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First Quarter 2014 (January–March)
COMMENTARY ON DISCIPLESHIP
Week 5: January 25–31
COMMENTARY ON DISCIPLING THE SICK
Following is a combined commentary on the material included in the Bible Study Guide with references as necessary to the supplemental passages included in the E. G. White Notes for the Sabbath School Lessons.
The central premises of this lesson are stated in Monday’s lesson:
“Body, mind, and spirit are merely differing aspects of human personality or existence, not independently existent entities.”
“Christ always healed whole per-sons. His holistic approach recognized that physical health was insepa-rable from spiritual health. Through physical healing, He effected spiri-tual transformation. That was, to a great degree, the whole purpose. After all, why heal people who in the long run will die anyway and face eternal destruction at the end of time?”
The Question of Suffering
The Lesson has stated the cardinal Adventist doctrine of the “holistic” human personality. Because body, mind, and spirit are just different aspects of the same physical entity called “personality,” then physical and spiritual health are really part of the same thing. If that is so, then healing physical illnesses becomes not only desirable, but necessary to spiritual transformation. We could also reason that if sickness of body or mind is a serious obstacle to faith and spiritual growth, then those who have the most serious illnesses, such as stage-4 cancer or recurrent major depression, are least able to respond to God. Is this what the Bible teaches? Let us examine these premises more closely.
Before we look at the philosophy of Adventist holism, let us consider the Biblical view of suffering. After all, our beliefs about the purpose of suffering will not only affect our own experiences of pain, but will control our attitudes towards the pain of others. The Bible has a great deal to say about the purpose of suffering, and we will begin with this profound statement from Romans 8:
For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.
The suffering of all creation is the result of being subjected to “futility” by the One who subjected it “in hope.” Only God can subject the creation to the futility of pain and death, “in hope” of His greater divine purposes. The Devil cannot subject us to anything “in hope.” All the suffering of creatures comes from a divine decree of futility by its Creator. He takes full responsibility. What about us? Does this decree of suffering also include those who are being transformed by His Spirit?
For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. Romans 8:22-23
Even those who have the Holy Spirit are among those who groan and wait for glorification. We are subject to terrible accidents and severe depression and stage-4 cancer, and it may be His will that certain afflictions stay with us all our lives. We also groan while we wait for the redemption of our bodies. It is not only unbelievers or chain smokers who are subject to futility, but those who have all the blessings of adoption. Saints and sinners all groan together with the same diseases and afflictions. Futility not only includes disease and death; it also includes all the results of the Fall of Adam. As a result, we are weak, sinful, prone to self-destruction, and we all die. His judgment against nature was not just for the wicked, but we who have the Spirit also suffer and await new bodies. Many people resist the idea that a good God is responsible for suffering. But He is Creator God who brings both well-being and calamity (Isaiah 45:6,7), there is none besides Him, and we must be content with His rule.
When Jesus came among us, He remained fully God, and continued to exercise His sovereign rule over life and death. He came to save the lost, but He only healed a small fraction of the people who came into His presence. Most of the people that heard Him proclaim His kingdom never felt His healing touch, even though many of them suffered afflictions. Yet many who never experienced physical healing believed on His name and were saved. Jesus chose not to heal many, but for all who heard His words and believed on His name, He gave them something much greater than strong bodies: He gave them the right to be sons and daughters of God (John 1:12). There is no greater remedy to our deepest needs than what Jesus first told the paralytic: “Man, your sins are forgiven you” (Luke 5:20). In the next section, we will look closely at what that New Covenant gospel gives us, and what it means when we say, “Jesus is enough.”
In part One, we explored the original reasons for suffering, disease, and death, and who is under their power. In Romans 8 we are taken back to the source of all creation’s suffering—God’s righteous decree of futility after Adam’s fall. Futility is Paul’s word to describe the state of decay, corruption, weakness, natural disasters, and death. The bodies of the righteous and the wicked, as well as all living things, are subject to God’s decree of futility. This decree is not removed until glorification (Rom. 8:22,23).
