"The Beauty of the Bride ..."
"This is a profound mystery - but I am talking about Christ and the Church." - Ephesians 5:32
Two years ago my wife and I were celebrating our 40th wedding anniversary by taking a cruise from Barcelona to Italy. On our actual anniversary, June 19th, we were in Venice, Italy, riding in a gondola. It was sweet ... not just because we were in Venice, but because I was with the love of my life, thanking God for giving us forty years together and praying for many more. She is as beautiful now as she was the day we were married. A man who loves his wife never forgets the way she looked on their wedding day and as he gazes into her eyes and looks upon her face she is beautiful beyond words! That's the way it is with love that is centered in Christ and that comes from His Spirit. This kind of love, the love described by Paul in I Corinthians 13:4-8, is truly a gift from God.
So many today miss the blessing of staying together through the good times and the trials and seeing God bring everything together for His glory and our good. Perseverance may not sound all that romantic, but it is what keeps a relationship together when things get hard and the going gets rough. Perseverance is God's gift to those who seek Him and who ask for His blessing. We asked often, and continue to do so, and He gives us so much more than we ask. He gives us joy as we share life together and peace and hope as we look to the future knowing that our faithful Father is the same yesterday, today and forever. His love never fails, and as long as we are united to Him by His Spirit, OUR love doesn't fail either. His grace is sufficient and His love and His presence are all we need to press on toward the goal of loving Him and loving one another.
This Sunday is also Father's Day, another blessing from the Lord to those who receive the gift of children. I hear a lot of people complaining about their children these days, but God has blessed us with two wonderful, godly children, who seek the Lord Jesus Christ and who serve Him with zeal. He gave them each a spiritual partner and now we have seven grandchildren who are also learning of Christ and seeking to follow Him. We pray that they, too, will keep their eyes on Jesus and continue to pass on the heritage that God has entrusted to us as believers.
As God's timing would have it, I will be preaching on Ephesians 5:21-33 on Sunday morning. Those who are familiar with the passage know that Paul is talking about the relationship of husbands and wives. I won't go into all of what Paul says, but it is his words in verse 32 that I would like to focus on for a moment: "This is a profound mystery - but I am talking about Christ and the Church" (Ephesians 5:32).
This is an extremely important and vital bit of information when looking at the relationship of husbands and wives. The comparison of the relationship in a marriage with the relationship of Christ and the Church carries with it serious and dramatic applications. There have been many books written about what it takes to make a "good" marriage, but as long as people are thinking about themselves they will never have a marriage that pleases God or brings blessing to those involved. The point of Ephesians 5:32 is that as Paul is talking about husbands and wives, he is really talking about the relationship between Christ and His Church. While there are some obvious differences, there are also some crucial similarities.
Paul makes a statement in Ephesians 5:22-24 that many today reject, to their own harm. "Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the Church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the Church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything." All of this is said after Paul writes in verse 21: "Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ." You will have to listen to the sermon, either by coming to Lighthouse on Sunday or listening on line, to hear more about the meaning of "submission," but for now it is important to understand that biblical submission is a good thing. It recognizes the value and worth of someone outside of yourself and includes giving yourself ... entrusting yourself, to another person. It includes trust and, yes, love!
That's why Paul goes on to say, "Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the Church and gave Himself up for her ..." (vs. 25). The writer of Hebrews says that Jesus endured the cross "for the joy set before Him" (Hebrews 12:2). What joy was on Jesus' mind as He endured the pain and humiliation of the cross? What vision gave Jesus the strength to endure the wrath of God upon the sins of mankind? It was the joy of His vision of His Bride, the Church!! In Revelation 19:6-9 we read of the wedding of the Lamb and His Bride. Dressed in the righteousness of Christ, the Church is beautiful in the eyes of her husband, and He is majestic in her eyes. Between Christ and His Church there is a true "love-fest;" both gazing at the other with a passion and devotion unmatched in all the universe. In this marriage there is no "until death parts us," for we have the promise that not even death "will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 8:39).
