The Spiritual Man, CFP, Vol. 3, Part 10 THE BODY, Ch. 2, by Watchman Nee
SICKNESS IS A COMMON occurrence in life. For us to know how to keep our body in a condition which glorifies God, we first must know what attitude to take towards sickness, how to make use of it, and also how to be healed. Because sickness is so prevalent we cannot avoid having a serious lack in our life if we do not know how to deal with it.
The Bible discloses a close relationship between sickness and sin. The ultimate consequence of sin is death. Sickness lies between sin and death. It is the sequel to sin and the prologue to death. If there were no sin in the world, there would be neither sickness nor death. Had not Adam sinned, sickness would not have come upon the earth: of this we can be most certain. Hence as with every other woe, sickness was ushered in by sin.
Human beings are made up of two natures: the non-corporeal and the corporeal. Both suffered from man’s fall. The spirit and soul were damaged by sin and the body was! invaded by sickness. The sin of the spirit and soul together with the sickness of the body attest that man must die.
When the Lord Jesus came to save, He not only forgave man’s sin but also healed man’s body. He saved bodies as well as souls. From the outset of His ministry He healed man’s sickness; at the conclusion of His labor He became a propitiation on the cross for man’s sins. Behold how many sick people were healed by Him during His earthly days! His hands were ever ready to touch the sick and raise them up. Judging both by what He Himself did and by the command He gave His disciples, we cannot help but see that the salvation He provides includes the healing of sickness. His is the gospel of forgiveness and healing. These two go together. The Lord Jesus saves people from sins and sicknesses that they may know the love of the Father. In reading the Gospels, the Acts, the Epistles or the Old Testament, we continually witness how healing and forgiveness run parallel to each other.
We all know Isaiah 53 forms the clearest chapter in the Old Testament on the gospel. Various places in the New Testament make reference to this particular chapter when the fulfillment of its prophecies concerning the redemptive work of the Lord Jesus is in view. “The chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed” (v.5 ASV). It tells us in unmistakable terms that both the healing of the body and the peace of the soul are accorded us. This is made even plainer when we consider the two different uses of the verb “bear”: “he bore the sin of many” (v.12) and “he has borne our griefs (Hebrew: sicknesses)” (v.4). The Lord Jesus bears our sins; He also bears our sicknesses. Because He has borne our sins, we need not bear them again; in like manner, since He has borne our sicknesses, we need no longer bear them either.* Sin has done damage to our soul and body, so the Lord Jesus saves both. He saves us from sicknesses as well as from sins. Believers today can offer praise with David: “Bless the Lord, O my soul; and all that is within me, bless his holy name! . . . Who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases” (Ps. 103.1,3). What a shame that so many Christians can utter but half a praise for they know but half a salvation. It is a loss to both God and man.
Let us note that God’s salvation would not be complete if the Lord Jesus simply forgave our sins but did not heal our sicknesses too.
*Now of course there is a difference in scope between the Lord’s bearing sins and His bearing sicknesses. This is enlarged upon in the author’s message on sickness and healing which has been included as an addendum to Chapter 2 of this Part.—Translator
How could He save our souls and yet leave our bodies to be tormented by infirmities? Did He not stress both while He was on earth? Sometimes He forgave first and then healed; at other times, just the reverse. He does according to what man is able to take in. In perusing the Gospels we find that the Lord Jesus performed more healing than any other works, because the Jews at that time seemed less able to believe in the Lord’s forgiving them than in the Lord’s healing (Matt. 9.5). Christians today, however, are precisely the opposite. In those days men believed that the Lord had power to heal sickness but they doubted His grace of forgiveness. Today’s saints believe His forgiving power and doubt His healing grace. They confess that the Lord Jesus came to save people from sin, yet ignore the fact that He is equally the Savior Who heals. Man’s unbelief divides the perfect Savior into two, though the truth remains that Christ is forever the Savior of man’s body and soul, competent to heal as well as to forgive.
In our Lord’s thought, it is not enough that a man be forgiven and not healed too. Hence, we find Him commanding, “Rise, take up your bed and go home” after His declaration to the paralytic, “Man, your sins are forgiven you” (Luke 5. 24,20). But as to ourselves, although we are people plagued by both sins and sicknesses, we count forgiveness from the Lord sufficient, leaving illness to be borne by ourselves and to be healed by other means. The Lord Jesus, however, did not want people to have to take the paralytic home still confined to a bed after his sins had been forgiven.
The Lord conceives a contrary view from us with respect to the relationship between sin and sickness. Our thought is that sin belongs to the spiritual realm, something disliked and condemned by God, whereas sickness is merely a mundane phenomenon having nothing to do with Him. On the other hand, the Lord Jesus considers both the sins of the soul and the infirmities of the body to be the works of Satan. He came “to destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3.8), therefore He casts out demons and heals sicknesses: When Peter under revelation speaks of the Lord’s healing ministry, he declares that He “went about doing good and healing all that were oppressed by the devil” (Acts 10.38). Sin and sickness are as intimately associated as are our soul and ‘body. Forgiveness and healing complement each other.
Having seen something of the Lord’s thought regarding sickness, we now turn our attention to the causes of the sickness of believers.
“That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. But if we judged ourselves truly, we should not be judged. But when we are judged by the Lord, we are chastened so that we may not be condemned along with the world” (1 Cor. 11.30-32). Paul explains here that sickness is one type of the Lord’s chastening. Owing to their having erred before the Lord, believers are chastened with illness to prompt them to judge themselves and eliminate their mistakes. In chastening His children God deals graciously towards them that they may not be condemned with the world. If Christians repent of their faults God will no longer chasten them. Can we not then avoid sickness through self-judgment?
We often conclude sickness to be merely a physical problem and to have no relation to God’s righteousness, holiness and judgment. But the Apostle tells us quite plainly in this passage that sickness is an effect of sin and a chastisement of God. Christians like to cite the story of the blind man in John 9 to support the contention that their sickness is not God’s chastisement due to sin. Yet the Lord Jesus has not said there that sin and sickness are unrelated; He simply is warning His disciples not to condemn each and every sick person. If Adam had not sinned, that man in John 9 would never have been blind. Moreover, that particular man was born blind, so the nature of his illness is quite unlike that of a believer’s sickness. The infirmities of those who are born infirm are perhaps not due to their own sins; but according to the Scriptures sickness after we have believed in the Lord is usually related to sin. “Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed” (James 5.16). Sins must first be confessed and then there will be healing. Sin is the root of sickness.
Illness is frequently the chastisement of God employed to draw our attention to some sin which we have overlooked so that we may forsake it. God permits these sicknesses to fall upon us that He may discipline us and purge us from our faults. God’s hand bears down on us to direct our eyes to some unrighteousness or some debt, some pride or love of this world, some self-reliance or greediness in work, or some disobedience to God. Sickness is consequently God’s open judgment of sin. Yet we are not to infer from this that the one who is ill is necessarily more sinful than others (cf. Luke 13.2); quite the opposite, they who are chastened by the Lord are usually the holiest. Job is a prime example.
Each time a believer is chastened by God and becomes sick he is open to great blessing, for the Father of spirits “disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness” (Heb. 12.10), Sickness prompts us to recollect and examine the past as to whether there be any hidden sin, obstinacy or self-will. Then and there we can detect if any barrier exists between us and God. As we search the depths of our heart we come to realize how full of self and unlike the holiness of God has been our past life. These exercises enable us to advance in spiritual development and to obtain God’s healing.
