This is a series of posts about the authority of scripture. You can read all of the posts in the series by clicking here.
In my last post, we saw that God's total purpose for our lives individually and corporately is invisible, inaudible and inconceivable. That is why it has to be revealed. But what the eye, the ear and the mind cannot conceive, God can reveal to all three faculties by his Spirit (v.10). The rest of the passage explains the process. We can put it under four phases each connected with the work of the Holy Spirit.
Since our little minds cannot fathom the infinite mind of God we need the assistance of Someone who can. Only a Person can search out the thoughts of another person, so the Spirit is personal. Just as you alone have access to your own mind and know to some degree what is going on in it, so the Spirit of God has complete access to God’s mind and is prepared to ‘search the depths’ of God on our behalf, and disclose them to his chosen prophets and apostles like Paul, so that they could be disclosed to others in Scripture. The word ‘search out’ here was used of customs officials who rummaged through the bags of travellers at border crossings. And the ‘deep things’ was a word hijacked form Gnostic terminology boasting of an elite knowledge of divine things. Only God’s Holy Spirit has that knowledge. The Holy Spirit is God who alone can explore and fathom the depths of the mind of the infinite God. He alone has access to the ‘things’ of God, for He is God.
What the Holy Spirit finds out he wants to make known. He has done this with the Apostles (the ‘we’ who both ‘received’ and ‘understood’ this data as it was revealed to them). God gave them both salvation, and the ability to understand that salvation in all of its fullness and vast implications. Paul’s understanding is a wonderful illustration. He had a personal revelation of the Saviour on the Damascus Road, and in the years following he saw the meaning of such things as the Cross, the Resurrection, the two age eschatology, faith, baptism, the giving of the Spirit, the two Adams, sanctification, the future resurrection and glorification of believers, the Parousia etc. All of this wonderful doctrine, and more, came to him from the Spirit.
That same Spirit then enabled him to ‘speak’ and ultimately to write these things for their accurate preservation and transmission to others. There is a chain of transmission from God to the Spirit, from the Spirit to the Apostles, and from the Apostles to others in the pages of the New Testament. Inspiration is thus verbal and supernatural. It is ‘Spiritual truths’ in ‘Spiritual words’. The inspiration was not left to chance, but actually involved the very words the Apostles chose, to communicate what they had seen and heard. This is essential because words matter and they must be used precisely for meaning to be conveyed accurately to others.
This was not a process of dictation, for the human personalities of the authors were preserved intact rather than bypassed in the process of inspiration,. This was an organic or concursive rather than coercive operation, employing the faculties, thought patterns, characters and vocabulary of the human agents. The result was that the literally style and particular theological emphasis of each author were preserved not destroyed in the process of inspiration. They even did their own historical researches and edited their own literary sources (Lk. 1:1-4). Yet the Holy Spirit spoke through each author according to their particular literary genre, and this is to be understood according to the plain natural meaning of the words used in the unique historical context and peculiar circumstances and intention of the writer.
a. Not that ‘every word is literally true’ – for there are at least 20 kinds of literature in the Bible (history, poetry, prophecy, apocalyptic, letters, proverbs etc) and we must interpret their words accordingly.
b. Not that every text is true apart form its context – for false statements are quoted in the Bible in order to highlight the truth contrasted with that (e.g. Job).
c. Not that its words were dictated by God – As though the Biblical writes were mere amanuenses, their experience, personalities and gifts totally bypassed and their agency was limited to that of mere reportage of God’s word. The Scriptures themselves indicate a more concursive operation of man and God combined, such that the unique identities of the human authors is conspicuous in the books attributed to them, but that they were preserved from error in that special role.
d. But that what God spoke through the human authors, correctly interpreted is true. This means that the Scriptures are thus infallible in their inspiration, in that it can never deceive us for it is the God of truth who speaks in its pages. Second that its inspiration is clearly verbal in the sense we have explained it, and finally inspiration is therefore plenary or full, inspired in its entirety by God so that whatever the authors intended to say and teach – on history, on ethics, on cosmology, on origins – is all covered by inspiration and is as a consequence, inerrant or infallible.
Which brings me to the fourth and last operation of the Spirit spoken of here.
We are not left to ourselves in the attempt to understand what the Apostle and others have written in Scripture. The Spirit works at both ends, in the writers and in the readers. NIV footnote to v.13b says ‘interpreting spiritual truths to spiritual men’ as an alternative translation to ‘expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words’, and therefore connection with the doctrine of illumination not inspiration, v.14 ff not v13a. The verb sugkrino meaning ‘to combine’ can mean ‘to explain’ or ‘to interpret;, and ‘spiritual truths’ (pneumatikois) can mean ‘spiritual men’ – hence ‘explaining spiritual things/truths to spiritual men’ i.e. ‘those who possess the Spirit’. Revelation and Inspiration are to be distinguished from Illumination in this way. Revelation and Inspiration removes the veil over objective realities placed by God before the mind of man so that he sees and understands what he sees. Illumination removes the blindfold on the eyes of others yet to be caught up with such things and that prevents them from understanding what has already been revealed to his apostles. It conveys subjective insight and understanding to them.
This section teaches that God illuminates our minds as we read the Scriptures so that we may understand them. And this is said to be a privilege inaccessible to the unspiritual or unregenerate man (or psuchikos), who does not have the Spirit (v.14). He regards such things as both ‘foolish’ and ‘incomprehensible’. But this is a primarily a moral blindness and incapacity in the first instance, and a culpable one at that, a work of the flesh. This fact goes a long way to explains the natural man’s resistance to the authority and sufficiency of scripture in the quest or pursuit of truth, particularly in the ethical sphere.
