In my last blog I asked the question: "Does God still heal?" ... and we took an in depth look at James 5:13-16, the passage many people use to support the belief that God will heal those who call the Elders, confess their sin and have faith. In the context of the whole book of James and the immediate context of the following verses, it appears that James is not talking about physical healing, but rather, about spiritual healing ... spiritual restoration of those who are "weak and tired" and who have drifted away from Christ. These are encouraged to call the Elders of the Church and to be anointed with oil and reminded who they are in Christ and restored to the body.
I could say much more about that, but for now I want to answer the original question that is on the minds of many people who believe that God is sovereign over all things, that He is all-powerful, and that nothing is impossible for Him. Does God still do miracles today? Does God still heal? And if He does, why doesn't He heal everyone? Is there something WE need to do to receive physical healing? And what part does prayer play in our healing? These and other questions have been discussed and debated in ways that have often brought more "heat" than LIGHT!!
As with every other subject in which it appears Christians sometimes disagree, the only source of authority to which we can appeal for an answer is God's Word. I am going to begin with a verse that may "tip my hand" as to what I believe Scripture teaches, but I want to start here because it is a verse that is often overlooked and which I believe sheds an important light on the subject of healing for the Church today. The verse is II Corinthians 12:12 ...
In the context the Apostle Paul is defending his ministry against those who said that he was not one of the REAL apostles. After all, he had not walked with Jesus, had not learned from Him or seen Him perform His miracles, like the other apostles. Furthermore, the other apostles had carried on most of their ministry among the Jews, while Paul was preaching the gospel among the Gentiles. It was the Jewish religious leaders, his former co-workers, who were constantly harassing Paul. They had apparently convinced some in Corinth that they didn't need to listen to Paul. So as he explained his ministry and defended himself against their accusations, Paul makes this statement:
"The things that mark an apostle - signs, wonders and miracles - were done among you with great perseverance" (II Corinthians 12:12).
There are those today who claim to have the spiritual gift of "healing." It is true that the Spirit gave to some that gift, as it is recorded in the book of Acts. In his first letter to the believers in Corinth, Paul discusses spiritual gifts in Chapter 12. "To one there is given through the Spirit the message of wisdom, to another the message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy ... " (I Corinthians 12:8-11).
Paul follows that with a discussion of the one body with many parts and concludes by asking, "Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? But eagerly desire the greater gifts. And now I will show you the most excellent way ..." (I Corinthians 12:29-31). He then goes on to talk about LOVE ... the greatest spiritual gift that God gives to His children - the desire and ability to love God and to love one another.
So what about healing and miracles? It is clear that some during the apostolic period in the early church were given the ability to perform miracles, including healing. The question is: Do some receive those "gifts," those abilities, from the Spirit TODAY? This is where II Corinthians 12:12 must be taken into account: "The things that mark an apostle - signs, wonders and miracles - were done among you with great perseverance." In other passages Paul points to the working of miracles as confirmation of his ministry and his message (Romans 15:18-19; Galatians 3:1-5).
This was a transitional time in the history of salvation. The Messiah had come, Jesus had ascended into heaven and poured out His Spirit. There had never been a time like this in history. The Gospel of Jesus Christ was being proclaimed for the first time and the Church was being "called out" of the world as those from every people, tribe, nation and tongue were filled with the Spirit and drawn to faith in Jesus Christ, being born again by His Spirit. There had been two other times when miracles were displayed in powerful and obvious ways: by Moses when the people of Israel left Egypt, and by Elijah and Elisha at the inauguration of the period of the prophets. During both of those times God had a special message for His people and the signs and miracles were confirmation of that message for a time.
The writer of Hebrews adds weight to the argument that the gift of healing and of miracles was connected with the first announcement of the Gospel by Jesus and by His apostles. " ... how shall we escape if we ignore such a great salvation? This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard Him. God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to His will" (Hebrews 2:3-4). Healing and other miracles were not done as an end unto themselves, but as confirmation of the message that was being proclaimed. The same was true for Jesus. He called people to believe in HIM, and the miracles were simply evidence that He was who He said He was! "Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the miracles themselves" (John 14:11).
The conclusion of all these passages is that healing and other miracles is not normative or common throughout time. There were specific times when God gave to a few the supernatural ability to heal in order to confirm that they were apostles, sent by Him and speaking His truth, empowered by His Spirit and operating under the authority of His Son, Jesus Christ. Which brings us to our question: Does God still heal today? Do miracles still happen? After all this you may be surprised at the answer! YES, He does!! God is more than able to hear the prayers of His people and to accomplish His purpose through miracles. The question really is: HOW does God heal TODAY?
It is important to understand that prayer is a vital part of any person's relationship with "Abba, Father." Jesus told His disciples to pray and to ask in His name. The New Testament writers repeatedly encourage God's people to bring their requests to God, knowing that He hears us when we pray. Prayers for our own healing and for the healing of others are heard by God every single time. Prayers for jobs, for relationships, for doors to open for ministry and for a host of other things are all heard by our Father in heaven who is intimately involved in our lives and in this world. Yet, ALL of this is subject to the wisdom of our God and to His intention to bring glory to Himself through those who believe.
God still heals today! Sometimes He does a miracle and astounds the doctors. Other times He uses the medical technology that He has allowed us to discover to restore health and the amazing function of the body HE created. At other times He gives strength and courage to endure physical trials, using them to strengthen those who endure and to testify to others that His grace is sufficient. And sometimes He brings perfect healing through death and the new life to come. We should not and dare not limit God, nor should we be telling God what He must do and how He must do it. It is enough to know that God has promised those who believe in Jesus Christ that He is with us, that He will never leave us and that all things work together for the good of those who love Him and who are called according to HIS purpose!
We exist to glorify our God, and we need to know that patient endurance and strength in the midst of suffering is a testimony to the power of God at work in us. We need to pray, knowing that God is able to do the impossible. Miracles still happen. But our faith must not waver when God, in His wisdom, chooses another option. He sees the whole picture and He knows how He will use even physical sickness, pain and death for His glory. We who believe are not victims of an uncaring supernatural being, we are children of a loving Father. His grace is sufficient and He will bring glory to Himself through our trials. If He does that through persecution and martyrdom, He can and does do that through other trials as well.
Finally, while God may use a miracle to confirm His Word at various times and in various places around the world today, those who believe are called to testify to the truth of God's Word and to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ to all people, praying that His Spirit would open their hearts and minds to confess Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. THIS is the greatest miracle and the greatest healing that can possibly take place in a person's life. Through faith in Jesus Christ the dead are raised and become new creations. We should not focus on physical healing today, but rather on the spiritual healing that comes when a sinner repents and turns to Jesus to find new life! THIS is the "greater works" that Jesus was talking about His followers doing (John 14:12). May we be about our Father's business and give all the glory to Him!!
More about this spiritual healing next time!