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.

All the Benefits of Believing

All the Benefits of Believing (ATBOB) #11

Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name!

Psalm 103:1 (ESV)

 

Read the entirety of this Psalm here.

 

This is the concluding part of our “All the Benefits of Believing” series, and I really hope you have enjoyed it and learned something.

Last week we reached the end of the psalm, and in this post I just want to summarise some of the things we’ve covered along the way.

Beginning and End

David launched into his song of praise by instructing himself to “Bless the Lord, O my soul!” Praise is not always automatic, and sometimes we need to encourage ourselves to bless God. We are human and subject to many trials, and this can sometimes mean we just don’t feel like it. We must go beyond our feelings however, not only because God deserves our worship, but because it is better for us.

Likewise, David concludes his psalm with the very same phrase – “Bless the Lord, O my soul!” These phrases act as bookends, always bringing us back to our created purpose of worshipping God. We would do well to pray in like manner, beginning and ending with words of praise and thanksgiving.

But what comes in between? David’s list of reasons to worship the Lord – the benefits of believing.

These include:

  • Forgiveness
  • Healing
  • Rescue
  • Redemption
  • Satisfaction
  • Crowning with love
  • Justice
  • Mercy
  • Grace
  • Compassion
  • Steadfast love

And the list goes on and on!

There is no shortage of things to thank and praise God for here, and I encourage you to spend some time going over the list and the psalm, and truly worshipping God. Even if you just pick one item a day and spend that day giving thanks, I’m sure you will be uplifted.

What might your list look like?

While David’s list here is extensive, your own personal list may be somewhat different. That is ok, and again, I encourage you to write one of your own. What are you especially thankful for? Perhaps a particular relationship? Perhaps your church?

What characteristics of God do you see displayed in the life of Jesus? Are there particular ones which you are especially grateful for? Read through the Gospels and find a few, then let them be opportunities to bless the Lord this week.

All the Benefits of Believing

The word “all” appears nine times in this one psalm (ESV). To me, it’s an important biblical word and not one to skim over lightly. Often we read the word, but exclude ourselves from the promise. All usually means all, which includes you. Don’t misunderstand me, I’m not suggesting you force every Scripture into a promise or command for yourself, but equally don’t automatically disqualify yourself.

We do that when we feel unworthy of one of the promises of God. As I stated in this series more than once, you are qualified not because of your behaviour, but because of Christ.

It is interesting to me that David, who wrote this psalm, was not born again and could only look ahead to the promise of Christ. Yet his words of praise are so amazing. We, who live and abide in Jesus, should not only be able to enjoy David’s words, but lift up our own words of thanks.

David could only look forward to Jesus; we can know Him personally.

I’m conscious of those of you who may be reading this and thinking, “That’s all well and good for you Andy, but look what’s happening to me!” I hear you. These are wonderful things, but for some of us, they seem like a distant hope and not for the here and now.

For things such as forgiveness or being crowned with love, it is hard to prove these in our lives. What does forgiveness look like? The crown of love isn’t a physical one, so how do we know it is there? The simple answer (but not easy one) is faith. We believe these things because they are true, irrespective of how we feel about them.

Other benefits such as being satisfied with good things may require some adjustment on our part. You may be looking at a pile of bills covered in red and thinking, “so much for being satisfied with good things…” As I said in an earlier post, we have to choose between two opposing views. Do we believe God’s Word, or our circumstances?

It is the same choice that Adam and Eve faced; do they believe what God said, or do they believe the serpent?

When we encounter a promise in the Bible that is seemingly unfulfilled in our lives, there could be a number of reasons for this. Firstly, check the promise is for you. The context will help here. Is it a promise made to the church, or to a specific person, or to the nation of Israel? Is it applicable to you?

Secondly, if it is for you, then we need to ensure we have understood it correctly. In our example above, being satisfied with good things is not necessarily a promise that you will have everything you want whenever you want it. Similarly, it may have nothing to do with your circumstances, but rather your attitude. Are you dissatisfied because you are in lack, or because you covet things that others have?

Thirdly, is the promise for now, or for the future? Some things spoken of in the Bible are not for the here and now, but for heaven perhaps or another time.

Finally, if we have properly established the promise is for us, that it is for the here and now, and that we have not misinterpreted it, the only thing left to consider is ourselves. God always keeps His promises. He will always uphold His end of the bargain. If we are not receiving, then the problem is always with us and not with the promise, and certainly not with God.

The real benefit of believing

I want to conclude the series by repeating something I’ve said more than once – but it bears saying again.

All of the benefits we have examined over the last few months are truly wonderful. There are many things to thank and praise God for, but they pale in comparison to the real benefit of believing.

The real benefit of believing is Jesus Christ Himself.

I don’t think I can say it any better than Paul did when he said:

Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ

Philippians 3:8 (ESV)

All the benefits of believing are benefits of believing in Christ. If you are without Him, then you are without any and all of these blessings.