It is the man with the Spirit (the pneumatikos) v.15, the born-again believer, who, in dependence on the Spirit, can discern and evaluate things and make proper sense of them. In this way, in submission to the Scriptures, the spiritual man can bring their authority to bear on ‘all things’, assessing and discerning truth and error, right and wrong in all spheres without regard to the artificial boundaries or limits falsely imposed by special interest groups, since nothing is off limits to or segregated from God. God is intrusive in the whole of life and we need to take note that He makes his will known through the intervention, active agency and involvement of his people (v.15-16).
This fact does not guarantee our omniscience, or our infallibility, but it does grant us the right to be heard, insofar as we accurately interpret and apply scripture to each given situation – scientific, political, philosophical, social and moral, and thus bring to bear ‘the mind of Christ’ on that issue. The issue of Spiritual Authority for the believer then, lies in a coalition of the objective and subjective work of the Holy Spirit in relation to Scripture. The objective Word, the written, inspired Scripture, together with the subjective word, the inner illumination and conviction of the Holy Spirit, constitute the authority for the Christian.
In my next post, we will explore the evidence for the sufficiency of Scripture. Check back soon!
// Originally posted on Theology Matters //
I don't think I'm a sycophant. On the personality spectrum, I lean towards the relentlessly critical rather than the naively enthusiastic end, and that often ends up as the source of frustration for those I work with. On this blog, I've continually poked and critiqued the usual Newfrontiers view on all sorts of things - high Calvinism, baptism in the Spirit, the nature of apostolic ministry, "Word and Spirit", the sacraments, creation, war, spiritual gifts, and so on - although hopefully in as friendly and irenic a way as I can. I even managed recently to get called "a pain in the bottom" by Terry Virgo on Twitter (though I'm pretty sure from the context he was joking), and my views on various things have prompted a few leaders in the network to suggest I believe in cessationism, baptismal regeneration, Roman Catholicism, liberalism, and probably one or two other things. In other words, despite the melon-slice grin on my photo, I'm not the party-line, tub-thumper type.
But I love being part of Newfrontiers. I’ve been in four different Newfrontiers churches since 1990, and preached in dozens of others, and I can honestly say it is one of the greatest joys of my life to have been part of a family like this. So I thought it might be edifying for me, if not for you, to give a few reasons why that’s the case. (These will be general statements, obviously, rather than naive pronouncements that everyone who has ever been in Newfrontiers is like such-and-such, so please don’t feel the need to point out in the comments section that Harry Blowfly once preached justification by works, lost his temper with your sister and then went on a rant about the Illuminati). Anyway:
People in Newfrontiers really love God. I mean, I know that should go without saying, but they really do. They love God with their minds - they think, read, study, reflect, theologize, discuss, wrestle and meditate on truth, and all over the world they remain completely committed to the authority of God in scripture. The love God with their hearts - they are emotionally excited by, moved by, intimate with and reverent towards him, and when you participate in a corporate worship time with them, you really get that. They love God with their strength - they work hard, give lots, serve the poor, plant churches, sacrifice comforts, preach the gospel, stand firm in the face of persecution, and travel across the world to reach those who don’t know Jesus. They’re not perfect, of course; nobody is. They really do love God, though.
I’ve talked about this before with reference to Terry Virgo’s “I was praying, obviously”, but it’s worth mentioning anyway: Newfrontiers people pray. The hub of the movement, for as long as I’ve known it, has been the days of prayer and fasting that the leaders have together; virtually all gatherings and conferences involve prayer; and you will almost never encounter a Newfrontiers church that doesn’t have a regular prayer meeting as part of its corporate life together. Just yesterday, I was reading a vision and strategy paper for one of the largest churches in the movement, and there was an extended section in it on the importance of prayer (which doesn’t always come through from the church growth gurus), along with some superbly helpful guidelines on how to lead a prayer meeting. I love that.
All Christians believe in grace. Marcion did, Pelagius did, Tetzel did. But for a tragic number of Christians across history, the experience of grace has not been in line with the experience of Peter, Paul and the rest, either through poor teaching, ungodly examples, or legalistic traditions and practices. When you’re with Newfrontiers people - and here, as throughout this post, I generalize - you’re with people who don’t just believe in grace, but who experience it. They celebrate it, contend for it theologically, write and sing songs about it, talk about it incessantly, and live in the good of it, without swinging too far into legalism on the one hand or hyper-grace on the other. No doubt there are some nuances missing here and there, and some individuals who don’t have the balance right. But in Newfrontiers churches, a lack of grace will be seen as a calamity, not a quirk.
Charismatic baptists have often, in our pursuit of personal experience of the Spirit alongside our belief in the priesthood of all believers, ended up with an anti-institutional, anti-ecclesial individualism, in which words like “church”, “authority”, “elders” and “membership” have been downplayed, and in some cases rejected altogether. In Newfrontiers, you’ll almost always find a high view of the local church, a commitment to qualified leadership, a desire to live out the Christian life together and not just in isolation, and a resolution to give local churches the best of our people, energies and finances - effectively, the best bits of Presbyterianism, without having to baptize babies. I remember asking one Arminian, egalitarian friend of mine why he was still in Newfrontiers despite his theological differences, and he said simply, “because they build strong churches.” That counts for a lot.