Hence the first action one should take when ill is not to scurry around in search of healing and the means of healing. He should neither be anxious nor afraid. What he should do is place himself completely in God’s light for examination, having an honest desire to learn if he is being chastened because of some lack. He should judge himself. Thus the Holy’, Spirit shall point out to him where he has failed. And whatever he is shown, it must be immediately confessed and forsaken. If that sin has clone harm to others then he must do his best to make it up, meanwhile believing that God has accepted him. He should offer himself afresh to God and be disposed to obey His will fully.
God “does not willingly afflict or grieve the sons of men” (Lam. 3.33). He will cease chastening when He realizes the objective of self-judgment is attained. God is most happy to withdraw His chastisement when no longer needed. The Bible assures us that if we judge ourselves we will not be judged. God desires us to be freed from sin and self; once that end has been reached the sickness will disappear because it has accomplished its mission. What the Christian needs to understand today is that God chastens him for a specific purpose. Accordingly, always allow the Holy Spirit to uncover what the sin is so that the aim of God may be achieved and the chastisement may no longer be necessary. Then will God heal.
Once the saint has confessed and forsaken his sin and in addition believed for forgiveness, he can trust God’s promise and know without fear that He will make him well. With a conscience void of accusation he has the boldness to approach God for grace. It is when we are far away from Him that we find it hard to believe or that we dare not believe; but after sin is forsaken and forgiven through the enlightening of, and obedience to, the Holy Spirit, we have free access to God. Since the cause of the sickness has been removed, the sickness itself shall be removed. Now the sick believer has no difficulty in believing that “the chastisement of our peace was upon (Christ) ; and with his stripes we are healed.” At that moment the presence of the Lord will be manifested abundantly and the life of the Lord will enter his body to make it alive.
Are we really aware that the heavenly Father is not pleased with us in many areas? He uses sickness to help us perceive our shortcomings. If we do not suppress the voice of conscience the Holy Spirit shall most certainly show us the reason for the chastisement.
God delights to forgive our sins and heal our ills. The great redemptive work of the Lord Jesus includes both forgiveness and healing. He will permit nothing between us and Him; He wants us to live by Him as never before. Now is the time to trust and obey Him totally. The Heavenly Father does not wish to chastise. How willing He is to heal us that through seeing His love and power we may hold closer communion with Him.
All evil and adverse environment has the effect of exposing our true condition. These do not add any particular sin to us; they only reveal what is in us. Sickness is one of these environments through which we can read our true condition.
We never realize how much we are living for God and how much for self until we are sick, especially if that sickness is a protracted one. During our ordinary days we may declare with great conviction in our hearts that we will obey God with our whole heart and will be satisfied with whatever treatment we receive from Him; only at the time of sickness, though, do we discover how much of that declaration is genuine. What God wishes to accomplish in His children is that they be satisfied with His will and way. He does not want His children to murmur against His will and way because of their own immature feelings. For this reason God permits sickness to descend upon His dearest children time and again in order to make manifest their attitude towards His specially arranged will.
How pitiful is the Christian who for the sake of his own desire murmurs against God when under trial. He does not accept what God gives as the best for him; instead his heart is flooded with the desire for early healing. (What we mean by sickness given by God is in reality sickness permitted by God, for the one who directly gives sickness is Satan. But whatever illness befalls a Christian comes through God’s permission and comes with a purpose. The experience of job is a perfect example.) Because of this, God must prolong the sickness. He will not withdraw His instrument before He has achieved His purpose. The end in all communications between God and the believer is to bring the latter to an unconditional submission to Him, gladly welcoming any treatment from Him. God is not pleased with that person who praises Him in prosperity but complains against Him in adversity. God does not want His own to doubt His love or misunderstand His acts so easily: He wants them to obey Him even to death.
God intends His children to recognize that everything which comes upon them is given by Him. However dangerous is the physical or environmental circumstance, it is measured by His hand. Even the falling of a hair is within His will. Should a person resist what comes upon him he cannot but be resisting as well the God Who permits these occurrences. And should he develop a heart of hatred following a painful period of sickness, he cannot but be hating the God Who allowed it to happen to him. The question under discussion is not whether a believer ought to be sick but whether he is opposing God. God wants His own to forget their sickness when ill. Yes, forget their sickness and look away steadfastly at God. Suppose His will is for me to be sick and to continue to be so; am I ready to accept it? Can I humble myself beneath the mighty hand of God and resist not? Or do I covet in suffering a health which is outside God’s present purpose? Can I wait until His end is fulfilled before asking in His will for healing? Or will I seek other means of healing while He is chastening me? Am I, in the time of deep suffering, striving for what He presently will not grant? These questions should pierce deeply into the heart of every sick believer.
God takes no pleasure in His children’s sickness. Rather does His love make Him desire smooth peaceful days for them. But He knows the danger: in time of ease our love towards Him, our words of praise and our service for Him, are conditioned by peaceful living. He knows how easily our hearts can turn from Him and His will to His gifts. He consequently permits sickness and similar phenomena to come upon us that we may see whether we want Him or purely His gifts. If in days of adversity we seek nothing else, hen it indicates we genuinely want God. Sickness readily discloses whether one seeks his own desire or the arrangement of God.
We still harbor our personal desires. Such aspirations prove how flushed with our own thoughts our daily life is. Both in the work of God and in our dealings with people, we hold tenaciously to many thoughts and opinions. God is compelled to bring us near the door of death in order to teach us the folly of resisting Him. He lets us pass through deep waters that we may be broken and may forsake our self-will—that behavior of ours which displeases Him immensely. How numerous are the Christians who ordinarily seem to follow nothing of what the Lord has said but become obedient only after their bodies are afflicted. The way of the Lord must therefore be this: He chastises after love’s persuasion has lost its effectiveness. The purpose of His chastisement is to break down self-will. Every sick Christian should judge himself seriously in this respect.
Besides self-desire and self-will, what God additionally hates is a heart of self-love. Self-love endangers the spiritual life and destroys spiritual works. Except God expunge this element from us, we cannot run our spiritual race swiftly. Self-love has a special relationship to our body. To say we love ourselves means we cherish our bodies and our life. Hence to destroy this odious trait God often permits sickness to come upon us. Because of our love of self we are fearful lest our body be weakened; yet God weakens it; He allows us to experience pain. And when we expect to get well our sickness becomes the more serious. We wish to keep on living, but that hope appears to fade. God of course deals differently with different people—some drastically, some relatively lightly; nonetheless, the purpose of God in removing the heart of self-love remains the same. How many strong ones must be brought near the gates of death before their love of self dissolves: what else is left to be loved now that his body is ruined, his life is endangered, sickness has progressively devoured his health, and pain has swallowed up his power? By this time the person is actually willing to die; he is hopeless but also self-loveless. It would be the height of tragedy were he at this moment not to return and claim God’s promise of healing.
The heart of a believer is far from God’s. God permits him to be ill that he may forget himself; but the more ill he grows the more self-loving he becomes; he endlessly dwells on his symptoms in his anxiety to find a cure. Almost all thoughts revolve about himself! How attentive he now is to his food, what he should or should not eat! How worried he is when anything goes away! He takes great care for his comforts and rest. He agonizes if he feels a bit hot or cold or has suffered a bad night, as though these were fatal to his life. How sensitive he is to the way people treat him: do they think enough of him, do they take good care of him, do they visit him as often as they should? Countless hours are exhausted in just this way of thinking about his body; and so he has no time to meditate on the Lord or on what the Lord may be wanting to accomplish in his life. Indeed, many are simply “bewitched” by their sickness! We never truly know how excessively much we love ourselves until we become sick!
