|From the TeachingtheWord Bible Knowledgebase|
Part twelve (final) of a series. Read part eleven.
To understand that the prosperity gospel's teaching on healing is false, let us see from God's Word what is true.
We cannot leave the subject of the prosperity gospel and its falsehoods concerning physical healing without further considering the nature of our God, and His willingness to heal according to His sovereign will. Let me submit to you six points from the Scriptures that are key to a proper understanding of Divine healing.
1. We Do Not Need a "Faith Healer"
First, we do not need a "faith healer" to obtain Divine healing any more than we need a confessional booth and a human priest to obtain forgiveness of our sins. Believers in Christ have the privilege of going directly to God the Father through the intercession of God the Son, to whom He has given all authority in Heaven and on Earth (Matthew 28:18).
Hebrews 4:14-16 encourages us to bring every need before Him:
Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses [Greek asthenia, which speaks among other things of the weakening influences of illness and disease], but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need [more literally, well-timed grace].
Note also the vital truths in this connection that we find in Galatians and Romans. In both places the Holy Spirit declares the Christian's unique position through our adoption as the sons of God. In Galatians 4:6 we read:
And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, "Abba, Father!"
In Romans 8:15 we read:
For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, "Abba, Father."
A careless examination of these two passages might lead us to see a contradiction. Who is doing the "crying out"? In Galatians, the Spirit is crying out, "Abba, Father." In Romans, the believer is crying out, "Abba, Father." But there is no contradiction or paradox here (or anywhere else in God's Word). What, then, is the explanation? We have it in the next verse, Romans 8:16 -
The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God...
We, together with the Spirit, cry out, "Abba, Father." The Holy Spirit further explains this for us in verses 22 and 23:
For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now. Not only that, but we also who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body.
Here is the explanation: We cry out to God because we are still living in these sinful decaying bodies in this sinful decaying world. This world under the curse is not an easy place to live in, and it is not getting any easier, especially for the adopted sons of God. We are no longer at home here. Our citizenship is in Heaven.
And then we are told this in Romans 8:26 -
Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses [Greek asthenia, which speaks of the weakening influences of illness and disease - the same word that appears in Hebrews 4:15]]. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.
Here is the picture: When we cry out to God for His mercy - whether in fear, in need, in desperation, or in the deepest praise - in all these times of crying out, God the Holy Spirit is uttering the cry with us. God the Holy Spirit is enabling and energizing that crying out. We cry out to God under the interceding power and authority of God the Holy Spirit. That is why the Apostle Paul exhorts us in Ephesians chapter 6 to be "Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit". That phrase speaks of prayer as an act that emanates from within us, by the instrumentality of the Spirit of God.
How does that work? In the next verse of Romans 8 the Apostle Paul tells us this:
Now He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God.
"He who searches the hearts" speaks of the Lord Jesus Christ. There is a dual intercession of God the Son and God the Holy Spirit on behalf of the believer in Christ. God the Holy Spirit intercedes for us with God the Son. The Spirit articulates the things that we cannot articulate. The Spirit cries out for us, and with us. The Spirit enables us to articulate our own crying out. Jesus, the One who searches the hearts, the One who knows what is the mind of the Spirit, therefore makes intercession for the saints with the Father according to the will of God.
And it is because all of this is true that we come to the glorious statement in the next verse, Romans 8:28, that "we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose." It is because of all this that we are told a few verses onward in Romans 8:31 and 32 -
What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?
And then yet a few verses onward in Romans 8, we are told that nothing in the entire created order, and nothing in the entire spiritual realm, can separate us from the love of God in Christ:
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written: "For Your sake we are killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter." Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Indeed, "What then shall we say to these things?" We have no need of a sinful human faith healer when all three persons of the Trinity are active on our behalf as we "come boldly to the throne of grace."