Everyone does this, I’m sure. You couldn’t survive as a denomination if you didn’t. But it seems to be amplified in Newfrontiers. More pastors would own Lloyd-Jones on Romans, or Grudem’s Systematic Theology, than anything Terry Virgo or David Devenish have written. In the 1990s, the two biggest influences on the movement were John Wimber and John Piper, and I doubt there are many groups of churches for whom that would be true. In the 2000s, consecutive leaders conferences featured two people who might well have ended up in a fight with each other: Mark Driscoll, who basically said we were so obsessed with charismatic gifts that we weren’t being missional, and Rob Rufus, who told us at one point that we needed “to strap glory bombs to our chests and then go out into our communities and let them go off.” (I know). Listening to, disagreeing with and learning from such diverse characters makes a movement stronger, and although there’s always room to improve, I regard this as a real strength of Newfrontiers as a whole.
Say what you like about complementarian theology - and I’ve got an article coming out soon in the Journal for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, which pretty much shows you where I’m coming from - but nobody holds to it because it’s fashionable or popular; in Western cultures it’s too restrictive, and in many Eastern cultures it’s too liberating. One of the delightful side-effects of the complementarianism you find in Newfrontiers churches is the almost flagrant boat-burning it requires when it comes to being invited to the cool kids’ table - if you’re prepared to say that men should lead their families and women shouldn’t be elders, the chances are you won’t cave if someone asks you whether you think abortion is wrong, or hell is for real, or gay sex is OK. I love that when Premier Radio or Christianity magazine want a robust defence of traditional evangelicalism, they talk to Adrian Warnock about Love Wins or to Greg Haslam about The Lost Message of Jesus, and I love that the Resurgence publish P-J Smyth, and Desiring God invite Tope Koleoso. In my experience, Newfrontiers leaders aren’t fluffy, and that really matters.
Many movements begin with missionary fire, and then peter out as they expand, so it’s encouraging to me that the trajectory in Newfrontiers is going the other way. I don’t know many churches that are better at mobilising people to reach their neighbours than GodFirst in Johannesburg, and I don’t know many churches in the Middle East that are reaching local people better than Yasam Kilisesi in Īstanbul. Every time I hear another story of a young family who are moving across the world to plant a church in a defiantly secular, Islamic or Communist city, I marvel at the courage and passion it takes - but I am also encouraged by the fact that the churches sending them are not sitting on their hands, but taking seriously their responsibility to walk across the street, or the room, to reach their own towns and cities. It bodes well, whatever “boding” is.
For all I’ve said before about relationship being an excuse for doctrinal or missional muddle, I can’t deny the simple power of being together on a mission with friends. This is thoroughly subjective, of course, but I don’t apologize for that: I love being part of Newfrontiers because I love the people, and the gospel camaraderie that comes from shared history, shared theology and shared vision. I love being recognized, by a total stranger at midnight in Donetsk airport, because I’m wearing a standard Newfrontiers pastor’s shirt; I love having kebabs and watching football outside the Galatasaray stadium with Turkish guys I’ve known for a few hours, yet have more in common with than I have with my next-door neighbor; I love driving through the Negev in infantile hysterics with fellow pastors and teachers; I love being in hospital in another city with my epileptic daughter, and being visited by the local Newfrontiers pastor, who has somehow heard on Facebook that I am in the area; I love eating shwarma, sadza, plantain or tapas with people from nations I’ve only visited because of the group of churches I’m part of; I love hugs, and banter, and facetious tweets and in-jokes and awkward cross-cultural moments, and the international network of praying men and women who support each other in ways that only brothers and sisters can. I imagine every group of churches has those things, and I sincerely hope they do. But for me, those joys and privileges have come to me within the Newfrontiers family of churches, and I will always be thankful for that.
There, I’ve gone all misty-eyed. Anyway: if you’re part of a Newfrontiers church and you’re reading this, even if we’ve never met, I’m really grateful for you. And if you’re not, and you’re part of the massive worldwide family of which we are just a tiny fragment, I’m grateful for you too. One day we’ll meet, at the biggest party there’s ever been, and the odds are I’ll hit you in the face with a palm branch by mistake, and then we’ll raise a glass of “aged wine well refined” and share our redemption stories. See you then.
This is a series of posts about the authority of scripture. You can read all of the posts in the series by clicking here.
Now, our doctrine of Scripture is, in common with all other doctrines essential to the faith, derived from Scripture itself. It does not require the philosophical seal of approval from men, no matter how devout or able they may be. For us, whatever God says is truth, for God is truth itself. He cannot lie. There are two classic places in the epistles of Paul where that doctrine is laid out clearly in all of its essentials.
1. I Corinthians 2:6-16 - From an epistle written very early on in Paul’s Apostolic Ministry
2. II Timothy 3:10 – 4:2 - From the very end of that ministry when Paul was facing imminent death. The consistency is amazing.
By the inspiration of scripture, we mean that supernatural influence of the Holy Spirit upon the scriptural writers which rendered their writings an accurate record of the revelation or which resulted in what they wrote actually being the Word of God. This passage is one of the most important passages in the NT with regard to the relationship between the HS and the Word, resulting in the production of Holy Scripture. This passage is also one of the clearest we find anywhere in scripture detailing the process by which this result came about. It is fascinating that it occurs in a broader context discussing the contrast between God’s wisdom and human folly. We may base our religious convictions on only two alternatives: human speculative philosophy and divine revelation, sometimes a curious mixture of both. But we are not left to depend on the emptiness and only relative value of human philosophy, since God is a God of revelation. He has given to his people a ‘wisdom’ (Sophia) that is far superior to that which can be obtained from merely human resources. Three things about this wisdom:
Gk. Teleios, ‘the spiritually mature’; it is not for the unregenerate or mere babes in Christ who need milk not solid food. It is a childish or carnal thing to engage in when we dispute the wisdom of scripture.
Therefore it was long hidden to the unaided intellects of men. It is not a passing fashion in philosophy nor is it the world’s accumulated wisdom. Its source is entirely from God, secret unless revealed. And so we do not allow competitors or rivals, let alone imagined successors to be placed alongside of it in terms of its authority.
