Understanding the Gifts of Healing
The Gifts Of Healing Refers To The Supernatural Ability To Heal People
The biblical account of healing can answer many of our questions today. How much of what the bible is saying on this subject is clouded by our theological tradition? Is it possible to be healed from our diseases if only we have the faith to believe? Does doubt come in the way of a miraculous cure waiting to happen? Sincere and devout Christians on either side of the doctrinal fence differ on their responses to such questions. Let’s examine what scripture has to say in regard to three distinct stages of the healing experience namely, the Provider in the Old Testament times, the purpose in Jesus’ ministry, the practice in the New Testament church, and the proclamation and healing in the church today.
The Provider Of Healing In The OT Times
In the context of the OT, “healing speaks of forgiveness and of the restoration of a harmonious relationship with God, as well as of the blessings that follows such a relationship.”[i] The rebellious condition of the people of God is directly linked with an inner suffering as well as a physical malady—the head is injured, the heart is afflicted, and the body from the top of the head to the bottom the sole is riddled with welts and wounds that desperately need to be healed. The consequences of failing to do what is right in God’s sight leaves the people open to the same diseases that afflicted their enemies (Ex 15:26a). Those diagnosed as disobedient need to turn to God and receive cleansing (Isa 1:4; 5-6, 18). Thus, spiritual sickness or disease is equated with sin, while healing is equated with forgiveness and a restored relationship with God (cf., 2 Chr 7:14-16; Hos 6:1). It is also evident that God is the Provider of physical healing as well declaring to his people, “I am the LORD who heals you” (Ex 15:26b).
The Purpose Of Healing In Jesus’ Ministry
At the beginning of Jesus’ ministry he unrolled the scroll in the synagogue at Nazareth and read, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Lk 4:18-19). Within those two inaugural verses, Jesus revealed the purpose of his mission. He came in fulfillment of Isaiah’s long-awaited prophecy written upon the scrolls he had just read. In the life setting of the first century Jew, the majority of Jesus’ works of healing could be seen as the restoration of a socially ostracized or ritually unclean member of the community, due to disease, back into the fold. Once excluded because of ritual uncleanness, the healed individual can rejoin and rejoice with the people of God. Jesus never performed works of healing simply to validate his person or impress the people. He saw his mission in terms of proclaiming the good news and releasing the unclean captives, the poor, blind, and powerless, as he set into motion the year of God’s favor. These physical infirmities and or sinful conditions prevented the Israelite his or her full rights as part of the assembly of the LORD (Deut 23:1-6). The healing miracles of Jesus must be understood as the granting of the gift of shalom, wholeness, to those who were burdened with maladies and found lacking (Mt 11:28; Lk 2:14). He not only brought them physical health from a deadly disease, but also reinstated their membership back into the worshiping community (Lk 17:12-14). His works of healing even extended to the Samaritans and Gentiles alike in order to break down the exclusive dividing wall of the Jews. He opened the way for outsiders to draw near and be a part of the people of God.
Therefore, the desired effect of these miraculous cures was not to merely bring physical healing to human outcasts, but to offer forgiveness of sins and restore them back to a long lost relationship with the God of Israel. Jesus’ healing ministry was an integral part of his total mission to reach out and tear down social, racial, and gender barriers in order to establish the kingdom of God on earth. By way of a subversive parable, Jesus related the story in regard to who will eat bread in the kingdom of God. When the invited guests begged off by coming up with all sorts of excuses to attend the feast, the master sent his slaves into the streets and lanes in order to bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame. And if that wasn’t enough, the master sent his slaves out further into the roads and lanes to compel people to come in and join the great banquet (Lk 14:16-24). Jesus’ healing ministry did just that, it gathered those who were near and far off that they may sit at the table and have fellowship within this renewed covenant community of Israel, in fulfillment of what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah: “He took our infirmities and bore our diseases” (Mt 8:17).
