Faith and Unbelief

I want to draw this mini series on healing to a close by thinking about a passage from Matthew 17. There is, of course, much more to say about the subject of healing and this was not meant to be an exhaustive study.

One of the major questions people have is, “Why was I not healed when I asked?” Great question! Some will say that it is not always God’s will to heal, in which case, that is one possible answer. I personally don’t hold that view, but understand I am perhaps in the minority.

There are some things we can learn from Matthew 17, which says:

As they approached the crowd, a man came up to Jesus, knelt down in front of him, 15 and said, “Sir, have mercy on my son, because he is an epileptic and suffers terribly. Often he falls into fire and often into water. 16 I brought him to your disciples, but they couldn’t heal him.”

17 Jesus replied, “You unbelieving and perverted generation! How long must I be with you? How long must I put up with you? Bring him here to me!” 18 Then Jesus rebuked the demon and it came out of him, and the boy was healed that very hour.

19 Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and asked, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?”

20 He told them, “Because of your lack of faith. I tell all of you with certainty, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you. 21 But this kind does not come out except by prayer and fasting.”

Matthew 17:14-21 (ISV)

These events happen shortly after the Transfiguration of Jesus. He and the chosen disciples returned from the mountaintop to the unfolding scene described above.

A man approaches Jesus, seeking healing for his son who is described as an epileptic. He had first gone to the disciples, and the text clearly states that they (the disciples) were not able to heal the boy.

Before we dig into this, look at Jesus’ reaction… was He pleased by this turn of events? Clearly not! In fact, He had some rather strong words to say about it.

Jesus replied, “You unbelieving and perverted generation! How long must I be with you? How long must I put up with you? Bring him here to me!”

Matthew 17:17 (ISV)

Jesus was clearly not impressed with this situation. He did not react with comforting words, or reassure the disciples that it was not their fault. Instead, He rebukes them! Obviously Jesus was here expecting them to be able to minister to this young boy. If not, He would have said so – “Don’t worry lads, this was too difficult for you to achieve. I’ll have to do it myself.” No, instead He criticises them for their unbelief.

Jesus healed the boy immediately. Don’t miss that fact. He clearly wanted this person well, and delivered him from this sickness.

Verse 19 is important. The disciples ask a similar question to what we often ask, “Why couldn’t we heal him?” Or rather, “Why didn’t it work when I prayed?”

The very fact that they asked this question shows that they expected him to recover from this sickness. If they didn’t expect that, then they would have just moved on. It also shows that they had prayed for and healed others, but for some reason this time it had not worked.

What is Jesus’ answer?

He told them, “Because of your lack of faith. I tell all of you with certainty, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you. 21 But this kind does not come out except by prayer and fasting.”

Matthew 17:20-21 (ISV)

Let’s read these same verses in other translations so we get a proper picture.

The NIV says:

He replied, “Because you have so little faith. Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”

Matthew 17:20-21 (NIV)

The ESV says:

He said to them, “Because of your little faith. For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.”

Matthew 17:20-21 (ESV)

And the KJV says:

And Jesus said unto them, Because of your unbelief: for verily I say unto you, If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you.

21 Howbeit this kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting.

Matthew 17:20-21 (KJV)

So, put simply, Jesus says you couldn’t heal this boy because of “something”. This “something” is translated slightly differently in the verses above. I think the differences are critical to understanding what Jesus was saying.

The “something” is:

  • Little faith
  • Lack of faith
  • Unbelief

Let’s look at each of these in turn.

Little Faith

If this is correctly translated, then I struggle to understand this verse. Jesus says, you couldn’t do it because of your “little faith” and then says, “You only need little faith to move a mountain.” This is an apparent contradiction. On one hand, little faith is not enough and the other it can move mountains.

Lack of faith

This, if correct, makes more sense to me. Jesus says they lacked faith to heal, but points out they only need faith the size of a mustard seed to perform a miracle.

The issue I have with this is reflected in some of the comments I received in earlier blog posts on this subject.

An individual seeks prayer for healing, does not immediately receive it and is then told they “lack faith” for healing. They come away feeling condemned, unworthy and offended. It leaves them in a worse state than they were before.

Let me say this categorically. If you seek prayer for healing, and the individual or church tells you that you lack faith for it, they are letting you down and you should walk away. Such a person is not ministering to you, but judging you. They lack compassion and beyond that, I think they lack understanding of what the Bible teaches.

Am I saying you don’t need faith to be healed? Of course not, clearly having no faith in healing would prevent healing, but that is not the situation above. When a faithful believer seeks healing, they do so “in faith”. If they lacked faith, they would not come forward to ask for prayer in the first place! Something else is happening here.

Unbelief

The KJV translates this as “unbelief” rather than “little” or “lack” of “faith”.

In the Greek, we see that “unbelief” is the word – apistia – and “faith” used here as in “mustard seed sized faith” is – pistis. They are two different words – although clearly connected. This leads me to conclude that actually the KJV is probably the more accurate translation here, and even that “unbelief” is something different to little or no faith.

Many suggest that faith and unbelief are somehow mutually exclusive. If you have faith, then you have no unbelief, and vice versa. I don’t believe this to be true however, and don’t take “unbelief” to mean the same thing as “disbelief”.

In Mark 9, a man approaches Jesus seeking help. Jesus tells him not to doubt, and to only believe.

And straightway the father of the child cried out, and said with tears, Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief.

Mark 9:24 (KJV)

 

Jesus did not correct this man, saying, “You’ve got it all wrong! You can’t have belief and unbelief at the same time!” So it seems possible to me that we can both believe and “unbelieve” at the same time. That, in my mind, is distinct from “believing” and “disbelieving”, which clearly cannot be done at the same time.

I think that this man believed, but that he also had unbelief. We might use the word “doubt” instead.

It is entirely possible that we should have faith in God, and yet have doubts at the same time. We don’t question God’s existence, or our salvation, but perhaps we do have doubts about God’s will to heal, or our ability to receive. Many feel unworthy and so have faith that God heals, but doubt God heals them.

I believe that a sufficient amount of doubt can hinder our faith. So how do we deal with it?

We lack space here to truly deal with the matter at hand, but here are a few ideas of mine.

Focus on the right things

Our minds generally guide the direction of our lives. IF our minds are focused on the wrong things, then that can certainly increase our doubts. If we focus on the problem, rather than the solution, which is Christ, then we cannot help but have doubts.

If you are seeking healing, are you spending time with Jesus and understanding what His Word says about the subject? Or are you googling the symptoms you have and telling everyone how terrible you feel? Don’t misunderstand, i’m not saying you cannot talk about your problems or gain understanding of things through research, but we must try to do these things in a positive way.

Paul says in Colossi ans 3 that we must keep our minds set on the “higher things” that is, the things that are above and not on the things that are below. I’m not talking about “positive mental attitude” here, as that alone saves no one. Rather, I’m saying we should train our minds to focus on the things of God – His promises – instead of the garbage this world offers.

And finally…

What I have said over the last few posts is by no means definitive evidence of guaranteed healing. Nor was that my intention. The subject of healing is more complex than we have had time to really get to grips with .

Some of you will disagree with much of what I have said, and that’s ok. I, like all of us, am still growing and learning. If nothing else, then I hope that what you have read has given you pause for thought. If you disagree, then that’s fine, but I have tried to evidence my points from the Bible and offer alternatives to the traditional views.

I state simply that I believe God wants His people to be well. The healthier we are, the better we can serve Him. The longer our lives are, the more opportunity we have to share our faith with others. That’s not to say anyone who is sick cannot do these things, but what more could we do if we were not hampered by ill-health.

