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The Gift of Healing

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Question:  Hi Bob, Bob could you tell me about the gift of healing? There seems to be a lot of different opinions on it. Thanks Bob

Response:  Sure, healing is another one of those issues that has caused a good deal of controversy in the Church.

Wouldn't it be great if you or I (or somebody) had a "gift" that would allow them to heal anyone of any disease whenever they had a mind to do so? On the other hand, think what that person's life would be like! Before long, the news would get out, and they would be inundated by the ambulatory sick to the point of exhaustion (compare what happened to our Lord in a day before mass media and mass transportation: Mk.3:20-21; cf. Matt.4:23; Lk.5:15-19). And how many of these people would then actually receive Christ (considering that most did not receive Him after being healed by Him personally; e.g., the story of the ten lepers in Lk.17:11-19, and cf. Jn.6:26)? Given these practical difficulties, it is possible even from a common sense point of view to understand part of God's purpose in allowing this gift to lapse in our day. And, in fact, the lapsing of obviously miraculous spiritual gifts is indeed the rule during the better part of the Church Age:

Love never falls [into inactivity]. But whether [we are talking about gifts of] prophecy, they will cease, or about [gifts of] tongues, they will come to a stop, or [about the gift of] knowledge, it will be done away with. For when we exercise the gift of knowledge, its results are only partial. And when we exercise the gift of prophecy, its results are only partial. But when what is complete shall have come on the scene (i.e., the fully functioning Church with a complete Bible), all partial measures shall be done away with.
1st Corinthians 13:8-10

Tongues, prophecy, in fact, all of the clearly miraculous/supernatural gifts are presently in abeyance. Just as the elders of Israel who received the gift of the Spirit in order to assist Moses "prophesied" but "never did so again" (Num.11:25-26), so also in the Church there was an era of "inauguration" which included a number of gifts and miraculous events which were not meant to be repeated throughout the entire course of the Church's two millennia. They were meant to help establish the authority of the Church and to "get the ball rolling", so to speak, because, again, it is just common sense to understand that something cannot easily start from nothing. So, for example, when the day of Pentecost arrives, visible tongues of fire descend upon the assembled believers (Acts 2), but this never happens again. In fact, a mass, spontaneous out-pouring of the Spirit upon those who believe doesn't happen again either (except in the case of the first outpouring on the gentiles, again, an inaugural act: Acts 10; the Ephesian "disciples" who hear about Jesus for the first time receive this outpouring only after Paul lays hands on them: Acts 19:6). We don't hear of any of the apostles being physically transported from one place to another the way Philip was (Acts 8:26ff.). Paul's healing influence is so strong at Ephesus that mere handkerchiefs upon which his shadow had fallen were able to cure the sick (Acts 19:12), but later, this sort of thing does not seem to be happening, in fact, quite the reverse (cf. 2Tim.4:20).

Healing is, therefore, a sort of "identity card" that made it clear to the Jewish people (or should have) that Jesus had to be the Messiah (cf. Matt.8:16-17); and for the apostles, made it clear to the ignorant gentiles that this new preaching was indeed valid and of God (only He has the power to heal in a miraculous way, as is obvious to any child, though not, perhaps, to highly educated and super-sophisticated adults). However, once a community of faith exists, then unbelievers can see from the faith of those who believe, from their lives and works, can see from the scriptures they expound and distribute, can see from the truths they disseminate, that God is "truly among you" (1Cor.14:25).

On the other hand, it is possible that a truly "unlimited" gift of healing would undermine the whole issue of faith. For if we could look upon God as He really is, assuming we did not die, we would have no choice but to "believe" in the reality of Him (cf. Jas.2:19). So also in the case of healing, confronted with overwhelming evidence of the miraculous and supernatural reality of God and of His gospel message, many would be convinced in spite of themselves, that is, contrary to their natural inclination and true free will.

For this reason, it seems to me, God has always seemed to distribute the gift of healing with great circumspection. Even our Lord was hindered from at least some miraculous activity in His home town of Nazareth - not because of any inability in Him or the Father or the Spirit, but because of the lack of faith He found there (Mk.6:4-6). This indicates that the attitude of the recipients is very important in the issue of healing. Consider the case of Peter seeing that the beggar "had the faith to be healed" (Acts 14:9).

So there are at least three elements that come into play in genuine, biblical "healing":

1) the actual gift (1Cor.12:9; 12:28-30);

2) the necessity of the times (1Cor.13:8-12);

3) the faith of the beneficiary (cf.Jas.5:14-15).

All of these factors point toward the hypothesis I have been building since the beginning of this e-mail, namely, that the gift of healing is not primarily to alleviate Christian suffering, but is rather a sign and an evangelical tool for unique situations in God's historical plan. It may well be that in addition to the other miraculous events predicted during the tribulational preface to our Lord's return (cf. Joel 2:28-32) that healing will again be operative (especially in the ministries of the 144,000, I do believe this to be the case).

At the present moment, however, I do not believe that there is any legitimate healing going on in the Church (and I know for a fact that there is much flim-flam going on in the name of "healing": for example, Jim Jones of Guyana fame used fake healings to build up his base of followers). I would rejoice to find out that I am wrong about this, but no amount of desire on our parts can change the operation and administration of God's plan. He is going to do things His way for His reasons, and we would do well to consult the scriptures for help in understanding the whys and wherefores in those cases where we might wish things otherwise. I have and have had many friends and acquaintances whom I would be overjoyed to have received healing in this miraculous, intermediate way. But God does heal, after all, personally – he needs no human intermediary to do so (Ps.103:3; cf. Jas.5:13-16). God does answer prayer (Matt.7:7-12). If we have a problem with the manner of the healing, that it is not 1) tangibly and obviously miraculous coming through a third party with "the gift", or 2) is not immediate, but gradual and/or requiring a lengthy application of our faith, well, that says more about us than it does about Him. Like all other types of Christian suffering and testing, conditions which cannot be cured without God's miraculous assistance are situations that require faith, situations designed by God for us to help us build up our faith. If He answered us immediately in exactly the way we wanted and anticipated, where would the faith be in that? How would that help to build up our "muscles of faith"? But as Christians we know (or should) that "tribulation produces patience, and patience produces proven character, and proven character produces hope" (Rom.5:3-4). Waiting on Him to deliver us from disease (as indeed we wait upon Him for all deliverances) is not only the appropriate way to proceed – it contributes mightily to our spiritual growth as well:

Even young men grow faint and weary, and even youths can stumble badly, but those who wait upon the Lord will put on new strength. They will rise up on the wing like eagles. They will run and not become weary. They will walk and not become faint.
Isaiah 40:30-31

Hope this was helpful. You may also find the following links helpful:

Faith Healing.

All things Charismatic.

Jesus' Healing by Touch.

Does God use disease to discipline us?

Nimrod and Christmas trees, Tongues, and Healing.

Combating Legalism VI.

As always, yours in Jesus Christ,

Bob Luginbill


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