Gk. Doxa, for our ‘eschatological glorification’, dealing not just with the beginnings of the Christian life in justification, but the ongoing process of sanctification culmination in eternity at our glorification. There is a difference between our evangelistic message in winning converts and our Christian nurture of those same converts, between our kerugma and our didache. It is a serious thought that our spiritual development may be retarded or even halted by finding ourselves at odds with the teaching of Scripture.
The understanding of God’s total purpose for our lives individually and corporately can only come by revelation. The necessity of that revelation is spoken of in v.9 using a loose translation of Isaiah 64:4. It tells us of the completely inaccessible nature of this information to the unaided human intellect. It is
Check back next week for the next series in this post!
// Originally posted on Theology Matters //
The question of Authority has become an increasingly crucial issue to be faced today, since its absence, abandonment, or lack of clear basis, has thrown up huge intellectual and ethical problems both in the church and society in general. We live in an extremely anti¬authoritarian climate that has questioned the right and validity of all sorts of claims to truth and right to government over the lives and thoughts of free men. External authority is often refused recognition and obedience, in favour of accepting one’s own judgment as final. In this series we will look at this topic of the authority of Scripture.
We may define ‘authority’ simply in this way: Authority is a relational word. ‘It is the right to rule’, or more fully, ‘Authority is the right and power to command belief and/or action.’ Where it is accepted, authority is acknowledged by compliance and conformity. Without the right or permission to rule being granted, power becomes despotic and dangerous. Without the power to exercise it, authority becomes ineffectual and weak. Both power and authority are ultimately derived from God.
As Christians we believe that God has the right to determine what we are to believe and how we are to live and that furthermore, he has delegated both power and authority to men to enable them to operate in many spheres under his jurisdiction in order to bring about his will, the visible manifestation of his kingly rule. These areas would include such spheres as those that concern the authority of a husband in the home, of parents over their children, of the State over a nation, of teachers in a school and of the leaders in a church.
Governing the actions and conduct of all of these authoritative agents, working as they are by God’s appointment, direction and final control, should be the authority of God himself speaking in his Word. This is the Authority of Scripture. Without this, authority tends to become authoritarian. Authoritarianism appears when the submission demanded cannot be justified in terms of truth or morality. Scriptural truth alone warrants and sets proper limits to the exercise of legitimate authority – or as the apostles put it in a situation of tension involving the tyrannical governments of their day, ‘Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’ sight to obey you rather than God.’ (Acts 4:20)
But the matter of the Authority of Scripture itself arouses considerable contention and debate today. It would be no exaggeration to say that it is almost completely ignored in formerly Christian societies like America and Europe, largely because it has been significantly attacked and eroded within the Church itself in these nations.
For those of us in Newfrontiers, seen as both as local churches and as a movement, the conviction needs to be continually recovered and carefully maintained that Holy Spirit renewal and revival as well as Church reformation and restoration, cannot be long sustained without at the same time recovering and sustaining our belief in the Inspiration and Authority of Scripture, in the way that the Scriptures themselves define those terms. To us, it is plain that God does not primarily exercise authority in the direct fashion of speaking to us by his Spirit in prophecy and other leadings; he has supremely created for us a Book, the Bible. Because the Bible conveys his message, it carries the same weight God himself would command if he were speaking to us personally. It is where his voice is heard with the greatest clarity and the greatest authority. This can be said of nothing else, not even the gift of New Testament prophecy which is a mixed phenomenon of the human and the divine and requires testing in a way that the Holy Scriptures do not.
As Calvinists we share so much in common with other streams of Christianity. We affirm the doctrine of the Trinity, salvation by the atoning blood of Christ, the Creation as God’s handiwork, the availability of the gifts and graces of the Holy Spirit and so on. But one of the great distinctives of the Reformed faith is its vigorous adherence to Scripture. Of course we hold in common with many other evangelicals, belief in the full inspiration, infallibility, authority and inerrancy or scripture. But the Reformed tend to give it a prominence and priority lacking in many other systems.
We hold that our view of God and our faith in general is utterly dependent on the Bible, hence the priority of the Bible among us. It is foundational to our belief and practice.
Our foundation is not religious experience for that can be dangerously subjective even deceiving, and tends to set too much store by private revelation.
Nor is it based upon human reason. Indeed we mistrust reason given man’s fallen and frail nature and the moral culpability that causes men to ‘hold down the truth in unrighteousness’ as Paul puts it (Rom. 1:18ff), suppressing its claims and implications because they are unjust and in sin.
We are equally wary of human tradition, even religious tradition, because it tends, according to Jesus (Mk 7:8), to be so valued above the living word of God so as to eventually supplant it in the loyalties of men. Tradition is often transmitted by and filtered through the biases of sinful men and thus becomes ‘traditionalism’ – ‘Tradition is the living faith of those now dead. Traditionalism is the dead faith of those now living.’ The Church is not our authority, nor do we submit finally to the authority of any individual within it. We have higher authority than that.
The Bible, by contrast, is God’s word, given by him, protected and preserved by him, and still speaking for him. Its final truth and its complete authority, finally depend on the fact that it has been given to us by God. Any of the subsequent investigations, discoveries or affirmations of men do not confirm this, for that would be to concede to mere men an authority on a par with or superior to, the authority of God himself. Instead we presuppose the existence of God and the fact that he has, as he himself has claimed, spoken to us in his Word. It would be an amazing arrogance on man’s part to insist that either God or his word stand in need of any verification other than the verification they both already possess by reason of their nature, and confirmed by the internal witness of the Holy Spirit himself, at work in the hearts of believing men and women.