If nothing else, then please pray about these things and seek the Lord for yourself. Pray for me also, not only that I would have a deeper understand of God and His Word, but that I too may be in good health. Thank you.

Paul’s Thorn in the Flesh

I remember speaking to a man in church once who was telling me about an illness he had suffered with for many years. He believed in healing, and had even experienced a miracle in the past. For this particular illness however, he told me that it was his “thorn in the flesh.” Meaning God would not remove it from him.

I want to explore this today, and think about the interpretation of Paul’s thorn in the flesh. Many have cited it as evidence for God not always healing the sick, or rather not always wanting to.

Let’s explore the text together and see what we can find out.

So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

2 Corinthians 12:7-10 (ESV)

Why did Paul have a “thorn”?

Before we investigate what this thorn might have been, let us consider why Paul was given such a thorn in the first place. What did Paul say?

To keep me from becoming conceited because of the exceptional nature of these revelations…

2 Corinthians 12:7a (ISV)

So we see that Paul’s thorn came to him to keep him grounded. He had received such deep revelations of God, that he needed some kind of anchor to humility. Imagine having the kind of revelation needed to write the vast majority of the New Testament – to be the person who noted down the very Word of God for the church! Imagine if that was you… would you stay humble?

Earlier on in chapter 12 of 2 Corinthians, Paul discussed an individual who was caught up to heaven. A man who actually visited heaven – whether in the body or out of it, not even the man knew. It turned out that this “man” was in fact Paul himself. So not only was he receiving such incredible revelation of God’s will and purpose, he also visited heaven! Astonishing!

We really need to understand this before we claim a “thorn” of our own. Few, if any, of us can claim to have received the depth of revelation that Paul did. We ought to be very careful about claiming the same limitations that Paul faced, without the responsibility that went along with it.

Who’s messenger was it?

It is also important to understand the source of this thorn. The text clearly states that this was a “messenger of Satan.” This thorn, whatever it was, came from the enemy. The text itself does not say that God sent the thorn, although of course you can read such an implication from it. At least, many will say God allowed this “messenger of Satan” if He did not send it Himself.

I make this point because we must not read what we think the Bible say, but rather what it actually says. Many teach and accept that God gave Paul a physical thorn, and thus in some circumstances, God will not heal. But it is difficult to obtain such an understanding from these verses – in my view at least.

The text does not clearly say if God did or did not “send” or “allow” this thorn, but it does say definitively that it was a “messenger of Satan.” Nothing good comes from the enemy, and we must understand he is a very real adversary who can wreak havoc in our lives if we allow him.

That is not to say that God cannot use hardships or difficulties to bring about His will or purpose in our lives, of course, He can. I would argue that He would not choose to do so if He had an alternative. I can learn that punching the wall really hurts and that I should not do it, but I can also learn that by instruction.

So then, what exactly was this “thorn”?

In the flesh

Many say that as Paul’s thorn was “in the flesh” that it was clearly a physical ailment. There can be no question surely, that this was anything other than sickness of the body therefore. In fact, some go as far as to say that this “thorn” was Paul’s eye condition. I discussed Paul’s sight last week, and so don’t necessarily believe that Paul even had an eye condition, let alone one God refused to heal. It seems more likely to me that the damage to Paul’s eyes was as a result of his stoning at Antioch, rather than an illness.

But are there any alternative views?

Think of this example. If I said to you that “work is a real pain in the neck at the moment.” How would you interpret that? Would you think I was saying that I had injured my neck in an accident at work? No, of course not! You would understand that “pain in the neck” is just a turn of phrase meaning “annoyance” or “frustration”.

Let’s say I’d written this to you in a letter, and someone was reading it 2,000 years into the future. If the phrase “pain in the neck” was no longer in common use, then the reader might struggle to understand my meaning.

This, in my opinion at least, is what is happening with Paul’s “thorn in the flesh”.

How can I evidence that? Can the phrase be found elsewhere in the Bible, and how is it interpreted?

Here is a verse from Numbers 33:

But if you fail to drive out the inhabitants of the land before you, their survivors will become irritants in your eyes and thorns in your sides, to prick your sides and afflict you in the very land in which you’ll be living.

Numbers 33:55 (ISV)

This verse is clear, and the meaning apparent. If you don’t drive out the nations before you, then they will become an irritant and “thorns in your sides.” We all understand this is not literal – the enemy nations would not turn into physical thorns and stick in the sides of the Israeli people! Instead, we understand this is a turn of phrase, and one Paul would have been familiar with.

Similarly, in Joshua 23, we read:

know for certain that the Lord your God will no longer drive out these nations before you, but they shall be a snare and a trap for you, a whip on your sides and thorns in your eyes, until you perish from off this good ground that the Lord your God has given you.

Joshua 23:13 (ISV)

Again we see here an example of the same sort of phrase. A “Thorn in the flesh”, be it eyes or sides, is clearly meant to indicate an irritation or vexation.

So the thorn was…?

As I say above, it was clearly an irritation or frustration of some kind. The text doesn’t give much more detail than that, although it is my personal opinion that this thorn was in fact persecution.

Persecution would fit the bill because it is clear Paul was persecuted pretty much everywhere he went. He was arrested, whipped and imprisoned multiple times and nou doubt, as faithful as he was, was something hard to endure over and over again.

Paul did ask God to remove the thorn from him – three times in fact, and yet God did not. Why? Firstly, every believer (Paul included) was promised that while they were in the world, that they would have trouble (John 16:33). We should take heart knowing that Jesus overcame the world and its troubles.

Secondly, which is an extension to the first, is that God did not promise to remove persecution from us. As much as we would like it, I see no case in the Bible to suggest that we can simply pray persecution away – even with Paul’s faith and experience.

What does this have to do with the subject of healing?

In short, very little in my view. If it is your belief that Paul’s thorn was a physical illness, then I hope what I have said here at least gives you an alternative to consider.

If what I have said is correct, then actually Paul’s thorn has nothing to do with the ministry of healing and nor should it be used as a reason for “God not healing someone.”

Whatever irritations or “thorns” you are facing this week, I pray that they would be removed. And if not, like Paul, then I believe God’s grace is sufficient. Spend time drawing on that grace and being with God in whatever circumstances you find yourselves.

Is it God’s will for you to be sick?

In last week’s post called “Is it God’s Will to Heal?” I examined a number of Scriptures which I believe supported the idea that it is God’s will to heal us. While that remains my view, I don’t want to put across a one-sided view, avoiding all the other Scriptures which may contradict my point, and want to tackle those Bible verses today.

In all of this, I urge you to search out the Bible for yourself. Don’t take my word for it, or anyone else’s, study the Bible for yourself and make up your own mind.

The Source of Sickness

Last time, I spoke of Jesus’ ministry and the massive amount of time He spent healing the sick.

In Acts, we read a summary of Jesus’ ministry:

God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power, and because God was with him, he went around doing good and healing everyone who was oppressed by the Devil.

Acts 10:38 (ISV)

From this summary, we not only learn that Jesus went about doing good, and healing everyone who was oppressed, but also who they were oppressed by – the devil.

Likewise, when we read of Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” we discover its source also:

So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited.

2 Corinthians 12:7 (ESV)

I want to explore Paul’s thorn in greater detail in a future post, so won’t say a great deal here. It is certainly a Scripture that many use to support the idea of God sometimes refusing to heal. Paul’s thorn was “in the flesh” so clearly in the body right? Well, i’m not so sure about that, but as I say, we’ll pick that up in a future post.