God is not delighted with our self-love. He desires us to comprehend the far-reaching damage it inflicts upon us. He wishes us to learn in the hour of sickness how to be engrossed not in our symptoms but exclusively in Him. It is His desire that we commit our body entirely to Him and allow Him to care for it. Every discovery of an adverse symptom should warn us not to be occupied with our body but to mind the Lord.
Due to love of self the believer seeks healing as soon as he is sick. He does not perceive that he ought to rid his heart of wicked deeds before beseeching God to heal. His eyes are fixed upon healing. He does not bother to inquire why God has permitted this sickness, what he should repent of, or how he should let God’s work be perfected in him. All he can contemplate is his own weakness. He longs to be strong again, so he searches everywhere for the means of healing. That he may be cured speedily, he entreats God and inquires of man. With the sick believer in such a state as this, it is impossible for God to accomplish His purpose in him. That is why some are made well only temporarily; after a while their old infirmity returns. How can there be lasting healing if the root of sickness is not removed?
Sickness is one of the methods by which God chooses to speak to us. He does not want us to grow anxious and seek immediately for cure; instead He asks us to pray obediently. What a pity it is for that person who eagerly expects to be healed while simultaneously is unable to say to the Lord, “Speak, Lord, for Your servant hears.” Our sole aim is merely to be delivered from pain and weakness. We rush to find the best remedy. Sickness prompts us to invent many cures. Each symptom frightens us and sets our brain to work. God appears to be far from us. We neglect our spiritual welfare. All thoughts center upon our sufferings and the means of cure. Should the medicine work, then we praise the grace of God. But should the cure be delayed we lapse into misunderstanding our Father’s love. Yet let us ask ourselves: if all we desire is to be delivered from pain, are we being led by the Holy Spirit? Do we think we can glorify God with the power of the flesh?
Self-love naturally produces self-means. Instead of solving the root of the sickness in God, Christians covet cure through man’s drugs. We do not intend to waste a lot of time here in arguing whether or not a believer can use medicine. Yet we do want to say that since the Lord Jesus has provided for the healing of our body in His salvation, it seems to be ignorance, if not unbelief, if we turn to the aid of man’s invention.
Many debate whether or not the saints should take medicine. They seem to imply that if this question is resolved all questions are solved. But are they aware that the principle of spiritual living is not in “can or can’t” but in whether or not God has so led? Our question, therefore, is: when a believer, because of self-love, depends on medicine and eagerly seeks healing, is be being guided by the Holy Spirit or is it exclusively his own activity? According to human nature, until one has experienced many adverse circumstances be is reluctant to be saved by faith; be usually strives to be saved by his works. Is it not equally true with the healing of one’s body? Perhaps the struggle over divine healing is even more intense than that over forgiveness of sin. Believers will acknowledge that unless they trust the Lord Jesus for salvation they cannot gain entrance to heaven; but why, such ones will ask, must they depend on the salvation of the Lord for healing when they can employ many other medical means? So our attention is not focused upon whether medicine can be used but upon whether in using it through one’s own activity he has demeaned God’s salvation. Has not the world spun out sundry theories for saving an from sin? Does not the world supply many schools of philosophy, psychology, ethics and education as well as countless rituals, rules and practices to assist people to be good? Can we as believers accept these means as perfect and workable? Are we for the finished work of the Lord Jesus on the cross or for these ingenious human devices? in such a similar manner has the world invented multiplied kinds of drugs to relieve people from ailments; yet the Lord has equally accomplished on the cross that work of salvation pertaining to the body. Shall we therefore seek cure according to human methods or shall we rely on the Lord Jesus for healing?
We do acknowledge that occasionally God utilizes intermediaries to manifest His power and glory. Judging from the teaching of Scripture and the experience of Christians, however, we are forced to confess that after the fall of man our feelings seem to control our lives, which prompts us naturally to incline towards the intermediaries than towards God Himself. Hence we observe that during the period of illness Christians direct more attention to medicine than to the power of God. Although their lips may proclaim a trust in God’s power, their hearts are almost totally wrapped up in medicine—as though without its help God’s power cannot be released. No wonder they exhibit signs of unrest, anxiety and fear, hotly pursuing the best means of cure everywhere. These ones lack the peace which springs from trusting in God. With their hearts thus absorbed in the use and application of medicine, they turn to the world and sacrifice the presence of God. God has purposed through sickness to bring people nearer to Him, yet precisely the opposite seems to be the effect. Perhaps some indeed are able to use medicine without damaging their spiritual life, but such ones are few. Most of God’s people tend to rely on intermediaries more than on Him and consequently their spiritual life is harmed through the use of drugs.
There is a vast distinction between cure through medicine and healing by God. The power of the first is natural while that of the second is supernatural. The way of obtaining the cure is likewise distinguishable: in using medicine the trust rests in human cleverness; in depending on God the confidence is in the work and life of the Lord Jesus. Even should’ the physician be a believer who entreats God for wisdom and for blessing in the drug used, he is nonetheless powerless to impart spiritual blessing to the one healed, for unconsciously the latter already has pinned his hope of cure on medicine rather than on the power of the Lord. Though he be healed physically, his spiritual life shall suffer loss. If the person verily trusts in God he will commit himself to His love and power. He will inquire and investigate the cause of his sickness—wherein has he displeased the Lord. So that when he is healed he shall be blessed spiritually as well as bodily.
Many argue that since medicine is given by God they certainly can use it. But this is what we want to emphasize: does God lead us to use medicine? We do not wish to debate whether or not medicine comes from God; we instead wished to inquire whether or not the Lord Jesus is given by God to His children as the Savior of their physical ills:’ should we seek a cure through the natural power of drugs as unbelievers or weak Christians do, or should we accept the Lord Jesus Whom God has prepared for us and trust in His name?
Trusting medicine and accepting the life of the Lord Jesus are absolutely diametrical. We grant the effectiveness of medicine and other medical inventions, but these cures are natural, short of the best God has provided for His own Believers may ask God to bless the drugs and be cured; they may also thank God after being cured by these, regarding themselves as having been healed by God Himself; yet such healing is not the same as accepting the life of the Lord Jesus. For by so doing they are taking the easy way out, quitting the battlefield of faith. If, in our conflict with Satan, healing were the only objective to attain in sickness then we could employ any available means of cure. But should there be more important purposes than mere healing to be realized, then must we not be quiet before God and await His way and time?
We do not want to state dogmatically that God never blesses medicine. We know God has blessed many times, for He is so kind and generous. Christians who trust in medicine are nevertheless not standing on the ground of redemption. They are assuming the same position as do worldly people. They cannot testify for God in this particular matter. Swallowing pills, applying ointments, and taking injections will not afford us the life of the Lord Jesus. In trusting God we are elevated to a place higher than that of the natural. Cure by medicine is often slow and painful; the healing of God is quick and blessed.
One observation is certainly beyond dispute, which is: that were we to be healed by dependence on God, we would derive such spiritual profit from it as a cure by medicine could never accord us. When sick in bed how deeply people repent of their past lives; but once they are healed through use of medicine they drift further away from God. Yet they would not fall into such an after-effect were they to be healed like others by waiting and trusting in God. These latter ones confess their sins, deny themselves, trust in God’s love, and depend on His power; they accept the life and holiness of God; and they establish a new indivisible relationship with Him.