Indeed, "greater love has no man than this" (John 15:13). A man who loves his wife not only honors her, but also their children, for he creates a family where love means more than a fleeting feeling, but where it blossoms into a steadfast perseverance that outlasts any trial or storm and that brings joy to all. "This is a profound mystery - but I am talking about Christ and the Church" (Ephesians 5:32). Much is written about the Church today, and most of it is negative ... but that's because most are writing about the "church," not the CHURCH! The "church" is a religious organization, but the CHURCH is the bride of Christ, His body. Jesus didn't give Himself for an organization. He died for people, for sinners like you and me. And here is the amazing part: in HIS eyes, all who come to Him by faith are beautiful in His sight. He sees His bride as perfect, even though in reality she isn't ... YET!
Husbands ... AND wives ... would do well to remember this when the honeymoon is over and the reality of life begins to wear away at the fairytale imaginations of what marriage will be like. "Love never fails" because true love never loses sight of the vision of beauty that first stirred the heart and moved the lips to say, "I love you!" Such beauty never fades, but instead grows ever deeper as we keep our eyes on the One who promises to be with us and to never leave us or forsake us. Love grows when it is focused on the spiritual oneness that is found in Christ. As two people grow together in Christ their love for Him and His love for them enables them to love one another with all the qualities described in I Corinthians 13:4-8.
I thank God for my wife, Kathy, and I love her more deeply in Christ now than I knew how to do when we were married, now almost 42 years ago! Forty-two years seems like a long time, but it is like the blink of an eye. Being a part of the Church, the Bride of Christ, means that all those who know and love Him will spend an eternity sharing His love with one another and with all those who are part of God's family. In the love I share with my wife and family, and the love I share with the body of Christ at Lighthouse and with the larger body throughout the world, I am a man most blessed. For those of you who share my blessing, rejoice with me and never lose the vision of the beauty of your bride.
For those who have not experienced such love in a marriage relationship, or who may have experienced the sorrow of a broken relationship, I pray that you will draw near to God in faith through His Son Jesus Christ and learn what real love is ... a love that gives everything and that moves you to respond in turn with a love that endures. Such love is found only through the work of God in your heart. His Spirit can awaken that love in a moment as you gaze at the cross of Jesus. You may see yourself and your life as anything BUT beautiful right now, but if you will put your faith in Jesus you can know that this is true: "God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8).
Let God's love embrace you and cleanse you and know today that through faith in Jesus, you are united to Him and you are beautiful in His sight!! As His Spirit transforms you, your life will reflect His glory more and more. Living in His presence gives you the opportunity to allow His radiance to shine through you. Oh, what amazing grace! Live life in preparation for the wedding, for the groom is making ready our eternal home. Soon He will return and we will be made like Him and will live forever in the light of His eternal love. Eternity IS a long time!!
"This is a profound mystery - but I am talking about Christ and the Church." - Ephesians 5:32
"The Remnant Church ... How to know if you're part of it!"
"When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?" - Luke 18:8
This is one of those verses that upon reading stops you in your tracks and forces you to examine your own faith in God. There are other such passages. In His Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 7, verses 21-23, Jesus says, "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?' Then I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!'"
Jesus then goes on to talk about the wise man who built his house on the ROCK, and the foolish man who built his house on the sand. Both "houses" faced the storms of life, but only the one built on the rock stood. The difference: the wise man not only heard Jesus' words, but put them into practice.
As he wrote to those who claimed to know Christ in Corinth, Paul said, "Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you - unless of course, you fail the test?" (II Corinthians 13:5). He goes on to say, "We cannot do anything against the truth, but only for the truth. ... our prayer is for your perfection" (II Corinthians 13:8-9). Believers are not yet perfect, but they have believed the truth of WHO Jesus is and what He has done on the cross to pay the penalty for sin and now the Spirit is within them giving them the DESIRE to be like Christ. Where there is no desire to be like Jesus, the Spirit of God is not at work!
Many people today choose to believe that faith in "God" gets you into heaven. There are even those who believe that ALL people will eventually enter into eternal life - whatever that is. Millions all over the world today claim to believe in God and even to be Christians. Yet Jesus says that in the last days, as the Antichrist persecutes the Church, "many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of MOST will grow cold, BUT, he who stands firm to the end will be saved" (Matthew 24:10-13).
