Study 11 BODILY SICKNESS AND DIVINE HEALING
PAUL’S SECOND LETTER TO TIMOTHY
by Francis Dixon
Scripture Portion: 2 Timothy 4:9-22. Key verse: 2 Timothy 4:20
In our key verse Paul writes, “I left Trophimus sick in Miletus.” This man was from Ephesus and he was undoubtedly a fine Christian, a servant of God and a co-worker with Paul. The important thing for us to notice is that he was so ill that Paul had to leave him at Miletus. Why was it that Trophimus was not healed? He was God’s child and God’s servant, and on a number of occasions Paul had exercised a healing ministry, but not on this occasion. With this little historic note about Trophimus and his sickness, let us ask and answer some pertinent questions concerning the whole subject of Divine Healing.
1. DO THE LORD’S PEOPLE SUFFER WITH ILLNESS?
By “the Lord’s people” we mean born again Christians. Do Christians suffer? Are they subject to illness and incapacity of body and mind? The answer is yes, and in some cases they are called upon to suffer from serious diseases, from which they die, sometimes at an early age. There are many Christians who are to a greater or lesser degree experiencing bodily suffering. This leads to a second question:
2. DOES THE LORD EVER HEAL HIS PEOPLE?
The answer to this question is also – yes. In Philippians 2:25-30 Paul writes about Epaphroditus, who was so ill that he “almost died”, but God had mercy on him. This means that God raised him up, no doubt in answer to Paul’s prayers. In Acts 9:36-43 we read of Dorcas, a sister in the church at Joppa, who died. When Peter came and had prayed, God raised her up and brought her back to life. All through the history of the Church there have been similar instances of God’s power in healing. Does God heal the sick today? Yes, He does. But this leads to a third question, and notice its exact phrasing:-
3. DOES THE LORD ALWAYS HEAL HIS CHILDREN?
The answer to this question is – no, He does not! Even though there has been much prayer and the sick person is a committed Christian, in many cases healing does not come. The illness remains, it persists – “I left Trophimus sick in Miletus.” We may be certain that Paul prayed for his friend. Now, please note this very carefully: there are those who teach that it is always God’s will to heal the sick and that no Christian has any right to endure sickness. The Bible, however, does not teach that it is always God’s will to heal the body, and the experience of tens of thousands of godly, dedicated Christians who are sick and suffering in body confirms the truth that God simply does not always heal His children, even in answer to earnest and persistent prayer. This leads us to ask and answer another question:-
4. WHY DO GOD’S PEOPLE EXPERIENCE BODILY SICKNESS?
- (1) One reason is that often sickness comes upon God’s children because they have broken the laws of healthy living. There is a promise at the end of Exodus 15:26, “I am the Lord who heals you”; but it is important to notice that it is given within the context of God’s laws relating to diet, cleanliness, work and relaxation, and here He promises that if His people will keep these laws they will remain healthy in body and mind. If a Christian ‘burns the candle at both ends’ he will suffer for it. If we neglect our diet and get insufficient rest and sleep, if we overwork and abuse our bodies, we must suffer in consequence – even though we are Christians and are God’s servants. This is one reason why Christians become ill.
- (2) Sometimes sickness comes upon Christians as the direct result of wilful sin. We emphasise that this is not always the case, but sometimes it is, as 1 Corinthians 11:29-32 tells us. There were those in the church at Corinth who were undisciplined and careless, and because of this the Lord’s hand came upon them in judgment. Some of them were “weak and sick” – that is, they became ill; others went to sleep, that is, they died. This is very solemn, but it is clear teaching from the scriptures, and it is as applicable to us today as it was to the Christians in the first century.
- (3) When God permits sickness and suffering and withholds healing, He always has a loving purpose in view. Nothing happens by chance in the life of a Christian; nothing happens without God’s permission – look up Romans 8:28. God is our loving Heavenly Father, and yet He permits many of His children, as He permitted Trophimus, to remain sick.
5. WHAT IS GOD’S PURPOSE IN PERMITTING BODILY SICKNESS AND SUFFERING?
- (1) In order that He may draw us nearer to Himself. So often we do not feel our need of Him when we are strong in body and when all is going well with us, and so we experience what David wrote about in Psalm 23:2.
- (2) In order that we may be sanctified; that is, in order that He may do something in us that otherwise He could not do. Read Hebrews 12:5-11 and you will see that this truth is clearly stated, and do remember that the word “discipline” means “child training”. It is the ministry of a loving Heavenly Father in the life of His child. When we become ill we do not know what God’s purpose is, but we do know that He has a gracious purpose in it – look up John 13:7.
- (3) In order that our testimony may bless others. Paul longed for healing and prayed for it, and what tremendous blessing has been released into the lives of Christian people down the centuries through the answer that God gave the apostle when he prayed for healing! – look up 2 Corinthians 12:9.
We do believe that God is able to heal when it is His perfect will to do so, but we also recognise that there is a ministry of suffering as well as a ministry of healing. Are we able to rejoice in the fact that God’s will is best, whatever it is, and to say, “Whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord?” (Romans 14:8).