Our attitude towards illness and healing
We all experience ill health from time to time! What should be our attitude about it? Does God promise good health? Will He always answer prayers for healing?
Healing In The Early Church
The gift of healing was evident in the early Church (1 Cor. 12:9,28,30), and when crowds gathered around Peter, Stephen, Philip, Paul and Barnabas, the sick were healed. Even when they were touched by Peter’s shadow and Paul’s handkerchief or apron, they were healed (Acts 5:15-16; 19:11-12). Dorcas and Eutychus were brought back from the dead (Acts 9:36-42; 20:9-10). Everybody knew about these healings and were astonished (Acts 4:16; 8:13).
In this context Luke wrote: “The apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders among the people” (Acts 5:12 NIV). And Paul asserted that such “signs, wonders and miracles” characterized the apostles (2 Cor. 12:12). They helped to confirm that the gospel message was divine (Acts 14:3; Heb. 2:3-4), and that the apostles were empowered by the Holy Spirit. In particular, the Jews were more likely to believe something associated with a miracle (Jn. 4:48; 1 Cor. 1:22). How else could the apostles prove that Christ had sent them? These miracles confirmed the gospel message.
When God’s People Get Sick
I’ve heard people say that Christians should never suffer illness because Jesus has already suffered for us. They are wrongly using Isaiah 53:5 and 1 Peter 2:24, because these verses tell us that the Lord suffered for our sins, not our sicknesses. Let’s look again at the New Testament epistles to see what they say about healing today.
Paul wrote this to those in Galatia: “As you know, it was because of an illness that I first preached the gospel to you. Even though my illness was a trial to you, you did not treat me with contempt or scorn” (Gal. 4:13-14). Paul, the man that God used to write much of the New Testament, suffered illness. This shows that godliness did not keep him from getting sick, nor will it keep us from getting sick.
After he saw a vision of heaven, Paul wrote: “To keep me from becoming conceited … there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of 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’” (2 Cor. 12:7-9). The Lord didn’t heal Paul of his “thorn,” which may have been an eye disease (Gal. 4:15; 6:11). God does not always heal us either.
Paul left Trophimus, a coworker, sick in Miletus (2 Tim. 4:20). And he wrote this about another coworker, Epaphroditus: “He was ill, and almost died. But God had mercy on him, and not on him only but also on me, to spare me sorrow upon sorrow” (Phil. 2:27). Here we see that healing is a mercy, not a promise that we should expect or demand.
In the case of Paul and Epaphroditus, while their spiritual condition was good, their physical condition was not so good. This shows that healing does not depend on the strength of our faith or the lack of it. Paul prayed three times about his “thorn,” and then accepted it. God doesn’t remove all our pain, and He doesn’t fix everything. In fact the Bible promises suffering for believers (Jn. 16:33). We should pray like Christ: “Father, if You are willing, take this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Yours be done” (Lk. 22:42).
Paul told Timothy to “stop drinking only water, and use a little wine because of your stomach and your frequent illnesses” (1 Tim. 5:23). Timothy was often ill, maybe because of a weak stomach, so Paul’s advice was to use a little wine. He wasn’t told just to pray about it, but to do something. And wine was a commonly prescribed medical treatment to help heal stomach ailments.
Paul wrote to Gaius: “I pray that you may enjoy good health and that all may go well with you, even as your soul is getting along well” (3 Jn. 2). It seems as though Gaius was not well physically. Paul prayed that his physical health would match his spiritual health.
We can see the following four things from these examples: sickness is not necessarily a result of one’s sin; we can’t gauge a person’s spiritual state from his physical state; if a person isn’t healed, it’s not due to a lack of faith; and no promise of physical healing is given to the Church. Although we should pray for healing, there is no guarantee that healing will come. After all, if the Lord doesn’t return to rapture us, we will all eventually die.
Confession Of Sin
James wrote this about sickness and sin: “Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray for 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” (Jas. 5:14-16).
This passage connects physical sickness, prayer, sin, forgiveness and healing. Was this person sick as a direct result of some sin? The elders were called to pray over him anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. As oil was traditionally used to dedicate people and things to God’s service (Ex. 30:30; 40:9), it may symbolize dedicating the sick person to the Lord’s care. People today can pray for recovery as God promises healing under these circumstances.
In Corinth, the sin of selfishness – “not recognizing the body of the Lord” at their love feasts – brought sickness and sometimes death (1 Cor. 11:30). This example links our physical and our spiritual health. For our health, we need to confess sins – such as selfishness, worry, anger, jealousy, pride and gluttony – and develop selfcontrol in these areas of our life. Selfcontrol is a fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23) and a significant aid to good health.
How God Uses Illness
The Bible gives five examples of how we can actually benefit from illness.
1. It reveals God’s power. After Paul prayed to have his “thorn” removed, the Lord said, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.” And Paul wrote, “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me” (2 Cor. 12:9). God gives strength to suffer because His power is more evident when we’re weak.
2. It helps us rely more on God. Paul claimed that his troubles “happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead” (2 Cor. 1:9). Here we see that the allpowerful God will give us the strength to endure through suffering.
3. It gives us a reason to give thanks. According to Paul, “He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and He will deliver us again. On Him we have set our hope that He will continue to deliver us, as you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many” (2 Cor.1:10-11). The Corinthians prayed for Paul when he was in trouble, and their prayers were answered.
4. It gives us experiences that can help others. Paul said that God “comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God” (2 Cor. 1:4). People are encouraged when we empathize with their situation. They see that someone understands. How we suffer illnesses can be an example for others.
5. It develops our spiritual character. Paul wrote that “we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope” (Rom. 5:3-4). Enduring sickness can develop perseverance (2 Cor. 1:6), just as exercise develops physical strength. God uses suffering to mold character and help us realize that He’s working in us.
Paul wanted to participate in Christ’s sufferings (Phil. 3:10-11). He wanted to live like Christ did. It takes divine strength to suffer for Christ. God uses illness to draw us closer to Him, to teach us lessons we would learn in no other way and to provide us with new opportunities to help others.
We have no choice about when we will experience the pain of illness and injury, but we have a choice in how we respond. To give up, complain or wallow in selfpity in tough times, stumbles weak believers who are watching us (Heb. 12:12-13). Instead, we should encourage those that are weary (Isa. 50:4) by accepting pain and sickness as being God’s will for us, and live a life of perseverance, patience and endurance (2 Th. 1:4; Heb. 12:7-11; Jas. 1:2-4,12; 5:7-11). The Bible teaches that God uses difficult times for our growth.
Lessons For Us
Although there were many miraculous healings in the early Church, today healing is a mercy, not a promise. Remember, Paul was not healed of his thorn in the flesh. When God does not heal, it’s not because of our lack of faith. Instead, He wants us to persevere in sickness and pain so that His power may be revealed, that we may rely more on Him, that there will be prayer and thanksgiving, that we can use our experience to help others, and that we can develop our Christian character.
God is more concerned about our spiritual health than our physical health (1 Tim. 4:8). This doesn’t mean that we should neglect our physical health, but as our bodies wear out, they should wear out while serving Him. Let’s get our priorities right. God wants us to be spiritually healthy, and looking forward to that time when sickness and suffering are no more.
Published May 2010