The object lesson God purposes us to learn in sickness is to cease from all our own activity and trust Him thoroughly. How often in anxiously seeking cure we are driven on by a heart of self-love. We forget God and the lesson He wishes to teach us. For if God’s children were void of self-love, would they so eagerly strive after healing?—if they have truly ceased from their activities, would they turn to the assistance of human medicine? Not at all. They would examine themselves quietly before God, seeking to understand first the meaning of their sickness, and afterwards asking Him for healing on the basis of the Father’s love. The contrast between leaning on medical help and leaning on God’s power is that in the former case the person anxiously seeks for a cure while in the latter case he calmly aspires to ascertain God’s will. It is because believers are full of self-love, impetuous desire and their own strength that they so seek for a cure when sick. They would react differently were they to learn to depend on God’s power. To trust in God for healing, believers must honestly confess and forsake their sins and be willing to offer themselves utterly to Him.
Many today are sick. In each of these sicknesses the Lord has a special purpose. Whenever “self” relinquishes its power, the Lord will heal. If Christians refuse to bow, if they refuse to gladly receive the sickness as the best from God, and if they search for means other than God, they will be filled with sickness again even after being cured. If they cling to self-love and are mindful of themselves all the time, God will give them increased cause to pity themselves. He will show them that earthly medicine cannot permanently heal. God intends His children to know that a strong and healthy body is neither for the sake of pleasing one’s self nor to be used in accordance with one’s desires but is wholly for God. The spirit of healing is a spirit of holiness. What we lack is not healing but holiness. What we need to be delivered from initially is not sickness but self.
When a child of God has denied the use of human means and medicine and has trusted in the Father with singleness of heart, he notices his faith waxing stronger than usual. He has launched upon a new relationship with God; he begins to live by that life he formerly did not trust. He commits his body as well as his spirit and soul to his heavenly Father. He discovers that the will of God is to manifest the power of the Lord Jesus and the love of the Father. He is led to exercise faith unto proving that the Lord redeems the body as well as the spirit and soul.
“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life” (Matt. 6.25). The Lord will care for whatever we commit to Him. If we secure instant healing, let us praise God. should our symptoms grow more severe, let us not doubt but let us look away instead to God’s promise and furnish no occasion for self-love to be revived. God may be using this very situation to extinguish the last drops of our love for self. Were we to regard our body we would commence to doubt; but if we behold God’s promise we will draw nearer to Him, our faith will be increased, and healing eventually will come to us.
We must nevertheless be careful lest we fall into extremes. though God aims for us to rely exclusively upon Him, yet once we have definitely denied our own activities and trusted him in perfect faith, He may delight in our using some natural means to render help to our body. We mean such articles as “a little wine” prescribed for Timothy. Timothy possessed a weak stomach and was afflicted frequently with ailments. Instead of scolding him for lack of faith and failure to be cured directly from God, Paul persuaded Timothy to use a little wine for it would be beneficial to him. What the Apostle here enjoins us to use is some such element as wine, something neutral in its innate character.
From this case we may learn a lesson. We must, it is very true, believe and depend on God (even as Timothy must have done) ; even so, we at the same time should not go to extremes. If our body is weak we should learn to be led by the Lord to eat some singularly nourishing food. By using a little of such nourishments according to the leading of the Lord, our body shall be strengthened. Before our body is fully redeemed we continue naturally to be human beings ho yet possess a physical body. We should therefore be attentive to its natural needs.
Such use of nutrients is not contradictory to faith. Only, believers need to be cautious lest they know merely these nutrients and do not trust in God.
Some of God’s saints have run to extremes. They were naturally hard and obstinate but were broken by God through sickness sent them. By submitting themselves to the purpose of God’s chastisement they became most gentle, kind, soft and holy. However, since sickness has been so effective in transforming their lives, they begin to relish sickness more than health. They view sickness to be an enzyme to spiritual growth. They aspire no more to be healed but accept unnaturally instead the sickness which comes to them. They now contend that were they meant to be whole, God would step in Himself and heal them. According to their reckoning, it is less troublesome to be godly in sickness than in health, one is nearer to God in inactivity and suffering than in activity, and it is more excellent to lie in bed than to run to and fro. Consequently, they have no desire to seek divine healing. How can we help them to know that health is more profitable than weakness? We acknowledge that many believers do forsake their wickedness and enter upon a deeper experience during sickness; we admit that a number of invalids and infirm persons possess unusual godliness and spiritual experiences; but we must additionally confess that many Christians are rather unclear on several points.
The sick may be holy, but such holiness is a little unnatural. Who knows but what, once he was recuperated and again had the freedom of choice, he would return to the world and to himself? In sickness he is holy; in health he be comes worldly. The Lord has to keep him in prolonged illness in order to keep him holy. His holiness hinges on his sickness! Let us understand, however, that life with the Lord need not at all be restricted to illness. Never, never entertain the thought that unless one is under the yoke of sickness he has no strength to glorify God in his daily duties. On the contrary, he should be able to manifest the life of God in an ordinary daily walk. To be able to endure suffering is good, but is it not even better if one can obey God when he is full of strength?
We should recognize that healing—divine healing—is something which belongs to God. In striving to be cured by human medicine we naturally are separated from Him; but in aspiring to be cured by God we will be drawn closer to Him. He who is healed by God glorifies Him more than he who is always sick. Sickness can glorify God, for it presents Him with an opportunity to manifest His healing power (John 9.3) ; yet how can He be glorified if one remains protractedly ill? When we are healed by God we witness His power as well as His glory.
The Lord Jesus never portrayed sickness as a blessing which His followers ought to endure to their death. He never suggested it was an expression of the Father’s love. He calls His disciples to take up the cross, but He does not allow the sick to remain ill for long. He tells them how they should suffer for Him but never says they should be sick for Him. The Lord foretells we shall have tribulation in the world, yet He does not view illness as tribulation. How truly He suffered while on earth, yet never was He sick. Moreover, on every occasion when He met a sick person He healed him. He avows that sickness comes from sin and the devil.
We must differentiate suffering from sickness. “Many are the afflictions of the righteous,” notes the psalmist, “but the Lord delivers him out of them all. He keeps all his bones; not one of them is broken” (Ps. 34.19-20). “Is anyone among you suffering?” asks James. Then “let him pray” that he may obtain grace and strength; but, the Apostle continues, “is any among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church” that he may be healed (5.13-14).
1 Corinthians 11.30-32 deals with the relationship of believers to sickness most comprehensively. Sickness is the chastening of God. If a Christian is willing to judge himself, God shall withdraw the illness. God never desires His own to persist long in it. No chastisement is permanent Once the cause of it is removed, the chastisement itself will follow suit. “For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant; later . . .”—believers tend to forget God’s “later”—“it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (Heb.12.11) . Thus we find chastisement is only momentary; afterwards it will produce the most excellent fruit of righteousness. Do not let us misconstrue the discipline of God as being punishment. Strictly speaking, believers are no longer judged. The passage of 1 Corinthians 11.31 supports this statement. The concept of law should no longer be with us as though sin must always be answered with a corresponding degree of punishment. What we have here is not a judicial, but a family, problem.
Let us return to the positive teaching of the Bible concerning our body. One verse in Scripture which can completely overthrow the idea some have is 3 John 2: “Beloved, I pray that all may go well with you and that you may be in health; I know that it is well with your soul.” This is a prayer of the Apostle John as revealed to him by the Holy Spirit, so it expresses the eternal thought of God in regard to the body of the believer. God has no intention for His children to be sick throughout their lives, unable to serve Him actively. He wishes them to be in bodily health even as their souls are well. Accordingly, we can conclude beyond doubt that prolonged illness is not God’s will. He may chasten us temporarily with sickness, but He has no pleasure in protracted sickness.