For now though, I want to point out that Paul’s thorn, be it physical or not, was a messenger of Satan. It was not a servant of God, nor inspired by Him – it was from the devil.

This is really important because we cannot have faith to be healed if we in some part believe that it is God who made us sick.

Let’s have a look at some further verses used to dispute this.

Paul’s eyesight

I’ve heard teaching about Paul’s eyesight, and wanted to discuss it here. Some scholars claim that Paul had some form of eye condition, demonstrated by the below verses.

What then has become of your blessedness? For I testify to you that, if possible, you would have gouged out your eyes and given them to me.

Galatians 4:15 (ESV)

And:

See with what large letters I am writing to you with my own hand.

Galatians 6:11 (ESV)

The argument is that if Paul – the great apostle himself – was struck with an eye condition, then who are we to say that God wants us well?

While the above verses can be interpretted like that, I think there is another alternative. Only you can decide which you think is right.

Firstly, Galatians 4:15 where Paul said the Galatians would have given him their eyes if they were able. Clearly, this shows that Paul had some kind of affliction with his eyes. I’m not denying that sickness attacks us at times, and being in a battle with sickness is not something you should feel condemned over.

Scholars suggest that this eye affliction was caused by some ancient eye disease not uncommon at the time. But what about this:

But Jews came from Antioch and Iconium, and having persuaded the crowds, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing that he was dead. 20 But when the disciples gathered about him, he rose up and entered the city, and on the next day he went on with Barnabas to Derbe.

Acts 14:19-20 (ESV)

Just prior to moving on to Galatia (Derbe is a province of Galatia), Paul was stoned outside the city of Antioch. If he was not dead, then those who stoned him certainly believed he was. It may even be that he was raised to life after suffering this execution attempt.

How badly hurt must Paul have been? Even if raised to new life, his body would still need time to recover. God’s healing power can work instantly, but does not always. Is it not more likely that this attempted stoning was the cause of Paul’s eye problems than an ancient disease?

Scholars point at the other verse, Galatians 6:11 to show that Paul had to write in “large letters” because his sight was so bad. Perhaps that’s true, and perhaps it was the stoning rather than the sickness that caused this? But actually, the word “large” here is – pelikos – meaning volume or magnitude. And the word “letter” – gramma – meaning document, note or letter. Together these just mean a large letter, a long note, or substantial document. It does not mean large individual characters!

Timothy’s Tummy

(No longer drink only water, but use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments.)

1 Timothy 5:23 (ESV)

The wine-lovers favourite verse…!

Again, this verse is often used to suggest that if Timothy had stomach problems then clearly God doesn’t always want us well. It feels something of a weak argument to me in this case.

If you were travelling somewhere with low water quality, I might give you similar advice. Likewise, if you were sensitive to certain foods or even allergic, it would be prudent to avoid those things. I think that’s just good sense!

Maybe in this case, Timothy was so firmly convinced that it is indeed God’s will to heal, that he was deliberately drinking the water to prove the point? That is mere speculation of course, but no more so than using this verse to deny God’s will to heal.

The Old Testament

I absolutely love the Old Testament. I know many find it hard to handle, and indeed it takes some study, but it is the Bible Jesus would have read (in a manner of speaking) and without it, the New Testament would be rather thin and meaningless.

When it comes to healing and sickness, we need to properly understand the Old Testament. There are certain occasions when God inflicted sickness on people, that cannot and should not be denied. But we must understand the context first.

Some may deny that God inflicted sickness in the Old Testament, instead using words like “allowed” or “permitted” sickness. While in some cases that is probably true, there are other places where you need to bend or downright change the text to make that so – I cannot condone that at all.

In the space I have remaining, I cannot give you a detailed survey of the Old Testament and its contribution to the subject of healing. Much confusion can be cleared up by understanding the difference between the Law and Grace.

Deuteronomy 28 sets out the blessings and the curses of obeying the Law. Obey the Law, you get blessed, disobey the Law, you get cursed. Simple right? Well not exactly. Israel had made the bold claim that they could do all that God had commanded, and so He introduced the Law (see Exodus 19). This was to demonstrate to them that they were not able to fulfil all aspects of the Law, and that they needed a Saviour.

Listed under the curses, we see things like:

The Lord will strike you with the boils of Egypt, and with tumors and scabs and itch, of which you cannot be healed. 28 The Lord will strike you with madness and blindness and confusion of mind, 29 and you shall grope at noonday, as the blind grope in darkness…

Deuteronomy 28:27-29a (ESV)

Sickness is a curse. Plain and simple. For those living under the Law, they would be cursed with sickness when they broke the Law. Many of us Christians today believe this still applies.

Galatians 3:13 tells us:

Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”—

Galatians 3:13 (ESV)

Jesus took on the curse for us. We could not fulfil the Law and so Jesus did so on our behalf. The curses of Deuteronomy 28 no longer apply to us because Christ became the curse for us.

If good works could not earn us the blessing, then our mistakes now can’t take it away either. It has nothing to do with you, and everything to do with Christ.

Most of the sickness we read about in the Old Testament is a direct result of disobedience, and the curse of the Law. Without a Saviour to stand in the gap, people had to face the consequences of their own actions. Even then, God’s grace is still abundently clear in His patience in dealing with the nation of Israel.

Other examples of the curse of sickness can be found in the Old Testament:

  • Miriam’s Leprosy (Numbers 12)
  • David’s census (1 Chronicles 21)
  • Hezekiah’s sickness and subsequent recovery (2 Kings 20)
  • Elisha’s servant – Gehazi (2 Kings 5)

We could go on, but all of these examples are as a direct result of disobedience leading to punishment.  Jesus took that punishment for us, so we would not have to. God bore the pain on His own shoulders to free us from its curse.

The Old Testament may be difficult in places, but is also full of examples of healing too.

  • Naaman the Leper (2 Kings 5)
  • Elisha healing the Shumanite woman’sson (1 Kings 17 and 2 Kings 4)
  • The First Healing in the Bible, that of Abimilech (Genesis 20)

Concluding Thoughts

Again, I point out that I cannot do a complete study in this one blog post. I am simply trying to point out some of the common arguments against healing, and hopefully giving you an alternative view.

As I try to say often, don’t take my word for it! Seek this out for yourself. Study the Bible and find out what it says. If you come up with something different to me, that’s fine, as long as you can support your view from the text. Bear with those who don’t agree.

My point in this series is to help you to understand that it is God’s will to heal. Last time I drew your attention to Scriptures which support this, and I’ve tried (in this post) to address some of the other verses which may appear to go against that view.

Next time we will tackle Paul’s Thorn in the Flesh, as I think there is some confusion about this and it is often cited as a reason for God not wanting to heal.

In the meantime, pray about these Scriptures and talk to God about it. I pray you receive and stand in good health this week.

Is it God’s Will to Heal?

In my recent post – “Healing is in the Word” – I set out some of my beliefs about healing. I did not, in that post, try to explain my views with backing from the Bible. I want to try to do that over the next few posts.

As I said last time, I know some of you will not agree with my position. That’s ok. Please give me the grace to be wrong if I am. I hope to show you why I believe what I do, and if nothing else, get you to think about what you believe.

As a starting point, we must ask if it is God’s will to heal today.

I am willing

In the first chapter of Mark, we read the following account. This account is also mirrored in Matthew’s Gospel in chapter 8.

Then a leper came to Jesus and began pleading with him. He fell on his knees and told him, “If you want to, you can make me clean.”