The Apostle Paul speaks of this "apostasy" in II Thessalonians 2:1-3: "Concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to Him, we ask you, brothers, not to become easily unsettled or alarmed by some prophecy, report or letter supposed to have come from us, saying that the day of the Lord has already come. Don't let anyone deceive you in any way, for that day will not come UNTIL the apostasy (rebellion) occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction."
I know that many believe the Church will be raptured BEFORE the time of tribulation under the Antichrist, but Scripture says otherwise. According to Daniel 9:27, Matthew 24:15 and II Thessalonians 2 the Antichrist will be "revealed" in the middle of Daniel's 70th week (the final 7 years), as he sets himself up in the temple and proclaims himself to BE God! It is this period of time that John writes about in Revelation 12, when God protects Israel ( the "woman") in the desert for 1260 days and then the "dragon" (Satan) goes off "to make war against the rest of her offspring - those who obey God's commandments and hold to the testimony of Jesus" (Revelation 12:17).
During this time many who are part of the "visible church" will fall away, revealing that they never truly knew Christ. Paul says, "They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved" (II Thessalonians 2:10). Jesus spoke about such people in His "Parable of the Sower," as He explained that some of the seed of the Word of God would be sown among the rocks and the thorns and would APPEAR to begin to bear fruit, but then trouble, persecution, the worries of life and the deceitfulness of riches make the seed unfruitful. Not all those who CLAIM to be Christians are "IN Christ."
The writer of Hebrews also encourages those who say they are "in Christ," and that they have true faith to move on toward maturity, to feed on "solid food." He says, "Solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil" (Hebrews 5:14). Then he issues this warning: "It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the Word of God and the powers of the coming age, if they fall away, to be brought back to repentance, because to their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting Him to public disgrace. Land that drinks in the rain often falling on it and that produces a crop useful to those for whom it is farmed receives the blessing of God. But land that produces thorns and thistles is worthless and is in range of being burned!" (Hebrews 6:4-8).
That is a scary passage! And placed alongside the rest causes us to ask some very important questions: How can I KNOW that I'm part of the remnant Church, that body of true believers that will endure through all the storms of life and finally arrive before the throne of Almighty God clothed in the righteousness of Christ that comes through true faith?? How can I KNOW for sure? Or can I??
The first step is, quite simply, taking these warnings seriously. For so many today Christianity is just one of many religions and being a Christian simply means saying you believe in God, and in someone named, Jesus. That's about it. The Bible says otherwise. Being a Christian means that you have been born again by the Spirit of God (John 1:12-13, 3:3-5, I Corinthians 12:13) and that you are now united to Jesus Christ because His Spirit LIVES within you! Your mind and your heart are now set on loving God and serving God in the name of Jesus Christ, your Savior and your Lord, and by the power of His Spirit living within you.
Someone once asked Jesus, "What must we do to do the works God requires?" Jesus answered, 'The work of God is this: to believe in the One He has sent" (John 6:28-29). True faith begins by believing the testimony of God concerning Jesus Christ - believing that He IS God in the flesh and that He suffered the wrath of God against your sins on the cross and then rose again and ascended into heaven. It is believing that you are now redeemed (purchased) by the blood of Christ, that your sins are forgiven and that you HAVE eternal life. You are now called, equipped and sent to live out the life God has placed within you and your heart and mind are set on pleasing God, not to earn your forgiveness or eternal life, but out of thanksgiving because God has GIVEN you eternal life!
The writer of Hebrews goes on to say in Hebrews 6:9-12: "Even though we speak like this (verses 4-8 above), dear friends, we are confident of better things in your case - things that accompany salvation. God is not unjust; He will not forget your work and the love you have shown Him as you have helped His people and continue to help them. We want each of you to show this same diligence to the very end, in order to make your hope sure. We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised."
"Things that accompany salvation ..." We are saved by grace through faith, apart from works. Yet, the evidence of faith is a life lived for God. All the good deeds in the world cannot and will not save you (remember Matthew 7:21-23), but if you are living a selfish life, not caring about loving God and your neighbor as yourself, if you want nothing to do with the body of Christ in worship, fellowship and service, and you are always wanting more from God and questioning Him when trials or troubles of any kind come, then you don't know Him and you are NOT "in Christ"!