2. God Is In Charge of the Timing
This brings us to a second point: If it is God's will to heal, He is in charge of the timing. In Luke 8:43 and following we read of a woman whom Jesus healed who had suffered uncontrollable bleeding for twelve years. In Luke 13:10-13 we read of our Lord healing a woman who had been a cripple for eighteen years. Doubtless both women - and likely many others among those Jesus healed during His earthly ministry - had long prayed for God's deliverance. But it came at the perfect time to cause rejoicing in the recipient and to bring unique glory to God. And so we have our Lord's exhortation:
Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. Or what man is there among you who, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in Heaven give good things to those who ask Him! (Matthew 7:7-11)
The verb tenses in these verses are, more specifically, "Keep asking...keep seeking...keep knocking." As the Holy Spirit puts it through the Apostle Paul, "Pray without ceasing" (1 Thessalonians 5:17). Christians can and should pray on such a basis and with such an attitude, not only about matters of healing, but about all things. The Holy Spirit through the Apostle John gives us this further instruction:
Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to [the sense of the Greek is "in submission to"] His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we have asked of Him. (1 John 5:14-15)
3. In Most Cases God Uses Ordinary Means
Thirdly, in most cases God uses ordinary means - the natural order He has created - to accomplish His purposes, including the healing of disease. The epistle of James is a very practical book dealing with many aspects of the Christian life. We find one of its over-arching themes in chapter one, verse seven: "If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him." Among the many aspects of Divine wisdom presented in this book is God's use of His created order in the healing of the sick:
Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil [Greek elaio, olive oil] in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save [Greek sozo, deliver] the sick, and the Lord will raise him up [Greek egerei, cause him to recover]. (James 5:14-15)
Here we find the very practical combination that should govern the Christian's approach to all disease: the use of natural means God has fashioned into His created order, coupled with the "prayer of faith" appealing for the exercise of His merciful power. However, this passage has long been twisted - over many centuries by the Roman Catholic church and more recently by prosperity gospel charlatans - to promote the sale of "healing oils" to the vulnerable at great expense.
This brings us to a question: Exactly what is the oil in James 5:14? It is ordinary olive oil.
Olive oil is mentioned in James 5 as well as several other New Testament passages related to healing. For thousands of years mankind has used olive oil, applied topically or taken internally, for medicinal purposes. The list of healing uses is quite extensive. Olive oil has strong anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties. It is used in stroke prevention and to protect against heart disease. Some 21st-century studies indicate that olive oil helps mitigate symptoms of Alzheimer's disease and helps control diabetes. Olive oil is known to help treat rheumatoid arthritis. It is used to relieve digestive difficulties including gallbladder disease and jaundice. Olive oil has long been used to treat skin infections and insect bites. Regular intake of olive oil has been linked to improved bone density in women and the elderly.
This is not to suggest that olive oil is a universal medicinal remedy prescribed in Scripture, but it surely indicates God's intention that human beings use their knowledge of the resources our Creator has placed at our disposal to treat and cure sickness and disease.
Jesus used the same word elaio, olive oil, in the parable of the good Samaritan in Luke 10:33-34: "And when he saw him, he had compassion. So he went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine..." The same word appears in Mark 6:13-14 where the disciples "went out and preached that people should repent. And they cast out many demons, and anointed [Greek eleiphon, which speaks of medicinal anointing here as in James 5:14] with oil [elaio, olive oil] many who were sick, and healed them."
It is also noteworthy that whenever the New Testament Scriptures speak of ceremonial anointing, a different word is used - myrou, signifying an expensive fragrant oil. See, for example, Matthew 26:7-12, Mark 14:3-4, Luke 7:37-46, Luke 23:56, John 11:2, and John 12:3-5.
4. God May Also Choose to Act Supernaturally
Fourth, the Biblical directives to employ natural means do not in any way limit God's ability, according to His purposes, to employ what our finite minds would term super-natural means in healing - that is, operations outside the laws that govern His created order. In both the Old Testament and especially in the New, we repeatedly see God acting supernaturally in extending mercy to the afflicted through a special demonstration of His power. We see this most notably in Jesus' public ministry in the Gospels, and also in His ministry through the apostles in the book of Acts. What we find are manifold Divine purposes converging: God miraculously extending mercy to an afflicted individual through a visible demonstration of His power to operate outside the limits of the created order, which at the same time serves the purpose of authenticating His spokesmen and accomplishing glorious purposes among those who witness such exercises of Divine power.
Does God still heal supernaturally today? My wife and I knew a lady about forty years ago in our home church at the time, who was diagnosed with a brain tumor that would involve complex, high-risk surgery. A variety of scans and neurological tests repeatedly confirmed this diagnosis. The congregation began to pray fervently for her. When the doctors performed a final set of scans before surgery, the tumor was gone, and with it the symptoms that had afflicted her. The doctors could offer no natural explanation for her recovery, and God's people rejoiced with her.
