I Command #fail – How not to heal

Imagine it. Here comes the Apostles Peter and John. As they are entering the temple they fix their gaze on a lame beggar and say…

“I command you lameness to come out of him and leave his body!” The beggar rises to his feet exclaiming “I feel tingling up and down my spine – this must be the Spirit of God healing me”.

Is that how it happened?

Now Peter and John were going up together to the temple complex at the hour of prayer at three in the afternoon. And a man who was lame from birth was carried there and placed every day at the temple gate called Beautiful, so he could beg from those entering the temple complex. When he saw Peter and John about to enter the temple complex, he asked for help. Peter, along with John, looked at him intently and said, “Look at us.” So he turned to them, expecting to get something from them. But Peter said, “I don’t have silver or gold, but what I have, I give you: In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, get up and walk!” Then, taking him by the right hand he raised him up, and at once his feet and ankles became strong. So he jumped up, stood, and started to walk, and he entered the temple complex with them–walking, leaping, and praising God. All the people saw him walking and praising God, and they recognized that he was the one who used to sit and beg at the Beautiful Gate of the temple complex. So they were filled with awe and astonishment at what had happened to him. (Acts 3:1-10 HCSB)

What? No commanding the disease to leave? No tingling up and down the spine?

Think Biblically, Act Biblically, Speak Biblically

How many times in the New Testament did a healing occur by commanding the sickness to leave? Zero.

There is only one case in the New Testament where anything like this occurred

Out of the crowd, one man answered Him, “Teacher, I brought my son to You. He has a spirit that makes him unable to speak. Wherever it seizes him, it throws him down, and he foams at the mouth, grinds his teeth, and becomes rigid. So I asked Your disciples to drive it out, but they couldn’t.” He replied to them, “You unbelieving generation! How long will I be with you? How long must I put up with you? Bring him to Me.” So they brought him to Him. When the spirit saw Him, it immediately convulsed the boy. He fell to the ground and rolled around, foaming at the mouth. “How long has this been happening to him?” Jesus asked his father. “From childhood,” he said. “And many times it has thrown him into fire or water to destroy him. But if You can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” Then Jesus said to him, “‘If You can’? Everything is possible to the one who believes.” Immediately the father of the boy cried out, “I do believe! Help my unbelief.”

When Jesus saw that a crowd was rapidly coming together, He rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it, “You mute and deaf spirit, I command you: come out of him and never enter him again!” (Mark 9:17-25 HCSB)

From the very beginning of this story we see that there was an evil spirit – a demon involved.

As someone with a rare and debilitating disease I have had well meaning Christians pray over me and they say something like. “I command Dercums Disease to leave his body.” Is this a biblical practice?

No, it isn’t. By that I mean that

  1. The practice is not commanded by Jesus or the Apostles
  2. The practice is not demonstrated by example in the New Testam

If someone says “I command” they are implying that

  • They have the authority to command something
  • They have the power to enforce the command

Well meaning Christians argue that we have all the authority of Christ and the power to heal. But… how many times did Jesus fail to heal? Zero. He healed every time he attempted to heal.

How many times did the Apostles fail to heal? If we don’t count the case above from Mark 9 which was a casting out of a demon rather than a healing we see that they also failed to heal zero times. A perfect track record.

If you say “I command” and the healing doesn’t take place, then you were either

  • Presuming you had power and authority that you do not have
  • Mistaken about your role in healing

Do I get to decide who gets healed and who doesn’t? Do I get to go around to every sick person I see and command the sickness to leave them? No! It is God’s prerogative to heal or not to heal. If you say “I pray for people and they are healed” I ask, “How many times have you prayed for people and they were not healed?” If your answer is anything but zero I’d say that you are not in the same league as Jesus and the Apostles.

Tingling up and down my spine

From the book: How To Pray For The Sick and See Them Recover Volume 1: The Bible Speaks To The Sick and Those Who Pray For Them by Sybil Bissel

“At the same time the sick person, when the power passes from the servant of God to them, can detect warmth, tingling or tremor in the area that God is touching.”

How many times did this occur in the New Testament? Zero. Never, not once. No reports of tingling, warmth etc. from those who were healed. Yet, people who pray for healing often ask me if I feel anything.

What You Should Know

First of all, you should educate yourself on what the scripture says. Healing was a part of the “signs and wonders” (Acts 4:30) that were used to authenticate the message and the messenger. There are many different views on whether or not such “signs and wonders” continue today. Even if you believe that such miraculous signs do occur today, they are certainly not occurring in the same manner and frequency today that they did in the Apostolic era.

Secondly, not everyone was healed.

Paul was sick

you know that previously I preached the gospel to you because of a physical illness. You did not despise or reject me though my physical condition was a trial for you. On the contrary, you received me as an angel of God, as Christ Jesus Himself. (Galatians 4:13-14 HCSB)

What? Paul was sick and nobody was around to command the sickness to leave him? Didn’t Paul have the authority to heal the sick? We know that he healed others. What’s more, nobody looked down on him because of his sickness. Nobody came to him and said “Paul If you just had more faith, you could be healed” or “Paul, do you have a sin in your life? That is why you are sick.” or “Paul, you are being oppressed by a demon.” No! Instead they received him as an angel of God!