Paul’s word in 1 Thessalonians 5.23 additionally confirms that inordinately long illness is not God’s will. As the spirit and soul are, so should be the body. God is not satisfied to have our spirit and soul sound and blameless while our body remains weak, sick and racked with pain. His purpose is to save the whole man, not just a part of him.
The work of the Lord Jesus also reveals the will of God concerning sickness, because He did nothing but the will of God. In the healing of the leper He especially unveils to us the heart of the heavenly Father towards the sick. The leper pleaded, “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.” Here we see a man knocking at the gate of heaven inquiring if it is God’s will to heal. The Lord stretched out His hand, touched him, and said, “I will; be clean” (Matt. 8.2-3).Healing often represents God’s mind. He who thinks God is reluctant to heal does not know His will. The earthly ministry of the Lord Jesus included “healing all who were sick” (v.16). How can we arbitrarily claim that He now has changed His attitude?
The aim of God for today is for His “will (to) be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6.10). God’s will is carried out in heaven: is there sickness there? No! God’s will is altogether incompatible with sickness. What a serious fault it is for Christians, upon having asked healing of God and having given up hope, then to utter the words, “May the Lord’s will be done” as if the will of the Lord were synonymous with sickness and death. God does not will for His children to be ill. Though He sometimes permits them to be sick for their profit, His determinate counsel forever is health for His people. The fact that there is no sickness in heaven fully proves what the will of God is.
Were we to trace the source of sickness we would be doubly persuaded to seek for healing. All who were sick “were oppressed by the devil” (Acts. 10.38). The Lord Jesus described the woman who was bent over and could not fully straighten herself as one “whom Satan bound” (Luke 13.16). When He healed Peter’s mother-in-law He “rebuked he fever” (Luke 4.39) in the same manner as He rebuked he demons (cf. vv. 31-41). In reading the book of job we earn that it is the devil who caused job’s sickness (Ch. 1 & 2); but it is God Who healed him (Ch. 42). The thorn that harassed and weakened Paul was “a messenger of Satan” (2 Cor. 12.7); the One Who made him strong is God. He who has the power of death is the devil (Heb. 2.14). We know illness ripens into death, for it is one of the facets of death. As Satan has the power of death, he has the power of sickness too, for death is but the ultimate step beyond sickness.
We cannot avoid concluding from these passages that sickness originates with the devil. God permits Satan to attack His children because they contain some defects in their lives. If they refuse to forsake what God has demanded and thus allow illness to continue in their lives, it is as if they have forsaken what God has ordered and have welcomed sickness instead. In so doing they voluntarily place themselves under the oppression of Satan. Who is so illogical as to return to bondage after he has obeyed the revealed will of God? Realizing that sickness proceeds from the devil, we ought to resist it. We should be clear that it belongs to our enemy and hence is not to be welcomed by us. The Son of God comes to set us free, not to have us bound.
Why does God not remove our infirmity when it is no further needed? This is a question posed by many saints. Let us give heed to the principle of God’s dealing with us which is always that of “be it done for you as you have believed” (Matt. 8.13). Often God wishes to make His children well, but He has to let sickness remain with them because of their unbelief and lack of prayer. If God’s saints accede to sickness—nay, even welcome it—as though it would deliver them from the world and make them holier, then the Lord can do nothing except grant them what they ask. God frequently deals with His own according to what they are able to receive. God may be most delighted to cure them; yet for the lack of believing prayer this precious gift is not the portion of all.
Are we wiser than God? Should we exceed what the Bible reveals? While the sick room may at times be like a sanctuary where the inner man is deeply moved, illness nonetheless is not God’s ordained will nor is it His best. Should we follow our emotional whim and disregard the revealed will of God, He can only let us have what we desire. How many of the Lord’s people piously say: I leave myself in God’s hand for healing or for sickness; I allow God to do what He wills. But these are generally people who use medicine. Is this committing everything to God? How contradictory is such a life! Their submission is but a sign of spiritual lethargy. In their hearts they long for health, but mere desire will not prompt God to work. They have accepted sickness passively for so long that they simply succumb to it, forfeiting all courage to seek freedom. The best for them would be for other people to believe on their behalf or for God to confer upon them the faith to believe. However, faith given by God shall not come unless their will becomes active in resisting the devil and in holding on to the Lord Jesus. Many are infirm not out of necessity but for lack of strength to lay hold on God’s promise.
Be it therefore apprehended that the spiritual blessing we receive in sickness is far inferior to what we receive in restoration. If we rest on God for healing, then naturally after being cured we will continue to walk in holiness so as to preserve our health. By making us well the Lord possesses our body. Unspeakable is the joy found in a new relationship and a new experience with Him, not because of sickness cured but because of a new touch with life. In such a time believers glorify the Lord far more than in the time of ill-health.
God’s children should accordingly rise up and strive after healing. First hear what God has to say through our sickness, then do as has been revealed with singleness of heart. Moreover, commit your body afresh to the Lord. If there are near you elders of the church who can anoint you with oil (James 5.14-15), then call them and follow the injunction of the Holy Scriptures. Or else quietly exercise faith to lay hold of the promise of God (Ex. 15.26). God will heal us.
[Translator’s note: It was thought profitable for the reader that the following message on sickness and healing, spoken by Mr. Nee in 1948, should be included at this point as an addendum to what has just been set forth in this section on the subject by the author. Although some duplication does appear, it was felt best to include the message in its entirety.]
There are a few matters concerning sickness we would like to consider together before God:
Before the fall of mankind no infirmity of any kind existed; sickness arose only after man had sinned. One can say generally that both sickness and death resulted from sin; for by one man’s trespass sin and death came into the world (Rom. 5.12). Sickness spread to all men just as did death. Though not all sin in the same way as Adam did, yet because of his transgression, all die. Where there is sin there is also death. In between these two is that which we usually call sickness. This, then, is the factor common to all disease. However, there is actually more than one cause to account for sickness coming upon people. Some sicknesses spring from sin, while others do not. So far as mankind is concerned, sickness does come from sin; but in relation to the individual it may or may not be the case. We need to distinguish between these two applications of sickness. Now it is entirely true that were there no sin there could neither be death nor sickness; for if there were no death in the world, how could there ever be sickness? Death arises through sin, and sickness through the inception of death. Even so, this cannot be specifically and indiscriminately applied to every individual, because while many do fall ill through sin there are others who become ill for reasons other than sin. In this matter of the relationship of sin to sickness we must therefore make a careful distinction between the application of this relationship to mankind as a whole and its application to individual men.
We will recall in such Old Testament books as Leviticus and Numbers that God’s promise was, that if the people of Israel obeyed Him, walked in His way, rebelled not against His laws and did not sin against Him, then He would keep them from many diseases. These words plainly teach that many maladies derive from sin or rebellion against God. Yet in the New Testament we discover that some sicknesses are not caused by the person having committed any transgression at all.
Paul once wrote that he would deliver to Satan for the destruction of his flesh that man who had sinned by living with his father’s wife (1 Cor 5.4-5). This definitely indicates that some sickness proceeds from sin. The consequence of sin is either sickness if the sin is light or death if it is serious. Judging from the words of 2 Corinthians 7 this man was not sick to the point of death because, out of godly grief, he produced a repentance which led to salvation and brought no regret (vv.9-10). Paul charged the church at Corinth to forgive such a man (2 Cor. 2.6-7). In 1 Corinthians 5 mention is made of delivering this man’s flesh (not his life) to Satan; he was to be sick but was not to die.
Paul further wrote that those in the church at Corinth who ate and drank of the bread and the cup of the Lord without discerning the Lord’s body had become weak and ill and some even had died (1 Cor. 11.29-30). This reveals that disobedience to the Lord was the provocation for their sickness.
