I think that many of us have seen the TV broadcasts of faith healing evangelists. These men, often gaudily dressed and with some really odd hair, travel the world claiming that they have been gifted with the power to heal. Somehow, these same men have that gift in the arenas where they are speaking, but they do not carry it to the hospitals and nursing homes in the cities they visit.
But I also know that, if we are honest, in the quiet of our minds, we wonder. Could it be that this is how spiritual gifts work? Are we missing something? Is our biblical conservatism keeping us from something special? And if you come from a cessationist point of view, you really get uncomfortable.
The problem is, no matter how much people want to be fascinated with the notion of a modern day healer, we need to let Scripture speak to us about the spiritual gifts, especially the boldly miraculous. Are there or are there not men and women gifted by God to be able to heal at will? It certainly seems that Peter and Paul were gifted in that way, at least for a time. Did that gift remain on those men?
Look at this little note at the end of Paul’s second letter to Timothy.
2 timothy 4:20 Erastus remained at Corinth, and I left Trophimus, who was ill, at Miletus.
We often read through the closing of Paul’s letters quickly, and we do not always pay attention. Paul left Trophimus behind because he was ill. Paul left a friend sick. What must that say about the power to heal? Paul had it at one point. Paul, however, did not heal his friend. Why? Did Trophimus lack the faith? I doubt that very seriously. Did Paul lack the faith? Again, that would be hard to swallow. Or is it more likely that the gifting that Paul had to supernaturally heal did not rest on him for all of his life and ministry after conversion.
When the apostles and those connected to them in the 1st century church healed, they did so for a reason. The supernatural power of God was displayed through them to lend credibility to the gospel message of the risen Lord Jesus that they were preaching. The power to do the miraculous testified that these men were men of god, bringing the truth, and eventually authoring divinely inspired Scripture. Their gifts were not for show. Their gifts were for gospel. Their gifts were never about entertainment or about making money so they could live lavishly.
Do the supernatural gifts continue today? I do not think so, at least not in the way that they were on the apostles. WE do not have modern apostles today. We do not have modern folks who will need the Spirit of God to testify to their right to write Scripture, as the canon of Scripture is closed. I do not deny at all that God may, in a moment of grace and generosity, heal someone of a disease—otherwise we would have no reason to pray for the sick. But I do deny that the charlatans on the religious broadcasts have a personal, continuing, supernatural gift of healing. I think that it is most likely that, if the supernatural gifts such as healings are occurring today, they are occurring on the front lines of evangelism as the gospel of the Lord Jesus moves into cultures and nations that have no prior gospel witness. But none of those miracles are going to be on public display, as doing such for showy entertainment has never been God’s way.
If Paul left a friend sick, Paul who healed so often, we ought to conclude that no person is going to carry on himself a gifting for healing in the way that the televangelists claim. Where does that leave us? It leaves us seeking the Lord for the glory of the Lord instead of seeking the excitement of the mysterious and miraculous apart from the Lord. It leaves us living by the grace of the Lord, knowing that his grace is sufficient for us whether we are healed or not. It leaves us knowing that God can heal, but that such is the work of the Lord and not of men. It leaves us fully denying that there is a special class of healer who has received a secret gifting, faith, or knowledge—which is, by the way, Gnosticism. It leaves us rejecting a modern handling of the gifts that is not consistent with biblical practices. It does not leave us doubting that God does the supernatural or that he takes action in the modern world. But it most certainly leaves us praying, as the Savior taught us, “Your kingdom come; your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”