Ecclesiology 026: Spiritual Gifts 6Galatians 4:13-14 • Dr. Andy Woods • June 17, 2018 • Ecclesiology
Dr. Andy Woods
Ecclesiology 26, Spiritual Gifts 6
6-17-18 Lesson 26
Happy Father’s Day everybody, I guess not everybody, Happy Father’s Day to the fathers. I guess we can all celebrate it, Amen. I’m going to open us in a word of prayer and then we’ll get started. Father, we’re grateful for this morning, grateful for Father’s Day, and grateful for Your grace to us on an ongoing basis. And I just ask that You’ll be with us during Sunday School this morning as we dive into a controversial deeper subject and also as we celebrate Your soon return to a study of the Book of Revelation later on in the second hour and I just ask that people would leave here really encouraged and uplifted with our minds off of the things of this earth and onto eternal things which is what You tell us to do, You tell us that our minds should be set on heavenly things, so I pray that You’ll accomplish this reality today in the life of this church. And we’ll be careful to give you all the praise and the glory. We lift these things up in Jesus’ name and God’s people said… Amen.
If you all can locate the Book of Galatians, chapter 4, verses 13-14. As everybody knows we’re continuing our study on the doctrine of the church, still talking about the purposes of the church and one of the purposes of the church is the edification of the saints so the saints can become equipped for their ministry. And you say well what’s my ministry? Well, that largely is between you and the Lord but I’ll give you a big hint—it’s based on how He’s gifted you. So consequently, we decided to cover the covenant the doctrine of spiritual gifts under Ecclesiology and basically as we’re looking at spiritual gifts we’re asking and answering four questions.
Number 1, what are some general observations about spiritual gifts, and we provided those. And it’s sort of hard to talk about spiritual gifts without addressing the elephant in the room, are all the spiritual gifts for today? So we made some preliminary observations about that and then we’ve moved on into an actual discussion of seven spiritual gifts, and you say wait a minute pastor, hold the phone, last Sunday we were in here and you said there’s six disputed spiritual gifts. Well, I thought about it this week and prayed about it and I added a seventh and seven is a better number than six… amen, biblically. And I’ll explain why I added a seventh a little bit later. But there are those that are brothers and sisters in Christ that believe every gift you see in the New Testament is in full operation today and there are others like ourselves, selective sensationalists, who basically believe these seven gifts ceased in the first century. We have explained that this is the doctrinal position of our church and I’m really more or less trying to get us to understand why we think the way we think on this subject. It, as we’re going to see, becomes an issue that doesn’t determine heaven or hell but it is a very significant and important issue in our daily lives and in the functioning of a local church, how a church is supposed to function.
And one of the helpful things to do is to take the gifts of the Holy Spirit and divide them into four categories. The first category are the foundational gifts, as we have studied, these are gifts that the Lord used to lay the foundation of the church and you lay a foundation only one time. And those foundational gifts, as we have studied, are the gift of apostle and prophet. So those gifts, since the Lord is not re-laying the foundation today those gifts, the way the Bible describes them have passed in the first century.
Then there’s a second series of gifts called the confirmatory gifts; these would include workers of miracles, tongues, and healing, and we’ve studied the fact that miracles in the Bible don’t just happen in a continuous strain; they revolve around time periods where God is doing something new. So when God inaugurated the church He accompanied it with various signs. Workers of miracles is a sign gift that the apostles performed and that’s why in Acts 2:43 you see the words wonders, signs and apostles underlined because I’m trying to highlight that point. Tongues, and I think we looked at tongues last time, tongues is better translated languages, we saw that tongues or languages is really a sign for the unbeliever. So it was a sign that God gave at a particular time in history to show national Israel that she was on the wrong side of the ledger and the church that had just started was on the correct side, which reverses 1,500 years of God’s dealings. And so essentially what the Lord did is He accompanied that change in plans curve, if you will, or right turn or left turn or however you want to describe it, in the outworking of His plans through a sign gift called the gift of tongues. And we talked about that last time.
And then last time we got into the subject of healing and we saw that healing also is a sign gift performed by the apostles, Acts 5:12, Acts 5:15-16. [Acts 5:12, “At the hands of the apostles many signs and wonders were taking place among the people; and they were all with one accord in Solomon’s portico.”  to such an extent that they even carried the sick out into the streets and laid them on cots and pallets, so that when Peter came by at least his shadow might fall on any one of them. Also the people from the cities in the vicinity of Jerusalem were coming together, bringing people who were sick or afflicted with unclean spirits, and they were all being healed.”
