By Pastor Glenn Pease
Opportunity not only knocks, but sometimes it even breaks the door down, but still we miss it. Such was the case in the sad story of the great Viennese surgeon Dr. Lorenz. When he was in America some years back he was flooded with more requests with help then he could begin to meet. One woman who sought his help for her child could not even make contact with him. Dr. Lorenz was in the habit of taking a walk after lunch, and he instructed his chauffeur to come after him if it should storm. One afternoon as he was walking it did begin to rain. The woman who was seeking the doctors help went out on her porch to put the wicker furniture in a safe place so it would not get wet. While she was there an elderly gentleman came up to the door half soaked. He asked if the could set on her porch until the rain stopped.
In differently, she motioned him to a chair, and without a word she left him and went into the house. After awhile a car stopped in front and a chauffeur ran up to the porch with a rain coat and umbrella, and he took the man with him. The woman who saw all this paid no mind to it until she read the paper the next morning. An article told of how the famous Dr. Lorenz was marooned in the rain storm, and had take shelter on a strangers porch where he suffered two chills. One from his damp clothing, and the other from the woman of the house. The woman was shocked and ashamed. She rushed to the hotel where Dr. Lorenz was staying only to learn that he had left on a train that morning, and would never return. She had lost her opportunity forever even though she had it at her fingertips, and it was all because of her indifference. She neglected to care for the needs of another, and in so doing she failed herself as well.
This true story is more than a fact. It is a parable on the danger that all of us face. It is the danger of being indifferent to the needs of others, and, thereby, cutting ourselves off from the blessings of God. One of the reasons why many churches and individual Christians do not believe in, an experience the healing power of Christ is because they have no great concern about His healing ministry in the lives of others. They are indifferent to what Scripture teaches, and how the early church applied it, and how it ought to be applied today. The result of this is, though it is at our fingertips, we miss the opportunity to see the Great Physician work in an through us.
We have established in the two previous messages that the New Testament teaches that sickness is of the kingdom of evil, and that to be delivered from it is a part of Christ's plan of salvation. This means that the ministry of healing is as perpetual as the ministry of the Gospel of the forgiveness of sin. This means that this passage in James is not a mere fact of antiquity preserved only for the interest of the curious. It is still God's Word to us today. It must still find application and expression in our church, or we deliberately exclude a part of its clear instruction. To neglect this portion of Scripture because we are indifferent, or because we are ignorant, it is to reduce ourselves to the level of those cults we delight in ridiculing because they pick and choose which parts of the Bible they will stress, and which they will ignore. We cannot ignore it, for we have an obligation before God to understand it and obey it along with the rest of Scripture. We want to examine it and strive to see how it applies to us today.
In verse 14 we see the action of the sick Christian. The initiative must come from the person who is ill. They are responsible for calling in the aid which the church has to offer. They are to call the elders of the church. The elders played a major role in the Old Testament, and the office continued into the New Testament church. They were basically the godly men of each congregation that were its leaders. They governed, taught, visited the sick, and in every way represented the church. Acts 14:23 says that Paul and Barnabas on their first missionary journey ordained elders in every church. Every church needed some leadership, and these were called elders.
The elders were more fundamental than the concept of deacons, for deacons were not needed in every church for specific ministry as they were in the church in Jerusalem. Not every church would have a problem of Greek widows not getting the proper care. The elders would handle this if the need arose. The elders in the New Testament are just about equivalent to what we call the official board. All who are elected to office should be able to fulfill the role described here.
When a Jew was sick he went to the Rabbi or the priest. Jesus, you recall, sent the 10 lepers to the priest, and they were healed on the way. Only the priest could pronounce them clean, and restore them to society as in the Old Testament, so in the New Testament God's people were united in all things around His Word. They took care of one another, and they were like an island in a sea of paganism. There was a clear distinction between the world and the church. It was a totally different setting than what we have today where the church and secular society are interdependent.
We no longer pool our goods as the church did at Pentecost. We no longer have deacons delivering groceries as a regular ministry. We no longer do hardly any of the work of welfare that the church once did. The government now does this, and has taken this ministry almost entirely out of the churches hands. Some larger churches still do quite a bit, but the average church no longer plays the role it did in New Testament times. Because of this people no longer look to the church, but to secular society, for their needs. This is true for healing as well. When this passage is applied in a Christian home it is usually only after the doctor has been called, and the problem is beyond his ability to cure. If he can cure it, Christians never even give a thought to getting the church involved in healing.
