This short section of scripture is interesting because it shows us one instance where a miraculous healing did NOT occur.
It seems as though everyone in the early church was miraculously healed, either by the Lord or the Apostles. But this was not always the case as we see here in these verses.
In these verses Epaphroditus was healed, but it was not a miraculous, instantaneous healing as is recorded so many times in the Bible. This is something we need to think about because there are ministries today that preach divine healing and focus on these miracles, and if they do not occur, people fall into condemnation or guilt or a lack of faith. What is needed instead is an understanding of what is going on.
Faith healing ministries
I have heard it said by some who ascribe to the modern faith healing ministries in some parts of the evangelical churches that if your faith is strong enough, you should never get sick. They believe also that if your faith is strong enough you should never have any physical infirmity, such as being shortsighted and needing glasses. In fact I heard one person say who did wear glasses, that if they had enough faith they should be able to just throw away their glasses.
Many of these same teachers also claim that if you have enough faith you should never suffer poverty because the Lord promises you wealth.
Are these positions realistic? Are they based on the truth that is taught in the Bible?
No they are not.
In relation to the poor, Jesus made the comment that, “For you always have the poor with you…” (Matthew 26:11) So who should you believe, Jesus Christ or those modern teachers who say the opposite of what Christ taught?
Now as for the sick and the question of divine health or faith healing, we see in this section of scripture that Epaphroditus was very ill and at the point of death.
25 I have thought it necessary to send to you Epaphrodi’tus my brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier, and your messenger and minister to my need, 26 for he has been longing for you all, and has been distressed because you heard that he was ill. 27 Indeed he was ill, near to death. But God had mercy on him, and not only on him but on me also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow. 28 I am the more eager to send him, therefore, that you may rejoice at seeing him again, and that I may be less anxious. 29 So receive him in the Lord with all joy; and honour such men, 30 for he nearly died for the work of Christ, risking his life to complete your service to me. (Philippians 2:25-30)
It was evident that Epaphroditus was very ill and it was also clear that he was working with Paul, but Paul could not heal him, or at least not miraculously heal him.
Was he suffering because he was lacking in faith? Or was Paul unable to heal him because he was lacking in faith?
Clearly the answer to both of these questions is…No.
There is no question in relation to the faith of Paul and when you read how Paul describes Epaphroditus, it is evident that he too was not weak in the faith.
So why was he not miraculously healed?
The Spirit is with me
It seems from scripture that the Spirit did not always give the power to do miracles. Consider this scripture:
On one of those days, as he was teaching, there were Pharisees and teachers of the law sitting by, who had come from every village of Galilee and Judea and from Jerusalem; and the power of the Lord was with him to heal. (Luke 5:17)
On this particular occasion the point was made that the power of the Lord was with Jesus on that occasion to do a healing. If you continue to read that section of scripture, Jesus went on to heal the man paralysed who was let down through the roof by his friends.
But the suggestion that the power of the Lord was with Him to heal on that occasion indicates that there may have been times when the power of the Lord was NOT with Him to heal or do miracles. And we see an instance where Jesus could not do many mighty works in the following verse.
53 And when Jesus had finished these parables, he went away from there, 54 and coming to his own country he taught them in their synagogue, so that they were astonished, and said, “Where did this man get this wisdom and these mighty works? 55 Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother called Mary? And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? 56 And are not all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all this?” 57 And they took offense at him. But Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honour except in his own country and in his own house.” 58 And he did not do many mighty works there, because of their unbelief. (Matthew 13:53-58)
Note in verse 58 that Jesus was unable to do many mighty works amongst the people He grew up with because they did not believe He was the Christ.
So it is evident that the power of the Lord was not with Paul to heal Epaphroditus by miraculous means.
Add to this the fact that Paul suffered with eye problems himself and he even mentioned that he first preached the gospel to the Galatians because of a physical affliction with his eyes.
13 you know it was because of a bodily ailment that I preached the gospel to you at first; 14 and though my condition was a trial to you, you did not scorn or despise me, but received me as an angel of God, as Christ Jesus. 15 What has become of the satisfaction you felt? For I bear you witness that, if possible, you would have plucked out your eyes and given them to me. (Galatians 4:13-15)
And we see also that Paul wrote to Timothy about the physical ailments he suffered advising him what to do to help overcome his issues. It was not through a miraculous healing that Timothy was to be cured.