And we saw that when the gift of healing was in operation it was one of those things where it was obvious, it was self-evident, everybody was healed that came under this gift, and it was undeniable. And we saw that that gift also started to peter out even in the life of the Apostle Paul towards the end of his life. So healings… now I’ve got to be very careful here, I’m not saying healing, I’m saying the gift of healing, BIG difference, passed also in the first century. And whenever you talk like this people get very nervous because they think you’re saying God doesn’t heal today. But you’ll notice from out doctrinal statement that it says, “we affirm that God is sovereign and may heal today.” So, communicating that, the sign gift of healing ceased, is not the same thing as telling people God doesn’t heal today. So our primary que comes from the Book of James where if someone is sick we’re to call the elders of the church to anoint the sick person’s head with oil and pray if it’s God’s will that such a person be healed, waiting on God to perform the miracle directly if He chooses to rather than someone coming in with the alleged gift of healing, laying hands on the person and they automatically get up and walk.
So this chart, I think we were covering it towards the end last time, is basically describing the distinction between the apostolic gift of healing in the first century and healing today. The apostolic gift in the first century was often times accompanied by no prayer but today we believe prayer is a prerequisite for divine healing. The apostolic gift of healing was indirect, God healed through a man, an apostle who laid hands on somebody. Today when God heals He does it directly. The apostolic gift of healing was brought forth by the apostles; today God can use any means He wants to heal. Sometimes He uses physicians, sometimes He uses the natural design of our human bodies. Isn’t it interesting that when we get cut how rapidly our skin heals up? So the body itself is designed for self-healing. And so many times the Lord will use means outside of an apostle, in the first century, to heal. The apostolic gift of healing was instantaneous, I showed you Acts 3:7 where it says his ankles were made well. [Acts 3:7, “And seizing him by the right hand, he raised him up; and immediately his feet and his ankles were strengthened.”] Today healing can take place more gradually. In the apostolic time period healings were common and undeniable. Today I think they’re less common.
And then it’s this last point that I wanted to spend some time on this morning because there is rampant confusion in the body of Christ today concerning automatic healings. When the apostles, through the gift of healing, laid hands on someone, as best I can tell from the Bible, it was an automatic thing. Today when the elders of the church or when we pray for people to get well it’s not automatic. In other words, some people get healed which I can testify to you of prayers that we’ve seen at this church miraculously answered but there are other times at this church where we’ve prayed with the same faith, we’ve prayed with the same fervency, we’ve prayed with the same expectancy and the person ends up dying.
So basically, healing is automatic in the apostolic time period; it’s not automatic today. Listen to me very carefully—God doesn’t heal every Christian today. You say well, isn’t that sort of common sense, isn’t that self-evident? You’d be shocked at how little people understand this. As you watch so-called Christian television, I don’t mind naming the network, the Trinity Broadcast Network, TBN, years ago I quit calling them TBN, I now call them PCN, which I believe stands for Positive Confession Network. They have unleashed on that network, for decades, this is not something that happened last Friday, this doctrine where if you’re a kids king then you are entitled to bodily healing, you just have to access it by way of faith. And of course, if you don’t get your automatic healing then there must be something wrong with your faith. And to make matters worse, not only are you guaranteed automatic healing but you’re guaranteed wealth; your bank account should be filled with resources and you should be able to jet set around the world at will. And if you’re not experiencing those things, a life of luxury, then somehow you must be outside the will of God. That’s what’s called the positive confession concept.
A lot of this stuff really has its roots in the charismatic movement in a lot of places I could name. It’s called The Rhema Movement, sometimes it’s called The Word of Faith Movement. I remember very specifically Fred Price, a very well-known prosperity gospel preacher saying God is not going to live in a house that’s broken down. So He’s not going to live in a house with banged out windows and a house that needs a new paint job. And I thought to myself I wonder how Joni Eareckson Tada thinks about that. As you know, Joni Eareckson Tada suffered an injury as a teenager and she remains paralyzed from the neck down in a wheel chair and yet she is one of the most devout Christian people that I know of and her story is an inspiration worldwide. But Fred Price is on the television telling people that God’s not going to live in a house broken, so everybody is guaranteed a bodily healing. And this is the kind of thing that people are exposed to over and over again.
And what I’d like to communicate are about seven points, praise the Lord, I’ve got seven, isn’t that great how that keeps working that way. I want to show you that God does heal when He wants to. If we ask according to His will He hears us. But it is by no stretch of the imagination this side of eternity, by NO stretch of the imagination is it a divine guarantee nor is it a divine right. And my first point relates just to the Scripture itself. And that’s why I had you open up to the Book of Galatians, chapter 4, verses 13-14, where Paul says to the Galatians in Southern Galatia, “but you know that it was because of a bodily illness that I preached the gospel to you the first time;  and that which was a trial to you in my bodily condition you did not despise or loathe, but you received me as an angel of God, as Christ Jesus Himself.”
