In 1 Corinthians 12:9-10 the Apostle Paul mentions “sign gifts.” Biblical scholars deem them so because they’re palpable manifestations or “signs” of the Holy Spirit working through someone. These extraordinary gifts include healings, miracles and tongues. It’s no surprise that of all the gifts of the Spirit they attract the most attention and generate the most excitement amongst the multitudes. If you told the average Joe or Jane a preacher was evangelizing in the parking lot of Walmart they’d shrug it off. But inform them he was turning pennies into silver dollars they wouldn’t be able to get down there fast enough to check it out for themselves, their kid’s piggy bank in tow. Ever since we got kicked out of the Garden we’ve been fascinated by anything outside the realm of the mundane. We love anything that appears to be other-worldly, magical or curiosity-piquing and often it’s to our detriment. Therefore the potential for “sign gifts” to be misapplied or corrupted for personal aggrandizement runs high. Perhaps that’s why, out of the four discussions of spiritual gifts in the New Testament (Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12, Ephesians 4 and 1 Peter 4), these particular three are mentioned only in Paul’s first letter to the Corinth congregation. It’s important Christians bear in mind these talents bestowed by the Holy Spirit upon certain individuals are to be revered, not exploited. In this essay we’ll be focusing mainly on the gift of healing and tackle the other two next time.
Both the Old and New Testaments are packed with stories of people being cured of various ailments. Jesus’s notoriety grew by leaps and bounds due in large part to His and His disciples’ ability to heal sick folks right and left. The subsequent history of the Church includes countless instances of physical and mental healings. Sometimes these occurrences are associated with faith healers who’ve claimed to possess a spectacular gift of healing. It’s no shock their modern counterparts can fill large auditoriums. Tens of thousands of the worldwide populace send prayer requests for healing (along with financial contributions, of course) to television, radio and internet preachers who advertise they have a God-given ability to cure what ails ‘em. You’d think people would catch on to these scams but there’s a sucker born every minute, it would seem. Yet, despite the horde of “healers” out there, sickness and disease remain a constant component of life on Earth. Everyone dies. Everyone. Dr. Barry Bailey used to point out that everybody who got healed or brought back to life in the Bible is deceased. Their recovery or restoration was only a temporary condition because eventually they met with the same fate that awaits each and every human being. No one gets out alive. Even faith healers pass on. Kathryn Kuhlman was a famous and controversial 20th century healer. Hundreds of people swore they’d been healed by her. But she succumbed to heart disease in 1976. She may or may not have been able to cure others but she most definitely wasn’t able to save herself. Death is incurable.
It’s my belief no person other than Jesus Christ has ever been able to consistently heal the sick without fail. If someone else had that astonishing talent would they not be driven to administer it indiscriminately? During my commute home many years ago I was listening to a sports radio talk show. One of the commentators was blasting Benny Hinn and those of his ilk. What he said has stayed with me ever since: “If the dude can heal any illness or disease just by touching the person so afflicted then why doesn’t he spend ten hours a day, seven days a week at Dallas Children’s Hospital, curing every innocent kid who comes in the door?” To me, since Mr. Hinn professes to be a follower of Christ, the reason he doesn’t do what the man suggests is because he can’t! Maybe Benny can heal sometimes but not always. I don’t know how anyone who possessed an ability to heal at will could stand by and watch children suffer and die. Just sayin’…
There’s a difference between what the Holy Word calls the gift of healing and healing through the gift of faith. Some think if they believe in Christ resolutely enough they’ll be cured of their malady. The healing they’re looking for isn’t the same healing as the forgiveness, cleansing and acceptance all believers receive as a result of surrendering to Jesus. They insist Christians who become ill can claim healing by faith because they believe physical healing for disease was included in the atoning work of Christ on the cross. It’s not my place to say they’re right or wrong. Faith can move mountains. But I’ll tell you this. What they’re on about mustn’t be confused with the Holy Spirit’s gift of healing. Isaiah 53:5, in prophesizing about the Messiah, reads, “He was wounded because of our rebellious deeds, crushed because of our sins; he endured punishment that made us well; because of his wounds we have been healed.” Understood in context, the healing Isaiah speaks of is a metaphor for Jesus’s forgiveness of sin. The same sentiment gets expressed in 1 Peter 2:24, “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we may cease from sinning and live for righteousness. By his wounds you were healed.” Once again it appears the healing referenced is primarily spiritual in nature, not physical. Nonetheless, there are some well-meaning, educated Christians who’ll adamantly refuse to visit a doctor no matter how sick they get. They’re of the opinion that if their faith is strong enough God will cure them. Or they may seek out someone they’re convinced has the gift of healing. I won’t belittle them. If the healer they go to is genuinely so gifted by the Holy Spirit they’ll be able to do exactly what Jesus did. Broken bones will mend on the spot, cancer will go away and mental disorders will dissipate. But we all know these happenings are as rare as a chilly day during a Texas July.
