24-04-18 THE IMPORTANT QUESTION OF WHEN - Part Two
Published April 24, 2018
WHERE IS HEALING NOW
THE GIFTS HAVE GONE?
By John Aldworth
The popular healing crusades that once drew tens of thousands are now a thing of the past. At least they are in my neck of the woods, New Zealand, and I suspect most everywhere else too. And one has to ask, why?
Is it because people actually died in Benny Hinn’s crusades? (Yes, they really did.) Or that very few got genuinely healed at others? Or is it because more believers now realise that the miracle working spiritual gifts outlined in Romans and Corinthians really did cease at the end of the Book of Acts just as the Apostle Paul prophesied they would (1 Cor. 13)? I strongly suspect the latter. After all you can only pray and believe for miraculous healing without seeing any result for so long. And having hands laid on you at altar calls or attending umpteen Full Gospel Businessmen’s meetings without change only postpones the inevitable day of disillusionment.
I think particularly of a man left a paraplegic by a fall from a tree who for 15 years sought prayer with laying on of hands at every meeting that would provide it only to remain permanently paralysed from the waist down. Meantime he was totally deaf to any suggestion God might still have other things for him to do despite his affliction.
Yes, it is true that there are occasional miracles; a few people can indeed thank God for remarkable recoveries. But for millions of people who trust in Christ it seems there is no quick answer nor even eventual cure for the suffering and sickness they experience. But there is God's upholding grace.
What’s more, it seems that often it is the most dedicated - those who stand for biblical truth and seek to share it with others, for example – who are the most afflicted. I know of one stalwart pioneer in a deeper understanding of God’s word who with his wife has suffered repeated serious illnesses. And many who likewise diligently seek to serve the Lord endure chronic conditions that have no cure. Again one must ask why?
So, are we to believe there is no divine remedy today when a person falls ill? I don’t think so. There is the Lord’s grace which, scripture proclaims, is always ‘sufficient for thee’ (2 Cor. 12:9). Paul was to find it sufficient for him despite his many afflictions. Then there is God’s mercy which healed Epaphroditus. Today in grace God has ‘mercy on all’ (Rom. 11:32) and that means everybody.
Not only that, but Christ died for all and ‘God was in Christ (at the cross, that is) reconciling the world unto Himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them…’ (2 Cor. 5:19). That all people are included in this reconciliation is further explained in Eph. 2:4-5: ‘But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses and sins hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved).
God’s mercy then is extended to all. For what difference is there between one person dead in sin and another? Unless, of course, you are a Calvinist and believe God chose only to save some and consigned most of humanity to torment in fire for eternity. Personally I find no biblical evidence for such a wicked calumny on the good nature of God and therefore reject it.
No, God’s grace is for all; inasmuch as Christ died for all, God has reconciled all mankind through his death and now, as revealed in Paul’s later epistles, has actually quickened (made alive again) all people with Christ. That being so there must be a remedy, a healing process, a way of staying in good health in the mix somewhere. And indeed, there is.
To take this study further let’s acknowledge two important truths. First that the miraculous powers of healing exercised by the apostles in Acts really did cease at the end of the book. Paul’s last miracle was on the island of Malta when he healed Publius’ father of fever and a bloody flux (Acts 28:8). Later, however, it is clear Paul could offer no divine healing for Timothy’s ‘oft infirmities’ (1 Tim. 5:23) and had to suggest Timothy drank a little wine to ease the condition. Nor could he supernaturally recover Epaphroditus who was ‘sick unto death’ (Phil. 2:26-27). But ‘God had mercy on him, and not on him only, but on me also lest I should have sorrow on sorrow’.
Evidently the ‘signs of an apostle’, including healing, had departed from Paul. Not because he had done anything wrong and thus forfeited the supernatural gifting but because, with the setting aside of Israel, ‘salvation was now sent to the Gentiles’ (Acts 28:28) and at this point God withdrew the sign gifts promised in covenant to Israel. Since then Paul, and we with him, have been in the dispensation of the grace of God (Eph. 3:1-4). And in this hugely different administration of God blessing is received ‘by grace through faith’ (Eph. 2:8-9), not through signs and wonders. Instant, miraculous healing is rarely part of this blessing, but being sustained through serious illness and, in many cases, recovery from it, definitely is.