Now I don’t know how you interpret that? To me it’s very self-evident, Paul had a bodily illness and he talks about a bodily illness in verse 13 and then in verse 14 he clarifies talking about a bodily condition. So if prosperity gospel is right what you have to conclude is Paul didn’t know how to access his privileges as a child of God. Or Paul didn’t have enough faith. Or maybe Paul had some kind of unconfessed sin in his life. And you see very quickly, by simply reading the Bible, how ridiculous this idea is, that every child of God is guaranteed some kind of healing this side of eternity.
By the way, I can name all the big names of people that taught this decades ago, when I was coming of age as a Christian. You know what all of them have in common? They all died! I mean, isn’t it interesting that the mortality rate is still 100%. And I could go back on You Tube and I could watch the same sermons they gave, where they went on and on and on about this. Well, why are these people dead? I mean, there’s one disease you’re never going to be able to confess away and that’s your last one, because if the Lord tarries, the last time I checked the mortality rate is still 100%. Amen!
And you know most likely the story of the Apostle Paul, 2 Corinthians 12:7-9, where he experienced a thorn in the flesh. [2 Corinthians 12:7-9, “Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me—to keep me from exalting myself!  Concerning this I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me.  And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.”]
Nobody knows exactly what the thorn in the flesh was but the imagery of a thorn, doesn’t that communicate pain? And maybe the thorn in the flesh was this very illness that he was talking about here in the Book of Galatians. And when you study 2 Corinthians 12:7-9 he pleaded with the Lord, not once, not twice, but three times to take it away and each time the Lord said no, “My grace is sufficient for you.” So is it okay to ask for God to remove bodily illnesses? Of course it is, Paul did; the problem is demanding that God make good on a promise that He never made. And I would challenge you to write down these Scriptures because these will help you in the midst of this false teaching.
2 Corinthians 12:7-9 says, “Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations,” what revelations? He was caught up into the third heaven and heard things a man is not fit to hear. He had knowledge that other people didn’t have. Wouldn’t you get a little bit arrogant if you had that kind of knowledge? And if you become arrogant can God use you? No, so God kept him humble by introducing some kind of pain, perhaps in his body. It says there in verse 7, “Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me—“ I mean, “torment” is strong language, isn’t it, “to keep me from exalting myself!  Concerning this I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me.” “Implored” is not a casual request, I mean, he’s begging God to remove this adversity which I believe was likely in his body. And then it says, verse 9, “And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” In other words, Paul it’s this, adversity that’s keeping you in a place of dependency and as you’re in that place of dependency you’re in a place of usability. And what you need is not the illness to be removed, what you need is grace in the midst of the illness. See that?
So when we as elders pray for people we pray for people to get well all of the time but Lord, if the answer is no we pray that you give so and so or such and such grace in the midst of their problem. We don’t come together as elders and demand God do anything. And this is what sort of bothers me about this positive confession, is it’s taught as a divine right and you have a right to order God around like He’s some kind of cosmic bellhop.
And I remember taping some TV shows at a local TV station here and they were folks that were nice enough to let us use their studio and put us on their TV program and stuff, and I remember making the mistake when I was in there doing my shows they asked how are you feeling and I really wasn’t feeling that well that day, I think I was dealing with a cold. And one of the guys running the studio says well, we’re going to take care of this right now, and they laid hands on me and they said “in the name of Jesus, we command this cold or this flu to disappear.” And the whole time they’re praying I’m praying, I’m saying Lord, please don’t let them read the article that I wrote [laughter] which I’ll be sharing with you, indicating that the gift of healing has ceased.
And I’m one of these guys, I really don’t like to go into places and start fights with people so I kind of wimped out a little bit. They said well how do you feel now? And I said well, I’m feeling much better, which was not a lie because 15 minutes earlier I had taken three Advil’s. [Laughter] I just didn’t tell them the part about the Advil. Then it’s like okay, we got that fixed and you can go up and do your thing.
But you know, this is sort of the mindset of people; they think that an illness is always an enemy. You’ll notice what Paul says here, he says, verse 9, “Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my” what? “my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.” See how Paul switched his thinking? The thorn in the flesh was no longer an enemy, he saw it as an ally or as a gift because it was a thing preventing his revelations from going to his head, turning him into an arrogant jerk and making him unhumble and making him unusable before the Lord.
Some other Scriptures on this would be 1 Timothy 5:23 where Paul says to Timothy, “No longer drink water exclusively, but use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent illnesses.” You notice how Paul didn’t command a problem to leave Timothy any more than he commanded a problem to leave himself. And I think we’ve already brought up 2 Timothy 4:20 where Paul says, “Erastus remained at Corinth but Trophimus I left sick at Miletus.”