Those who "fall away" from the visible church were never truly part of the true Church, as John says in I John 2:19: "They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us." There were many who left the Church when persecution came in the first century. There will be many, perhaps millions, who will follow false teachings and even the Antichrist before the rapture, before Jesus returns. The Bible says it will be so. It does no good to pretend. God sees your heart and He knows your thoughts.
Are you part of the remnant Church, the REAL Church? Last week something very important happened: "REAL REMNANT RADIO" began broadcasting over the internet ... realremnantradio.com. This is a work of love for God and for Jesus Christ and His Bride, the Church. It is a work of the Spirit of God to reach out across the globe to those who are standing firm in their faith in Jesus Christ, building their house upon the ROCK that cannot be moved. All over the world God has His faithful ones; those who are willing to endure persecution and trials for the sake of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We are called to encourage one another and through this ministry we will be able to be connected with brothers and sisters in Christ all over the world.
John writes, "Anyone who believes in the Son of God has this testimony in his HEART. Anyone who does not believe God has made Him out to be a liar, because He has not believed the testimony God has given about His Son. And this is the testimony: God has GIVEN us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life. I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life" (I John 5:10-13).
You CAN KNOW that you are part of the remnant Church as you live with Christ and for Christ. Paul wrote, "I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me" (Galatians 2:20). Does that describe you? If not, I urge you to repent of your sin and of your pretense and bow before the Lord Jesus Christ, asking Him to forgive you and trusting now in His finished work on the cross once for all. As you do that the Spirit of God will begin to transform your heart and your mind and you will find joy in serving Jesus, knowing that your Father in heaven loves you and is with you and will NEVER leave you.
To those of you who rejoice in God's love in Jesus Christ and who desire to live in obedience to His Word, giving thanks for His grace every day and trusting in Jesus alone for forgiveness and life, "stand firm. Let nothing move you. always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain!" (I Corinthians 15:58). We will overcome, "by the blood of the Lamb and the word of our testimony!" (Revelation 12:11).
To GOD be the glory!!
"So, does God still HEAL? Is physical healing available to all who believe?!"
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!
"Does God still heal today ... REALLY?!"
"Is any one of you in trouble? He should pray. Is anyone happy? Let him sing songs of praise. Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful." - James 5:13-16
I was unable to post last week as I was sick! Tuesday was perhaps the most miserable day I have had with sickness. I have had more pain ... when I had my heart bypass, but as far as being very sick, last Tuesday was it! While I was thankful to be able to get back to the office on Wednesday, I wasn't at "full strength" and the week went by very quickly. I thank the Lord for the strength to preach His Word Sunday morning and for a return to a good measure of health.
Tuesday reminded me how very quickly the human body can be struck with illness, and of those who suffer with chronic illness as well. All of us are vulnerable to disease, and sickness often comes without warning. As I lay in bed (something I NEVER do, even when I am sick) last Tuesday, I had time to think of a lot of things, and one of those was healing. As I prayed and others prayed for me I had the comfort of knowing that God was with me and that this was probably a very temporary illness. But it did bring to my mind a question I have been asked often: "Does God still heal today?"
My sickness was pretty much over in 24 hours, but for some, the suffering and trials of physical ailments lasts for months, years, even a lifetime. I have been told by some that God wants all of His people to be healthy. Of course, that raises all kinds of problems for those of us who believe in a sovereign God who is able to do anything He desires to do. His wisdom and power are beyond limit, so if He WANTS everyone to be healthy, why doesn't that happen? We know that sickness and suffering and death are part of the consequence of the sinful world in which we now live, but if Jesus came to overrule that, why do believers still get sick? Why do they have heart disease and cancer and other chronic illnesses? We could understand it if that happened only to unbelievers. But how do we explain believers being sick and even dying from some physical disease?
One answer (a terrible one by the way!) is that some don't have enough faith to believe that God can heal them. He would do it ... if they just believed. Of course, that is not a biblical answer and thus not a true answer, but many people seem to fall for it. There are countless television ministries that tell people God is waiting for them to "sow a seed" (usually a round figure, like $1,000), and there are "miracles" that can be bought by such supposed obedience. These charlatans make a mockery of God's truth and of His grace. God doesn't charge for miracles!
