Bodily Sickness and
In the closing section of Second Timothy Paul refers to some of his personal friends and traveling companions, and one in particular will claim our attention in this study; he is mentioned in 2 Timothy 4:20 —”Trophimus have I left at Miletum sick.” This man was an Ephesian and he was undoubtedly a fine Christian, a servant of God, and a fellow-laborer of the apostle. There are very good reasons for believing that he is referred to in 2 Corinthians 8:18. The important thing for us to notice, however, is that he was so ill that Paul had to leave him at Miletum. 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 so on this occasion. With this little historic note about Trophimus and his sickness as our point of departure, let us ask and answer some pertinent questions concerning the whole subject of Divine Healing.
Do the Lord’s people suffer with bodily sickness and illness?
By “the Lord’s people” we mean real born-again Christians. Do such people suffer? Are they subject to sickness and incapacity of body and mind? Yes, they are, and in some cases God’s people are called upon to suffer grievous maladies — in fact, maladies from which they die, sometimes at an early age. On every hand there are many Christians who are in greater or lesser degree experiencing bodily suffering. This leads to a second question:
Does the Lord ever heal His people?
The answer to this question is also yes. In Philippians 2:25-30, Paul writes about another of his friends, Epaphroditus, who was so ill that he was “nigh unto death,” but God had mercy on him. This means that God raised him up, doubtless in answer to the apostle’s prayers. In Acts 9:36-43 we read of Dorcas, a beloved sister in the church at Joppa, who died. When Peter came and had prayer, God raised her up and brought her back to life. All through the history of the Church and right up to this present time, there have been similar instances of the putting forth of God’s power in healing. Does God heal the sick today? Yes, He does, most definitely! But this leads to a third question, and notice its exact phrasing:
Does the Lord always heal His children?
The answer to this question is no, He does not! Even though much prayer is offered and the sick one is a dedicated Christian, and even though it would seem best that healing should be given, in many, many cases healing does not come. The sickness remains, it persists — “Trophimus have I left at Miletum sick.” We may be perfectly sure that Paul prayed for his friend. He even prayed for himself, and his prayer was answered, but not in the way that he would have at first liked —look up 2 Corinthians 12:7-10. 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:
Why do God’s people experience bodily sickness?
One reason is that often sickness comes upon God’s children because they have broken the laws of healthy living. There is a very wonderful promise at the end of Exodus 15:26. It reads like this: “I am the LORD that healeth thee,” but it is important to notice that this promise 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 not become ill. They will know health of 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. When Christians do become ill why is it that God does not heal them? There is another answer to this question.
Sometimes sickness comes upon Christians as the direct result of wilful sin. Let us emphasize the fact that this is not by any means always the case, but sometimes it is, as 1 Corinthians 11:29-32 tells us very clearly. There were those in the Church at Corinth who were undisciplined and careless Christians, and because of this the Lord’s hand came upon them in judgment. Some of them were “weak and sickly” — 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. But why is it that God does not heal His children when they become ill? Here is a third reason:
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 child of God; 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. This leads to one final question:
What is God’s purpose in permitting bodily sickness and suffering?
He permits sickness and bodily suffering 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.
He permits sickness and bodily suffering in order that we may be sanctified; that is, in order that He may do something in us that otherwise He could not do. If you read through Hebrews 12:5-11 carefully you will see that this glorious truth is clearly stated there, and do remember that the word “chasteneth” means “child traineth.” It is the gracious and loving ministry of a loving Heavenly Father in the life of His child. When sickness falls upon us we do not know what God’s purpose is, but we do know that He has a gracious purpose in permitting that sickness. Look up John 13:7.
He permits sickness and bodily suffering 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 Philippians 1:12.
This study must not in any way diminish our belief that God is able to heal the sick when it is His perfect will to do so. Rather, this study should lead us to the point where, recognizing that there is a ministry of suffering as well as a ministry of healing, we are able to rejoice in the fact that God’s will is best, whatever it is, and to say, “Whether we live…or die, we are the Lord’s” (Romans 14:8).
Reprinted from “Help & Food” magazine (now out of print), October 1965 issue.