January 4, 2014

Administering The Gospel

' The Doctor '
Samuel Luke Fildes
I'm not sure why but this is the second post in two weeks that has taken on a medicinal theme. Instead of cures themselves which is what last week's post zeroed in on, this post is about the healer(s). There are not many instances of human doctors being mentioned in the Bible so I figured I would write on them. I wanted to see if there are any defining characteristics that tie them together. In addition to the human physicians it is also important to mention the fact that God Himself is the great healer and it is He that human doctors imitate whether they do it intentionally or not.

The Great Physician

The Bible is replete with mention of God’s healing powers and characteristics. To mention a few throughout the Scriptures…

Psalms 103:3 ~ [God] Who forgives all your iniquities; who heals all your diseases;

Jeremiah 30:17 ~ For I will restore health to you, and I will heal you of your wounds, said the LORD; because they called you an Outcast, saying, this is Zion, whom no man seeks after.

Matthew 4:23 ~ And Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all manner of sickness and all manner of disease among the people.

Matthew 14:14 ~ And Jesus went forth, and saw a great multitude, and was moved with compassion toward them, and he healed their sick.

Acts 10:38 ~ How God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Ghost and with power: who went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed of the devil; for God was with him.

James 5:16 ~ Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that you may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.

I listed many examples of God as healer to show the continuity of the unchanging characteristics and continuous healing ability of God from the beginning until the end of Scripture. I would've also listed all the instances of Jesus healing the sick and the lame in the four Gospels but it would dramatically lengthened this post. It is in this pattern of God healing man that we see man do similarly. It is the Imago Dei (image of God) that pushes good men to heal even in their fallen and sinful state. Many doctors will believe they are doing it mostly as their own volitional "good deed" or benevolent choice but it is more than that. It is because of the image that they themselves were created in. 

There are latent vestiges of God's fingerprints indwelling all human beings...even the pagan and apostate ones. Also, because of the Imago Dei …in all the examples of doctors in Scripture there is also an implication that the human, their health and their body are revered and held in esteem. What is not always stated is why the human life is revered but it is evident even to unbelievers and pagan doctors whether they be Egyptian or modern. There is something extremely important about human life and health. It hasn't been until modern times in our attempts to leave God behind and replace Him with evolutionary biology that the value of human life has been devolved to the point that abortions and taking of innocent life are no longer viewed as murder (merely survival of the fittest).

Christians on the other hand know that human life and health is revered because of its direct relation to the Imago Dei / image of God. Christians know that God gives us our value. 

So on with Scripture's examples.

Doctors as Undertakers

Genesis 50:2 ~ And Joseph commanded his servants the physicians to embalm his father. So the physicians embalmed Israel.

Doctors doing an embalming. Sounds creepy like a cross between a physician and an undertaker. I guess we shouldn’t consider this so odd in the time of Joseph though. Although funeral rites in Egypt were not generally done by doctors, doctors of course would’ve understood the body well enough to perform mortuary practices. Egyptian doctors therefore would’ve been more than up to the task. It is also quite possible that if Joseph had employed the use of Egyptian priests and mortuary practices there might have been dabbling in the pagan occult and Egyptian religiosity. It makes sense that Joseph being obedient to the One True God would’ve wished to avoid this and steer around ritualistic Egyptian mummification and embalming practices. This would've been Jacobs/Israel's wish also as it is clear he wanted to be buried in the land promised for his descendants.

Lastly, we should mention that Jacob planned for his own internment and vocalized his plans and desires (Genesis 47:28-31). Joseph is dutifully obeying his father’s wishes. We can learn painful but practical lesson here. The dead feel no pain. The ones left behind feel the pain of the loss of the departed. It behooves the one that will be predeceased to plan for their own funerals and voice those plans. The onus and burden for burying the dead should not be placed wholly on the mourners. A responsible person plans in advance for the benefit of their loved ones. We spend so much time working in this life and planning for vacations and weddings, why not apply the same effort for another part of life that is just as important, albeit more painful?

Walking Away From God

2 Chronicles 16:11-13 ~ “The acts of Asa, from first to last, are written in the Book of the Kings of Judah and Israel. In the thirty-ninth year of his reign Asa was diseased in his feet, and his disease became severe. Yet even in his disease he did not seek the Lord, but sought help from physicians. And Asa slept with his fathers, dying in the forty-first year of his reign.

There is a tremendous lesson to be learned here even in modern times. We now have much more capability to heal than at the time of King Asa but doctors are still limited, fallible and human. We must never forget that the Creator knows His creation better than the creature knows itself. Nowadays this is often lost on us and we treat doctors as miracle-workers that only God can be. Men are clever, there is no doubt about it but men are not gods no matter how they present themselves. They may act like gods or be treated as such but they are merely tools in the true Sovereign God’s hands.

King Asa looked to physicians to heal his feet but ignored God. There is the implication from the passage that Asa might have survived the disease of his feet had he turned to God but the passage instead merely states that he dies. An unheralded and meaningless end. As a matter-of-fact, it is quite possible that the foot disease given Asa is in direct correlation to his apostasy or “walk” away from God…perhaps as punishment due. A man walking away from God and receiving in himself the due penalty for his error.