The Scriptures have served sufficient notice that many (but not all) are ill because of sin. Hence the first action we must take when sick is to examine ourselves to determine whether or not we have sinned against God. By searching, many find that their illness is in fact due to sin: on a particular occasion they had rebelled against God or had disobeyed His Word. They had gone astray. Just as soon as that particular sin is found out and confessed, however, the sickness will be over. Countless brothers and sisters in the Lord have encountered such experiences. Shortly after the cause is discovered before God the illness is gone. This is a phenomenon beyond the explanation of medical science.
Sickness does not necessarily issue from sin, yet much of it actually does. We acknowledge that many diseases have their natural causes, but we equally maintain that we cannot attribute all sickness to natural reasons.
I am reminded of one brother, a professor in a medical school, who once lectured his students as follows. We have isolated many natural explanations for illnesses. For instance, a certain type of coccus causes a particular kind of disease. As medical doctors, he continued, we can determine which type of organism produces what kind of disease, but we have no way to explain why among certain equally exposed people some are infected while others remain immune. Suppose, for example, ten persons enter the same room simultaneously and are exposed to the same type of coccus. We would expect the physically weak to be infected; yet the fact may be that the weak are spared and the strong are the ones stricken. We have to acknowledge, he concluded, that aside from natural causes there is additionally the control of Providence. Personally I think well of what this brother has said. How often people grow sick in spite of every preventive measure.
I also recall what one of my schoolmates related to me about his experience at Peking Medical College. There was a certain professor in the college who was profound it learning yet short on patience. Hence he usually posed very simple questions in examinations. Once he asked why people contracted tuberculosis. This was a simple enough question; yet many failed to supply the proper answer. Most replied by writing that certain people had tubercle bacillus. All of these answers were marked incorrect. The professor explained that the earth was full of tubercle bacilli but that not everybody was felled by tuberculosis. It is only under certain favorable conditions, he reminded them, that these bacilli cause the disease called tuberculosis. The bacillus alone cannot cause the disease. Most students forgot the importance of these favorable conditions. Let us be aware, therefore, that despite the presence of many natural factors Christian become sick only by God’s permission given under appropriate conditions.
We unreservedly believe that there are natural explanations for sickness; this has been proven scientifically. We confess nonetheless that many illnesses among God’s children are the consequences of sinning against God such as in the case cited in 1 Corinthians 11. It is consequently essential to ask for forgiveness first, then for healing afterwards We frequently can detect, soon after we have been struck down with sickness, where we have transgressed against the Lord or how we have been disobedient to His Word. When the sin is confessed and the problem resolved, the sickness fades away. This is truly a most marvelous event. Thus the initial point we need to know is the relation between sin and sickness. Generally sickness results from sin; and individually, too, it may result from sin.
“Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities” (Is. 53.4-5). Of all the Old Testament writings this 53rd chapter of Isaiah is quoted most often in the New Testament. It alludes to the Lord Jesus Christ, especially to Him as our Savior. Verse 4 affirms that “he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows” whereas Matthew 8.17 declares that “this was to fulfil what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah, “He took our infirmities and bore our diseases’.” The Holy Spirit indicates here that the Lord Jesus came to the world to take our infirmities and bear our diseases. Prior to His crucifixion He had already taken our infirmities and borne our diseases; which is to say that during His earthly ministry the Lord Jesus made healing His burden and task. He not only preached, He also healed. He preached the glad tidings on the one hand, but on the other hand strengthened the weak, restored the withered hand, cleansed the leper and raised the palsied. While on earth the Lord Jesus devoted Himself to the performance of miracles as well as to the ministry of the Word. He went about doing good, He healed the sick, and cast out demons. The purpose of His work was to overthrow sickness, the result of sin. He came to deal with death and sickness as well as with sin.
Psalm 103 is familiar to many of God’s children; I myself love to read it. David proclaims, “Bless the Lord, O my soul; and all that is within me, bless his holy name!” Why bless the Lord? “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits.” What are His benefits? “Who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases.” (vv.1-3) I wish brothers and sisters to see that sickness is coupled with two elements: death on the one side, sin on the other.
We have mentioned earlier how death is the result of sin, with sickness included therein. Both sickness and death flow from sin. Here in Psalm 103 we find that sickness is coupled with sin. Because of sin in the soul there is disease in the body. Along with the forgiveness of our iniquity comes the healing of our disease. The trouble in the body is sin within and disease without. But the Lord takes both away.
There is a basic dissimiliarity, however, between God’s treatment of our iniquity and His treatment of our disease. Why this difference? Our Lord Jesus bore our sins in His body on the cross. Does any sin remain unforgiven? Absolutely none, for the work of God is so complete that sin is entirely destroyed. But in taking our infirmities and bearing our diseases while He lived on earth, the Lord Jesus did not eradicate all diseases and all infirmities. For note that Paul never says “when I sin, then am I sanctified,” but he does declare that “when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor. 12.10). Hence sin is thoroughly and unlimitedly dealt with whereas sickness is only limitedly treated.
In God’s redemption the handling of sickness is unlike that of sin. With the latter, its destruction is totally uncircumscribed; with the former, this is just not so. Timothy, for instance, continued to have a weak stomach. The Lord permitted this weakness to remain with His servant. So in God’s salvation sickness has not been eradicated as totally as has sin. Some maintain that the Lord Jesus deals solely with sin and not with illness too: others conceive the scope of His treatment of disease to be as broad and inclusive as His treatment of sin. Yet the Scriptures manifestly indicate to us that the Lord Jesus deals with both sin and sickness; only His dealing with sin is limitless while that with sickness is limited. We must behold the Lamb of God taking away all the sin of the world—He has borne the sin of each and every person. Sin’s problem is therefore already solved. But meanwhile sickness still pervades God’s children.
Nonetheless, we contend that since the Lord Jesus has actually borne our diseases there should not be so much sickness as there is among the children of God. While Jesus was on earth he unmistakably devoted Himself to the healing of the sick. He included healing in His work. Isaiah 53.4 is fulfilled in Matthew 8, not in Matthew 27. It is realized before Calvary. Had it been realized on the cross, healing would be unbounded. But no, the Lord Jesus bore our diseases prior to crucifixion, with the result that this aspect of His work is not as unlimited as was His bearing of our sins.
Even so, numberless saints remain ill because they have missed the opportunity of being healed; they do not see that the Lord has borne our diseases. Let me add a few more words on this point. Unless we have the assurance as did Paul upon praying thrice that his weakness would stay on because it was profitable to him, we should ask for healing. Paul accepted his weakness only after he had prayed the third time and had been shown distinctly by the Lord that His grace was sufficient for him and that His strength would be made perfect in his weakness. Until we are sure that God wants us to bear our weakness, we should boldly ask the Lord Himself to bear it and take away our disease. The children of God live on earth not to be sick but to glorify God. If to be sick will bring God glory, well and good; but many diseases do not necessarily glorify Him. Consequently, we must learn to trust the Lord while sick and must realize that He bears our sickness too. He healed a great number while He was on earth. And He is the same yesterday, today and forever. Let us commit our infirmity to Him and ask for His healing.