41 Moved with compassion, Jesus reached out his hand, touched him, and told him, “I do want to. Be made clean!” 42 Instantly the leprosy left him, and he was clean.

Mark 1:40-42 (ISV)

A leper comes to Jesus seeking healing. He asks essentially what we are asking today – is it your will to heal? He does not question Jesus’ ability – in fact, that is assumed – “you can make me clean” but asks if He is willing. Before healing the man, Jesus corrects his thinking by confirming that indeed, “I am willing”.

It is never a good thing to take a single verse and make a doctrine out of it. We must interpret God’s Word in the light of other Scripture, not in the light of our experience or our pre-existing beliefs. My belief is that it is God’s will to heal, and I’ve used the above to demonstrate that. However, it could be that Jesus was speaking specifically to this man alone, and we cannot apply it to ourselves.

Are there other Scriptures we can look to?

I want you to be in health

3 John 2 says:

Beloved, I pray that all may go well with you and that you may be in good health, as it goes well with your soul.

3 John 2 (ESV)

John, speaking by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, writes that it is his will for the recipient of his third letter (Gaius) to not only prosper, but be in good health. Again, it could be that this only applies to the addressee, but it is at least another example.

Does it refer to physical health?

The word “prosper” here may make us think of wealth. While that is certainly connected to material wealth, money or possessions alone do not make us “prosperous”. How prosperous is a billionaire whose marriage is breaking down, or whose children are estranged or who has a terminal illness? Wealth alone does not make one prosperous.

The word “health” here is the Greek word – hygiaino. This means “sound,” “well,” or “whole.” We might recognise the phrase to be “safe and sound,” or “safe and well.” This word conveys that same meaning. It can be used in the sense of “sound” or “wholesome” teaching or doctrine, but is used in Luke 7:10 to refer to the healing of the sick.

And they that were sent, returning to the house, found the servant whole that had been sick.

Luke 7:10 (KJV)

John says “that you would prosper and be in health, even as your soul prospers.” This “health” he refers to cannot therefore be related to the “soul”. The “even as” part suggests that is a given, and he infers that he wants health and prosperity in other respects as well as the soul. Physical health it may well be therefore.

Gifts of healing

In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul lists a number of spiritual gifts – special endowments of the Holy Spirit given to the church for the benefit of the church.

Verse 9 says:

…to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit

1 Corinthians 12:9 (ESV, emphasis added)

So we see that some of the gifts given to the church by the Holy Spirit are for healing. And not just one “gift” but “gifts” – plural – of healing.

It stands to reason that if God did not want us well, then He would not have provided gifts of healing to us.

Elders should pray for the sick

In his letter, James writes:

Is anyone among you sick? He must call for the elders (spiritual leaders) of the church and they are to pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; 15 and the prayer of faith will restore the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up; and if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.

James 5:14-15 (Amp)

So if we are sick, we are instructed to seek the elders or leaders of the church to come and to pray for us. Again, why would we do this if it was not God’s will to make us healthy?

James not only instructs us to seek healing and prayer support from the church leaders, but in verse 15 says that “the prayer of faith will restore the one who is sick.” It is not an empty prayer, but one of power. James expected there to be results of this prayer for healing. Do we expect the same thing?

Sadly, when we pray for healing, we only “hope” it will work, and if honest, we have little expectation that it actually will.

Why? Because we are not convinced it actually is God’s will to heal. 

One of the benefits of believing

In my recent series, “All the Benefits of Believing,” I spent a good many weeks teaching on Psalm 103 verse by verse.

Verse 3 tells us that one of the many benefits to believing is:

who forgives all your iniquity,
who heals all your diseases,

Psalm 103:3 (ESV, emphasis added)

Not some of our diseases, but all of them. And the word translated as “diseases” there is the Hebrew word – tachaluw – and it means… well, diseases!

You can read more in the blog post called Trusting the Unseen.

Other Psalms also speak of the Lord healing His people. Psalm 107:20 which i discussed last week, says God send forth His word and heals them. Also, Psalm 91:9-10 says that for those who belong to the Lord, no plague will come near their tent.

Jesus’ Ministry

Jesus spent much of His ministry on Earth healing the sick who were brought to Him. There were several occasions when every single person brought to Christ was healed of whatever ailment they were afflicted with. He never turned anyone away and there were even times when just grasping the hem of His cloak was enough to release healing virtue.

It may be one thing for Jesus to go about healing people, but what about us?

Firstly, if Jesus did it, then we must understand that it was His will, and subsequently His Father’s will to heal people.

Secondly, Jesus gave that same authority to His disciples. In Matthew 10, we read:

Jesus summoned His twelve disciples and gave them authority andpower over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every kind of disease and every kind of sickness.

Matthew 10:1 (Amp)

Jesus bestowed His authority and power to heal the sick to His disciples. And they then went throughout the towns of Israel healing in the name of Jesus.

But does this apply to us? On the face of it, Jesus is clearly speaking here to the twelve disciples. The word “twelve” is present, and unless you are over 2,000 years old and a close personal friend of Jesus – you and I are not one of them.

I could not argue with this view if Matthew 10 closed there. Clearly, much of what Jesus goes on to tell His disciples is meant for them and then alone. But Jesus also widens His teaching, talking of imprisonment, beating and that ultimately they would not reach all of the towns of Israel before He returns. Returns? He had not yet left at this point! It’s clear therefore that Jesus was referring to times beyond the twelve apostles alone.

The Great Commission

I want to close this post by thinking about the Great Commission. Most of us think of the book of Matthew when we hear this phrase, and Jesus lasting command to His people to share the Gospel and make disciples of all they can.

Mark also records the Great Commission in his Gospel, and it can be found in Mark 16:

Then he told them, “As you go into the entire world, proclaim the gospel to everyone. 16 Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever doesn’t believe will be condemned. 17 These are the signs that will accompany those who believe: In my name they’ll drive out demons. they’ll speak in new languages, 18 and they’ll pick up snakes with their hands. Even if they drink any deadly poison, it won’t hurt them, and they’ll place their hands on the sick, and they’ll recover.

Mark 16:15-18 (ISV, emphasis added)

Most churches I’ve been involved in take the preaching of the Gospel very seriously – and rightly so. Very few seem to take the responsibility for laying hands and the sick, and seeing them recover.

Concluding thoughts

What I have said here is by no means a definitive argument. Many of you will rightly point out that there are other Scriptures not mentioned here which may paint a different view. I agree completely. I hope, next time, to select some of those Scriptures and examine them to see what we can learn from them.

Equally though, what I have mentioned above is just a handful of places in the Bible that suggest it is indeed God’s will to heal. I stop this post here, not because I run out of Scriptures, but because it is already long enough.

I hope that as you read these thoughts and the accompanying Scriptures, that you will consider your own position. Do I believe in healing? Do I believe it is God’s will to heal? Do I base by belief on a whole view of the Bible, or on my own experiences?

Before I close, I want to add that just because it is God’s will to heal, it does not mean it happens in every case. I am not ignorant, and completely understand that there are times when we pray or lay hands, and for some reason healing does not come. It is a tragedy when that happens, and it has happened to me too.

It does not mean that God chose not to heal that individual. It may surprise you to learn that God does not always get what He wants. But that’s a topic for another day.

For now, pray about this subject. Consider the verses here and others you know of. Seek the Lord in this matter and ask Him, “Is it your will to heal Father?”

Healing is in the Word

He sent His word and healed them, And delivered them from their destructions.