I encourage you not just to thank God for all of these wonderful things, but to thank God for the One Who made it all possible – Jesus Christ Himself.

Jesus embodies these benefits. His made the way for our forgiveness, He is the One who redeems us, and through Him ours sins are removed.

Praise the Lord, O my soul, for all the benefits of believing in Him. Bless the Lord, O my soul, for the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord! Amen!

Trusting the Unseen

All the Benefits of Believing (ATBOB) #3

Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name!
Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits,
who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases,

Psalm 103:1-3 (ESV)

I’ve included the text from verses one to three here, but our focus today is just on verse three. So far in this Psalm we have thought a little about praise and worship, and also about using our minds and memories. The psalmist – David – begins to list out some of the benefits of believing, and he starts with two of the most amazing ones.

Who forgives all of your sins

From the very moment Adam and Eve fell in the Garden of Eden, God put into action His plan of salvation. So many times in the Old Testament do we see imagery or typology of the future Christ Who would come to die for the sins of the world. Indeed in that very garden, God clothed Adam and Eve with the skins/furs of animals. Blood had to have been shed for those animals to give up theirs skins, and the principle of the shedding of blood to “cover” sins was begun.

David knew as he praised God with these words, that He is a forgiving God. Of all the characteristics of God David could have pointed to, he chose first to highlight His forgiveness. Even in Old Testament times, before Christ came to deal with sin, we see God’s patience with His people lengthened time and time again.

And how many of our sins does God forgive? All of them!

So Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.

Hebrews 9:28 (ESV)

God, through His Son, dealt with every single one of our sins now and forever. The idea that God has forgiven all of our sins sometimes makes my head spin. When I think back over my life, I can recall the times when I’ve let God down. Sometimes it was out of ignorance, but if I’m honest, there have also been times when I’ve done or said something which I knew I shouldn’t – but did anyway. I feel unworthy and even now I can barely comprehend that I can walk right up to God as my loving heavenly Father and know that I’ll be welcomed!

It’s almost too good to be true! I just don’t deserve it – and that’s what makes it so good! That’s grace!

I hope you are still with me up to this point, and that you too are humbled and full of praise to God for forgiving you of all of your sins. But the third verse doesn’t end there…

Who heals all of your diseases

This is where it may get more difficult. If I asked a typical church if God had forgiven their sins, I’d get at least 99% of the hands in the room go up. If I then asked if God had also healed all of their diseases, I’m not sure I’d get more than one or two hands if any.

I’ve never met a Christian who didn’t believe the first part of verse three, about being forgiven. But I’ve met many who don’t believe the second part.

Why is that? The same God who forgives our sins, also heals our diseases right? If He forgives all of our sins, then it follows (according to this verse) that He also heals all of our diseases. We cannot separate the two. If we accept the former, then we have to accept the latter also.

The difference is that we cannot see the evidence of forgiveness, and have no option but to trust that God has done it. You can’t see a sin, forgiven or otherwise, so we have to operate out of faith.

When it comes to our bodies, we look and see, and if we still see sickness, then we wrongly conclude that this verse isn’t true. Perhaps we wouldn’t admit that we think it isn’t true, and instead look for other interpretations of the Scripture.

Jesus faced a similar problem with the paralysed man in Mark 2. His faithful friends lowered him down on a mat before Jesus, but instead of healing the man, Jesus told him his “sins were forgiven”. This probably wasn’t what he wanted to hear! It certainly wasn’t what the teachers of the law were expecting. In fact, they thought it was a blasphemous thing to say – who is He to forgive sins! – they thought.

That was Jesus’ point. He essentially proved that He could forgive sins by healing the man. He proved the thing that could not be seen (the forgiveness) by doing the thing that could be seen (the healing).

When we see symptoms in our bodies, it is easy to conclude that we’re still sick. Yet this verse clearly states that God heals all of our diseases. So which is true? We have the same choice that Adam and Eve had. We can choose to believe what God says, or listen to an alternative voice. In this case, our symptoms.

To be honest with you, I have a problem with my eyesight. It is a long-standing issue, and one I have prayed about many times. I have yet to receive my healing. With a sight problem, the symptoms are always before you. And I’ve “trained” myself to believe in the symptom more than in the Word of God. So I am not writing this from the perspective of someone who has it all figured out! I have much to learn myself. And we are all on a journey.

Healing is not a straightforward issue, and there are many reasons why we might not be healed when we ask for it. But we have to start from the premise that this verse is true. God is a healer. Jesus, the perfect representation of God, spent the majority of His ministry healing people. God is the same today, yesterday and forever. If He was a healer in Jesus’s day, He is a healer now.

This post is long already, so I don’t want to spend too much more time on this subject. Perhaps it is a subject for a future series. For now though, if you accept that God forgives all of your sins (something unseen), at least consider that He also heals all of your diseases. Pray over this verse, talk to God about it, and begin to trust the unseen more than the seen.