Every time the believer falls ill the first thing he should do is to inquire after its cause before the Lord. He should not be overanxious in seeking healing. Paul sets a good example in showing us how he was most clear about his weakness. We must examine whether we have disobeyed the Lord, have sinned anywhere, owe anybody a debt, have violated some natural law, or have neglected some special duty. We ought to know that frequently our violation of natural law can constitute a sin against God, for God sets up these natural laws by which to govern the universe. Many are afraid to die; upon becoming sick they hurriedly seek out physicians, for they are anxious to be cured. Such ought not to be the Christian’s attitude. He should first attempt to isolate the cause for his malady. Alas, how many brothers and sisters do not possess any patience. The moment they fall sick they search for a remedy. Are you so afraid to lose your precious life that through prayer you lay hold of God for healing yet simultaneously lay hold of a physician for drugs and an injection? This reveals how full of self you are. But then how could you be less full of self in sickness if you are filled with self during ordinary days? Those who are ordinarily full of self will be those who anxiously seek for healing just as soon as they get sick.
May I tell you that anxiety avails nothing. Since you belong to God, your healing is not so simple. Even if you are cured this time, you will be ailing again. One must solve his problem before God first; and then can be solved the problem in his body.
Learn to accept whatever lesson sickness may bring to you. For if you have dealings with God many of your problems will be resolved quickly. You will find out that often your illness is due to some sin or fault of yours. Upon confessing your sin and asking for forgiveness, you may expect healing from God. Or, should you have walked further with the Lord, you may discern that involved in this is the enemy’s attack. Or the matter of God’s discipline may be associated with your unhealthy state. God chastises with sickness so as to render you holier, softer or more yielding. As you deal with these problems before God you will be enabled to see the exact reason for your infirmity. Sometimes God may allow you to receive a little natural or medical help, but sometimes He may heal you instantaneously without such assistance.
We should see that healing is in God’s hand. Learn to trust Him Who heals. In the Old Testament God has a special name which is, “I am the Lord, your healer” (Ex. 15.26). Look to Him and He will be gracious to His own in this particular regard.
The initial step which the believer should therefore take when sick is to ferret out the cause; afterwards he may resort to several different ways for healing, one of which is to call the elders of the church to pray and anoint him with oil. This is the only command in the Bible concerning sickness.
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; 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)
Make no haste in seeking a cure, but rather have dealings with God at the outset. One of the things to be done is to call for the elders of the church to anoint you with oil. This speaks of the flowing of the oil from the Head to you as one of the members of the body. The oil which the Head receives runs down upon the whole body. As a member of the body of Christ, one can expect the oil on the Head to flow to him. Where life flows, sickness is swept away. The purpose of anointing is hence to bring down oil from the Head. Through disobedience, sin or perhaps some other reason the believer has gotten himself out of the body circulation and has departed from the body protection. Accordingly, he needs to call the elders of the church to reinstate him into the circulation and life flow of the body of Christ. This is just as in the physical body; for when any of its members is out of joint the life of the body cannot flow freely into it. Thus the anointing is to restore such a flow. The elders represent the local church; they anoint the believer on behalf of the body of Christ so that the oil of the Head may flow to him once again. Let the oil on the Head come upon that member through which life has been obstructed! Our experience tells us that such anointing may raise the seriously sick up instantly.
At times one identifies the explanation for his illness to be his individualism. This may well be the chief cause for illness. Some Christians are highly individualistic. They do everything according to their own will. They do it all by themselves. If the hand of God comes upon them they grow sick, for the supply of the body does not reach such members. I dare not over-simplify these matters. The reasons for sickness can be many and varied. One sickness may be due to disobeying the Lord’s command, refusing to carry out His will; another may be caused by committing some particular sin; but still another may be the consequence of individualism. Now in the case of certain individualists God overlooks and does not discipline; but especially in the case of those who know the church, He chastens them with illness if they commence to act independently. The Lord will not let these go without some discipline.
It is also possible that infirmity is the consequence of a defiled body. Should anyone defile his body, God will destroy that temple. Many are infirm because they have corrupted their bodies.
By way of summing up, then, no sickness occurs without a cause. If the Christian contracts an illness he should try to locate its cause or causes. After he has confessed them one by one before God he should summon the elders of the church so that they may confess to one another and pray for one another. The elders will anoint the sick one with oil that the life of the body of Christ may be restored to him. The influx of life will swallow up the disease. We believe in natural causes, but we additionally must affirm that spiritual causes have priority over the natural. If the spiritual are taken care of, the sickness shall be healed completely.
An amazing fact is found in the Bible: that it is relatively easy for a “heathen” to be healed, but healing for a Christian is not so easy. The New Testament overwhelmingly shows us that whenever an unbeliever seeks the Lord he is cured immediately. Now the gift of healing is for the brethren as well as for the unbelievers. Yet the Bible tells of some believers who are not healed; among them are Trophimus, Timothy and Paul. And these are the best of the brethren. Paul left Trophimus ill at Miletus (2 Tim. 4.20). He exhorted Timothy to use a little wine for the sake of his stomach and his frequent ailments (1 Tim. 5.23). Paul himself experienced a thorn in his flesh from which he suffered much and was reduced to great weakness (2 Cor. 12.7). Whatever the nature of that thorn, be it eye trouble or some other disease, it pricked his flesh. One feels great discomfort should a little finger be pricked by a thorn. Paul’s, however, was a big thorn, not a tiny one. It gave him such discomfort that he could only describe his physical condition as weakness. These three are brethren par excellence, yet none was healed. They had to endure sickness.
It is quite evident that sickness is different from sin in its outworking. Sin does not produce any fruit of holiness, but sickness does. The more a person sins the more corrupt he becomes; sickness, though, bears the fruit of holiness because the chastening hand of God is upon the sick. Under such circumstances it behooves a child of God to learn how to submit himself under the mighty hand of God.
If one is ill he ought to deal with every cause of his illness before the Lord. If, after all has been dealt with, the hand of God still remains upon him, then he should understand that this illness is for the purpose of restraining him from being proud or loose or for some other purpose. He should accept it and learn its lesson. To be sick is valueless if the lesson is not learned. Sickness itself does not make a man holy, but its lesson if accepted produces holiness. Some grow worse spiritually during illness; they become more self-centered. That is why one must discover the lesson in such a period. What profit or fruit can be derived from it? Is the hand of God upon me to keep me humble as He did with Paul, “to keep me from being too elated by the abundance of revelations” (2 Cor. 12.7) ? Or is it because God desires to weaken my tubborn individuality? What is the use of sickness if it does not provoke me to learn the lesson of weakness? Many are sick in vain because they never accept the Lord’s dealing with their particular problems.
Do not look upon sickness as something terrible. In whose hand is this knife? Remember that it is in God’s hand. Why should we be anxious over our infirmity as though it were the hand of the enemy? Know that God has measured out all our sickness. To be sure, Satan is the originator of them; it is he who makes people ill. Yet all who have read the Book of job realize that this is only through God’s permission and is completely under the restriction of God. Without God’s permission Satan cannot make anyone sick. God permitted job to be attacked with ill-health, but note that He did not allow the enemy to touch his life. Why then are we so agitated, so full of despair, so anxious to be cured, so afraid we will die when we are struck down with ill-health?
It is always well for us to bear in mind that all sickness is in God’s hand. It has been both measured and circumscribed by Him. After job had fulfilled the course of his trial his sickness was over, for it had accomplished its purpose in him—“Ye have heard of the patience of job, and have seen the end (purpose) of the Lord, how that the Lord is full of pity, and merciful” (James 5.11 ASV). What a shame that so many are ill without realizing its purpose or learning its lesson. All infirmities are in the Lord’s hand and are measured out to us that we may learn our lessons. The sooner we learn them the quicker these infirmities pass away.