Psalm 107:20 (NKJV)

I’ve been thinking a lot about healing lately. I know it is a somewhat controversial subject for some, but it has long been a passion of mine to minister healing to the sick.

I know that not everyone believes the same thing that I do, and some believe healing died with the apostles or at least cannot be relied upon today. I struggle with this view, and in my studies feel there is a pretty strong case for healing in the Bible.

Of course there is no specific verse that says “God promises physical healing,” although that would certainly clear things up! But looking at the ministry of Jesus and taking the Bible as a whole, sickness is just not a good thing. We don’t see Jesus refusing to heal, or putting sickness on anyone, nor do we see anywhere sickness described as anything other than a curse.

I’m equally against those who say “you don’t have enough faith to be healed,” as it is not as simple as that. You can have faith for healing, and still not be healed. Having faith in it is not the only thing that counts, as our unbelief or doubt can hinder faith from working also.

I suppose my biggest struggle in this matter is not whether God’s Word does or does not say this or that, although it should be the primary issue. Instead I find myself debating our experiences. We don’t see healing, even when asking for it, as much as we would like and so we draw the conclusion that God does not heal today. Or that He chooses to heal some and not others.

I don’t want my faith to be driven by my circumstances or experiences. I want it governed by the Word of God. If the Bible says it, then it is true, no matter what my experience tells me.

An extreme view that may be, but I’m basing my life on what God has said in His Word.

As I’ve said before, I do not write this as someone who has it all figured out. I have a health issue that I have struggled with for years. But i’m not giving up…

I share the above verse today because I believe God spoke it to me just yesterday. I felt He was telling me that this verse is a life verse for me – and perhaps it is for you also?

God sent His Word and healed them. What a statement!

There is no bad way to get healed

God can heal us in a number of ways. He may very well use doctors and medicines, and thank Him that He does! Healing may come through what we would describe as a miracle; progressive or instantaneous. It may come through the laying on of hands, or the anointing with oil. As our verse for today tells us though, it may come through His Word. And there is no “bad way” to get healed!

For me personally, I’ve come to a place where I believe my healing will manifest through faith in His Word. Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with being healed through a spiritual gift (or indeed any other way), but my spirit witnesses that, for me at least, the Word is how it will come.

I’ve waited in prayer lines before and had people pray for me. Thank God for people like that. We need those with gifts of the Spirit to minister to those who do not know God’s Word sufficiently to put faith in it.

Imagine a scenario where a non-believer turns to God in the midst of a terminal illness. They may not have time to understand and meditate on the Word of God and so would need someone else to minister to them.

I praise God for those who minister to others, and we absolutely need them. The problem can be however, that we start to lean on them and put our faith in them and their gift, rather than the Giver.

Let’s say you are healed of some condition by the laying on of hands from an Elder at your church. What do you do the next time you fall ill? You can go back to that Elder and receive healing again, but what if they are away, or have moved on to a new church? Do you seek them out and track them down?

Sometimes we chase after the donkey, instead of Christ riding on the donkey’s back!

Reading this post back, I must admit it is not strictly Bible teaching… and I must hold up my hands and admit to pouring out my heart a little here. It is not my intention to convince you of my position, but rather to simply state it. Perhaps you agree, and perhaps you do not, but either way I hope this gives you something to think about.

I suppose these are things I have been pondering on for a few days, and setting them out in a blog post like this is helpful – to me if not anyone else!

I love God’s Word, and in many respects it is not possible to separate God from His Word. In recent days whenever I have asked God about healing (in my particular situation) He has repeatedly said, “Study My Word.” The answer, for me at least, can be found in the pages of the Bible. It may take me a long time to find them, but I will never stop looking.

If what I have written today has challenged you in any way, either because you totally disagree or because it resonates with some situation in your own life, then I’m glad I’ve shared it. I don’t seek to offend or upset, and I know many of you will be facing or have faced terribly difficult situations with regard to physical health.

When I have preached in recent times, I sometimes sit down afterwards and get a sense that I held back. I did not say all that was in my heart to say – and often because of the “fear of man”. I would worry what people would think, or that I would not articulate things correctly. I want to put that right. Both here in the written word and in the spoken.

Something changed in me this week, and a new determination or “grit” for want of a better term rose up in me.

I’m not putting up with sickness anymore. Not in my life, and not in the lives of my family and friends.

I do not promise miracles or instant healing, but I do promise to dig deep into God’s Word and believe it with all of my heart.

I can’t promise miracles, but I can expect them.

I will not be moved any longer by circumstances or experience. When I pray, I expect results. Because I’m so great? Hardly! But because God is! He is so great, so amazing, so wonderful that even my imperfect prayers (presented in the name of Jesus) will bring tremendous results.

Since making this commitment, I’ve felt a definite increase in resistance from the enemy. The devil is real, and will try to hinder us from making progress with God. As much as I know this, I was not prepared for the opposition I felt and did not deal with it as I should have. I’m aware of it now though, and set my mind on Christ.

Proverbs 4 tells us that God’s Word is “medicine”. I’ve never liked taking pills or medication, but I make an exception this time! A good dose, at least three times a day, and with every meal! No harmful side effects, but I reckon can be addictive!

Don’t forget to take the Gos-pill! (Terrible gag, I know!)

I remember the first time I preached the Gospel, waving my Bible at the crowd and encouraging them to read the Word. My message has not changed in all of these years. Read the Bible! Study it! It was meant for you!

God sends forth His Word and heals them – and I believe Him.

Out with the New

Whatever has happened, will happen again; whatever has been done, will be done again. There is nothing new on earth.

Ecclesiastes 1:9 (ISV)

A few years ago, we bought a new car. It was wonderful! Shiny, clean, modern, and full of the latest features. It was a real upgrade on our previous vehicle. While my wife and I are not especially interested in cars, it was fun and exciting to have a brand new one. With four “free-range” children however, and a couple of years on, it’s not as shiny as it once was!

There is something amazing about new things, we all love to get something new! And I don’t believe there’s anything wrong with that. However, I think our expectation has now stretched into the church world also. If it’s not new or exciting, then we are perhaps not as interested as we ought to be.

Every Sunday we turn up to church and expect something new. A new worship song. A new cutting edge Bible message. A new sound system or lights or fog machine. A new children’s worker or youth ministry. A new experience. A new “move of God”. Just a new way of doing things.

Some even demand a new Gospel. One that doesn’t challenge or interfere. One that presents all the blessings with none of the commitment.

In this context, I’m convinced that “new” is not all that good at all.

Someone was once asked if they worried about the parts of the Bible they didn’t understand? Their response was telling. No, they said, I don’t worry about the bits I don’t understand, but the parts I do understand but don’t do.

How often are we seeking something new to learn, when we have not yet mastered what we’ve already been told?

A new minister started at a church and preached a wonderful message on the gospel of grace. People very much enjoyed it and congratulated him. The following week, he preached almost an identical message. One or two muttered to themselves – isn’t this what he said last week? Third week, the same again, preached an almost identical message. A few more noticed and complained among themselves. The fourth week, again he preached the same message on the gospel of grace. Finally the leadership team approached him and said – “Why are you preaching the same message over and over again? The people want something different!” He replied – “Once they understand and apply this message, I can move on to something else.”

Isn’t that true? Most of us can’t remember what last week’s sermon was about, yet we now want something new and improved. Wouldn’t it be better to master last week’s topic before moving on to something else?

Whatever we need, there’s a good chance we’ll need to hear it more than once. If you are anything like me, then God will need to draw you back to the same truth a number of times before it sinks in. To be honest, there are still some things God spoke to me about years ago that i am still dealing with today.