Check back next week as we continue to look at this question of the authority of Scripture.
// Originally posted at Theology Matters //
This is the series of posts to help you hone your preaching skills. Check out the first post here and then see some more tips below.
Most pastors spend the bulk of their people time with either leaders or people with major life issues and rarely spend time with the the guy that has a solid marriage, finances in order but isn't leading anything. Over time, you will lose connection with the middle average, which is probably the biggest segment of your church.
Without getting into a big debate about the purpose and nature of the church, I think we can all agree that it's very important that a church reach non-Christians. One of the biggest factors in how well your church reaches the unchurch is how you preach. Not the content of what you preach, but it's how you communicate that content. Do you understand the questions that the unchurched are asking? Do you deliver the content in such a way that makes the gospel available to them? The best and quickest way to get this understanding is to spend time with them.
I always hesitate to make prayer one of the points in any list because prayer is much bigger than that. Prayer is not "a" thing to do in a list of do's but should happen at every stage and every level. We should pray in our long-term planning, during our prep, after our prep, the night before we speak, 5 minutes before we speak, while we are speaking and after we speak. I want to have my hears open to what God would want to say to them. If there's anything in my content or style or tone that needs to be adjusted. What an amazing thing that we have an audience with God!
One of the biggest benefits of being planned is that you give others the opportunity to contribute to making your sermons and sermon series be the best they can be. If you're the type that is not planned, get people around you who can help you be more planned. And please don't hide behind the line that you just want "to be led by the spirit". I can appreciate that, but I'm not sure the Holy Spirit would be not be all that thrilled that you think his personality and tendencies are just like yours! The realty is Paul told the Romans that "at just the right time, Christ died for the ungodly." Before the foundations of the world, God has prepared good works for you to walk in (Eph 2:10)! If you think planning 12 to 18 months seems like a tall task, try that one. My point that God plans and it's not anti-spirit or anti-God to plan ahead now and then. However, it is important that we hold our plans loosely as not to be so arrogant to think that what we have planned is the perfect will of God. If you are never spontaneous in what you have to say and share, perhaps it would help you and your people if you "winged it" now and then.
The fourth and final principle which Jesus demonstrates in this chapter is the crucial role which faith plays in ministering miraculous healing. The gospel writers consistently emphasise that faith is vital if anyone is to be healed (eg Mt 9:22, Mk 10:52, Lk 17:19, Acts 14:8-10), but Jesus and the apostles took responsibility for having this faith themselves rather than rebuking the sick for not having enough faith. Jesus was happy to restore Lazarus’ decaying body despite the distinct atmosphere of doubt in Bethany, and Peter was equally happy to heal the lame man at the Beautiful Gate despite the fact that his expectation was all about money not miracles (Acts 3:5)! The closest that Jesus ever comes to praying for a sick person in the gospels is in this very passage, but note that it is not a prayer that the Father might heal “if it is your will.” Instead, it is the bold statement that “I thank you that you have heard me… I only said this for the benefit of the people standing here so that they may believe” (v41-42).
Now this does not mean that we should place the same emphasis as many Pentecostals on the size of our faith being the crucial factor in receiving healing. Jesus responded to this kind of theology in the mouths of his disciples by telling them that even if they had a tiny amount of the right kind of faith then it would be enough to bring about even the greatest kind of Holy Spirit miracle (Lk 17:5-6). Jesus’ emphasis is not on the size of our faith but on the substance of our faith – namely our faith that God is not only able to heal each person but is also willing to heal them too. This is the great battleground in which the Kingdom of God advances. 40
We have not placed enough confidence in God’s willingness to heal those around us because we would rather not attribute their continued sickness to our own actions. We may be more passionate for our own glory than for His glory, or our faith may be in our method rather than in His character, or we may simply prefer to hang onto cherished sin rather than become vessels for the Holy Spirit. We find this in Matthew 17:14-23 where despite the fact that Jesus had given the Twelve “authority to drive out evil spirits and to heal every disease and every sickness” (Mt 10:1), the combined efforts of nine of them failed to heal a child with epilepsy because the disciples lacked faith in the Father’s willingness (v16-20) and had not pursued the kind of intimacy with the Father which results in effective partnership (v21).
We have not placed enough confidence in God’s willingness to heal those around us because we would rather not attribute their continued sickness to our lack of the persistent prayer which characterises true faith. Mark tells us that on one occasion Jesus “entered a house and did not want anyone to know it,” and therefore appeared more unwilling to heal than at any other point in the gospels (Mk 7:24-30). Note, however, that Mark carries on to tell us that even on this occasion he quickly granted healing when he saw evidence of persistent and genuine faith on the part of a Gentile mother. The Lord had been actually been willing to heal all along, but had been waiting to see genuine faith expressed in the kind of perseverance he both demanded (Lk 18:1-8) and displayed personally (Mk 8:22-25). Most of those who see any fruit in ministering healing bear testimony to the way in which the Lord taught them to express faith in His willingness in spite of their bad experiences along the way. John Wimber’s breakthrough was in response to God’s command, “Don’t preach your experience, preach my Word.” 41
To those who refuse to believe that God is willing to heal those around them, Jesus gives no proof beyond his promises. He will not let us spiritualise the words of Scripture any more than he let Martha in v23-27, but asks us plainly “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” (v40). Of course we would prefer it if Jesus would come into line with the English proverb that “seeing is believing”, but he does seem quite insistent that, on the contrary, “believing is seeing.” He seems resolutely committed to the statement that we will only fully minister in healing when each of us “does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen” (Mk 11:23).