So really the first refutation to this idea today of automatic healing, while we acknowledge God can and does heal, it’s not automatic and you can tell it’s not automatic simply by reading the Scripture. There are very key references that God, I believe, has strategically built into His Word because God knew that this heresy would arise one day and He’s giving us ammunition as to why this heresy of health and wealth that’s guaranteed is not biblical but is, in fact, a heresy. I don’t really mind calling it a heresy. I know that there are issues in the body of Christ where good people differ and we should have a tone of grace on certain issues. But to me this is not one of those issues; this is absolute heretical, the reason I’m going to explain in just a minute, this is destroying people’s lives.
Why is that? Because of number 2, if you believe this you will be lulled into false guilt. You have to put yourself in the position of the person who’s in the wheel chair or has the ailment or whatever it is, if they are taught over and over again that it’s God’s will for them to be well and if they aren’t well it has to do with their own inability to confess their disease away, then what you’ve done is you’ve placed that person in double jeopardy. Not only do they have to go through life in the wheel chair or walking with a cane or whatever the case may be, that’s hard enough, but now they’ve got to go through life thinking it’s their own fault. You see that?
And here’s something to understand. Ideas have consequences; every idea you introduce will have some kind of consequence. That’s why we’re so particular here about doctrine and teaching and rightly dividing the Word of God because we can let things just roll off our tongue not understanding the consequences of what’s happening and what I’m trying to communicate is a very real consequence here, false guilt; I’ll call it double jeopardy. And if that weren’t bad enough there’s another consequence and that’s a false view of God.
Think about this for a minute, if you’re told that it’s your right to be healed, you just have to exercise faith and claim your promises because it’s your right as a king’s kid to be healed, and the healing doesn’t come, not only will you start blaming yourself over time but who else are you going to blame? You’re going to blame the Lord, the Lord is not making good on His promise. And if I can’t trust the Lord here maybe I can’t trust Him other places, like for salvation, like for provision and those kind of things. And so what happens is God and His abilities and His sovereignty starts to shrink in our minds and the fact of the matter is God never made the promise to begin with. See that? I mean, if you build your life on a false promise you can’t blame the promisor because the promisor never made the promise to begin with. But because people aren’t taught correctly on the subject they think they have a promise, the promise never materializes so it must be God’s fault. So God shrinks.
Or maybe this, maybe God loves everybody else but He doesn’t love me. How about that one? How’s that going to do for your personal prayer life and study time and wanting intimacy with God? God just reneged on a promise, who would want to fellowship with a God like this. And so this doctrine, I think actually bifurcates, it destroys people’s relationship with the Lord.
Something else, it can keep you away from legitimate medical attention. There are countless cases that I could cite, one of them my wife will tell you about, before we were married she was in a particular group, I don’t know if it’s necessary for me to give the name of the group because I don’t know everybody in that group, holds to this. But one of the doctrines that was floating around at that time was the prosperity gospel; someone within the group got sick and said you know, I need to go to the doctor to get proper medical attention and everybody said well, you don’t need to go to the doctor, God’s going to heal you. Well what do you think happened to the person? The person died. Now isn’t that something that should open up that group for a lawsuit? I mean, I’m a former attorney, that’s like lawsuit territory as far I can tell. I mean, that’s just blatant negligence resulting in the worst form of bodily injury, death! And then if that wasn’t enough this same group goes to the hospital where this person apparently died and they said now we’re going to raise her from the dead. And they made a total scene of themselves in front of all of these unbelieving medical professionals. I mean, first you kill the person through bad theology and then you make a fool of yourself by saying we’re going raise the person from the dead. Ideas have consequences is what I’m trying to get at. So the Scripture doesn’t support it, it leads to false guilt, it can lead to a false view of God.
Now number four and five, we’ve got to be very careful here, I want to make these two points. Watch my language very carefully; sickness is sometimes caused by sin. Let me give you some biblical support for that. Take a look at the Gospel of John just for a quick second. John 5:14, this was the paralytic who was in that condition for thirty-eight years. And Jesus healed him, as we know, and it says in verse 14, “Afterward Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, ‘Behold, you have become well, do not” what? “sin anymore, so that nothing worse will happen to you.”
Now what you can glean from that statement is apparently this guy was in the condition that he was in because of sin in his life and Jesus says don’t go back to that sin or not only will you be back in the same condition but something worse could even happen. So is it true that sometimes unconfessed sin leads to diseases and sickness? Obviously that’s true in certain occasions.