Timothy was sick

Don’t continue drinking only water, but use a little wine because of your stomach and your frequent illnesses. (1 Timothy 5:23 HCSB)

What? Timothy sick? Why didn’t Paul just cast the stomach illness out? Why didn’t he heal Timothy of this when he laid hands on him?

Trophimus was sick

Erastus has remained at Corinth; I left Trophimus sick at Miletus. (2 Timothy 4:20 HCSB)

What? Paul, why didn’t you just heal Trophimus and bring him with you? You left him at Miletus sick?

Epaphroditus was sick

But I considered it necessary to send you Epaphroditus–my brother, coworker, and fellow soldier, as well as your messenger and minister to my need– since he has been longing for all of you and was distressed because you heard that he was sick. Indeed, he was so sick that he nearly died. However, God had mercy on him, and not only on him but also on me, so that I would not have one grief on top of another. (Philippians 2:25-27 HCSB)

Paul? Why didn’t you just heal him? Why wait until he nearly died? Why do you say that you would have had grief if he had died? After all, you have raised people from the dead before (Eutychus Acts 20:9).

The Ultimate Healing

Healing is not promised to everyone. It is not guaranteed to anyone. In fact, the ultimate healing won’t happen until the redemption of our bodies at the resurrection.

For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together with labor pains until now. And not only that, but we ourselves who have the Spirit as the firstfruits–we also groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. Now in this hope we were saved, yet hope that is seen is not hope, because who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with patience. (Romans 8:22-25 HCSB)

What about James 5:14-16?

Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. (James 5:14-16 NIV)

I cannot say it any better than the Bible Knowledge Commentary.
James asked a third question and then answered it fully. Is any one of you sick? A great deal of misunderstanding has resulted from these verses. Some seem to teach from this passage that full physical health is always just a prayer away. Others have found in this passage justification for
“extreme unction” (a practice begun in the eighth century). Still others have tried to relate the process outlined by James to the modern practice of invoking God (“pray over him”) and using medicine (“anoint him with oil”) — prayer plus a physician.

The heart of the problem lies in just what James meant when he referred to the “sick.” Actually there is no reason to consider “sick” as referring exclusively to physical illness. The word asthenei literally means “to be weak.” Though it is used in the Gospels for physical maladies, it is generally used in Acts and the Epistles to refer to a weak faith or a weak conscience (cf. Act_20:35; Rom_6:19; Rom_14:1; 1Co_8:9-12). That it should be considered “weak” in this verse is clear in that another Greek word (kamnonta) in Jas_5:15, translated sick person, literally means “to be weary.” The only other use in the New Testament (Heb_12:3) of that word clearly emphasizes this same meaning.

James was not referring to the bedfast, the diseased, or the ill. Instead he wrote to those who had grown weary, who had become weak both morally and spiritually in the midst of suffering. These are the ones who should call for the help of the elders of the church. The early church leaders were instructed (1Th_5:14) to “encourage the timid” and “help the weak” (asthenōn).

James said that the elders should pray over him and anoint him with oil. It is significant that the word “anoint” is aleipsantes (“rub with oil”) not chriō (“ceremonially anoint”). The former is the “mundane” word and the latter is “the sacred and religious word” (Richard Chenevix Trench, Synonyms of the New Testament, ninth ed. Reprint. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1950, pp. 136-7). “Therefore James is not suggesting a ceremonial or ritual anointing as a means of divine healing; instead, he is referring to the common practice of using oil as a means of bestowing honor, refreshment, and grooming” (Daniel R. Hayden, “Calling the Elders to Pray,” Bibliotheca Sacra 138. July-September 1981:264). The woman “poured” (aleiphō) perfume on Jesus’ feet (Luk_7:38). A host “put oil” (aleiphō) on the head of his guest (Luk_7:46). A person who is fasting should not be sad and ungroomed, but should “put oil” (aleiphō) on his head, and wash his face (Mat_6:17). Thus James’ point is that the “weak” (asthenei) and “weary” (kamnonta) would be refreshed, encouraged, and uplifted by the elders who rubbed oil on the despondents’ heads and prayed for them.
For the fallen, discouraged, distressed weary believer, restoration is assured and the elders prayer offered in faith will make the sick person (lit., “weary one”) well (i.e., will restore him from discouragement and spiritual defeat), and the Lord will raise him up.

That the restoration is spiritual, not physical, is further clarified by the assurance, if he has sinned, he will be forgiven. Many physically ill Christians have called on elders to pray for them and to anoint them with oil, but a sizable percentage of them have remained sick. This fact suggests that the passage may have been mistakenly understood as physical restoration rather than spiritual restoration.

How Should You Pray For Healing

There is no biblical model for this. There are no examples of Jesus or the Apostles or anybody else anywhere praying for someone to be healed physically. However, there are many examples of people praying for relief from suffering, imprisonment and injunctions to bring our cares to the Lord.

Praying biblically means that we

  • Recognize that God is sovereign and his will should be done
  • That we don’t always know his will in any given situation
  • We don’t know why a person is sick
  • We don’t blame the sick if they are not healed

An example might be

Lord I pray for my friend _____ who is suffering from this illness. If it be your will Lord I ask that you heal ____ completely. If it is not your will, I ask that you give ____ the grace to accept their sickness and to remember that “your grace is sufficient” and “your strength is made perfect in weakness”. I pray for relief from the pain and suffering they are experiencing and joy in the midst of their pain.

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