Summary: Causes and cures for sickness. How God works in our weakness and the importance of prayer
The morning message concludes and the elders come forward during the final hymn. They gather on the chancel steps to pray with those who come forward from the congregation. Specific needs are shared, and as the people kneel, elders lay hands on them and pray for the release of the Lord’s healing power in them. Some come expressing a need to know Christ, others need assurance of forgiveness; some have concerns for loved ones who are ill or troubled. Many have physical illness and still others are facing challenges where they need the Lord’s guidance and strength. The results of these prayers have been astounding.
This is not a report from some kooky church on the fringe of reality, but from the very respectable Hollywood Presbyterian Church. Many Christians are confused over the issue of prayer and healing. Many churches refuse to offer the opportunity that Hollywood Pres does. Is God there when sickness enters our lives? Do miracles of healing still happen—or do we just read about them in the Bible?
Some insist that miracles and healings should always be the order of the day. They often compound the suffering of those who struggle with illness by claiming, “It’s never God’s will for Christians to suffer.” So the victim is blamed for his infirmity and accused either of sin or lack of faith.
The thread that ties verses 13-18 together in James 5 is the theme of prayer. Prayer is referenced repeatedly in this section. We can have no vital relationship with God until we learn to share of all life’s experiences with Him. In happiness or grief, in trouble or triumph, we are to pray. This week I received a note from a pastor who’s wife died in the spring after a lingering bout with cancer. Now in his grief, his own cancer, which had been in remission for years, has reoccurred. James gets specific in v. 14 and speaks to situations like that pastor’s when he identifies one source of Christian trouble as sickness. If prayer is appropriate for any context of life it is certainly relevant in times of physical affliction.
We often pray in terms of “why?” Why is this happening to me? The more appropriate prayer that of “what?” “Lord, what are you saying to me through these difficulties?” “Father, what do you want me to learn, or what do you wish for me to do?”
I. CAUSES OF SICKNESS
A. Violation of God’s Natural Laws
Many are sick because they pay too little attention to basic health principles such as sanitation, hygiene, diet, exercise, and rest. Illness is the natural result.
A well-balanced diet is essential to good health. God was Israel’s healer, but He was also their dietitian. We are not bound by all the restrictions of the Old Testament law, but we might well discover that the laws of hygiene and diet God established then are still helpful in maintaining health today. Israel was also commanded to rest one day out of seven and one year out of seven. A proper proportion of rest to labor continues to be an important factor to good health. We violate these laws to our physical detriment.
B. Violation of God’s Moral Laws
The Bible leaves no doubt that God occasionally uses physical infirmity to punish sin and chasten His children. There are numerous Old Testament references. We often consider 1 Corinthians 11:29-32 at the Lord’s Table: “For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep. But if we judged ourselves, we would not come under judgment. When we are judged by the Lord, we are being disciplined so that we will not be condemned with the world.” Some were sick and others had died because of a sinful attitude concerning the body of the Lord. However, such sickness was not to be accepted passively. It was expected that they should stop sinning and be healed. The sickness was a strong encouragement to change their sinful behavior.
C. Brought by Satan and Permitted by God
Sickness is sometimes brought by Satan (though permitted by God). Job and the apostle Paul are examples. Paul asked God repeatedly to deliver him from his “thorn in the flesh,” which he described as “a messenger of Satan.” God allowed that affliction so that His power could be manifested in Paul’s weakness.
One writer says, “Let’s mark the conclusion in red letters. The disasters of the world do not have their origin in the will of God. The evil one is the author of adversity” [Robert Wise, When There is No Miracle, (Ventura: Regal Books, 1977), 128].
D. For God’s Glory and Our Good