To those who struggle with past disappointments, Jesus says tenderly that “For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe” or “so that you may have faith” (v14). He does not feel the need to justify himself to us, but simply calls us to have the same confused but determined faith as Martha, who told him that “If you had been here then my brother would not have died. But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask” (v21-22). Kathryn Kuhlman testified that “No one really knows how I hurt inside when a service is over, and I see those who have come in wheelchairs leaving in the same wheelchairs in which they came… But the answer I must leave with God. And one of these days, when I get home to glory, I’m going to ask Him to give me the answer from His own lips, as why everyone is not healed.” 42 Lex Loizides testifies that once when he was crying out to God over an individual who had not been healed, he heard God give him the simple reply “Yes, we must pray more, mustn’t we?” 43 Those who see God healing people in response to their commands in Jesus’ name are those who have pressed through the disappointments of v21 to find the faith of v22. 44
Finally, to those of us who are digesting the words of this paper in an earnest desire to grasp a healthy theology of healing for the sake of the glory of God in our generation, Jesus tells us to place our faith him as “the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world” (v27) and in the fact that he brought a Kingdom which is characterised by supernatural healings (Mt 11:2-6). His closing instructions to us are similar to the ones he gave to the men of Bethany when he commanded them to “Take away the stone” (v39). Have you ever wondered why Jesus asked for help to move the stone away from the entrance of Lazarus’ tomb? Surely the one who ministered in enough power to raise the dead also had enough power to move a stone as part of the same miracle? Of course he did. He didn’t want to. He deliberately called the men of Bethany to take one small step of faith so that this could form a catalyst for the miraculous work of God. In our lives, this will probably not mean moving physical stones, but it may well mean moving the deadweight stone of false theology about healing – even such mighty rocks as a resistance to the link which Isaiah 53 and Matthew 8 make between physical healing and the death of Jesus on the cross. It may well mean moving the heavy stone of fear in order to risk looking foolish so that God might look great. It may be moving the stone of passivity so that we get ready to pray for healing the next time, and every time, that we come into contact with sickness. It may even be as simple as moving our heavy bodies out of bed a few minutes earlier each morning in order to give ourselves to prayer and fasting and to the intimacy with God which enables Him to use us as partners with His Holy Spirit.
Jesus cheers us on, urging us to move these stones and encouraging us with the promise “Did I not tell you that if you believed then you would see the glory of God?” (v40). The men of Bethany moved forward to move the stone. Heaven waits with baited breath to see if we will do the same in our generation.
The passion which gripped Jesus’ soul and which brought about such a great miracle was primarily the love of God. John comments three times in the first half of the chapter that Jesus was filled with love for Lazarus and his family (v3,5&11), and even the cynical crowd saw his tears of compassion and commented “See how much he loved him!” (v35-36). The united testimony of almost all those who are ministering successfully in the area of healing is that their breakthrough was linked to them beginning to feel the love and compassion of God towards the sick people in front of them. Mahesh Chavda feels this so strongly that he titled his autobiography ‘Only Love Can Make a Miracle’, and he writes that his healing ministry only began after “It was as though the Lord broke off a little piece of his heart and placed it inside me…I was learning that the power of God was to be found in the love of God…The healings came almost as a by-product. I learned that only love can make a miracle.” 37 Godly compassion was one of the key factors in Jesus’ healing ministry (Mk 1:41&5:19, Mt 9:35-36,14:14&20:34), and it will be in ours too. 38
Note, however, that love was not the only passion which gripped Jesus’ soul at Lazarus’ tomb. He was also deeply moved by the righteous anger of God against the devil and the sickness he brings. Twice John uses the strange verb e|mbrimaom ai/embrimaomai (v33&38), which means literally that Jesus snorted like a horse eager to get into battle. He also uses the verb tarassw/tarasso (v33), which means to be churned up like the sea. Jesus was able to confront the rule of Satan powerfully and effectively because he was churned up by its reality and was angered that it had usurped the rightful rule of God. The great healing evangelist John G Lake urges us that the same will be true for us when he tells us that the pivotal springboard for his healing ministry was that when he saw his sister dying, “A great cry to God, such as had never before come from my soul, went up to God. She must not die! I would not have it! Had not Christ died for her? … No words of mine can convey to another soul the cry that was in my heart and the flame of hatred for death and sickness that the Spirit of God had stirred within me. The very wrath of God seemed to possess my soul!” 39 The sad truth is that the reason why much sickness remains around us is that we acquiesce to its existence and bring no godly challenge to its pretended authority.
A third passion which gripped Jesus’ soul in this passage was a passion for the glory of God. The reason he delayed to come to Lazarus’ bedside was that his number one priority was “God’s glory” (v4), and his shorthand description for the miracle he was about to perform was “the glory of God” (v40). He had no qualms about risking his own reputation outside Lazarus’ tomb because he had already counted his own glory as nothing compared to the glory of the Father (Phil 2:6-7). Sadly, many of us care too much for our own reputation and too little for the glory of God. We will only begin to see more healing when we realise that the Kingdom came through Jesus looking foolish on the cross (1 Cor 1:18, Heb 12:2), and it has only ever advanced through his followers being willing to look foolish for His sake too (1 Cor 4:9-10). Unless we are so passionate to see God being glorified that we are willing for ourselves to be vilified, then we will see very few miracles of healing in our own generation.
In my next post, we'll be wrapping up this whole exploration on healing and miracles. Be sure to check back next week.