No longer drink only water, but use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments. (1 Timothy 5:23)
There is no question of the strength of the faith in all of these early disciples and leaders in the early church. And yet they all suffered physical ailments of one type or another.
Knowing this raises a question over the divine health and faith healing teachings in segments of the modern church. Such teachings are completely at odds with the evidence of the bible and the actions in the early church.
The problem with these modern teachings is that if a person does not get the healing they seek or the affliction does not go away, they are condemned by the preachers of such false doctrines as not having enough faith, and the people themselves walk in condemnation thinking they are not good enough and lacking in faith.
These things do not promote the glory of the Lord but promote the weaknesses of the flesh and such teachings need to be avoided.
But what are we to do if we DO get sick? The Lord has provided a way for us to be healed. It may not be miraculous, but it does work.
Anointing with oil
The Lord has given the Elders of the church the authority to anoint with oil those who are sick so that they may be healed. He did not promise that the healings would be instantaneous but that people would be healed if they came to Him according to the process He established.
In the first instance Jesus sent out the disciples in pairs and they anointed the sick so that they would be healed.
12 So they went out and preached that men should repent. 13 And they cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many that were sick and healed them. (Mark 6:12-13)
This was not the first instance of anointing with oil as it was a well established process in the Old Testament and was used for a number of different purposes.
But we see the reason for the anointing with oil for healing in the words of James.
14 Is any among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; 15 and the prayer of faith will save the sick man, and the Lord will raise him up; and if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. (James 5:14-15)
In these words we see that the Elders of the church have been given the authority to heal the sick through the anointing with oil. If a person is ill they can call upon the elders to come and anoint and pray over the sick person and they will be healed.
But what we see is that the anointing is for the forgiveness of sins. No person can stand in the presence of God and receive His help who is a sinner. But the anointing with oil is seen as an appeal to God to forgive their sins so that God will step in and help the person, giving the requested healing. It’s a bit like the baptism of repentance in that way: an appeal for the forgiveness of sins. And as the Elders pray over the sick person in faith, the person will be healed. It may not be instantaneous, but the healing will commence.
What puzzles me is that this ordinance given by God to help people be freed of their sicknesses and infirmities is not practised among many of the churches. It was given for our benefit and as Christians we should take advantage of the help of the Lord in this way so that healing can be received.
Confirming the message with signs
There is yet another aspect to be considered as regards the matter of healing.
When we look at the healings performed by the Lord, many of them had more than one purpose. First, they were to relieve the suffering of the sick person. But the healings also were used to teach and establish important points that Jesus was showing the people.
For example, when the paralytic was let down through the roof for healing, Jesus used that healing to show that He had authority to forgive sins. The healing proved that He had the power and authority of God here on earth to do His will. Many other healings were used to prove that Jesus was who He said He was: the Son of God and the Messiah.
Likewise, we see that the miraculous signs performed by the Apostles after Jesus had died and was resurrected, were for a purpose as well. Jesus showed what that purpose was after He commissioned the disciples and as He left the earth to return to the Father.
15 And he said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to the whole creation. 16 He who believes and is baptised will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned. 17 And these signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; 18 they will pick up serpents, and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.” 19 So then the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven, and sat down at the right hand of God. 20 And they went forth and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by the signs that attended it. Amen. (Mark 16:15-20)
The disciples were sent out into the world to preach the gospel, and in the last verse above we see that, “…the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by the signs that attended it.”
The disciples had the truth of the message and so Christ was more than happy to confirm the message of the truth as they preached it. One of the signs we see here in verse 18 is that “…they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.”
Christ will confirm the message of the truth by the signs, including healing the sick, that are performed in His name. They will recover is what the word says, but that does not necessarily mean they will be instantly healed. They will recover is the promise and that may take a little time to occur.
But consider for a moment, will Christ confirm a false gospel or a false teaching with His signs and wonders? No, He will not. If a teacher is teaching what is wrong, whether they know it or not, The Lord will not confirm a false message. And I say whether they know it or not because many have been taught false doctrines passed down as truth from prior generations and have not sought the truth for themselves.
This is the final point on the matter of healing the sick. If we want to see the sick healed we need to follow the processes established in scripture. And with respect to the last point above it is essential that we discover the truth for ourselves if we are to receive His promises.
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