Others go one step further and claim that those who aren't healed may be sick in the first place because of some sin in their lives that is either ongoing or unconfessed. They tell people that if they confess their sin and repent, God will heal them. Laying a load of guilt on people who are already suffering hardly seems loving, and is rarely "effective" in bringing healing, except perhaps by coincidence. Of course, if someone is addicted to drugs, living a lifestyle of promiscuity, ignoring God and going one's own way without any regard for the things of God or His offer of love and forgiveness, then repentance is necessary, but to declare that all or most physical disease is caused directly by one's own sin is, again, not only untrue, but extremely harmful to the spiritual welfare of those who do not experience healing - even after they have done all THEY can do.
Where do people GET this stuff? And why do so many who claim to be Christians listen to them? Well, they get it from twisting and distorting God's Word. Much of this teaching comes from one passage: James 5:13-16. While I do not have time or space in this blog to go into all that needs to be said about these verses, let me point out some crucial points that James makes.
He begins by asking two questions in verse 13, and giving brief answers: "Is any one of you in trouble? He should pray. Is anyone happy? Let him sing songs of praise." OK, here are two different circumstances that people often find themselves in: "trouble" and "happy." In the context, James is writing about submission to God, trusting Him and knowing that He is present. He is talking about being patient in times of suffering and standing firm and persevering because God is near. His point in verse 13 is that if you are in trouble, "pray," because God is near. If you are happy, "sing songs of praise," because God is near.
Then he goes on in verses 14-15: "Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith WILL make the sick person WELL; the Lord WILL raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven."
Notice that James writes that PRAYER is important and that praying in faith, believing God will do what He has promised, brings healing, restoration. So what kind of healing is James talking about? If he is talking about physical sickness and physical healing, then why doesn't more healing take place today - REAL healing? Here's my answer, and I believe the context demands this understanding of what James writes, inspired by the Spirit of God ...
James is NOT talking about physical illness!! The Greek word translated "sick" in verses 14-15 can and often does mean "weak, weary and tired." This fits much better with the context of the verses that precede and those that follow verses 13-16. To whom is James speaking? He is speaking to Jewish believers who had been scattered from Jerusalem during intense persecution (Acts 8:4). He says in chapter 1, verses 2-4: "Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything."
This is the subject of James' letter and he begins and ends on this subject: trials "test" your faith and help you to mature, making you stronger in the end and helping you to persevere, for the glory of God. At the end of his letter James returns to this subject and tells those who are feeling spiritually weak, weary and tired to ask for help, to call the elders and to ask them to pray over them, asking God for the strength He has promised to give. The anointing with oil symbolized "being set apart for a holy purpose," and served as a reminder to the one being prayed for that they were a child of God through faith in Christ. When James says that if they have sinned, their sins will be forgiven, he points to the fact that people sometimes isolate themselves from their brothers and sisters and wander away from God and the Church, His people, and that leads to the spiritual condition they are now in. By calling the elders of the church the person is confessing their need and asking for help and they need to be reassured of God's grace and forgiveness in Christ Jesus.
After using the illustration of Elijah to show the power of prayer offered in faith, James summarizes his message in verses 19-20: "My brothers, if one of you should wander from the truth (and become weak, weary and tired) and someone should bring him back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save him from death and cover over a multitude of sins."
As the elders come and pray for a brother or sister who calls them and asks for prayer the lost sheep is found and brought safely into the fold once again where they can be nourished and restored to spiritual health and strength. Because they have been turned back to the truth of God's love and grace their lives will be spared from the many harmful sins in which they had been engaged and those they may have engaged in in the future. Repentance "covers over a multitude of sins."
Using James to talk about "faith healing" or even praying for physical healing is taking that passage of Scripture out of its context and making it say something it doesn't. James is talking about restoring a brother or sister who is feeling spiritually weak and tired, perhaps one who has "wandered from the truth," and restoring them to fellowship with God and His people where they can grow and mature and their faith can be strengthened ("tested"). This is an essential part of the ministry of the body of Christ and it needs to be sought out by those who find themselves in this condition. God desires to "heal" them and WILL heal them.