// Originally published at Theology Matters //
37 Mahesh Chavda ‘Only Love Can Make a Miracle’, p84&86, (USA, 1990).38 Jesus’ healing ministry was not motivated primarily by his desire to prove he was the Messiah, or even primarily by his desire to usher in the Kingdom of God. It was primarily motivated by the compassionate character of God who reveals Himself as Yahweh-Rophe, The-Lord-Who-Heals. Francis MacNutt writes very helpful in his book ‘Healing’ on p110 (USA, 1974) that “Jesus did not heal people to prove that He was God; he healed them because He was God.” 39 John G. Lake ‘Adventures in God’, p50-51.
Jesus’ prayer in v41-42 is based almost entirely on his relationship with the Father and not on any formula for praying for the sick. His confidence that the sick would be healed was not based on a technique he had come to know, but on the Father he had come to know. Perhaps this is why Jesus began entrusting the healing ministry to us by choosing Twelve “that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach and to have authority to drive out demons” (Mk 3:14-15). We cannot bypass this principle and hope to minister healing through the Holy Spirit without first coming into an intimate friendship with Him. No servant is greater than his master (Jn 13:16).
Some hope to see miraculous healing as an automatic right so long as people have enough faith to receive it, but Jesus did not operate based on that formula. Martha only had a little faith (v21-27), Mary had less faith (v32), the onlookers had even less faith (v37), and of course dead Lazarus had no faith at all! And yet even in this context of little faith the miracle came.
Others hope to see miraculous healing through techniques such as laying on hands, speaking commands rather than prayers, anointing with oil, ending prayers with the words in the name of Jesus, and so on, but we must note that the gospel writers deliberately contrive to prevent us from seeing any comprehensive formula in the healing ministry of Jesus. If we only had the Matthew account of the healing of Peter’s mother-in-law then we would assume that laying on hands was the key factor in her healing (Mt 8:14-15), but Mark’s account of the same healing would lead us to assume that helping her to her feet was the key factor (Mk 1:29-31), and Luke’s account would lead us to assume that rebuking the fever was the key factor (Lk 4:38-39). Matthew, Mark and Luke all give us partial accounts of the methods which Jesus used in his ministry because they want to keep us focused on Jesus as the perfect example of ministering in partnership with the Holy Spirit, not on any secret formula (Mt 12:28, Lk 4:18, Lk 5:17, Acts 10:38). The same is true for the healing of blind Bartimaeus. If we only had Luke’s account then we would assume that the key factor was Jesus commanding him to “See!” (Lk 18:35-43); if we only had Matthew’s account then we would assume that the key factor was the laying on of hands (Mt 20:29-34); and if we only had Mark’s account then we would assume that the key factor was proclaiming over him “Your faith has healed you” (Mk 10:46-52). Perhaps Luke gives us the most damning assessment of reliance on a formula rather than relationship when he tells us that the seven sons of Sceva were seeing some success in the healing ministry using the words “In the name of Jesus, whom Paul preaches, I command you to come out” – a well-worked formula if ever there was one! – until one day they learned a very salutary lesson (Acts 19:13-16).
Jesus clearly attributes the miracle at Lazarus’ tomb to the intimacy of his prayer life with the Father, the same thing he taught when he told the disciples in Mk 9:29 that he was only able to heal because he had communed intimately with God through “prayer and fasting.” The Old Testament had long taught that removing the sin which hinders our walk with God is a vital step towards seeing miracles of healing (Is 58:6-8), and so it should not surprise us that Paul also stresses the prime importance of our walk with God when he tells us that “gifts of healings” come as the Holy Spirit “apportions them to each one, just as he determines” (1 Cor 12:9&11). Both Old Testament and New Testament testify together that the work of the Holy Spirit is to bring healing through any person who allows His River to flow through them (Eze 47:12, Rev 22:2, Jn 7:37-39). Therefore we need to reject any confidence we have in formulae so that we can place our full confidence in fellowship with the Holy Spirit (Zech 4:6) and let His River flow through us (2 Cor 13:14, Phil 2:1, 1 Cor 3:9). When we know intimate fellowship with God through the Holy Spirit then the healing comes through His initiative, not through our know-how.
Jesus displayed great wisdom in his healing ministry when John tells us that “Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. Therefore, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was” (Jn 11:5-6, lit Greek, cf KJV/RSV /ESV). He recognised that there is a “sickness which ends in death” (v4), and he had absolute confidence that the Father’s Will was to heal those who were not ill with such a sickness (v41-42). Nevertheless, he had such a high regard for the Father’s perfect timing in bringing miraculous healing (Jn 5:19) that he refused to presume that God’s willingness would always result in automatic and immediate healing. Only the foolish onlookers made that mistake (v37).
If we minister with the wisdom of Jesus, then we also will share his triumphant but not triumphalistic approach to praying for the sick. We will be able to reassure people that it is not lack of faith for them to go to a doctor (Col 4:14, 1Ti 5:23), nor for those suffering from infertility to adopt children (Eph 1:5, Esth 2:15). We will be able to give reassurance to those who have not yet been healed, and to offer them encouragement either to press on in faith towards healing or to press on in faith towards the victorious death which gains the promised resurrection body. Jesus’ wisdom in v44 involved sensitive follow-up for those he prayed for, and not just a time of power ministry.
This wisdom of Jesus in v23 also saves us from perhaps the biggest error which prevents us from seeing more miraculous healing in our churches today, and this is a false understanding of what it means to be pastoral. Any church leader who has prayed for the sick and seen some of them fail to receive healing knows the terrible anguish and pain which can result both for the person receiving prayer and for the person doing the praying. It is understandable that some of us tacitly decide that we will downplay the biblical promises of healing in our churches in order to spare people any further disappointment. Understandable, but very, very wrong.
