It is not uncommon to hear the ‘Word of Faith’ and ‘prosperity’ preachers say things like, “All sickness is of the devil”, “Sin and sickness were defeated at the cross” or “If you just have faith you will be healed”. The intention of such statements is to make the hearers think that sickness is inherently evil in its’ nature, and that the failure to be healed is somehow the fault of the individual with the sickness.
When Paul writes to the Philippian church he commended a fellow-soldier named Epaphroditus. Paul was sending him to the Philippians to minister to them and to comfort them because, “he longed after you all, and was full of heaviness, because that ye had heard that he had been sick.” Then Paul states that “indeed he was sick nigh unto death”, and later “because for the work of Christ he was nigh unto death”.
In examining this text the “faith preachers” will usually point to the fact that Paul states in verse 27 that “God had mercy on him”, with their logic being that ultimately God healed him*. Doubtlessly, that is what Paul is referring to. However, we need to be reminded that, within the context of this passage the emphasis is upon the fact that whilst Epaphroditus was in the service of Christ he was sick near unto death.
For the “faith preachers” this passage can only be explained by stating that Epaphroditus must have had a breakdown in his faith in order for sickness to come upon him, and that he was consequently healed because of his faith.
Do we know that this was the case? No! Such a conclusion is purely eisegetical in nature, requiring the reader to input their presupposition into the text; i.e. Epahproditus was sick because of lack of faith, and continued to be sick until he was healed through his faith.
Exegesis would demand that we examine the passage to see what scripture specifically says did happen. What we do know is that God had mercy on him! That is what scripture reveals. Did Epaphroditus and Paul pray for God to heal him? It is reasonable to assume they did, however, the fact is that Paul looked upon the healing of Epaphroditus as being God’s mercy. Rather than seeing his healing as some kind of right that Epaphroditus was able to claim, Paul saw it as being mercy. Mercy can be understood to mean that people do not get what they deserve. This is definitely an interesting use of language on Paul’s part as he describes the scenario.
Finally, aside from Paul’s own ailment that he described as being allowed to persist in his body so as to keep him from pride, Paul also mentions another labourer, Trophimus, whom he left at Miletum, sick. Clearly, Paul was not surprised by the existence of physical ailments among those who belong to the household of faith. My personal conviction concerning those who are brethren and have become ill is that we continue to pray for God to show mercy in healing them, whilst waiting on clear direction from God concerning the presence of such ailments.
Lionel Letcher Pastor
- Just another thought to ponder; though we see that God had mercy on Epaphroditus, the passage does not clearly state that he was healed. He may have been strengthened to function in/through his malady. The fact that he was able to travel to the Philippians was an indication of a degree of healing.