Thus, healings from illnesses have to be viewed from a broader perspective. The Book of James emphasizes that all good gifts come from the Heavenly Father so nothing should be ruled out in this area. Miraculous cures can be had via the gift of healing and/or the gift of faith but more often it comes to us through the God-given talents of those in the medical field. When his associate suffered from an upset stomach Paul didn’t recommend more prayer or faith but common sense. In 1 Timothy 5:23 he wrote, “Stop drinking just water, but use a little wine for your digestion and your frequent illnesses.” Another of Paul’s pals was the physician Luke who no doubt provided him medical help and advice. All of us know someone who’s gotten well through modern pharmaceuticals and treatments. Fact is, doctors are a resource God expects us to take advantage of. Now, I’m not saying it’s the will of the great I AM that we always be healed of our infirmities. In 2 Corinthians 12 Paul expressed frustration about a particularly painful thorn in his side God wouldn’t remove. So to say all of this “healing” business is subjective is an understatement. If I’m diagnosed with a disease that has no known remedy, prayer and faith make perfect logic. However, if an effective drug or corrective surgery is available and I decide to ignore them it’d be fair to accuse me of being fatalistic or, even worse, superstitious. Reminds me of the joke about a man frantically treading water in the ocean. A boat arrived. He was asked if he needed help. “No, the Lord will save me,” was his reply. Soon a helicopter came and hovered. The crew offered him a lifeline. “No, the Lord will save me,” was his reply again. A talking dolphin even showed up and offered to carry him to the shore on his back. Same response. Well, the man drowned. At the Pearly Gates he asked St. Peter why God didn’t rescue him. St. Peter said, “Are you nuts? He sent you a boat, a chopper and even a talking fish to save you and you turned them all down! Good grief!” The moral of the story is this: When it comes to God’s will it’s better to be prudent than presumptuous.
Modern psychologists, Christian and otherwise, agree on various things. One is that people suffer from both organic and functional diseases. The latter are more commonly known as those that are purely psychosomatic. The big problem with those types of diseases is they produce detectible symptoms but they can’t be cured by ordinary medicines. Since it’s “all in their imagination” it’s the patient’s mind that must be treated in order for the physical aberrations to disappear. The Romans had a motto: mens sana in corpore sano, meaning “a sound mind in a sound body.” It’s true that a diseased mind can cause the body to become diseased. However, I don’t want to appear patronizing by quoting ancient adages and wise sayings and, in the process, lead you to think God doesn’t perform incredible healings for people. Healings that leave medical professionals scratching their noggins in befuddled amazement. There are probably hundreds of thousands of documented cases where patients were told they only had a short time to live but, after their family members, close friends and fellow Christians prayed for them, they not only survived but went on to enjoy many more productive years of life. The disease that was poised to put them in a grave was not only stopped in its tracks, it was annihilated. Gone without a trace! The collective gift of faith granted to those who prayed for them proved stronger and more potent than the virus or malignancy involved.