New is of course exciting and wonderful and fresh, but sometimes we need to dig into things we have heard multiple times before to really see change in our lives.

Going to church on a Sunday should not be about getting goosebumps and being entertained. Fun though it may be, what good will it do you later that week when facing a crisis? We need solid Biblical truths that will last, wisdom found in Scripture which will show us how to live and have a real positive impact.

Solomon, in Ecclesiastes quoted above, shows us that there is nothing new under the Sun. Whatever has been done, has been done before. This search for something new is indeed futile. God’s grace is sufficient!

Am I saying church should be dull? Far from it! Have you ever met the Holy Spirit? He’s the most exciting Person I’ve ever known! Just being around Him is exciting and energising.

Church should not be a place for us to catch up on our sleep, but nor should it be blown and tossed by every wind of popular culture.

When we seek to entertain, rather than sustain, we water down the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Let’s communicate in different ways of course, but let us never hide or distort Christ for the sake of people having a good time.

Everything is a balance, and I don’t want you to think I’m saying the church should never change. We do need to reach our younger generation for they are the church of tomorrow. But we cannot do so by thinning out the truth.

If you currently find yourself bored with church, then seek the Lord and check your motivations. Are you bored because God has finished with you there and is leading you to move on? Or is it because you are looking to be entertained?

Not everything that is new is good. Seek God this week and ask Him what you really need. Perhaps a little of the old and faithful is just what you need.

The Next Generation

I had the immense privilege to become a godparent again a few weeks ago. It really is a privilege to be a godparent at a child’s baptism, and it’s my honour to pray for and support Abigail (who is far too young to read this!).

As well as being godparent, I was also asked to share a reading with the church. I didn’t choose it myself, but what a fantastic reading it was (the text I mean, not my delivery!).

I want to share it with you here, and point out a few key points.

It was from Psalm 78.

A psalm of Asaph.

O my people, listen to my instructions.
    Open your ears to what I am saying,
    for I will speak to you in a parable.
I will teach you hidden lessons from our past—
    stories we have heard and known,
    stories our ancestors handed down to us.
We will not hide these truths from our children;
    we will tell the next generation
about the glorious deeds of the Lord,
    about his power and his mighty wonders.
For he issued his laws to Jacob;
    he gave his instructions to Israel.
He commanded our ancestors
    to teach them to their children,
so the next generation might know them—
    even the children not yet born—
    and they in turn will teach their own children.
So each generation should set its hope anew on God,
    not forgetting his glorious miracles
    and obeying his commands.
Then they will not be like their ancestors—
    stubborn, rebellious, and unfaithful,
    refusing to give their hearts to God.

Psalm 78:1-8 (NLT)

The psalmist, in this case Asaph and not David, begins by encouraging us to listen to what he has to say. Perhaps there’s no great revelation in this, but how often do we not listen to important things said to us?

I will speak to you in a parable

In verse two, he uses the phrase “I will speak to you in a parable” which is an echo of Christ in the future. Jesus taught using parables, and there came a time when he would only speak to the crowds in these illustrative stories.

 His disciples came and asked him, “Why do you use parables when you talk to the people?”

11 He replied, “You are permitted to understand the secrets of the Kingdom of Heaven, but others are not. 12 To those who listen to my teaching, more understanding will be given, and they will have an abundance of knowledge. But for those who are not listening, even what little understanding they have will be taken away from them. 13 That is why I use these parables,

For they look, but they don’t really see.
    They hear, but they don’t really listen or understand.

Matthew 13:10-13 (NLT)

So we see that parables are a way to share truths, but only to those whom understanding is given.

Truths from our past

Asaph goes on to explain the importance of sharing stories from our past. He says that these stories, which were passed down orally from generation to generation, will not be forgotten.

When our daughters were born, we got them a 100-year diary. It’s a diary intended to cover a lifetime (although i’m believing they live well past 100!). As well as recording key events in life, there are sections for family members to record things – such as grandparents. This gives them (the grandparents) to share important things or just to share what life was like for them.

Imagine what will be contained in those pages after a lifetime. I imagine that diary being passed down to my children’s children so that they too will know what life was like for the generations that went before them.

It is so important that we do not lose lessons that were learned in the past. We see from history time and time again that lessons are not learned, and the same mistakes are repeated over and over.

Life does not have to be that way. We can learn from those who went before us, and more importantly have the guidance of God in our lives. We don’t have to learn by trial and error, we can seek the Holy Spirit who will show us things to come (John 16:13).

Whether parents or grandparents or neither, we have a responsibility to teach the next generation about the wonders of God

You may not have children yourself, but I don’t believe that absolves us of responsibility. We all have a responsibility to teach the next generation about the things of God. Whether that is in our own homes, with friends or family, or in our church.

In the UK, it used to be the norm that everyone went to church on a Sunday. The next generation heard the truths of God. But not so anymore. It is now the exception if you go to church on a Sunday (or any other day) and so many children now know nothing of God or his wonderous works.

Today’s Sunday schools ought to be filled with tomorrow’s church

I can’t pass over verse six without picking up that almost throwaway point about – the children not yet born. Here, Asaph is speaking of the future generations, those children who would come in the future and hopefully be taught about God and His ways.

The Bible makes many references to children not yet born, or those being knit together in their mother’s womb. Clearly  the Bible values those not yet born into the world.

This part of the psalm closes with Asaph encouraging the hearers to teach their children so that they would not be like their ancestors. As I said above, he is telling them not to make the same mistakes their forefathers made.

Because their ancestors did not learn the lessons of the past, they became stubborn, rebellious and unfaithful, and ultimately refused to give their hearts to God.

Sadly, this is true for us in the modern world. So many have not been taught the Word of God or His ways, and now many are rebellious against God altogether. Very few now give their heart willingly to Jesus.

But it’s not too late.

The result of not sharing these truths with our children is that they don’t know God. It hasn’t taken many generations for this to happen, but the good news is it only takes one generation to put things right.

As the church of Christ, each one of us can begin to share the truth of God with the children in our lives. I’m not suggesting you go up and preach to every child you see, as your authority does not extend that far. However, you can be a witness to Jesus in every situation.

For those children in your care, you can tell them how great God is. You can tell them the stories written down in the Bible and show them how they can live to please God.

If you are a Christian parent or grandparent trying to share your faith with the children in your life, or if you are a leader in a Sunday school or junior church – can I say a huge thank you! God is watching what you are doing and He is so pleased you are spending time and effort to share with the next generation. May He bless you in your work!

I hope what I have said has made you think, and encouraged you if you are working with young people. I leave you with Asaph opening words:

O my people, listen to my instructions.
    Open your ears to what I am saying,

Psalm 78:1 (NLT)

Who’s behind door number one?

Look! I am standing at the door and knocking. If anyone listens to my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he will eat with me.

Revelation 3:20 (ISV)

In my experience, the pulpits are fairly quiet on the book of Revelation. For many, it is hard to understand and lacks practical application for us to use in the here and now. I would dispute this, but I understand why many don’t venture into this amazing book.

Revelation is full of imagery and typology, and it passes most of us by. however, there is a good reason for this… we don’t know our Old Testament well enough!

Many of the pictures or images you see in Revelation can be found in the pages of the Old Testament. Most of us are not as familiar with the Ol Testament as we might be, and therefore don’t recognise much of what Revelation is pointing to.

Revelation makes a special promise to those who would study its pages:

How blessed is the one who reads aloud and those who hear the words of this prophecy and obey what is written in it, for the time is near!