In January 2013 I suffered a massive brain hemorrhage twenty-four hours after complex neurosurgery. I was still in the hospital intensive care unit but lapsed into a deep coma. By God's mercy two leading neurosurgeons rushed to my aid, and performed brain surgery in the ICU bed because there was no time to move me to an operating room. They later told me that I was only minutes from death. During their surgery I went into cardiac arrest but was revived. I was transported to a shock trauma center at another hospital for further tests and treatment. During a brain scan at that facility my heart stopped again but I was revived. Additionally, I contracted severe pneumonia. The doctors expected that it would be months before I could speak, think, and walk properly, and I would likely spend months in a rehabilitation hospital. But two weeks after these events I went home from the hospital (on a walker) and never entered rehabilitation therapy. In two weeks I was walking on my own. In four weeks I was beginning to write new material for TeachingTheWord's Bible Knowledgebase once again. In six weeks I was driving a car. The neurosurgeons termed my recovery "miraculous" - inexplicable by normal means. When I went for followup with another neurosurgeon who had not seen me before, he looked at my records and the scans of my brain taken during the crisis. He said, with great emphasis, "You should not be here. You should not be alive." Was it a miracle? I cannot say with certainty - only God knows - but the indications are that it was.
And yet I can point to countless others in similar circumstances to the lady in our church or my own experience, whom God did not heal. This brings us to our next consideration.
5. God's All-Wise Plan Governs Healing
Fifth, God may allow or prevent sickness for many reasons. Many, if not most, of those reasons remain unclear to us this side if Heaven, except in the most general terms. But there is much we can discern from the pages of Scripture.
In this series we have already noted the case of the Apostle Paul, whom God chose to leave in the grip of a physical infirmity. Paul's words are worthy of note once again:
And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure. Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. And He said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness." Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christâ??s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:7-10)
On the other hand, we have the account of Jesus' healing of a man blind from birth, in John chapter 9:
Now as Jesus passed by, He saw a man who was blind from birth. And His disciples asked Him, saying, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" Jesus answered, "Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but that the works of God should be revealed in him. I must work the works of Him who sent Me while it is day; the night is coming when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world." (John 9:1-5)
In Acts chapter 9 we find two cases in which God used Peter as his instrument to bring about supernatural works that caused many to turn to the Lord:
Now it came to pass, as Peter went through all parts of the country, that he also came down to the saints who dwelt in Lydda. There he found a certain man named Aeneas, who had been bedridden eight years and was paralyzed. And Peter said to him, "Aeneas, Jesus the Christ heals you. Arise and make your bed." Then he arose immediately. So all who dwelt at Lydda and Sharon saw him and turned to the Lord.
At Joppa there was a certain disciple named Tabitha, which is translated Dorcas. This woman was full of good works and charitable deeds which she did. But it happened in those days that she became sick and died. When they had washed her, they laid her in an upper room. And since Lydda was near Joppa, and the disciples had heard that Peter was there, they sent two men to him, imploring him not to delay in coming to them. Then Peter arose and went with them. When he had come, they brought him to the upper room. And all the widows stood by him weeping, showing the tunics and garments which Dorcas had made while she was with them. But Peter put them all out, and knelt down and prayed. And turning to the body he said, "Tabitha, arise." And she opened her eyes, and when she saw Peter she sat up. Then he gave her his hand and lifted her up; and when he had called the saints and widows, he presented her alive. And it became known throughout all Joppa, and many believed on the Lord. (Acts 9:32-42)
6. Two Truths We Must Keep in Balance
Finally, whenever we consider the subject of healing, we must keep two truths in balance. They are represented by these passages:
Yet I considered it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus, my brother, fellow worker, and fellow soldier, but your messenger and the one who ministered to my need; since he was longing for you all, and was distressed because you had heard that he was sick. For indeed he was sick almost unto death; but God had mercy on him, and not only on him but on me also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow. (Philippians 2:25-27)
For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain. But if I live on in the flesh, this will mean fruit from my labor; yet what I shall choose I cannot tell. For I am hard-pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better. (Philippians 1:21-23)
In matters of God's sovereignty over sickness and healing, and over life and death, we must keep in balance the truths that God may, on the one hand, extend mercy by healing someone of serious illness. But on the other hand, God's merciful purpose may be best served by causing a believer "to depart and be with Christ, which is far better." He will, in the end, do this for every one of His dear children.
We must look to the Lord for the wisdom to understand His workings. "He was sick almost unto death; but God had mercy on him." "To be with Christ is far better." May we look to our all-wise God for wisdom to see the difference in each case. "If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him." In the context of the book of James, this encompasses matters of disease and healing. As the Holy Spirit tells us through James later in chapter one,
Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning. (James 1:17-18)
In matters of healing, let us continually remember that the Father upon whom we call, through the intercession of the Son and the instrumentality of the Holy Spirit, is the Giver of every good and perfect gift - in life and in death.
For none of us lives to himself, and no one dies to himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. Therefore, whether we live or die, we are the Lord's. For to this end Christ died and rose and lived again, that He might be Lord of both the dead and the living. (Romans 14:7-9)
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