Most Bible teachers,
when writing or speaking on this subject, will usually center it on the need
for faith. And faith is important. The New Testament writer James says that “the
prayer offered in faith will restore the one who is sick. The Lord will raise
him up” (James 5:15).
faith is actually not the first step in praying for healing. There is something
that comes even before faith, something that is critical for us to understand.
I will come to that important step a little later.
But first I need to say that there is yet another reason that praying for healing is such a difficult subject. This difficulty comes because there is so much mis-information out there in our popular culture. There are many charlatans who feed on the misfortune and desperation of those seeking healing in their lives and in the lives of family members or of friends.
pretenders make extraordinary claims of possessing gifts of healing, and even
make a business out of promises of healing. Because of these impostors of the
truth, very many people have placed their hopes in what has turned out to be a lie,
and thus have also lost faith in the truth of the promises of God.
Before I enter
into a discussion of healings, I would first like to depose of imposters such
as these—the ones whose livelihood is built upon their reputation of healers,
or those who do it for impure motives. I do this by giving two examples of such
people in the New Testament.
The Charlatan Simon (from Acts 8)
The first is a
man who was named Simon from the city of Samaria. He was one who had learned to
practice “magic arts,” as what he did was called, and who for a long time had
astonished the people of the city.
The people said
of Simon, “This man is what is called the Great Power of God.” They thought him
to be someone special—someone able to do wonderful works.
same period, the early evangelist Philip was traveling around teaching about
the kingdom of God and telling the people about Jesus Christ. Many in the city
of Samaria believed the message that Philip brought, and were baptized.
surprisingly, even Simon the charlatan believed. He continued to listen to
Philip’s teachings and saw some of the miracles that occurred under his
ministry. The Bible does not tell us exactly what the nature of these miracles
were, only that they were things that astonished the man Simon. The text says
that he was “constantly amazed” by them.
Some time after
Philip had been in the area, Peter and John next came to the city to teach the people
not only about Jesus, but also about the Holy Spirit. Philip had only baptized
them in the name of Jesus, but Peter and John taught them also about the Holy
Spirit. The apostles laid their hands on those who believed, so that they also
would receive the Holy Spirit.
impressed Simon. He offered Peter and John money so that he might buy this
gift. He said to them, “Give this authority to me as well, so that everyone on
whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.”
him, “May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the
gift of God with money! You have no part or portion in this matter, for your heart
is not right before God. Therefore repent of this wickedness of yours, and pray
to the Lord that, if possible, the intention of your heart may be forgiven you.
For I see that you are in the gall of bitterness and in the bondage of
but they demonstrate the gravity of using commerce and personal gain as the
motivation for claiming to use the gifts of God. If one enters into a ministry
with the incentive of making a good living, these words spoken by Peter also
are for that person.
Of course it is not wrong for someone involved with Christian work to receive an income. The Apostle Paul said that “a worker deserves to receive his wages” (1 Timothy 5:18). However, if someone chooses the ministry or other Christian work because he or she believes that they can make a comfortable life for themselves, it is the wrong motivation. There are other ways to make a living. Making claims in the name of Jesus to have the power to heal or to do other things are not some of these ways.
We do not know what eventually happened to Simon, but he answered Peter and John by saying, “Pray to the Lord for me yourselves, so that nothing of what you have said may come upon me.” (Acts 8:9-24)
The Pretender Sons of Sceva (from
Still some time
later with the ministry of Paul, we read of another incident where, as it is
written in the text, “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.”
At that same time,
there were some Jewish exorcists, seven sons of one Sceva, who was a chief
priest of the Jews. These seven sons of the priest traveled around with their
own claims of healings and the power to cast out demons from people. After
seeing what was happening with Paul and hearing what he said as he spoke in the
name of Jesus, they also attempted to cast out the evil spirits in the name of
the Lord Jesus.
They said to
one of those possessed by a demon, “I adjure you by Jesus whom Paul preaches.”
