose of saving life and reducing pain?
One of the fondest memories we have of true love and true compassion is when the Galatians are said to have desired to give Paul their eyes if it would have alleviated Paulís own medical shortcomings. They would have, if only they literally could have. That was not hyperbole, they would have done it.
Today, just such things can be done within certain limits. The most common forms of eye disease, near and far sightedness, can be easily remedied with eyeglasses. A doctor of optometry gives your eyes an examination, and when needed, fits your eyes with corrective lenses that bend light to improve your vision. And no one else had to give their own eyesight to make this happen.
Eyesight preservation is medicine. Eye doctors are physicians. Even the angel speaking to the church at Laodicea (Revelation 2:18) says to buy eye salve (we know this was meant in a spiritual sense, though it again highlights the truth that God is not antagonistic toward medicine). If our eyes are valid objects of medical attention, should not the rest of our bodies be also?
Summary of Life Lessons
Could not God always prevent our dirty hands from causing illnesses? Yes, but He has chosen to allow the natural world to operate. Could not God always inhibit soiled dishes and spoiled food from causing life-threatening infection? Yes, but He has clearly chosen not to do so on a routine basis forcing us to rely on our good sense and human initiative.
Could God heal every believer of eye disease such that none would need corrective lenses? Yes, but He has chosen instead to provide for us eye doctors and the ability to create precision equipment to measure and grind lenses that will also correct our deteriorating vision. Why would we discard Godís compassion as if it were unfit for us?
To reject all those things that God has freely given us by which to remain healthy so that we can continue to serve Him and His people is unwise and demonstrates a certain lack of appreciation. Perhaps an illustration would be helpful.
During a raging flood a man filled with an unquestioning faith that God is in control and has showered His love on him, prayed. He prayed that God would spare His life from the raging flood. With utter confidence that God would answer this prayer and with utter contempt for the dangers of the flood itself, the man waited for the Lord instead of fleeing his doomed house.
After the flood water rose three feet, the man knew his faith was being sorely tested. When a row boat came by, his neighbor was at the oars and called out, "Neighbor, would you like a lift to dry land?" The man confidently called out, "No need, God will save me from this flood."
After a night of continued heavy rains and rising water, the man was forced to climb to the second story of the house. While the man was yet in morning prayer, a river patrol raft came by and the officer called out, "Sir, do you need assistance?" Again the man replied, "No need, God will save me from this flood."
By evening the man had made a retreat to the roof, not once questioning that God would save Him from the flood. Suddenly, a helicopter appeared overhead. The pilot motioned for the man to get into the rescue basket. Withstanding this third test of his faith, the man motioned that he had no need for the rescue. The pilot went on to search for other flood victims.
After the man drowned in the flood, he stood before the Lord and sobbed, "Lord, why did you not save me from the flood? Was my faith not strong enough or my prayer not sincere enough?" Filled with compassion for His child, this dear saint, the Lord replied, "My son, I did hear your prayer, so I sent you a row boat, a raft, and a helicopter. Why did you not gratefully accept my provisions for your safety?"
God has been compassionate on His people. He could save us from every illness by supernaturally cleansing our bodies of all disease, all infection, and all maladies. Yet, we know that He has also granted us rowboats, rafts, and helicopters in the form of medicines, doctors, and medical knowledge. If we choose not to use them we dare not blame God. He is the one who has provided the means of escape. He has never forbidden us the use of those things that we are supposed to thankfully use (1 Timothy 4:4,5).
Permit me again, dear believer, to entreat you to consider that God has told us to do the same as the Samaritan--be compassionate, render medical assistance to the ill, use medicine to show our brotherly love, and bind the wounds of the injured to show Godís love to the world. When we permit our own children to die from simple infections for which God has provided the remedy to both pagan and believer alike, is this faith? Would God be pleased in our stewardship of His family and His blessings? Are we acting as His humble servants or displaying our own sinful arrogance when we demand that God heal a person supernaturally instead of in the manner that Paul counseled Timothy, use a little medicine for your frequent ailments?
God is sovereign. He can, and sometimes does, heal supernaturally. However, it is a sinful generation that demands supernatural signs from God before they will obey (Matthew 12:39). As we pray for restored health, we are obligated to first obey the Great Physician, the Wonderful Counselor, the Good Shepherd, and heed His voice when He says, "Do as the Samaritan, show compassion, put medicine into the injury, bind the wounds, and tell others to go do the same."
Please, "go do the same."
Addendum -- Godís Sovereignty in Affliction
The One forming light and creating darkness, Causing well-being and creating calamity; I am the LORD who does all these. (Isaiah 45:7)
Is it not from the mouth of the Most High That both good and ill go forth? (Lamentations 3:38)
The LORD said to him, "Who has made man's mouth? Or who makes him mute or deaf, or seeing or blind? Is it not I, the LORD? (Exodus 4:11)
For You formed my inward parts; You wove me in my mother's womb. (Psalm 139:13)
Before I was afflicted I went astray, But now I keep Your word. (Psalm 119:67)
It is good for me that I was afflicted, That I may learn Your statutes. (Psalm 119:71)