Let me give you one other example of this. Look at 1 Corinthians 11:30, this is the Corinthians who were drunk and disorderly at the Lord’s table. Paul says, verse 30, “For this reason many among you are weak and” what? “sick, and a number have” what? That “sleep” there is a euphemism for death, some of you have died. So why were some of them weak, why were some of them sick, why were some of them dead? Because they were in sin. What was their sin? It was drunkenness and disorderliness at the Lord’s table. So the Lord moved into that congregation with what I would call maximum divine discipline, and actually some people He took home early. Some people were placed in a situation of sickness and illness. I’ll show you as we move through the Book of Revelation where the Lord does that same thing in one of the churches there in Asia Minor.
So you put this verse together with John 5:14 and it’s obvious that sin can lead to sickness. If you have a stomach filled with ulcers, maybe that’s related to the sin of anxiety; sin can cause all kinds of problems, it can cause ulcers, it can cause problems in your blood pressure, if you’re suffering from a venereal disease because of a very loose lifestyle then that’s something that has been introduced into your life because of sin. I mean, countless examples we could give. If a person has most of their stomach eroded because of perpetual drunkenness and the intake of alcohol there’s another example.
The problem is this: assuming that every single sickness people experience is because of sin and you see that’s what the prosperity movement says. The prosperity movement says you’re sick because (A) you don’t have enough faith, and (B) even if you have enough faith maybe there’s some sort of unconfessed sin in your life you need to confess. So the illness is always being put back on the person. And I’m here to tell you that sometimes sin can make people sick, I’ve given you two examples of that.
But notice number five, sickness is not always caused by sin. You remember Job, I think I made reference to this last time, that Job is the first book written in canonical biblical history, in terms of the date of writing, because I think God knew that we would always struggle with this issue of suffering. I mean, why do the righteous suffer? Isn’t that something that’s always on our minds that bothers us. And it’s interesting that you have sort of an explanation of it, the theology of suffering in the Book of Job, the very first book that God wrote. And this is the error of Eliphaz, Bildad, Zophar and Elihu I think comes along later. And these are Job’s counsellors, and if these people are counsellors then they ought to lose their license to practice counselling because they all told him it’s your fault, Job. Remember what happened to Job, he lost his family, except his wife who said “why don’t you curse God and die?” Job probably thought well, wish you’d killed her too. [Laughter] Not you, I’m just saying Job. My wife’s sitting here in the front row acting as the restrainer on my sin nature.
And then he had his property and his livelihood destroyed, and then what happened is he had a skin problem break out all over his body and it was of such a severity that he actually had to break pottery to scratch himself to alleviate the physical problem that he was under. And here come all “his friends” (I put that in quotes) or “counsellors” (in quotes) because these people weren’t acting like friends that they weren’t acting like counsellors and they said well the reason all this has happened to you is because of sin in your life.
And we, as the reader, can see through it because we’ve read the first two chapters of Job; we have an angelic perspective on it that the counsellors that Job himself didn’t have. The whole thing related to a conversation between God and Satan in heaven that Job didn’t even know anything about. Neither did his counselors. And so I think a lot of times we need to give ourselves to the Book of Job because we charge into people’s life thinking we really understand what’s going on and we have maybe a fraction of the knowledge. And in the process you can be very well-intentioned but you can put a heap of guilt on somebody that’s unnecessary, in fact it makes things worse. And that’s what’s happening in the Book of Job.
And it’s obvious that Job did not have some unconfessed sin in his life that caused this problem because when you read the first two verses it says, “Uz whose name was Job; and that man was blameless, upright,” wow! “fearing God and turning away from evil.” [Job 1:1] And then it says, [Job 1:2] “Seven sons and three daughters were born to him” etc. And then you go down to verse 5 and this is what it says: “When the days of feasting had completed their cycle, Job would send and consecrate them, rising up early in the morning and offering burnt offerings according to the number of them all; for Job said, ‘Perhaps my sons have sinned and cursed God in their hearts.’ Thus Job did continually.” I mean, this is a guy that was so worried about sin, it wasn’t in his personal life, then he started to worry, well, maybe my kids have committed some kind of sin that I don’t even know about so I’ll get up early in the morning and intercede for them and offer the appropriate sacrifices.
So it’s obvious from a very surface reading of Job that the problems he went into had nothing to do with sin in his life and yet we know from the Book of Job that his problems were very severe. If you go over to chapter 2 and take a look at verses 7-8 it says, “Then Satan went out from the presence of the LORD and smote Job with sore boils from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head.  And he took a potsherd to scrape himself while he was sitting among the ashes.  Then his wife said to him, ‘Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die!’” I mean, look at all of these problems the guy had, right down to relational problems, business problems, physical problems, and everybody is blaming Job for it and we learn from the opening chapter of the Book of Job that Job wasn’t responsible for it at all.