The evil spirit
answered and said to them, “I recognize Jesus, and I know about Paul, but who
this, the man, in whom was the evil spirit, leaped on them and subdued all seven
of them. He completely overpowered them so that they left
fleeing from the house, naked and wounded (Acts 19:11-16).
One must be careful when making claims in the name of Jesus.
Praying for Healing
fact that there will always be those who misuse or misrepresent this gift of
healing, we all do pray for healing. We pray both for ourselves and for others.
We do this every Sunday in our church, and you perhaps do it every day in your homes.
And we should do this. We are
instructed to do this.
James, whom I
quoted earlier also writes, “Pray for one another so that you may be healed” (5:6).
we know that not everyone that we pray for is healed in the manner that we ask.
We sometimes even agonize in prayer, and yet the person is not healed. For some
people who pray, this is a very troubling aspect of their faith. Some have said
that they even stopped believing in God because they had prayed earnestly for
someone, and that person did not recover.
say, “If there were a God who cared about us, this person would have been
This is an extreme response, but to some degree, it is troubling to all of us when someone is not healed. We wonder why this is so. The Bible speaks so positively about healing, and never do we read in the Bible where Jesus tried to heal someone and he could not.
The Big Picture
In viewing and
speaking of sickness and disease in broad terms, we can say that these
infirmities are not things that God has ever intended for us. Yet we do get
sick, and we suffer in other ways. It is not as if God somehow made a mistake
or has failed us, but as with every other type of difficulty in our lives, the
presence of sickness and disease is something that we have brought about
I do not mean
this in any individual sense or specifically of someone who is suffering. I
only mean it in the broad sense of the very pervasiveness of sickness in our
I have spoken
and written many times of the consequences of man’s rebellion against the authority
of God. In the beginning, God chose to create us with free wills. He gave us
the ability to choose to love him or not.
This is what
love is, after all. Love can only be expressed from a free will. We can never
impose upon someone to make them love us. It must be their choice.
Unfortunately, we as a human race chose to not love God. We did not want to recognize him as the one who created us, and therefore, as the one who has authority over us. We instead chose to retain authority for ourselves. We chose be our own gods.
Among the devastating consequences of this choice, sickness, disease,
disabilities, and a whole host of other troubles have come to us.
This is the
broad picture. Regrettably, we are still living with the consequences of that
former rebellion. When viewed from a world-wide perspective, it is a present
rebellion as well. Most people still want to act as their own authority and
decide for themselves how they should live.
However, even those of us who have repented of our rebellion against God and have again placed him in authority over our lives, we still do live in this world that continues in rebellion. We are, as it were, living in enemy territory and we must live with some of the ramifications of being here. Even though we have been redeemed by God, for this present time, God has chosen to leave us here.
Consequences of Living in Enemy
One of these
ramifications of living here is that we get sick, sometimes gravely so. We also
have accidents, sometimes in our cars, sometimes in our work, and also in other
places. We are born with genetic weaknesses or inclination to disease, we develop
cancer, we break bones, our internal organs cease to function as they should;
our minds begin to become confused. We age and we die. We are living in a world
and with bodies that know at least some of the consequences of living outside
of the authority of God.
But then we
read of the examples of healings in the Bible. We see that it is not God’s will
that we should live in this way, and he offers healings to us. Nevertheless, despite
these hopes of healing, it seems that it is not so simple as filling out a
request form, and it is granted. None of it is as clear as that.
This disconnection between the request for healing and the answer leads me to believe that it might be (just might be) that the healing aspect of our bodies is actually only secondary. To us it might seem like it is the most important thing, but there is something even more essential that God has in mind. The primary thing is that God wants to teach us something.
