As you know, it was because of an illness that I first preached the gospel to you. Even though my illness was a trial to you, you did not treat me with contempt or scorn. Instead, you welcomed me as if I were an angel of God, as if I were Christ Jesus himself. (Galatians 4:13-14)
The apostle Paul was a great missionary who had a ministry of taking the good news of Jesus to places where people had never heard about Jesus before. His ministry was often conducted with miraculous signs. One of the miracles frequently seen during his ministry, similar to the ministry of Jesus and the other apostles, was the miracle of healing. His ministry of healing people was so powerful, that even articles of clothing that touched his body were used to perform healings:
God was performing extraordinary miracles by the hands of Paul, so that handkerchiefs or aprons were even carried from his body to the sick, and the diseases left them and the evil spirits went out. (Acts 19:11-12)
But this ministry of healing did not exempt Paul from experiencing sickness himself, as the verses in Galatians above state. While Paul could see God work through him to heal others, what was the reason Paul himself sometimes suffered sickness?
While there may be many reasons that we cannot fully know, one thing we do know from these verses is that Paul’s sickness resulted in him having to stay among the people of Galatia, where he may have only been passing by and had not intended to stay. As he stayed among the people in his weak and sick condition, he found the opportunity to preach the gospel (good news about Jesus) to them, and apparently many became believers in Jesus. A church was stared there, where previously there was none. Later he would need to write a letter to this church covering key doctrinal issues, and that letter became one of the foundational writings of the New Testament inthe Bible. All this happened because Paul got sick and had to stop there, and because Paul had a positive attitude towards his illness.
We can make some interesting observations about this event in Paul’s life. First, he was human just like us and got sick, even though he saw others healed through his ministry. Second, when he got sick and it interrupted his schedule, he did not stop carrying out God’s purpose for his life and start feeling sorry for himself because he was sick. His sickness disrupted his schedule, but it did not prevent him from accomplishing God’s purpose for him. He did not focus his attention completely on himself, but instead focused on the people around him and took care of their spiritual needs, while they took care of his physical needs.
Now of course God could have gotten Paul’s attention in many other ways and directed him to preach the gospel to the people in Galatia without him having to suffer an illness. Previously, for example, God had spoken to Paul directly in a vision about a location he was to travel to and preach the gospel:
A vision appeared to Paul in the night: a man of Macedonia was standing and appealing to him, and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” When he had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them. (Acts 16:9-10)
We cannot possibly know all the reasons God may have allowed Paul to be sick in this situation when he was passing through Galatia, but we do see one other reason Paul suffered sickness from another situation he wrote about in his second letter to the Corinthian church:
Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me–to keep me from exalting myself! Concerning this I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me. And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:7-10)
Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” was some kind of physical weakness or sickness that God was not willing to remove. Notice the reason that Paul gives for his sickness: “to keep me from exalting myself!” Paul was a great leader in the church, and in the previous verses he recounts how he received a special revelation in heaven. Satan attacked him through a messenger, and God allowed it to apparently keep Paul humble, so that he would rely on the power of God through God’s grace, and not his own strength. This was apparently the key to his miraculous life and ministry. So just as he saw his sickness that caused him to stop in Galatia as something positive, so too he saw this “thorn in the flesh” that he asked God three times to remove as something positive. He did not allow physical weakness and sickness to prevent him from accomplishing God’s purpose in his life. In fact, it made him more powerful as he was more dependent on God’s grace in his weakened condition.
Are you facing trials through sickness today? How are you handling it? Can you look at it in a positive light as Paul looked at his sickness, and find some reasons why God may be allowing you to go through these trials? Or do you look at your sickness the way the world does, the way people who walk in darkness with an evolutionary basis of life view sickness? In this view, God’s plan and purposes are not even considered, and sickness is seen as strictly a physical condition caused by natural forces that can only be cured through the purchase of medicine or medical services. This humanistic view of sickness and disease based on an Darwinian evolutionary world view believes that man can overcome sickness through counter-acting the natural processes, and that there is no intelligence guiding either the sickness or the cure. The resulting attitude is often one of helplessness and depression, being self-focused on one’s unfortunate condition. The belief is that health can be purchased via medicine and doctors as man advances in the evolutionary process and finds cures for everything, one day eliminating even death itself through his science and technology. If the science or technology has not reached a stage yet where the specific cure for an illness can be accomplished, the condition is often diagnosed as “terminal” and all hope is lost, resulting in despair and self pity. Belief in God and his purpose in sickness is replaced with only a faith in doctors and medicine, which has its limitations and disadvantages. How sad!
The Bible does not teach any kind of blueprint or laws to affect healings, and there is no single cause of sickness taught in the Bible either. God has a specific plan and purpose for everyone in life, and the trials and difficulties we all must walk through are unique to that specific plan and purpose that God has for us.
But there is a blueprint given for seeking the answers to our problems and sickness:
Is anyone among you suffering? Then he must pray. Is anyone cheerful? He is to sing praises. Is anyone among you sick? Then he must call for the elders of the church and they are to pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; and the prayer offered in faith will restore the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up, and if he has committed sins, they will be forgiven him. Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much. (James 5:13-16)
Our first course of action should always be prayer! God made you. He put you together. He upholds the universe by the power of his word. Nothing happens that he is not aware of, and all roads in life lead to a final destination that he has already determined. So shouldn’t he be the first person you consult? And if you are having problems understanding or communicating with him, the next step is to consult with those who know God and can also pray for you. These actions are the actions of people of faith, who believe that God created us, and that he loves us and has a wonderful plan for our life.
One of the reasons God allows us to become sick is to humble us, like he did Paul, and remind us that we are dependent upon him for our health. If we believe that he loves us and has a wonderful plan for our lives, we will see the times we get sick as new opportunities for God to accomplish some purpose in our lives, even though they interrupt our schedule and often seem to prevent us from doing the things we wanted to do. But as we saw in Paul’s life, his sickness did not prevent him from accomplishing God’s purpose for his life at all. On the contrary, it made him even more powerful in his ministry. He maintained a positive attitude with his faith that positively affected the people around him. What is your attitude towards sickness today?
…we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently. In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will. And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified. What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? (Romans 8:23-32)