Psalm 34:19 says, “Many are the afflictions of the righteous.” Let me say that again: “Many are the afflictions of the” who? Not the sinners, not the people with unconfessed sin in their life, “Many are the afflictions of the righteous.” Paul would be an example. Are we going to sit and say Paul had some kind of unconfessed sin in his life because of his bodily illness? I don’t know of a commentator or preacher or expositor on planet earth that would ever say something like that. Are we going to say that Timothy, who was promoted to the position of pastor-teacher over one of the most influential churches of that time period, called the Church at Ephesus? Are we going to say that he had some kind of stomach and frequent ailments because of some unconfessed sin in his life? That really doesn’t make any sense at all.
Are we going to say that Paul struggled with a thorn in the flesh because of unconfessed sin in his life? Of course we’re not going to say that. So something very important to understand is balance. The devil, I think it was C. S. Lewis who put it this way: “The devil is trying to push us to one extreme or the other. One extreme says sickness is always caused by sin, every single time. You’re off into an extreme when you use the word “always.” That’s not balanced biblical teaching. The other extreme is sin doesn’t matter and it won’t affect your physical body. You’re off to another extreme now teaching an unbalanced doctrine. What we have to find in biblical teaching is balance and here’s the balance: sickness is sometimes caused by sin, however sickness is not always caused by sin. It’s very important to understand this, those of you that are training and counsellors and things like that, that we develop a biblical understanding of this very important subject of sickness and healing and those kinds of things.
Now number six I’ve got underlined, number six on my list is what is missing in the prosperity gospel movement is a theology of suffering. You go to prosperity churches and you watch prosperity preachers on TV, what you do not hear from them is the theology of suffering. What is the theology of suffering? Suffering is sometimes the design of God within the life of the child of God. If I had my way such a doctrine wouldn’t be in the Bible but the fact of the matter is it’s there, it’s as clear as anybody that wants to study the Bible and investigate what you’ll discover is God introduces problems into people’s lives, sometimes of a bodily nature, that cannot be simply confessed away. They simply can’t be prayed away. Why is that? Because God is accomplishing something through that suffering which He cannot accomplish any other way. That’s what I mean by a theology of suffering.
It’s very interesting that when you travel into foreign countries and they don’t have all the infrastructure that we have, they don’t believe such foolish ideas the way we do. We believe them because we have an economy and in many cases a medical system that caters to us but it’s not going to work when you get outside the borders of Americana. Amen! The theology movement takes root in some cultures and not others because there’s an economy and an infrastructure and a medical system to support their theology.
But that’s not how you figure out if the theology is true. You don’t figure out if it’s true by how it works in America; does this theology stand up worldwide? It obviously doesn’t stand up worldwide, all you do is travel around and see where people are very, very godly, and they’re living at standards way beneath ours, I can tell you that much. I can tell you this much, in certain countries of the world they’re not meeting in an air-conditioned building. We’re upset because God, the air conditioner wasn’t turned on fast enough in the lobby… the lobby, not the sanctuary! People are upset about the lobby.
I can take you to some places in the Sudan, I can take you to some places in the Philippines where there is no air conditioner at all and people are just sweating and that’s daily life. And beyond that, my wife said where do you want to go out for lunch today. Oh well, let’s go out to So and So, it’s Father’s Day. And I just kind of said that, forgetting that by just saying that and having the financial ability to do that I’m enjoying something that is way above world standards.
So what does the Bible say? If we have food and shelter we ought to be thankful for that. That’s what God promises. All this stuff about prosperity, healing, I mean, I’m so tired of the whole thing I want to take my finger and jam it down my throat and vomit all over the place… I will not be doing that today! [Laughter] But it, to me, is the most nauseous thing to see people teach this, and believe it, and send in their money to the TV station or whatever because they’re told that if they don’t send in their check they’re not going to get their prosperity or their healing. And what is sadly missing is the theology of suffering.
I have five reasons why Christians suffer and this is a very limited list. These are just the five that I could fit on the screen, but these are the ones that come to my mind. Why does God leave certain people sick and why does He not fix certain problems in people’s lives. Number one, it creates sympathy in people. If you go over to 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 you’ll see this very clearly. Paul says, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort,” how could you ever discover that God is a God of comfort unless you need comfort yourself? Well, how does God put you in a position where you need comfort yourself. He makes you uncomfortable! If that never happens in your life it’s just a Sunday School awareness, that’s all it is, but the walk of the Christian is experiential.