I imagine this happens today more than we can imagine.  Our health both mental and physical are in God’s hands. We must never go to physicians today leaving our lives in the hands of men alone. We should always enter into medical treatment or procedures by prayer and meditation on God first. Even decisions to visit the doctor’s office should be done with the idea that God is with you in that decision. As with anything we do in this life, we must put God at the forethought of all actions. As Paul says we must pray without ceasing. Once we leave God out of the picture we are literally casting our fate before the unknown when we could easily put our lives in God’s hands. Anything that is a trust in something other than that of God is a trust in death as God is life and our life is in Him both temporally and eternally.

Colossians 4: 14 ~ Luke the beloved physician greets you, as does Demas. 

The beloved physician Luke is named here and his profession given by Paul. It must have been important enough to Paul that it warranted mentioning in this prison epistle. It was most likely done to differentiate him from other Luke’s of the time. Why else would Paul bring attention to Luke’s profession? A doctor then like now was held in high esteem for their learning and practice. To mention him among the band of believers shows two things: (1) A highly educated and articulate man believes through faith in Jesus and (2) Having secular credibility and being a Gentile, he is a human conduit to reach out into secular society to bring people to the faith. Luke will do exactly that when he makes his historical account of Jesus in his Gospel and the historical documentary known as Acts of the Apostles.

We kind of see the inverse today. There are of course Christian doctors today but due to many doctors having been indoctrinated by evolutionary biology in their medical education, I believe we are seeing fewer and fewer believing doctors. Regardless of the medical miracles they might witness, a deadened sinful mind cannot recognize the divine if blinded by the secular medical indoctrination. By naming among the believers people like the physician Luke along with the prisoners Aristarchus, Mark and Paul himself we see a cross-section of society high to low and side to side. Christianity was encompassing the entire swath of society.

Called to Be Spiritual Physicians

Finally, an interesting note should be made of Matthew 9:12 because of what it tells us spiritually about Jesus and about ourselves. In this passage Jesus says that…

Matthew 9:12-13 “…it is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

Jesus is rebuking the Pharisees here (again) in a rhetorical/philosophical statement. Jesus has called Matthew to discipleship here in view of the Pharisees and the Pharisees snidely ask Jesus’ other disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” Here we see the primary difference between the Pharisees and Jesus in the Lord’s own response.

It is a matter of priorities (or lack of them).

The godless dead and whitewashed Pharisees only care about their own perception of what the will of God is - as outlined in their understanding of the Law. It is a warped and perverted perception as it is devoid of love and compassion for the sick spiritually or otherwise. Their idea of love is legalistic adherence to a muddled understanding made of their own tradition, piousness and dogmatism. Jesus priority is love through praxis or action. Simply put, a doctor must get his hands bloody or stained with the infections of the sick. On the other side the Pharisees live in a sterile and quarantined world that helps no one. The Pharisees and those like them totally missed the point of the Law they claim to be masters of. Jesus rightfully smacks them upside the head (figuratively) it in one statement.

The late Roman Catholic Bishop Fulton J. Sheen said it best when he said the following after having visited a leper colony of 500 people in Africa.
“I had with me 500 silver crucifixes about two inches high. I intended to give each leper a silver crucifix. The first one who came to me had his left arm eaten away by the disease. He held up the stump; there was a rosary around it. He put out his right hand. It was the most foul, fetid, noisome mass of corruption that I ever saw. I held the crucifix above it and dropped it. And it was swallowed up in that volcano of leprosy. And all of a sudden there were 501 lepers in that camp and I was the 501st. For I had taken that symbol of God’s identification with man and refused to identify myself with someone who was a thousand times better on the inside than I. Then it came over me the awful thing that I had done. I dug my fingers into his hand and pulled out the crucifix then pressed it to his hand and so on for all the other 500 lepers. From that time on I learned to love them by touch…”
As disciples and followers of Christ, we must be willing to reach out to those that are often times very much different from us. We must be willing to reach into the corruption of sin and pull people out. This is no better exemplified that Jesus. Jesus was very human and He came so that He could stand in our stead as sinners to take on our sin. After this, the comparisons must stop and we must understand that He is divine and in this manner quite different from us. This did not stop Him from associating with tax collectors and sinners. If Jesus made these associations...we must also. We are called to go specifically to these types of people based on Jesus’ very example. An example that is totally opposed to that of the spiritually dead Pharisees.

In this way we are all called to be spiritual physicians when it comes to ministering or administering the Gospel. We are called to give the Gospel to a dying world whose only hope lies in the healing truth of God's word and His Resurrection. A Resurrection, without which, all are left dead and uncured in sinful trespasses anyway. As such we need to administer the Gospel in a serious and concerned manner just as a medical doctor that is dealing with a deadly condition...because in reality...we are dealing with a deadly condition. 

Although I've heard John Piper say we are not professionals...we must behave as such in action and word. We must be above reproach in our presentation of not only the Gospel but our own lives down to the smallest nuance. It is our concern for the spiritual well-being of others (like Jesus with sinners and tax collectors) that defines us most clearly and most definitively separates us from the world in holiness. It is a matter of priorities people. (1) God and Gospel first (2) well-being of neighbors second (including our enemies) (3) Ourselves last.

Sheen, Fulton J. Through the year with Fulton Sheen. Ann Arbor, Mich.: Servant Books, 1985. Print., Pages 215-216.

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