The Practice Of Healing In The NT Church
If we look closely at the healings in the gospels, we will see that the emphasis is not on the restoration of the individual’s heath, but on the restoration of the individual to fellowship in the reconstituted Israel of God. The healings Jesus performed are not merely for the sake of one’s health and wellbeing nor are they merely an act of love and mercy. Rather they serve an evangelistic purpose in that they cleansed the ailment that made people ritually unclean. It’s interesting to note that Jesus didn’t heal people of coughs, colds, and flu. Bad backs and sprained ankles, no. Leprous hands and paralytic bodies, yes. Those who received healing served Jesus’ in advancing his mission in the furtherance of the good news, for he was sent for this purpose (Mk 5:20; Lk 4:37, 43).
The Proclamation And Healing in The Church Today
Jesus commanded his disciples and sent them “to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal” in his name (Lk 9:1-12). Jesus’ command was meant not only for the early church but also for the church today. Thus, proclamation and healing go hand in hand. In the Septuagint, the word church, ekklesia translates a Hebrew word most often used in the OT in reference to a ceremonial assembly of God’s covenant people.[ii] The proclamation of God’s kingdom and healing should be a regular part in the life of the church, the body of Christ. When the gospel is proclaimed, healing takes place in the spiritual as well as physical realm. Through proclamation, the sinner who is far off draws near to Christ and is healed or cleansed of the sin that separates him or her from fellowship with God (Num 21:6-9: cf. Jn 12:32). Those who are made clean by the blood of Jesus are restored and ushered into the church, the new covenant people of God. Broken lives are mended, severed relationships are healed, and the new family of God is added to in the wake of the power of the gospel of God and its cleansing/healing resurrection power (Rom 1:16).
Prayer For Healing. Throughout the OT and NT, it is clear that healing comes from an all powerful and compassionate God. With this in view, we are in partnership with God as stewards or servants of his kingdom. God will not do what Christians are responsible for and can do—have faith in God, come together in agreement for the healing request, approach the throne of grace, get down on their knees, lay on of their hands, offer prayers for healing and give thanks in Jesus’ name. On the other hand, Christians cannot do what God is responsible for and can only do—mighty works of miraculous cures in answer to prayers in his Son’s name (Jn 14:13-14; Ac 28:8; Heb 4:16; Jas 5:13-15). In the process of prayer for healing, faith does play a vital role or at least faith in some form is mentioned in most instances of healing in the NT. There were moments when the faith of the person being healed was a factor (Mt 9:22). At other times, the faith of friends or family members contributed the healing event (Mt 15:28; Mk 2:5,11). The faith of the person who prays for the healing figures into the equation (Mk:17-24; Jas 5:15). What is important to remember is that the object of our faith is God who provides the healing and not his promise to heal which is subject to human interpretation and can lead to a grave misunderstanding or disappointment. Our prayer for healing should be exercised in all humility according to the will of God—in his good time and good purposes (Rom 8:28).
Gifts Of Healing. The gifts of healing refers to the supernatural ability to heal people of physical diseases in response to a laying on of hands, or praying, or commanding to be healed or some combination of them by the person through whom the Spirit wills to channel the gift (Ac 3:2,6-8; 14:8-10). This is performed for the building up or edification of the ailing members of the body of Christ. In 1 Corinthians 12:9,28,30, Paul includes “gifts of healing,” iama, in his list of spiritual gifts given to the believers. ‘Gifts’, not ‘gift’, of healing is mentioned in the plural form without the definitive ‘the.’ This indicates that healing is Holy-Spirit-given as well as a transient or occasional gift. In other words, healing is a gift that can be exercised by a person according to the will of the Holy Spirit.[iii] This gift is not permanent or even 100% successful with any one person to hold the title “faith healer.” Even Paul, who healed many, was unable to heal Epaphroditus (Phil 2:25-30). In the gospels, it appears that Jesus alone was able to heal every time. Note that the bible does sanction the work of a physician and the use of medicinal care (Mt 9:12; Lk 10:34; Col 4:14; 1 Timothy 5:23).
[i] Lawrence O. Richards, Expository Dictionary of Bible Words (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1985), 329.
[ii] Ibid., 164.
[iii] Hebrews 2:4 says, “God added his testimony by signs and wonders and various miracles, and by gifts of the Holy Spirit, distributed according to his will.” Gifts of healing may refer, not so much to the power of healing granted to a person to exercise when he chooses, but to the distribution of healing as the Lord sees fit.
© 2009, Gicky Soriano. All rights reserved.
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