And then if you look at verse 4 it says, “who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to” what? Look at this, “comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” How would you know how to minister to someone who’s going through a trial? Answer: you went through the same trial yourself and you experienced the comfort of God in the midst of that trial. So consequently what are you qualified to do? Minister comfort to someone else who went down the same path that you went down a few years earlier. See that. I mean, you know what to say, how to say it, what not to say, how to be tactful. What does a person know that’s never experienced that problem? They don’t know anything. What they do is they come at people and they just spit Bible verses out of their mouths and our family went through some issues (which I won’t go into) when we were living in the Dallas area and Anne will testify to this, more damage was done to my wife by well-intentioned Christians than any other single source, because they didn’t have a clue what she was going through so they all came with their advice, Eliphaz, Bildad, Zophar, Elihu, spitting Bible verses out of their mouths, thinking that they were doing good. They were destroying her. How do you know? I was living with her at the time (by the way, I still am, Amen) Laughter. And I watched the destruction.
We need to really be careful about what we say, how we say it, when we say it when we don’t have all of the facts. So you ask yourself why am I having this problem. Here’s a possible answer: God is expanding your ministry horizons because He knows who is going to come down the road ten years down the line that you don’t see, that will have the exact same issue. Who better to minister to someone in the midst of a bankruptcy than someone that’s gone through it? Who better to minister to someone in the midst of a divorce than someone that’s gone through it? Who knows better to minister to someone in the midst of a health scare than someone that’s gone through it?
And see, a lot of times we’re charging in trying to fix people and I think sometimes the best advice we could give is to just sit there and listen to them talk. And that’s a lot of times what people need, they don’t need another out of context Bible verse beaten over their heads. They sort of need a sounding board, just sort of listening. What does the Bible say, “Be quick to hear and slow to speak.” So sometimes God allows us to suffer because He’s creating sympathy in us for ministry opportunities down the road. Sometimes God allows us to suffer because of the development of Christ-like character in our lives.
You all know James 1:2-4 don’t you. This is a go-to verse for us when we’re going through something that we don’t fully understand. “Consider it all joy, my brethren,” wow, “my brethren” that means these people must be Christians. “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials,” now that’s the same word in Greek used to describe Joseph’s multi-colored coat in the Septuagint, the rainbow coat that Jacob gave to Joseph that made his brothers jealous. So just as that coat was technicolor the trials of our lives are technicolor. The trials are multifaceted, there’s not a one-size fits all thing because God is always sanding things, is He not, out of our character that need to be sanded off. “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials,  knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.  And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” So may reading of this is as follows: without the trials (plural) of technicolor, verse 2, you can’t have a development of faith in your life, or endurance, or maturity. See that? There’s a reason why God is allowing trials.
Number three, sometimes trials are a testimony to the unsaved. The verse I would use for that is John 11 where everybody says to Jesus come heal Lazarus, and what does John 11:4 say? “But when Jesus heard this, He said, ‘This sickness is not unto death but for the glory of God, so that the Son of Man may be glorified,” and it goes on and it says He didn’t come immediately to heal Lazarus. He let him die. Wow, how unloving that is! In fact, Jesus probably could have healed this guy from a distance as He did other people. He let the guy die. Why is that? Because Jesus sees John 11, the rest of it, that not everybody else can see; he’s going to be resuscitated from the dead. For what purpose? To glorify God. And as unbelievers watch this they’re going to start to believe.
John 12:10-11 says, “But the chief priests planned to put Lazarus to death also;” we’ve got to kill him again or else people are going to believe this man is the Messiah,  “because on account of him many of the Jews were going away and were believing in Jesus.” You see that? Jesus let a guy get sick, He let a guy die, He didn’t come right away and help, He didn’t perform a miracle. Why is that? Because Jesus saw conversions in John 12. Jesus, in John 11 saw what was coming in John 12. Could the crowd pressure Jesus to do that? No they couldn’t. Could the sisters see that? No they couldn’t. Jesus could see it.
There’s a lot of things we can’t see; there’s a lot of things that God is doing in the lives of people that we don’t have a vision of and He’s using a sickness, a problem, a setback, a heartache, something that you keep saying God, take it away, it never goes away, He’s using that strategically in the lives of other people. See that?
And then number four, suffering creates dependence upon God. Paul had a thorn in the flesh, 2 Corinthians 12:6-9. [2 Corinthians 12:6-9, “For if I do wish to boast I will not be foolish, for I will be speaking the truth; but I refrain from this, so that no one will credit me with more than he sees in me or hears from me.  Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me—to keep me from exalting myself!  Concerning this I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me.  And He has said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.’ Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.”]
He pleaded with the Lord three times for it to be taken away, God said no, “My grace is sufficient for you,” well why all of that? Because of the surpassing revelations to prevent me from exalting myself. Every day he woke up in the morning and felt that pain, whatever it was, it put him in a place of dependency. You’re in the place of dependency, you’re in the place of usability. I would say this, we wouldn’t even had the thirteen books that we have in the New Testament written by Paul, we wouldn’t even have the missionary journeys were it not for this ailment that he kept asking God to remove and yet God never removed it.