New Testament Examples
Testament gives us many examples and tells many stories of people who had been
healed. From every one of these stories, we can learn something important. The
story that I will tell you today is important for us to know, because it speaks
to the very nature of sickness and of healing. It is here that I speak about
the essential element of healing that is critical in our faith that I mentioned
comes to us from the seventh chapter of Luke. There are many aspects to this story and many facets to it, each with its own lesson. But today, I will merely address one
aspect of this healing. Nevertheless, even though it is one aspect only, it is an
important one. One might even say that it is foundational to faith and therefore foundational to healing.
involves a Roman centurion, an officer in the Roman military of the first
century. This officer had a servant that was of great value to him. By calling
the servant highly valued, I do not want you to think of this in monetary terms
or in terms of being “useful” to the centurion.
servant was precious to this Roman. In other places in the New Testament, this
same word is used for someone who is held in a very high regard, quite apart
centurion thought very highly of who this person was as an individual.
it turns out, became sick, and very gravely so. He actually had become
paralyzed, according to the account in Matthew, and was at the point of death.
The centurion heard that Jesus was nearby, so he asked some elders of the
Jewish synagogue to go to Jesus and ask him to heal the servant.
Even though the centurion was a Gentile, the Jews were happy to do this, because this Roman was a friend to them. He had used his own funds to build the synagogue for them. Jesus heard what the Jewish leaders said about the situation, and agreed to go with them to the house of the centurion.
The Centurion’s Request
Jesus and the others were not far from the house, the centurion saw them coming
and sent some friends to Jesus, with a message. His was a very interesting
message and shows the depths of understanding this centurion had about the
nature of sickness and disease in relationship to the sovereignty and the
authority of God. The message from him was this:
Lord, do not trouble
Yourself, for I am not worthy to have You come under my roof. That is why I did
not consider myself worthy to come to You. But just say the word, and my
servant will be healed.
For I myself am a man
under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell one to go, and he goes; and
another to come, and he comes. I tell my servant to do something, and he does
it. (Luke 7:6-8 BSB)
There are several insights that we can take away from this statement of the centurion—more than I will talk about here. However, notice that he speaks twice of worthiness. First he said that he did not consider himself worthy for Jesus to enter his house. Secondly, he said that he was not worthy enough even for him personally to meet Jesus.
Although in many of our Bibles, both of these instances use the word “worthy” in their translations, the centurion actually used two different words in these cases. These two words have slightly different inflections of meanings.
centurion first said that he was not worthy—worthy enough for Jesus to come
under his roof, he meant it in a sense that you might expect a military man to
understand. The centurion was of course a military man and is speaking as one
would when speaking of rank. This is how he would have spoken in a military setting.
meant it in the same sense of worthiness that a buck private does not simply
walk into the office of a general and ask the general to do something for him.
There is a certain decorum and procedure that is expected when you are dealing
with someone of high rank and someone with much authority. This, the centurion
Baptist used this same word for worthiness when he spoke of himself in
comparison to Jesus. John said of Jesus, “One more powerful than I will come, the
straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie” (Luke 3:16).
John knew that
he was much beneath Jesus in terms of standing, and for him to be acting in the
role of conferring a blessing on Jesus was something that he had no right to
The centurion felt
much the same way. He felt that because he was of such low rank in comparison
with Jesus, it would not be proper for Jesus to enter his house.
We can all
understand this to a certain extent, although perhaps not to the same degree.
If you heard that someone who was highly respected both by society and by you
personally was coming to your home, although your home be a humble one, you
would do your best to tidy up.
Say the king of Sweden or the prime minister of Finland was coming to your home to pay you a visit. There would be no dirty dishes in the sink, no cobwebs in the corner.
“The king is coming and we must put our best foot forward.”
Or perhaps you
would even say, as did the centurion, “Please, do not have him come here. I
have a humble home, one not fit for a king to enter.”
We may feel
that we are not worthy of such an honor. This is also how the centurion felt in
having Jesus enter his home.
That is the meaning surrounding the centurion’s first use of the word “worthy.” The second is this:
The second time
that the centurion uses the word “worthy,” it is in a slightly different sense.
