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It’s been a long time since I thought about being forbidden to use a doctor. I can remember learning about that belief and knowing that it was something somehow I had to accept. It’s not something that seems too menacing until pain, fear, and all kinds of thoughts are up in your face. I did my best to embrace it, but it was that young age, probably around the age of 10, it didn’t seem to make much sense. I could go to the dentist; he was doctor; he used drugs to deaden the pain, but that was alright. It was there I began to realize this inconsistency. Is this really the way faith is? Sometimes it’s relevant – it matters - and then at other times it doesn’t? Life hits you that way as you grow up. Everyone gets to experience it and the crazy bewilderment it brings.
I think my experiences in being sick and injured are pretty common for the time period I grew up in: a busted lip, sprained ankle, colds, etc. Very few folks took their children to the doctor the way they do now when all they have is a sniffle. Even with my own kids, they were very healthy and occasionally visited the doctor when they couldn’t seem to get on top of a cold or infection. We did make a few trips to the emergency room for stitches, an outpatient surgery for tonsil removal, but most of the time they were treated at home. When our youngest was eight years old, my wife Paula graduated from Wichita State University with her bachelor’s degree in nursing and became a registered nurse. I must say, I was thankful having her looking after us and so were all our nieces, nephews, and family, the church kids, the neighbor kids, and new mothers and fathers asking questions about a new one on the way. She is always helping someone by looking at something or answering a question.
Sometimes, however, things are more serious. I can tell you if we had not sought medical help, my father would be gone, my brother would be gone, and even perhaps a son would be. I can simply find no place in the Old or New Testament that prohibits people from getting well. The only time seeking care was considered wrong was if someone was using a medium or some kind of charm. It was wrong because it was wrong to be with a medium in the first place and as for the charms, they were silly superstition, the same as idols. Putting your faith in something like that is disrespectful to God. At the church where I worship and fellowship with my brothers and sisters in Christ, we have many that are sick or injured. We lift them up constantly through prayer chains, Wednesday night hour of prayer, house churches, and whenever we meet. We also lay hands on them and invite anyone to come join us as we pray over them. We are very aware that medicine is useless without the blessing of God, and we believe medicine to be a blessing from God. But God is sovereign and we respect his wisdom as he works out everything for the good.
We all know that wonderful passage from the Hebrew writer at the beginning of chapter 11 defining faith for us:
1Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. 2 For by it the elders obtained a good testimony. 3 By faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that the things which are seen were not made of things which are visible.
Why would the writer bring up faith? Not that it’s written all over the Bible, both Old and New Covenant, but it is the language by which we commune with the Creator. God belongs to the spiritual world where our bodily senses cannot reach and it requires faith for us to reach out to him. He reached out to us first, where his plan would eventually merge heaven and earth and those who put their faith in Him would live with him there forever. Through this plan he showed us we need a savior and he provided one: the Lord Jesus Christ. Through the life of Christ, his death on a cross, his burial, his resurrection from the dead on the third day, his appearance to many: We have been rescued from darkness. Those who put their faith in Christ Jesus have been claimed as “the holy ones” (the saints) of God.
Faith and obedience are intertwined. You can’t have one without the other. They feed on each other. Faith is built on obedience and obedience depends on faith. But obedience to what? This is going to sound funny, but, the answer is: Loving one another as Christ loved us. When you boil it all down, that’s where it is. It requires an enormous amount of faith. Jesus talks about it again and again. His disciples, his apprentices are to practice loving others. In order to do this, you have to set your entitlements, agendas, and needs aside in order to look out for those around you – even the ones that don’t think the way you do or the ones who don’t like you; especially them. Who looks after my needs? You do – through the power of Jesus Christ. That’s where faith comes in, eh?
When I decided to follow Jesus, all my claims of wrongs done me, all my entitlements bestowed on me by whatever means, are nailed to the cross. It wasn’t very fair that Jesus, an innocent man, died on a cross: what claim could I possibly have to anything? Nailing them to the cross takes great faith, the kind of faith that makes us brothers and sisters to the One and Only King of Kings, Lord of Lords. For me, this looking out for one another in love and compassion is what is meant by “walking in the Spirit”.
16 I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. 17 For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.
19 Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, 20 idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, 21 envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. 24 And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.
Did Paul really say that? “Against such there is no law.” When we walk in the Spirit and that lovely fruit is produced in us, there is no need for law, no need for rules. Everything is fulfilled; especially us and we become what we were created to be: Real human beings. Now you can be someone who wants to focus on rules and about the only thing you’ll discover is how big a rule breaker you are. And rules don’t change us, at least not in the direction we would want to go. Paul says in the letter to the Galatians and elsewhere: the law is death and if the Law of Moses is viewed this way then any law that man comes up with is certainly not any better and leads to the same things.