All of us do this. We get medicine to get through our sicknesses. We could not imagine calling the church, for who there knows anything about medicine? We will take a doctor over a deacon any day, and I believe that God would have us do so. But does this mean the church is now irrelevant to the whole matter of healing? Must we give up this ministry completely, and leave it to the medical profession? If we do so, it is not totally bad, for the wisdom and skill of the doctor is a direct and indirect benefit of the church of Christ. The whole ministry of compassion for the suffering of man has grown out of the compassion of Christ, and the healing ministry of the church. Hospitals, nursing, and the search for medicine have all come from the church. The church has lifted the whole world to a higher level of concern for man's health.
The benefits of healing that we receive through non-Christian doctors and secular institutions are still benefits gained by the grace of God and the love of Christ. The Christian is not in any way opposed to the use of medicine in healing. But the Christian does not stop there, for he seeks spiritual resources as well as physical. The ideal will be a Christian doctor who represents the church and the medical profession, and who uses, as the elders did, both prayer and medicine. The elders were to come and pray, and anoint with oil. Both physical and spiritual resources were used. The oil had both physical and symbolical value.
Galen, the famous Greek doctor, said, "Oil is the best of all medicines." The use of oil was equivalent to our use of medication. It was the best they had in that day. Jesus sent out the 70, and Mark 6:13 says, "They anointed with oil many who were sick and healed them." When Jesus told the parable of the Good Samaritan He said in Luke 10:34 that He, "Bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine." Jesus recognized the medical power of oil and healing. Jesus recommended the use of the best physical medicine you can acquire. Oil was used by Christians and non-Christians alike. Emperors even bathed in oil when they were sick. There are testimonies of the use of oil for healing into the fourth and fifth centuries.
This means that by calling the elders to anoint with oil one was doing what is equivalent today of calling a doctor and getting a prescription. Since oil is no longer the best medicine we have, it would be foolish to use oil for all ills. Applied to our age this text would simply support the role that medication plays in fighting sickness.
Dr. Luke certainly used medicine as well as prayer to heal in his day. Medical missionaries go forth with various medicines rather than oil, healing the masses as they go. There is no reason to suppose that any of this is a sub-Christian ministry because they do not use oil. Medical help is important to the Christian, and no one has any biblical reason to reject what can be gained through medical help. Does this mean that the church no longer has a ministry growing out of this passage because the medical world can do it better? Not at all, for it is the symbolical and spiritual that is the source of power in this passage. The prayer is the source of the healing power, and the faith of the sick in the love and forgiveness of Christ. Spiritual healing is the great ministry of the church, and this need has not changed at all.
So much sickness is psychosomatic, that is, it is in the body but caused by a mind filled with guilt. The cause is spiritual, and so a real healing must also be spiritual. This can only come from Christ. Just about everything you can think of can be caused by the mind. The anointing with oil becomes a symbol of the Holy Spirit. It becomes a point of contact by which the sick person can let their faith flow out and receive the healing power of Christ's forgiveness.
The church does not compete with medicine in spiritual healing. We only reach to a depth of a persons being that medicine can never reach. Our world needs this kind of healing. It has made great advances in the medical field, but the church still has the greatest resource for spiritual healing, and that is what this passage in James is all about. We can dodge this passage, and just say pray for yourself in faith and forget the calling of the elders. The question is, why didn't James leave it at that, and why didn't the early church? James says that the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up and forgive his sins, will He not do so without all of this bother? We are trying to use the same reasoning as Naaman did when he was asked to dip seven times in the Jordan. He said he had better rivers back home, and so why all this bother?
Why God does things the way He does is usually for the very good reason of calling forth the faith of man through action. God uses means, and Jesus used means, and James says the church is to use means in spiritual healing. It is not for us to ask if it might not be done differently, but to seek to fulfill that which is established by God as a way of doing it. If we want to see the power of Christ in spiritual healing, we must be prepared to admit it when we are neglecting the revealed means, and then get busy in making provision to obey what is revealed to us here in James 5.