May I put it bluntly: many are sick simply because they love themselves too much. Unless the Lord removes this self-love from their hearts He cannot use them. Therefore we must learn to be those who do not love ourselves. Some people can think of nothing but themselves. The whole universe seems to revolve around them. They are the center of the earth as well as the hub of the universe. Day and night are they occupied with their own selves. Every creature exists for them, everything circles around them. Even God in heaven is for them, Christ is for them, and the church is for them. How can God destroy this self-centeredness? Why is it that some maladies are hard to be cured? How intently they solicit men’s sympathy! If they should spurn human sympathy their ailments would soon be healed.
A startling fact is that many are ill because, they like to be ill. In sickness they receive the attention and love which they do not usually enjoy in health. They frequently become ill that they may habitually be loved. Such people need to be severely reprimanded; and should they be willing to receive God’s dealing in this particular matter they shall soon be well.
I know a brother who always expected love and kindness from others. Whenever people inquired after his well-being, he habitually responded with complaints about his physical weakness. He would give a detailed report of how many minutes he suffered from fever, how long it was he had a headache, how many times per minute he breathed, and how irregular was his heartbeat. He was continually in discomfort. He loved to tell people of his distress so that they might sympathize with him. He had nothing to relate except his tale of endless sickness. And at times he wondered why he was never healed.
Now it is difficult to speak the truth. And sometimes it can be costly. One day I was inwardly strengthened to tell him candidly that his long illness was due to his love for sickness. He of course denied it. Nevertheless I proceeded to point out to him: You are afraid that your sickness might leave you. You crave sympathy, love and care. Since you cannot secure these in any other way, you obtain them by being sick. You must rid yourself of this selfish desire before God will ever heal you. When people ask how you are, you must learn to answer that “all is well.” Would this be telling a lie if the night before had been ill-spent? Recall the story of the woman in Shunem. She laid her dead child on the bed of the man of God and went to see Elisha. When she was asked, “Is it well with you? Is it well with your husband? Is it well with the child?”, she replied, “It is well.” (See 2 Kings 4.26) How could she say that, knowing the child had died already and was laid on Elisha’s bed? Because she had faith. She believed that God would raise up her child. So today you too must believe.
Whatever may be the cause, be it intrinsic or extrinsic, the sickness will be over once God has obtained His end. People like Paul, Timothy and Trophimus are exceptions. Although their sicknesses were long-sustaining, they acknowledged that this was profitable to their work. They learned how to take care of themselves for the glory of God. Paul persuaded Timothy to drink a little wine, to be careful in eating and drinking. In spite of their frailties the work of God was not neglected. The Lord gave them sufficient grace to overcome their disabilities. Paul labored in weakness. By reading his writings we can conclude easily that he accomplished as much as ten persons could have. God used this weak man to exceed ten strong persons. Though his body was frail, God nevertheless gave him strength and life. These though are the exceptions in the Bible. Some of God’s special vessels may receive the same treatment. But the rank and file, especially beginners, should examine whether they have sinned; and upon confessing their sins they shall see their sickness readily healed.
Lastly, I wish you to see before the Lord that sometimes Satan may launch a sudden attack or sometimes you unwittingly may violate some natural law. Even so, you still can bring it to the Lord.
If it is the enemy’s assault, rebuke it in the name of the Lord. Once a sister had a protracted fever. After discovering that it was a satanic attack, she rebuked it in the Lord’s name and the fever left her. If you violate a natural law by putting your hand in the fire, you surely shall be burnt. Take good care of yourself. Do not wait until you are sick before you confess your negligence. It is important to take care of your body during the ordinary days.
How should men seek healing before God? Three sentences in the Gospel of Mark are worth learning. I find them especially helpful, at least they are very effective for me. The first touches upon the power of the Lord; the second, the will of the Lord; and the third, the act of the Lord.
a) The Power of the Lord: “God can.” “And Jesus asked his father, “How long has he had this?’ And he said, “From childhood. And it has often cast him into the fire and into the water, to destroy him; but if you can do anything, have pity on us and help us.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘If you can! All things are possible to him who believes”‘ (9. 21-23). The Lord Jesus merely repeated the three words which the child’s father had uttered. The father cried, “If you can, help us.” The Lord responded, “If you cant Why, all things are possible to him who believes.” The problem here is not “if you can” but rather “if you believe.”
Is it not true that the first problem which arises with sickness is a doubt about God’s power? Under a microscope the power of bacteria seems to be greater than the power of God. Very rarely does the Lord cut off others in the middle of their speaking, but here he appears as though He were angry. (May the Lord forgive me for phrasing it this way!) When He heard the child’s father say “If you can, have pity on us and help us,” He sharply reacted with “Why say if you can? All things are possible to him who believes. In sickness, the question is not whether I can or cannot but whether you believe or not.”
The initial step for a child of God to take in sickness therefore is to raise up his head and say “Lord, you cant” You remember, do you not, the first instance of the Lord’s healing of a paralytic? He asked the Pharisees, “Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, “Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, “Rise, take up your pallet and walk’?” (Mark 2.9) The Pharisees naturally thought it easier to say your sins are forgiven, for who could actually prove it is or is not so? But the Lord’s words and their results showed them that He could heal sickness as well as forgive sins. He did not ask which was more difficult, but which was easier. For Him, both were equally easy. It was as easy for the Lord to bid the paralytic rise and walk as to forgive the latter’s sins. For the Pharisees, both were as difficult.
b) The Will of the Lord: “God will.” Yes, He indeed can, but how do I know if He wills? I do not know His will; perhaps He does not want to heal me. This is another story in Mark again. “And a leper came to him beseeching him, and kneeling said to him, “If you will, you can make me clean. Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand and touched him, and said to him, “I will; be clean’ “ (1.40-41).
However great the power of God is, if He has no wish to heal, His power shall not help me. The problem to be solved at the outset is: Can God?; the second is: Will God? There is no sickness as unclean as leprosy. It is so unclean that according to law whoever touches a leper becomes himself unclean. Yet the Lord Jesus touched the leper and said to him, “I will.” If He would heal the leper, how much more wills He to cure our diseases. We can proclaim boldly, “God can” and “God will.”
c) The Act of the Lord: “God has.” One more thing must God do. “Verily I say unto you, Whosoever shall say unto this mountain, Be thou taken up and cast into the sea; and shall not doubt in his heart, but shall believe that what he saith cometh to pass; he shall have it. Therefore I say unto you, all things whatsoever ye pray and ask for, believe that ye receive (Gr. received) them, and ye shall have them” (11. 23-24 ASV). What is faith? Faith believes God can, God will, and God has done it. If you believe you have received it, you shall have it. Should God give you His word, you can thank Him by saying, “God has healed me; He has already done; it!” Many believers merely expect to be healed. Expectation regards things in the future, but faith deals with the past. If we really believe, we shall not wait for twenty or a hundred years, but shall rise up immediately and say, “Thank God He has healed me. Thank God, I have received it. Thank God, I am clean! Thank God, I am well.” A perfect faith can there fore proclaim God can, God will and God has done it.
Faith works with “is” and not “wish.” Allow me to use a simple illustration. Suppose you preach the gospel and one professes that he has believed. Ask him whether he is saved and should his answer be, I wish to be saved, then you know this reply is inadequate. Should he say, I will be saved, the answer is still incorrect. Even if he responds with, I think I shall definitely be saved, something is yet missing. But when he answers, I am saved, you know the flavor is right. If one believes, then he is saved. All faith deals with the past. To say I believe I shall be healed is not true faith. If he believes, he will thank God and say, I have received healing.
Lay hold of these three steps: God can, God will, God has. When man’s faith touches the third stage, the sickness is over.