As you read through the Gospels you’ll notice Jesus healed people in a variety of ways. Sometimes He’d simply say the word and the healing became a reality. In Matthew 8:15 our Lord took Simon Peter’s mother-in-law by the hand and her debilitating fever left her in an instant. According to John 11:43 when the Master approached Lazarus’ tomb He merely asked his friend to “come out” moments before he emerged, hale and healthy, into the light of day. He employed yet another method altogether with the man born blind in John 9. He mixed his saliva with dirt from the ground, applied it to the man’s eyelids and then instructed him to wash his face in the pool of Siloam. Afterwards the man experienced sight for the first time. Then there’s the life-and-death crisis concerning the Roman centurion’s servant as recounted in Matthew 8:5. The servant in question wasn’t even in the same zip code but Jesus still healed him. And in Matthew 9:18 we’re touched by the story of the woman suffering from years of hemorrhaging who, by merely touching His clothes as He strolled by, was cured in a nanosecond. The overview of all these incidents reveals there’s no set formula or technique when it comes to God’s healing power. The Lord does whatever’s needed according to his good will and purposes. Don’t get me wrong. I find nothing to denounce about laying on of hands or of anointing someone with oil. Both can have deep spiritual and psychological significance. However, the ill person and those who administer to them in either of these ways should never suppose that any healing that might occur hence is due to anything they did. It wasn’t the depth of their faith or the fervency of their prayers that healed the person. Healing is from God and only God. James 5:15 talks about this and concludes, “…the Lord will raise him up…”
Here’s the hard part to swallow, though. God does not always choose to heal. Nowhere in the Bible is there even a hint it’s the will of the great I AM to heal everyone every time. If the Holy Spirit bestows upon a sick man or woman (or those praying for them) the gift of faith that healing will come, it’s a slam dunk – they will be healed. No exceptions. But understand, the gift of faith is not always given. It doesn’t mean the prayers of the afflicted or of those concerned for them have no worth but they must be centered around the sincere plea of, “Your will be done, Heavenly Father.” Difficult as it may be sometimes, genuine faith involves total, unreserved acquiescence of our preferences to the perfect will of God. Even when He opts not to heal us or someone we’re close to. Sometimes the healing comes and sometimes it never shows up. Like Jesus, we must be willing to put everything concerning our existence in the hands of the Father. Everything. In researching this subject I learned something – that healing and faith are both gifts from the Holy Spirit. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 12:9, “…to another faith by the same spirit, and to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit…” I take that to mean we don’t automatically become entitled to receive the healing we so desperately desire for ourselves or our loved ones just because we’re committed to following Jesus. Healing and the faith required for it are special gifts. Job 1:21 teaches, “The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away.” Our assignment is to trust Him no matter what.
Every sickness and every broken heart we experience in our lives can be traced back to original sin. That doesn’t mean they happen to us because God is singling us out for punishment or divine retribution. John 9 reveals one day some disciples asked Jesus about a blind beggar. “Rabbi, who committed the sin that caused him to be born blind, this man or his parents?” They probably expected Him to blame somebody but He didn’t. He said, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but he was born blind so that the acts of God may be revealed through what happens to him.” Thus to question why there’s suffering is to ask the wrong question. Think about it. Accidents, inherited defects or millions of other factors may contribute to an affliction. God didn’t intend for them to ever enter the equation but the sinful decision made in Eden introduced evil into this world and it spoiled everything. God could’ve written mankind off as a lost cause but instead He gave us something invaluable – hope. Revelations 21:4 states someday, “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death will not exist anymore – or mourning, or crying, or pain, for the former things have ceased to exist.” In the interim God doesn’t leave His children helpless. He implants the Holy Spirit in us. Romans 8:26 says, “…the Spirit helps us in our weakness…” and we’re told in Hebrews 4:16, “…let us confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and find grace whenever we need help.”
The help we need exists in the person of the Holy Spirit. Ironically, He sometimes puts our infirmities to good use. Paul’s thorn stuck with him for a reason. God said to him, “My grace is enough for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Paul’s inspiring response reflects the positive attitude we all should adopt: “So then, I will boast most gladly about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may reside in me. …I am content with weaknesses, with insults, with troubles, with persecutions and difficulties for the sake of Christ, for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.” Billy Graham wrote, “If God allows a sickness and refuses healing, we should accept it with gratitude. We should ask God to teach us all He wants us to learn through the experience, including how to glorify Him with it.” Matthew 8:17 says of the atonement, “He took our weaknesses and carried our diseases.” It’s clear (because diseases still abound) that the verse didn’t imply believers would never get sick again. It does tell us there’s a day coming when diseases will never affect us again.
I witness healings all the time. As a leader in the Celebrate Recovery ministry I see healing taking place almost every week. Few have anything to do with physical illnesses. The majority of healings I’ve been privy to have taken place in estranged couples who were headed straight for divorce court. In the hearts of those who’ve been tormented by memories of abuse, tragedy or betrayal. People who’ve struggled under the crushing weight of guilt and shame caused by indulging their sinful nature. I’ve seen relationships restored, parents reconnecting with their children and Christians reconciled with the body of Christ. Healings are happening. “God’s not dead, he’s surely alive!”