Monday, May 29, 2006

Faith and Healing

This is my personal summary of the expository preaching of Rev.Dr.Stephen Tong on James 5:15-15 on 14 May 2006

The verses talk about sickness and healing.

In the first 1900 years of church history, healing for the sick was not really emphasized. In 1901, there was one person who sparked the charismatic movement. In 1905, there were 5 people. Now we have more than 200 million people. They believe that we are living in the era of the Holy Spirit where there Church is returning to the faith of the Apostles.

Apostolic faith according to their understanding consists in the following phenomena: healing, exorcism, tongues and miracles. In the 20th century numbers of charismatic believers grew a lot and people took it as the sign on the power of the Holy Spirit. Is it true? Now, in the 21st century, we can review on the 20th century with a cool mind.

Acts 2 said that the early church followed the apostolic teaching. So the apostolic teaching is the standard. This is an important principle. The New Testament always mentioned the Apostles and the Prophets, not the other way round (Eph.2:20, Eph.4:11-12). Why is the apostles always mentioned first? It is because only through the New Testament we understand the Old Testament. The New Testament is hidden in the Old Testament and the Old Testament is perfected by the New Testament.

Phillip met an Ethiopian eunuch who was reading the book Isaiah (Isa. 53) but could not understand whom the book was referring to. Phillip explained that prophet Isaiah was talking about Jesus Christ. So prophets could see ahead, they saw the Christ to come but did not live to see Him, except John the Baptist. John the Baptist declared Jesus and saw Jesus personally. He was the only prophet that saw Jesus Christ. The rest of the prophets only saw Him in faith. And John the Baptist was also the last prophet. Jesus Himself said, “The all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John.” (Matthew 11:13) which means that the office of the prophet has ceased!

As the office of the prophet ceased, the office of the apostles began. And the faith of the apostles was the mark of the true Church. But had the apostolic teaching been missing from the first to the 19th century? What is the work of the Holy Spirit?

The Holy Spirit's works consist in the following. He inspired the Scriptures, the written Word of God. And through the Scriptures, He led us to the Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Word of God. Through this, He regenerates people to become part of the Church.

People who preach the most about the Holy Spirit are frequently those who do not understand. They say we are limiting the Holy Spirit if we only confine Him to work through the Scriptures. However, God is a self-limiting God. God the Father uses His absolute willingness to exercise His absolute freedom within the constraint of His attributes. God the Son constrained Himself when He came as God in the flesh. The Infinite God limited Himself to the finite, from eternal realm into history, became a human being that was constrained by space and time and could be killed. This is His own will. In 1 John 4:2-3, the apostle John asserted that we need to believe in this self-limiting God (Christ came in the flesh) to have orthodox faith. God the Holy Spirit is self-limiting too. He reveals to us all things within the constraint of the Holy Scriptures. The Truth is infinite, but He has inspired it in the constraint of words in the Scriptures. He is the Spirit of Truth that constrains the revealed Truth in the revealed Word. It is in all these constraints that we have our orthodox faith.

Is it true that if we pray in faith, all sicknesses will be healed? If so, then we cannot die of sickness and probably can only die by accident. If so, then God would be under our command. Then, is sickness always because of sin? It can be related to sin but it is not always so in every case. There are those who suffer illness not because of sin, like Job. It is not so simplistic.

This passage (James 5:15-16) seems to say that if we pray in faith, we will be healed for sure. But we need to observe that it gives the context of sin here. It tells of the relationship between sin and sickness. Not all sicknesses come because of sin. But sicknesses that come because of sin can be healed if we pray by faith and confess our sin. Therefore we cannot say that if we are not healed it means we have no faith. And we cannot also say that it is because of sin that our prayer of faith is not heard. There are sicknesses that might come for trying the saints of God, not because of sin.

The next question is, if we pray in faith, would God definitely hear us?

There are 3 examples of the prayers of people of faith that God denied.

Elijah asked for death and God rejected his prayer. He assumed that death was better than life because “I am just like my ancestors.” In the first place, he subconsciously had a wrong concept, thinking that life would be meaningful only if he could surpass the rest. Not only God did not answer his prayer, God gave him food and rest so that he would be stronger to continue fighting the life of faith. But is it wrong to desire to be better? God would not obstruct our great ambitions. Jesus said, “If you want to be great, you have to be a servant of all.” So you can desire to be great. But good motivations have to be combined with right methodology.

Jesus prayed 3 times for the cup to pass from Him and God was completely silent. It was the loneliest time of His life. He had lived only to please God perfectly but that night He pleaded and what He experienced was a vacuum of love.

What is this ‘cup’? Is it the death on the cross? It cannot be because He clearly came in the flesh in order to die, so why escape at the last moment now? He also said, “Not My will but Yours be done.” Why are there two wills? This does not mean that the Father and the Son’s wills are different, but it shows that Father and Son are two distinct Persons of God. When Jesus said, “Not My will”, He is a representative of humanity, giving us a perfect example of how human should submit his will to God. The ‘cup’ is the wrath of God. It is the separation of the Father and the Son. Both the Father and the Son’s will is the same. The Father is not willing to part with the Son and the Son is not willing to part with the Father. But it is a paradoxical moment. There is no unity without separation. The separation is an absolute necessity which only happened once in all history, where salvation is accomplished.

“My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” is the cry of that ‘cup’ He drank.

So, if God once did not even listen to the prayer of His Son, why should He listen and submit to your prayers? We need to correct our theology of prayer.

Next, Paul prayed 3 times for the thorn in his flesh to be removed, but God rejected him. In response, God said, “My grace is sufficient for you for My strength is made perfect in weaknesses.” God often puts difficulties in His especially beloved saints. On one hand He blesses them with great grace, on the other hand He gives them trials and difficulties to keep them humble and reliant on Him. This is God’s love which is hard to understand. What is this ‘thorn’? It is not specified by Paul. There was a document in first century about Paul seeing a doctor because of his eye problem. If the document was true, then the ‘thorn’ could be illness.

So we cannot force God to heal our illnesses. We summarize a few points below.

When we pray in faith for healing, is this faith the faith that comes from hearing the Word of God, or is it self-confidence? We cannot approach God with human-centered faith after the Fall. This is faith in faith.

The passage says clearly that if we sin, we will be forgiven. When Jesus healed, He often said, “Your sins are forgiven.” This shows that sometimes sicknesses are the result of sin. The Apostle Paul also mentioned this once when he expounded regarding the Holy Communion in 1 Corinthians.

The faith of the Bible is centered on Jesus Christ and His sovereign will is above our will. It is the faith which is based on His revealed Word. And the faith consists of obedience within the promises of God.

After we understand all these things, we can pray for healing properly.


At 6:50 PM, Blogger Darren said...

Thanks mejlina.
I'm in taipei now but they're at chapter 4 so at least I can still depend on your transcripts.
This goes to show how important your work is hehe. Keep it up! :)

God bless,


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