The wisdom of Jesus shows us that whilst this may be an expression of loving care, it is not pastoral in any biblical sense of the word. In Paul’s great teaching for the Ephesian eldership team on what it means to be “shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood” and pastors of “the flock in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers” (Acts 20:28), he makes it very clear that there is one sin, one great and heinous sin, that he or any other Christian pastor might commit in shepherding a local church, and that sin would be if he “hesitated to preach anything that would be helpful to you” (Acts 20:20). Since miraculous healing is not merely an authentication of the Gospel but part of the Gospel itself (Rom 15:18-19, Mt 4:23, Mt 9:35), then to decide to downplay part of the Gospel because of trials and disappointments along the way is not being pastoral, it is being disobedient. Paul reminds us that “If we or an angel from heaven should preach a Gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned!” (Gal 1:8), and just in case we failed to grasp the full importance of this message with regard to our teaching about healing, he repeats it a second time when he places a curse on us if we downplay part of the Gospel because of trials and disappointments along the way is not being pastoral, it is being disobedient. Paul reminds us that “If we or an angel from heaven should preach a Gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned!” (Gal 1:8), and just in case we failed to grasp the full importance of this message with regard to our teaching about healing, he repeats it a second time when he places a curse on us if we downplay any aspect of the Gospel: “Now I say again: If any body is preaching to you a Gospel other than what you received, let him be eternally condemned!” (Gal 1:10). This is very serious indeed!
As those called by God to pastor His Church, we dare not back away from the Bible’s theology of healing and so abdicate this ministry to evangelists and ‘charismatic specialists’. James tells local church elders to make sure that they are at the very heart of the healing ministry (Jas 5:14-16), and only when the wisdom of God is expressed through the elders appointed by God will we have a context free from the opposite evils of a false ‘theology of sickness’ and a false triumphalism. Being truly pastoral means taking a lead to bring miraculous healing to the sheep in our care, whilst offering continued love and care for those who for some reason are still experiencing the delay of Jn 11:5-6.
Prayer is a common human experience. Every theist, agnostic, and atheist alike has prayed in one form or another at times. Prayer is a common topic. It’s been the focus of clinical studies, heard in the halls of Congress and at Presidential inaugurations. It pops up on bumper stickers, sells books, and is mentioned in songs.
However, there is often bad information on prayer. We have all heard “Prayer changes things” or“There is power in prayer.” However, it is God who changes things and who alone is all-powerful.
Our understanding of prayer needs to come from scripture. Often people pray in order to get God to do what they believe He should do. This type of praying assumes we know what needs to happen. Its focus is on us. Being at the center of the universe, we determine what we want and then pray to have God go get it for us.This is a primary reason our prayers seem ineffective and we become disappointed with God. We are attempting to move God from inaction to action. This means that God’s sovereignty (His freedom and power to do whatever He wants) is limited by us, and by our choice of whether or not to pray.
Here is how we tend to view prayer:
With this perspective, God is seen as a “celestial Santa” or “cosmic bellboy”. If this is your concept of prayer, you will pray for your will to be done rather than God’s.
The Biblical view of prayer is quite different. First, God initiates prayer. He speaks to us by revealing Himself and His will to us. Much of our praying should begin with adoration and listening to God’s revelation to us. God longs to speak to us and convey His plans. In this way He is initiating what and how we pray.
Second, we respond to what God has revealed to us through the Bible and the voice of His Spirit. Jesus often said to those with whom he was speaking, “He who has ears let him hear what the Spirit is saying.” Jesus displayed this type of relationship with the Father as he did and said what he saw the Father doing and saying. Prayer is not moving God from inaction to action, it is partnering with God in what He has already begun to do.
In our prayer life God is central, not us. His plan and purpose is the focus. The Biblical understanding of prayer is about God’s revealed will. People get angry because they don’t understand this principle, which becomes evident when God doesn’t do what they wanted Him to do.
Praying is not something we do in order to get God to act. Prayer is something God does in and through us so that His purposes are fulfilled in and through us. Prayer is thinking God’s thoughts after Him. We are praying for His purposes to be accomplished and actively playing a role in that fulfillment.
The disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray. Jesus’ answer is a model of Kingdom prayer that is effective as we partner with God. It’s normally called “The Lord’s Prayer” (see Matt. 6:7-15) when in fact it is meant to be the disciple’s prayer.
Our Father: We address God from the platform of our family relationship with Him.
Holy is Your name: Worship is a vital part of prayer and includes a sense of mission. This can be interpreted, “Make Your name holy so the entire earth may recognize You.”
Your Kingdom come: This phrase involves the active reign of God through which people are restored to relationship with Him.We are to pray that His Kingdom spreads; that His reign and rule continue to come.
Your will be done on earth: We pray, “God accomplish Your will on earth… be glorified and save people.” God invites us to partner with Him in this and play a significant role by proclaiming the gospel and praying for its fulfillment.
Our daily bread: We are told to make specific requests for our daily needs, recognizing that all we have is a result of God’s grace. We look to God for our provision. We ask Him to supply what we need so we can continue proclaiming the Good News.
Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors: We recognize our right standing comes from God as He gives grace and mercy. This, in turn, elicits a gracious response from us toward those who do or say things against us. As we spend time with God, we grasp that we have received mercy and can now extend mercy to others.
Do not lead us into temptation but deliver us from the evil one: God gives grace and protection from things that would overcome us.
This prayer is about the gospel; it is about God the King, His Kingdom and its expansion.This is the focus and aim of all true prayer. Let’s not just be a people who pray, but a praying people, focused on our King and His kingdom activity all around us.
Confluence is a place where the reformed, the charismatic, and the mission-minded converge to equip and serve the church to transform communities. Our authors are mostly leaders in the Newfrontiers family of churches. Read more.
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