Revelation 1:3 (ISV)

So if you want to get into this book, i’d suggest you begin with the first three chapters.

The first chapter gives an overview of the book, and in fact gives a clear synopsis in verse 19 of chapter 1:

Therefore, write down what you have seen, what is, and what is going to happen after this.

Revelation 1:19 (ISV)

On the point about Revelation having a practical application, you need look no further than chapter 2 and 3. many people think the New Testament only has 21 epistles (letters from the apostles) but in fact, there are 28. Revelation chapters 2 and 3 shares an additional 7 epistles written by none other than Jesus Himself.

Our verse for today picks up in one of these epistles. You may well be familiar with Revelation 3:20, which imagines Jesus standing outside and knocking on a door – just waiting for someone to let Him in so they might eat together.

It is a famous verse that is often used to describe Jesus’ attitude towards those who have yet to commit to faith in Him. Evangelists tell people that Jesus is standing outside the door of their lives, knocking to come in.

This is a nice image and not incorrect, but that’s not the context of this verse at all.

Who’s behind door number one?

The answer is the church.

It should be astonishing, challenging and humbling to us to realise that Jesus is stood outside of a church, knocking to come in. Surely of all places to find Jesus, inside a church would be one of them? Not so apparently.

In our modern world, we have somehow come to a place where you are no longer guaranteed to find Christ in the local church. Some buildings are labelled as “churches” and yet have little or nothing to do with what the Bible defines a church to be.

Some churches are social clubs; places where people gather to meet and climb the social ladder, caring little for the Word of God or His worship. Other churches bend and adapt to every whim of society, ignoring God’s standards and just going whichever way the prevailing wind takes them.

I don’t mean to be negative. And apologies if I have come across that way. I love the church, and truly believe it to be a sleeping giant. If the church were to awake, unite and stand together, we could change this world for the better. In the Bible’s many references to the end times however, there are prophecies of apostacy and the church not being what Christ intended it to be.

Let’s read Jesus’ epistle in full, and see what we can learn from it.

To the messenger of the church in Laodicea, write: The Amen, the witness who is faithful and true, the originator of God’s creation, says this:

15 ‘I know your actions, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were cold or hot. 16 Since you are lukewarm and neither hot nor cold, I am going to spit you out of my mouth. 17 You say, “I am rich. I have become wealthy. I don’t need anything.” Yet you don’t realize that you are miserable, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked. 18 Therefore, I advise you to buy from me gold purified in fire so you may be rich, white clothes to wear so your shameful nakedness won’t show, and ointment to put on your eyes so you may see. 19 I correct and discipline those whom I love, so be serious and repent! 20 Look! I am standing at the door and knocking. If anyone listens to my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he will eat with me. 21 I will give a place to sit with me on my throne to the one who overcomes, just as I have overcome and have sat down with my Father on his throne.

22 ‘Let everyone listen to what the Spirit says to the churches.’

Revelation 3:14-22 (ISV)

We’ll begin at the end – verse 22 – just to realise that what Jesus is saying specifically to the Laodicean church can also apply to us.

In verse 22, He says “Let everyone listen to what the Spirit says to the churches.” Firstly, everyone means everyone. And note the plural of “churches” at the end. This letter isn’t just for Laodicea but for all the churches listed in chapters 2 and 3, but also for all the churches – including the one you and I belong to.

Jesus is fairly scathing of the Laodicean church. And the church itself would have been totally shocked by this. They thought they were doing well, but often our perspective is somewhat different to God’s.

You may well have heard before this idea of being cold or hot, and in this case lukewarm. The challenge here is not to be like the Pharisees who Jesus had the strongest words for during His ministry. Their issue was hypocrisy. They prided themselves on being the religious leaders of the day, putting on a constant show of their “religion”. While they talked the talk, they did not walk the walk.

I believe Jesus is challenging the Laodiceans in a similar way. They claim to represent Christ in His church, and yet clearly their actions have resulted in Jesus being excluded.

Jesus would rather us represent Him truly, than to claim to be followers and act like unbelievers

An alternative view of this lukewarmness could be a mixture of grace and Law. Perhaps they were preaching grace, but restricting and forcing the church to be bound by the Law. It’s another view which you can consider.

Whatever the cause of their lukewarmness however, it had resulted in a church without Christ. That is a place we do not want to be.

I ask you to consider your own church for a moment. How does it compare to the Church at Laodicea? Is Jesus standing outside and knocking to come in?

If this challenges you, then please don’t misunderstand my point today. I am not telling you to leave your church or criticise it. No church is perfect, and if you are looking for one, you are going to be sorely disappointed.

The idea that Jesus is knocking to come in is encouraging in one sense. It means He has not given up on you. It means He still wants to join you and share with you. Leaving your church or criticising the leadership will not help. The best thing to do is open the door and invite Him in.

Reflect also on your own relationship with Christ. While these verses are clearly talking about churches, i think there’s also an application to our own personal journey with Jesus.

Do you need to invite Him in? My meaning is not in a salvation sense, but rather in fellowship. Are you a believer who has lost their way? Have the troubles of life led you to put Jesus outside? Invite Him in today, He’s right outside the door.

Receive Forgiveness

All the prophets testify to this: everyone who believes in Jesus receives forgiveness of sins through his name.

Acts 10:43 (ISV, emphasis added)

I don’t remember a time before I believed in God, but that doesn’t mean I was always a Christian. When I first started to hear about God, the truth is I was afraid. I was afraid that I wasn’t forgiven, and was really motivated by not wanting to pay for my sins in eternity – although I would have had little idea what that meant!

I remember going to bed at night asking God to forgive me for as much as I could remember. I’d go back through my day trying to recall every little thing I’d done wrong – likely forgetting most of it.

I was terrified that Jesus might return in the night, and that I hadn’t asked Him to forgive me for some thing or other. I’d ask over and over again, accutely aware of how bad I was. Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t a bad kid at all, I just felt that way when faced with the reality that there is a God who judges us.

The cycle would go on and on. I’d go about my day, make various mistakes along the way, then lay in bed at night asking God over and over to forgive me. I’d get up the next morning and do it all over again.

It was exhausting!

One day I listened to someone teaching who shared a very similar experience that they had gone through. At one time while they were repeatedly asking God to forgive them, God interrupted them to say – “I forgave you the first time you asked.”

This hit home to me.

My problem was not about asking for forgiveness, but rather about not receiving it from God

Truth be told, I had no real understanding of the cross or what Jesus had done for me. I didn’t know that God had washed me clean, and that I was a new creature in Christ. Through my ignorance of this, I just kept repeating the same request for forgiveness over and over, hoping God would be gracious enough to grant me my request.

In many ways, I was acting as though I was living under the Old Covenant as described in the Bible. I had no temple or animal sacrifice to make, but I kept coming back to the altar day after day, offering up my apologies and ever falling short of God’s glory. I was “hoping” for God’s mercy, and had no concept that it was already mine in Jesus.

Asking was not the issue; receiving was.

I don’t believe I am alone in this.

Perhaps it is not as obvious as what I am about to express, but our thought process goes something like this:

  1. We are conscious of a sin we have committed (how we have fallen short of God’s standards in some way)
  2. We ask for forgiveness
  3. If you ask us, then we’ll say that God has forgiven us
  4. We think it cannot be so easy, and so either plead our case or beat ourselves up.
  5. That “beating ourselves up” can last a few hours or days, depending on how serious the sin was (in our minds at least).
  6. Once we have “suffered” enough, or more accurately punished ourselves enough, we move on.

