- …and to someone else the one Spirit gives the gift of healing (χαρίσματα ἰαμάτων, 1 Cor 12:9)
- …then… those who have the gift of healing (χαρίσματα ἰαμάτων).… (1 Cor 12:28)
Nature of the Gift
In both of these verses, this is more literally “gifts of healings,” perhaps more of a reference to occasions where healing comes than to the person who is the vehicle of those healings. Fee also notes that the manifestation of the gift is given to the healer, not to the healed, which underlines the corporate nature of how these gifts operate for the good of all.1Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, NICNT (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1987), 594. Thiselton thinks the reference to “various kinds of healings” (1 Cor 12:9) leaves the door open for any way the Lord wants to heal. He speaks of “sudden or gradual, physical, psychosomatic, or mental, the use of medication or more ‘direct’ divine agency.”2Thiselton, 1 Corinthians, 948. He warns against imposing a false natural/supernatural dichotomy on this discussion and notes that medicine isn’t ruled out (1 Tim 5:23).
The religious offer of healing was not a new thing in New Testament times. For example, the healing God “Aesclepius is a conscious and deliberate alternative to the Saviour of Christianity.”3TDNT, 3:199. But Christianity reflected the Old Testament sense that the Lord was the true physician, present among his people by virtue of the incarnation and then by his Spirit after his ascension.
As biblical examples, think of Elijah (1 Kgs 17) and Elisha (2 Kgs 4) in the Old Testament, and Jesus and the apostles in the New. On the one hand, Jesus discounted any rigid connection between personal sin and sickness,4John 9:3ff.; 11:4; Luke 13:1ff. which enabled Paul to bear even chronic sickness without lapsing into hopelessness.5Rom 8:28; 2 Cor 4:17; 12:7–10 On the other hand, Jesus noted the relation of sickness and demonic powers that sometimes existed (Matt 12:22 // Luke 13:11), which the early church also recognized.6Acts 12:23; 1 Cor 10:10; 2 Cor 12:7; Rev 16:2 Jesus avoided the sensationalism that characterized the work of many of the Graeco-Roman healers; indeed, he sometimes asked that the miracle be kept private.7Mark 1:44; 3:12; 5:43; 7:36; 8:26 And he wouldn’t accept payment; he wanted only gratitude to God (Luke 17:7ff).
Despite the refusal of fame– and wealth-producing sensationalism, Jesus’s healings signalled the age of salvation, which the prophets had foretold.8Matt 11:5; Isa 35:5–6; 61:1 They were signs that the kingdom of God had come (Matt 12:28; Luke 17:21). Not to acknowledge that is wickedly obtuse (Luke 12:54–59). Indeed, every healing is a partial victory for the kingdom of God and thus a foretaste of full and final victory that awaits us.
While he was still on earth, Jesus passed on the ministry of healing to his disciples, to make them effective witnesses to the gospel of Jesus Christ.9Mark 3:14–15; 6:7 And that was how the early disciples worked; they performed many miracles and healings, but they attributed them to Jesus Christ.10Rom 15:18–19; 2 Cor 12:12; Acts 2:43; 5:12; 6:8; 14:3 The early disciples never claimed that this power to heal was innate; rather, they attributed it to the exalted Christ working through them by the power of the Holy Spirit.11Acts 3:16; 9:34; Rom 15:18–19 And this is how we should view it today—especially anyone who operates with the gifts of healings or miracles.
Anything that doesn’t issue in proclamation of the word with increased effectiveness should be suspectAlthough some Christians believe the gifts of healing were a uniquely apostolic activity and thus limited to the apostolic age, we note that these gifts continued to operate well into the church age,42 and in these last days they have been renewed. That is only fitting for a gift that the Holy Spirit promised to distribute throughout the church for its edification and for the glory of Jesus Christ.
Exercising the Gift
How should you operate if God works through you by gifts of healing?
The most obvious counsel is to watch the example of Jesus and the early apostles, who always used it as a pointer to the Gospel, as a demonstration of the in-breaking of the kingdom of God. Anything that doesn’t issue in proclamation of the word with increased effectiveness should be suspect. The second thing to note from their example is that the gift isn’t inherent; you’re not a “healer,” only God can claim that title.
Perhaps a third thing to note is the suggestion that anyone through whom this gift operates might also seek the gift of discerning spirits, since Jesus connected some sickness to demonic influence that needed to be addressed if recovery was to happen. On the one hand, it certainly won’t do to go around attributing every sickness to the demon of this, that, or the other; on the other hand, it would never do to ignore the real possibility that the sickness has an underlying spiritual cause that should be addressed through counsel, prayer, or even exorcism at times. And sometimes that underlying spiritual problem may require confession and repentance.
Finally, we should note that this gift has strong pastoral tones, as James notes:
Are any of you sick? You should call for the elders of the church to come and pray over you, anointing you with oil in the name of the Lord. Such a prayer offered in faith will heal the sick, and the Lord will make you well. And if you have committed any sins, you will be forgiven. Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. (Jas 5:14–16)
Maybe you whom God, through the church, has appointed as elders should pray that God would operate through you by the gifts of healing, since you’ll often be called upon to pray for the sick—and they’re promised healing.