It is not merely rank, as in the military. In my example of the buck private; he indeed has a lower rank than the general, but despite his lower rank, he may
be an even better person. The private may have better human qualities than the
The second time
the centurion mentions worthiness, he is not speaking in a military manner. He
is speaking of worth in real terms, that is, worth as it corresponds to reality,
not merely of rank or of standing in the community.
The centurion said
this, “For this reason I did not even consider myself worthy to come to you,
but just say the word, and my servant will be healed.”
centurion sent word to Jesus, he said that he did not come himself to make the
request because, in his heart, he knew that he failed to live to a standard
that he thought that he should have. He did not consider himself worthy to
appear before Jesus and speak to him. By this he meant that he did not deserve
even to ask such a request of Jesus. The centurion felt timid and undeserving
to do so.
We can see this
same sentiment in the story that Jesus told of the prodigal son. In that story,
the son knew that he had acted in a way that was not worthy of how he ought to
have acted. In his case, he had despised the honor of his father and had
brought shame to his name.
Because of this
he said, “I am no longer worthy to be called your son” (Luke 15:19, 21). The
son felt that he had brought shame to his standing and to his station in life.
In this sense, he felt that he was not worthy to be included in a family of
such high moral standing.
We cannot know
precisely what the centurion was thinking about when he used this word, but in
a similar sentiment, neither did he feel worthy to ask of Jesus what he was
requesting. It seems that the centurion, even though he was a Roman and accustomed
to receiving respect from others, believed that Jesus was the Son of God. When
he made this request of Jesus, he asked timidly and felt that he really had no
right to do so. Actually, he would not have been greatly surprised if Jesus had
just ignored him and his petty request.
these things, imagine the centurion’s astonishment to learn that not only had
Jesus agreed to grant his request, but was also actually on his way to come to
his own humble abode. It was more than the centurion could handle. All that he
could say is, “I was not worthy to come to you and ask you to do something for
me. I am not worthy for you to come into my home.”
“I am not worthy. I am not worthy.”
Lessons from the Roman
This is the
lesson of the Roman centurion and why it is foundational in our understanding
of healing. Among the many things that
we can learn about asking God for healing in our bodies and our minds, perhaps
the greatest is this. “We are not worthy. We are not worthy.”
In the end, as
requested, Jesus did not enter the centurion’s home, but healed the man’s
servant on the spot. But in doing so, Jesus marveled at the centurion’s
understanding of the level of authority that Jesus possessed. This is an authority
that not only was above the centurion personally, but authority also over even sickness
Jesus turned to
the crowd who followed and told them an astounding thing. He said, “I say to
you, not even in Israel have I found such great faith.”
This is actually the first time the subject of faith is even brought up
in this story of healing. After all that
centurion had said about worthiness, notice that Jesus did not comment on the
centurion’s understanding of authority, even though that was the central topic
of all of the centurion’s words. Jesus did not comment on this, but rather
about the centurion’s faith.
understood the meaning of authority—and Jesus commented about his faith.
When we speak of healing, we usually first think of the need for faith. But here is the beginning of understanding what faith is. We cannot even begin to know what faith is if we do not understand the authority of God.
Is it a Prayer of Faith, or Merely
a Prayer of Wishful Thinking?
Do you say you
pray in faith, even though you do not obey the authority of God in your own
life? Then your prayer is not a prayer of faith, for you do not even know what
faith is. It is a prayer only of wishful thinking. To know faith, you must know
the authority of God.
True faith must begin with the declaration of the
centurion, “I am not worthy; I am not worthy.”
We must place
ourselves under the authority of God for faith to have soil to find root.
As for the
centurion’s slave, when those who had been sent to deliver the message to Jesus
returned to the house, they found the slave in good health.
He had been
For in Him all
things were created, things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible,
whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities. All things were created
through Him and for Him. (Colossians 1:16-17 BSB)
“So you too, when
you do all the things which are commanded you, say, ‘We are unworthy slaves; we
have done only that which we ought to have done.’” (Luke 17:10 NAS)