Let’s just get real here folks, we don’t see God on our own. I don’t. When things are rolling along like I think they ought to roll along my heart is probably about as far from God as you can get… Lord, I’ll check in you if I have a problem, until then leave me alone. But you start having an issue, perhaps in your physical body, isn’t it interesting how we start checking in more with the Lord? And how the Lord will use this problem to override the natural pride that’s within us?
Deuteronomy 6:10-12 says, “Then it shall come about when the LORD your God brings you into the land which He swore to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to give you, great and splendid cities which you did not build,  and houses full of all good things which you did not fill, and hewn cisterns which you did not dig, vineyards and olive trees which you did not plant, and you eat and are satisfied,  then watch yourself, that you do not forget the LORD who brought you from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.”
When the grace of God is poured into a person’s life and they get all this unmerited favor, which we’re all recipients of, Amen! Isn’t it interesting to forget that we got these things by grace. I got this job by grace. I’m able to pay my bills by grace. I have the resources and riches of Christ by grace. We sort of start to take credit for these things. That’s who we are in our fallen state. And what reverses that is a good old-fashioned difficulty, sometimes in the physical body.
The last reason I have as to why Christians suffer is because it increases prayer. Isn’t it interesting that our prayer life has a tendency to pick up instead of just going through the motions for Jesus, which is kind of what we’re like normally, yeah Lord, I did my little prayer for the morning, I read my Bible verse, okay, I’m done with You, now let me go out and live the life on my own power. We’re like that when things are rolling along fine. But isn’t it interesting, you get a problem in your life you can’t fix, isn’t it interesting how the prayer life picks up. Or someone else has a problem and you start to pray for that person with a fervency that God may not have heard from us for the last six months.
This is why Paul started looking at his problems and his suffering, not as an enemy but as an ally, as a gift. You say well, pastor, where are you getting this from? It’s right there in Acts 12:5, Peter is thrown into prison, now this is not a physical illness but you can analogize it to an illness, that’s what an illness is, it’s a prison of a certain sense. And Acts 12:5 says, “So Peter was kept in the prison,” conjunction, “but prayer for him was being made” what? “fervently by” who” “the church….” Why is this church praying fervently for Peter? Because of his incarceration. And I’m convinced that’s why God allows a lot of things to go haywire from the human point of view, because He pretty much knows we’re not going to talk to Him most of the time if things are moving along fine. I’m certainly not going to come to Him with an attitude of energy and fervency and worship. I’m just going to sort of go through the motions because that’s who I am in my fallen self. And that’s what I mean by a theology of suffering.
The last point, number seven, we’ll have to postpone. The bottom line in number seven is just this: healing is guaranteed one day; it’s not today because our bodies are groaning. Why are they groaning? Original sin, “from dust you are, to dust you shall return,” Genesis 3:19 teaches that. [Genesis 3:19, “By the sweat of your face You will eat bread, Till you return to the ground, Because from it you were taken; For you are dust, And to dust you shall return.”]
Did you know that healing is not even guaranteed in the millennial kingdom? Did you know that those who repopulate the earth following the tribulation period, I’m not talking about us who will be in resurrected bodies at this time, but those who repopulate the earth, some of them are going to die? Isaiah 65:20 says that. [Isaiah 65:20, “No longer will there be in it an infant who lives but a few days, Or an old man who does not live out his days; For the youth will die at the age of one hundred And the one who does not reach the age of one hundred Will be thought accursed.”]
But the time in history comes where “He will wipe” what? Revelation 21:4, “every tear from their eyes, there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.” And people say well, pastor, do you believe that healing is a guarantee? Yes I do, just not today. What is guaranteed today, Isaiah 53:4, 1 Peter 2:24-25, is spiritual healing. [Isaiah 53:4, “Surely our griefs He Himself bore, And our sorrows He carried; Yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, Smitten of God, and afflicted.” 1 Peter 2:24-25, “and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed.  For you were continually straying like sheep, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls.”]
If you get a bodily healing that’s just an added measure of grace. The spiritual healing is guaranteed at the point of faith alone in Christ alone. The bodily guarantying is not guaranteed although God can heal and sometimes does heal when it’s within His will, but there is coming a day in the life of the Christian where every disease will disappear and that’s the eternal state; that’s the final resurrection.
So hopefully those comments add some balance to the whole subject of healing and automatic healing. And I told myself to stop early for questions, I obviously didn’t do that, but write them down in your notebook, we’ll be getting to those in due course.
Shall we pray. Father, help us to live balanced on this subject, help us to walk out Biblical balance and not be errant in how we think and interact with people. Give us Your mind on this subject of automatic healing and the gift of healing, and we’ll be careful to give you all the praise and the glory. We ask these things in Jesus’ name, and God’s people said, Amen.