Law-keeping is focused on the mundane and diverts our eyes from taking care and looking after one another. It gets us all wrapped around the axle in thinking about how we look, for the law shows what a righteous person looks like on the outside, but it does not have means to change us. This is why we need the Spirit and walk with him faithfully as he trains us in his ways and over time he transforms us into the sons and daughters of The Most High.
Luke 10:25-37 NKJV
25 And behold, a certain lawyer stood up and tested Him, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 He said to him, “What is written in the law? What is your reading of it?”
27 So he answered and said, “ ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind,’ and ‘your neighbor as yourself.’” 28 And He said to him, “You have answered rightly; do this and you will live.” 29 But he, wanting to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” 30 Then Jesus answered and said: “A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, who stripped him of his clothing, wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead. 31 Now by chance a certain priest came down that road. And when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. 32 Likewise a Levite, when he arrived at the place, came and looked, and passed by on the other side. 33 But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was. And when he saw him, he had compassion. 34 So he went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine; and he set him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. 35 On the next day, when he departed, he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said to him, ‘Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I come again, I will repay you.’ 36 So which of these three do you think was neighbor to him who fell among the thieves?”
37 And he said, “He who showed mercy on him.”
Then Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”
Don’t tell me there wasn’t some doctoring going on here. The man received the best care he could have had in his day and age. You wouldn’t receive much better care in an emergency room from a doctor and nurses. Sure, we now have more modern ways to nourish him, and more effective techniques to bandage and treat his wounds but the outcome is the same. Is there something wrong here? Is it wrong to do good, even though you used some bactine, Neosporin, or alcohol?
And then there’s that nagging question again - one of the things that has always puzzled me: when does something rise to the point that it is wrong to seek out a trained professional, someone who has exhibited the God-given talent and gifts for healing? Where is that line? And who decides where that line is? Men? Bad idea. I believe God has blessed us with incredible minds. Do we do evil with them? Sadly, yes. But we can do good with them also and serving someone’s needs through healing is something that is right and good.
Did the good Samaritan love this man even though he didn’t know him? Of course. Did it cost him anything? Of course. The good Samaritan’s actions may have delayed the business he was on and cost him a customer, but he put his faith in what is good even though the injured man had nothing to return. In this act I see love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
Love is so much better and yet, so much harder than law. Is that why rules are chosen over love? With law you know where you stand. With love, you may never know, for the good you do may not come to fruition until you are long gone. Loving others will consume our lives just like it consumed the life of Jesus. But when you’re going to live forever, what does it matter? Or do we really believe that? There’s a saying I like: “He is no fool who loses what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”
Words are so insufficient to communicate the wonder that God did through Christ. God’s wonder continues in all the wonderful things he wants to do through you and me. That’s what grace is. Technically, it’s defined as “unmerited favor,” and because of the unmerited favor granted to those who put their faith in Christ, He reaches down and changes us through our love for one another. There are basically four types of love: eros, phileos, storge, and agape. Agape is the love that God has for us. It is the type of love that reaches out and blesses even when the recipient has nothing to offer. This is agape love:
I Corinthians 13:1-13 NKJV
1Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. 2 And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3 And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing.
4 Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; 5 does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; 6 does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; 7 bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
8 Love never fails. But whether there are prophecies, they will fail; whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part. 10 But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away.
11 When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things. 12 For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known.
13 And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
With agape love, God raises the bar all the way to the top. This is what God expects of his holy ones. It’s the way he loves us and it’s the way he changes us. Since we are made in the image of God, he has bestowed on us the ability to create and like him we can create something out of nothing if we choose. Creative goodness; that’s what love is and God wants to teach us and train us into those who do it just like him. Faith is required. He has written an epic story to us revealing his plans. He has saved us and given us a wonderful example in Christ Jesus our Savior. He has given us a great teacher-coach-counselor in the Holy Spirit. There is no doubt – He has held nothing back - He loves us more than we can imagine.
All the things I have written down here are just a very small trickle of the great river of truth and love that is Jesus. I could go on and on. I want to leave you with a story I heard that is so convicting. There was once a group of preachers that would get together every now and then and share with one another the different things that were going on in each of their parishes. One of the preachers had a bit of a cranky attitude at times. At one of their get-togethers, he was being grouchy and so one of the preachers that was fixing the refreshments filled his tea glass all the way to the brim and then as he served it to him, he bumped into him quite abruptly spilling the tea. The grouchy preacher started to huff and puff and as he did the offending preacher said, “You know, that’s just the way it is in life. When you’re bumped into whatever it is that fills you is what spills out.”
Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth:
Set up your kingdom in our midst.
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God:
Have mercy on me, a sinner.
Holy Spirit, breath of the living God:
Renew me and all the world.
May the Lord of All be with you and bless you
and may Jesus Christ our Lord come quickly.
and may Jesus Christ our Lord come quickly.