The Christian life is characterized by suffering, trouble, and the threat of death, as Jesus and the apostles told us (Rom. 5:3; Rom. 8:35; Jn. 16:33; Mt. 13:21). Trouble is also God’s method of disciplining those He loves and is for their growth. This trouble certainly includes physical suffering from illnesses and or injury. Paul and Timothy knew that they were “destined for this,” as Jesus told Paul at his conversion. He was to suffer many things for Jesus’ name (Acts 9:16), and for that reason, had no expectations of health, wealth, or comfort while carrying the gospel. Suffering of all kinds is also the destiny of all those who carry His name, but we are to be of good cheer, for He has overcome the world (Jn. 16:33).
The Lesson stated that physical healing effects spiritual transformation, because the physical and spiritual aspects of personality are inseparable. Jesus, therefore, “healed more than just bodies. Christ always healed whole per-sons,” and through that complete healing, “effected spiritual transformation.” However, we see from many places in scripture that those who are being sanctified and transformed into the image of Christ often suffer from physical afflictions, and are often not physically healed. In fact, many of God’s saints have experienced worsening physical conditions while their minds and spirits were becoming ever more Christ-like. Paul said:
“We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed…always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.” 2Cor. 4:8,10
So he did not lose heart, even though his “outer self” was “wasting away,” for his “inner self” was “being renewed day by day” (Vs. 16). For both Paul and Jesus, there is an outer self, the body that can be afflicted and waste away, and there is an “inner self” that can be “renewed day by day,” no matter what is happening to the body. Our bodies and our spirits are not the same thing at all. That is why the sickest, weakest, dying Christian will not lose heart, but can feel “renewed day by day.” There truly is a part of us that can, through every kind of pain and weakness, respond to the Spirit of God, and find joy in Him. This is not an excuse to abuse the bodies God has given us, but it is reason to rejoice when our bodies fail.
As we minister to others who are suffering, we can never stand aloof or superior to them because somehow, they are less successful in making themselves physically strong. While we are obeying Jesus by making every effort to bring relief to the suffering, the great truth of our shared “futility” will humble us in the presence of others’ pain, for we who have the first fruits of the Spirit, also groan. Do you see a Christ-follower who is going through a severe illness, and still trusting in Jesus? Be humbled, not proud; you are in the presence of greatness. Pain and affliction, not health and prosperity, are God’s instruments of spiritual transformation, and provide strong evidence that we are His sons and daughters.
Christians who believe that physical health is a sign of their spiritual transformation will not be prepared for affliction when it comes. They will feel they have failed or sinned somehow, of feel abandoned by God. This is why many religious people don’t die well. Those diseases of old age that can strike any of us, such as depression, dementia, or cancers—these will cause our bodies and minds to waste away. But when we trust God’s word that He knows His sheep and has given them eternal life that nothing can snatch away, we may be “pressed down,” but we will not lose heart. He is faithful, and He is our Rock. If you are old and weak, grasp this promise with all your might:
“Even to your old age and gray hairs I am he, I am he who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you.” Isaiah 46:4
Many great saints suffered from severe afflictions, including chronic mental illness, and through these trials they learned patience and trust. When I was a boy and had a weak knowledge of Jesus, I watched my mother suffer hard financial times, a failed marriage with my dad, and severe bouts of depression. I remember often seeing her singing hymns or praying with tears, and I was embarrassed by her. I wanted her to be strong and not show so much weakness, and sometimes, I even mocked her. Strong Christians have strong minds and bodies, I believed. Looking back at those times now after learning about real afflictions and trials, I have found what she had also learned the hard way. She was deeply privileged to be His daughter and suffer His discipline through weakness. When you have lost everything so that Jesus is all you have, you will find that Jesus is truly enough.