The second truth is that despite the apostolic gifts of healing and miracles having ceased – because, for sure they are not passed down through any supposed ‘apostolic succession’ to the present day – nevertheless in this new dispensation God has promised to meet our needs through grace.
That rules out receiving healing consequent upon promises made with Israel. You see, as Gentiles we were and still are ‘strangers from the covenants of promise’ and ‘aliens from the commonwealth of Israel’ Eph. 2:12). Quite apart from Israel, we Gentiles - indeed all believers – are now ‘made nigh (unto God, that is) (only) by the blood of Christ’ (Eph. 2:13).
Nothing but the blood of Jesus gives us direct access to God (Eph. 2:13). And only through grace by faith in his word can we receive blessings such as healing. Furthermore, the illness of Epaphroditus shows it is now through his mercy, not covenant promises, that God heals. Therefore healing today cannot be demanded as a covenant right (as it was for Israel in Jesus’s time on earth and subsequently in the Acts period); thus today, even for Jews, it is no longer the ‘children’s bread’ (Mark 7:27).
A good question to ask is why Epaphroditus fell ill in the first place. He was a faithful minister – Paul said so (Phil. 2:25-29). And he was ‘full of heaviness’ because the Philippians had heard that he, their minister, had been sick. This implies they did not expect such a minister to fall ill. Probably, neither did he. And when he did become sick they very likely expected that the Apostle Paul would miraculously heal him. But as we have seen Paul could no longer do so.
The Philippians wondered why. After all their church had begun with a flurry of miracles. Members included the gaoler and his family who had been brought to Christ by a God-sent earthquake and Lydia ‘whose heart the Lord opened’. Also they would have known that at Lystra Paul rose from the dead after being stoned ‘as the disciples stood round him’ (Acts 14: 19-20, 16:13-14, 25-32).
That being so, they were asking: why did Epaphroditus fall ill when he was faithful to God, while he was bringing needed sustenance to Paul in prison? And why couldn’t Paul lay hands on him and heal him? The answer, of course, is that there had been a change of dispensation. The Pentecostal dispensation of miracles and healings ended with the Roman Jews’ final rejection of Christ in Acts 28. Salvation is now sent to all nations, indeed to all men, but on different terms. No longer are there ‘signs following’; nor indeed any ‘preceding’ the proclamation of the gospel of being saved by grace.
But there is grace today to meet all our needs. Phil. 4:19 plainly states: ‘But my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus’. And 2 Cor. 9:8 insists: ‘And God is able to make all grace abound toward you; that ye, always having all sufficiency in all things, may abound to every good work’.
Granted, both the above verses are set in the context of giving financial and other support to the ministry of the Apostle Paul and that to extent the promise is conditional. However, I would assert that that believers today can receive this same abounding, all need-meeting grace by also supporting the Apostle Paul.
How? By fully accepting, believing and telling others about the later revelation of truth given Paul for us Gentiles in his prison epistles (Ephesians to Philemon). The apostle doesn’t need our financial support today but we can still uphold his ministry by fully accepting in ourselves the new truths of grace and the mystery disclosed in his writings. And this will be no easy thing to do. To most of Christianity the special revelation given to ‘Paul, the prisoner of Jesus Christ for you Gentiles’ (Ephesians 3:1-4) of the dispensation of being saved by grace through faith alone, without works and quite apart from any connection to the promises made to Israel, is anathema.
So much so that today Paul could well write that ‘all they that be in Christendom be turned away from me’, just as those in Asia turned from him in his day. Indeed in many churches Paul’s doctrine is as popular as a pork chop in a synagogue, as the saying goes.
I contend then that grace can indeed ‘supply all your need’, including healing, if the latest message from God to mankind, given to him and recorded in his letters written from prison, is received by ‘the obedience of faith’ (Romans 16:26) as God has commanded it should be.
Series to be continued