Does that seem in any way familiar to you?

If it does, then the Gospel really is good news for you!

The first two steps are healthy; when the Holy Spirit shows us we have sinned, it is right for us to ask God to forgive us.

Everything after that is wrong however.

If you sincerely ask God to forgive you, and put your trust in Jesus Christ, you can count on His mercy and receive your forgiveness. You don’t need to beg or plead, you can’t earn it, and all you need do is trust God.

We err when we stray into the third step and beyond.

It really is that easy! God is not making it hard for us to be forgiven. He does not put barriers in our path or frustrate us, rather He wants to forgive us far more than we want to be forgiven!

Beating ourselves up for something we have done wrong is an attempt by us to add to the cross of Christ. I’m certain we would not say that aloud, but it’s true. If we truly believed that Christ’s death at the cross was sufficient, then we would not need to add to it by punishing ourselves.

So what should we do?

He has no need to offer sacrifices every day like high priests do, first for his own sins and then for those of the people, since he did this once for all when he sacrificed himself.

Hebrews 7:27 (ISV)

This verse speaks of Jesus. Firstly, He does not need to offer a sacrifice for Himself as He never once sinned against His Heavenly Father. Secondly, because He was the perfect Sacrifice, He does not need to offer Himself over and over again. Rather, Jesus did it once and for all.

When He cried out on the cross, “It is finished!” It really was.

I don’t believe that forgiveness is something you must keep refilling on. I think it is something God gives you once and it covers you for all eternity. Christ’s sacrifice was a one time event and will never be repeated. It never needs to be.

I rarely ask for forgiveness anymore, and certainly not because I get everything right! Instead, I thank God for the forgiveness He has already given me, and rejoice in that truth.

Don’t get me wrong, i’m not saying sin is not important and that we should not deal with it. Indeed we should. When the Holy Spirit reveals to us that we have fallen short in some way, we should thank Him. We confess the mistake we made, ask for His help to not do it again and thank Him for covering us in the blood of the Son.

There’s a good chance you will sin this week… same goes for me. Instead of beating yourself up and asking God over and over to forgive you, ask just once. Put your faith and trust in Christ and move on.

If you don’t, I can guarantee that you will spend more time thinking about it than God is.

For I will be merciful regarding their wrong deeds, and I will never again remember their sins.

Hebrews 8:12 (ISV)

Truly live in freedom this week. Jesus has dealt with your sins once and for all. You are clean and free! Rejoice in that truth! Don’t spend your time asking God to forgive you, instead receive the free gift He offers.

 

To find out more about the Gospel – good news about Jesus – check out my Resurrection Sunday blog post.

Don’t Let the Sun Go Down

Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath:

Ephesians 4:26 (KJV)

In my last blog post, I began to explore the above verse and what it means. As I said last time, I’ve usually heard this taught as a call not to go to bed on an argument. Good advice this may be, but not necessarily what Paul is getting at.

We considered how the first part – Be angry and sin not – isn’t just an instruction not to let your anger get the better of you, but could also be read as a command to be angry.

You may have read this verse a hundred times in the past, and perhaps each time you read it, your brain said “Don’t let the sun go down while you are still angry…” But what does it actually say?

It says – don’t let the sun go down on your wrath. Or to put it another way, don’t let your anger ever go out and grow dull.

I know this may seem like an odd idea, as surely the Bible teaches us to be loving and not to get angry. Can it really be a command to get and stay angry?

As we explored a little last time, anger is sometimes a right response. In the event of injustice or sin, we ought to be angry. Like God, we ought to hate sin and its effects on humanity. And while our sin may result in other people getting hurt, ultimately we are the ones who hurt the most as a result of sinfulness.

To truly love the good, we must also hate the bad. We must stand against sin in all of its forms. To do that, we need a holy anger, and one that does not go out.

Am I taking this verse out of context though? Is it correct to interpret it this way? I believe it is, but understand those who may disagree.

Context is always important when reading the Bible, and we ought never to take a single verse out of its proper context and form a doctrine out of it. Falsehood lies down that path.

Scripture should be interpreted in the light of other Scripture.

For some doctrines, we need to examine the entire Bible in order to see a complete picture. Of course we don’t have time or space to do this here, but lets look at this verse with it surrounding verses to get at least a small idea of context.

Wherefore putting away lying, speak every man truth with his neighbour: for we are members one of another. 26 Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath: 27 Neither give place to the devil.

Ephesians 4:25-27 (KJV)

Verse 25 is a clear instruction to put away lying, and to speak truth to each other. This can actually be quite difficult at times. “Do you like my outfit?” or “What do you think of my new hairstyle?” More importantly, when it comes to questions of advice or big decisions, “Should I take this job?” or “Do you think I should marry them?” an honest answer is not always easy to give, and often not the answer the asker really wants to hear.

So often we seek validation from others to agree with what we have already in mind to do. To give an alternative view can be tough.

Similarly, Paul could well be talking about correcting each other in a loving way. Often we leave it to the pastor or minister to address such matters, but indeed there is a role for each of us as part of a church family.

Don’t misunderstand me, I’m not giving you permission to walk up to just anyone in church and give them a lecture about how they ought to live – we must earn that right through a trusting relationship or as a loving member of church leadership.

But we must tackle sin. We must not just get by with it. So in speaking truth to one another, there may be times when we need a little righteous anger to stir us up to confront an issue. Again, don’t misunderstand me. I’m not saying we should get angry at people; rather we should be angry at sin.

Verse 27 is short and not so sweet. Don’t give the devil a foothold. Could it be that by not following the “command” to be angry, we somehow give the enemy a route into our lives?

It is a narrow path, with ditches on both sides. Err in either direction, and you’ll end up off the road!

What i mean is this. Anger which is uncontrolled or directed at people or things, can certainly give the devil a chance to wreck our lives. How many lives have been destroyed in one single moment of uncontrolled anger? How many men and women find themselves in prison for one slip of judgement allowing their temper to get the better of them?

I’m not giving anyone an excuse to be angry in an ungodly way here.

Equally though, when we reuse to be angry at sin or to have a righteous anger, we give the devil a foothold. If we co-operate with him, the enemy can destroy our lives. If you follow every temptation to do whatever you want, to commit adultery or murder or to steal or rob, your life will come to ruin.

We need to get angry at the devil

Therefore, submit yourselves to God. Resist the Devil, and he will run away from you.

James 4:7 (ISV)

James says that we must resist the devil. Often we ask God to do the resisting, but in reality it must be us who do so. We do that through prayer, our words and our actions. But notice, submission to God must come first. There is no sense in trying to resist the enemy if you are not submitting your life to Jesus.

Likewise, Jesus said:

From the days of John the Baptist until the present, the kingdom from heaven has been forcefully advancing, and violent people have been attacking it,

Matthew 11:12 (ISV)

The kingdom from heaven is forcefully advancing…

Christians ought not to be passive, weak or downtrodden. We are children of God, and the Spirit of God dwells in us. We should be advancing God’s kingdom with passion and determination. Not in our own strength, and certainly not without persecution but always pressing on.

So, Paul tells us to be angry and to never let the sun go down on our wrath. Are you advancing or just barely holding on? Do you need some righteous anger to take a stand against the enemy and resist his influence in your life?

Ask God to stir you up. Pray that He will help you to have a controlled anger that is pointed at the right things. Renew your mind in God’s Word and learn who you are in Christ. Don’t just put up with the enemy, resist him!

Don’t let the sun go down.