So, does God heal? Absolutely! God promises spiritual healing to ALL who come to Him through faith in Jesus Christ. Sometimes we need others to remind us, to call us back, to pray for us, to pray with us. Prayer is, indeed, powerful!! But what about PHYSICAL healing?? Does God still heal people, physically? Does God still do miracles? We'll have to leave that for next time, but here's a hint: the answer is in God's Word!
"For people who love controversy!"
Well, I got you this far ...
After writing my last blog I noticed something rather disturbing: if I write a blog on something controversial, like "same-sex marriage" or "shepherds not caring for the flock," 150-200 people will read it, but when I write on something like "you are special" or the importance of being part of the body of Christ, 20-40 people will read it. What does that say about us as a people living in this world? What does it say about us as Christians? Are we only interested in controversy? Do we only get "fired up" when somebody says or does something we don't like? Isn't there enough excitement to stir our emotions in being chosen and called by God to be ambassadors of His kingdom?
I've shared this verse with you before, but I do so again to stimulate your passion for Christ and to remind you of the purpose of God's choosing us, calling us, empowering us and sending us into the world.
"But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His wonderful light" (I Peter 2:9).
Peter wrote these words to Christians who were living at that time without the New Testament, who were facing severe persecution and who knew very little "theology." His greeting states, "To God's elect, strangers in the world ... who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and sprinkling by His blood" (I Peter 1:1-2). Look what God has invested in us who believe in Jesus Christ!
He says further in verses 18-19: "For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect." Paul wrote the following to the Corinthians in II Corinthians 8:9: "For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich." We who believe are ALL "rich" in the love and grace of God. God is with us and He "has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ" (Ephesians 1:3).
So why the spiritual apathy that plagues so many in the body of Christ? Where is the fire, the passion for the cause of Christ that we need to have and should have EVERY DAY! Many of you might answer: LIFE happens! I understand; it happens to me, too. There are days when I am ready to take on the world, and there are days when "I got nothing." It's those days when you feel like quitting, when you feel overwhelmed, when you feel like you have nothing left to give ... it's THOSE days that require you and me to remember what we know, to remember who we are and to remember God's calling. It's those days, when we are weak, that God's desire is to display His strength in us and through us.
Later on in his letter to the churches, Peter writes, "In your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have" (I Peter 3:15). HOPE lifts us up and gives us inner strength so that we can not only endure, but testify to God's power that is at work within us. When Paul prayed and asked God for relief from his "thorn in the flesh," God told him, "My grace is sufficient for you, for MY POWER is made perfect in weakness" (II Corinthians 12:9). Then he goes on to say, "Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, THEN I am strong!" (II Corinthians 12:9-10).
Do you get it? Being "weak" is no excuse for apathy and half-hearted devotion to Christ. In our weakness, HIS strength becomes real to us and is displayed to those around us. Some people see me as a "strong Christian" because I am a pastor and because they have seen me and my wife and my family go through some trials. But I am continually telling people that it is not MY strength. I know where my help comes from and it is from my Father in heaven. He is the Creator of all things and His Son, Jesus Christ, is my Savior and my Lord, and His Spirit lives within me. It is GOD's power and strength you see, NOT MINE! And you can live with the same strength I have. You just need to know God, to feed often on His Word and to commit yourself to being His witness, on the good days AND on the not-so-good days. HE is the same, yesterday, today and forever, and He never fails to give His children what they need to fulfill His purpose.
"You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His wonderful light" - TODAY! This is your calling, this is your task, this is your purpose, today and every day. And God will give you everything you need to praise Him today, as you draw near to Him, as you believe His promises in Christ Jesus, and as you seek His face in prayer throughout the day. Now go do it!! Tell someone about the God who called you to be His and about the Savior who died and rose again who now lives within you by His Spirit. "Greater is He that is in YOU than he that is in the world!" (I John 4:4). Isn't it time you acted like it?!
Don't get caught up in all the controversial things and forget why you're here: to proclaim the glory of our God and to praise Him! Do it today and He will lift you up on eagles' wings and give you strength for the battle!!