"Good fences make good neighbors" is a famous line from Robert Frost's poem "Mending Wall." In it two neighbors walk the stony fence line in the spring putting back the rocks that have fallen over the winter. One is thinking that, "Before I built a wall I’d ask to know/What I was walling in or walling out," and mentions to his neighbor that they really don't need a fence between them. But the other automatically quotes his father who always said, "Good fences make good neighbors."
The latter part of Ephesians 2 concerns the breaking down of the wall between Jews and Gentiles who have become Christians. The wall has been broken down by Christ who has made the two into one in him thus bringing peace. The Christian world today is no longer broken down into Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians, but, nevertheless, we have lines or fences that divide us. Today we have political fences, cultural fences, economic fences, racial fences and theological fences.
But we Christians are not a people of fences. We are a people of unity. Paul says, we are "no longer foreigners and aliens" because we are all citizens of God's Kingdom, members of God's household. We are individually members and corporately members. We are individually houses or temples of God and we are corporately one house or temple of God. There is no room for a fence.
For Reflection: Jesus died for unity, reconciliation and forgiveness. What fences have I erected with other Christians? What am I walling in or walling out? What am I doing to tear down my walls and the walls in the world today?
Let us pray. Father, I thank you that through the work of Jesus we are no longer foreigners and aliens, but we are fellow citizens with all of God's people and members of God's household. We are built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus as the cornerstone. I thank you that in him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple. And I thank you that in him we are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit. (based on Ephesians 2:19-22)
We are special people in Christ. Because of God's great love for us we were brought to life in Christ even though we were dead in sin. That's quite a trade. We traded being dead in sin for being alive in Christ. God is the only one who can bring us from death to life. Just as the Father raised Jesus from the dead and set him at his right hand in heaven, He also raised us from death and seated us in the heavenly realms with Jesus (Ephesians 2:4-6).
Is Paul conflating the present with the future? We are alive now and will be seated with Christ in heaven. Or does he say this because, since there is no time with God, we are simultaneously alive in Christ on earth and seated with him in heaven? If we look back to 1:3, Paul says the Father has "blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ." We are blessed in the heavenly realms, we are seated in the heavenly realms.
For Reflection: If we are currently blessed and seated in the heavenly realms, what does that mean?
Let us pray. Our Father, Heavenly Father, we do praise your name. You are mighty on our behalf, raising us from death to life, from earth to heaven. You keep us close to you, sitting with you. We are blessed. We are blessed.
"Lay away" is a concept that has recently returned in the United States. People give the store a partial payment for a particular item. The store puts the item away until the person has made regular payments and paid in full. Then the person takes the item home.
The apostle Paul had somewhat of the same idea when he said, "Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance. . . " (Ephesians 1:13) We have the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity, inside of us, if we believe. A deposit means we have been marked "sold" or "put on lay away." We belong to God. No one else can have us (see also 1 Corinthians 6:19).
The Holy Spirit is given to us as a down payment, a deposit. That means there is more to come. A deposit or down payment is just the beginning. How much more Holy Spirit is there to come, how many more payments will there be? We don't know, but it will be fun to find out.
A deposit can also be like making a deposit in a bank. The bank wants to get as many deposits as possible so that it can use the money to make loans on which it charges interest and so makes money. We may want to get as much Holy Spirit into us as we can so that we can use the Spirits's gifts (make loans). Using those gifts, making those loans, comes back to us for our benefit also, just like interest does for a bank.
This down payment of Holy Spirit is also a guarantee. We are guaranteed the full inheritance of children of God, the largest inheritance of all.
Let us pray. Holy Spirit, you are so generous. I love that you have been deposited within me. I love your guarantee of the full inheritance.
As a people who are away from home (God's Kingdom in Heaven) we often need encouragement to keep on with our lives, to keep on with the work God has given us to do, to keep on when things don't seem to be going according to God's plan. Paul wrote a letter of encouragement to the church in Ephesus, a community of people whom he knew well from having lived there for several years. Ironically, Paul writes to encourage them when he himself is in prison.
Paul begins by reminding them of their status as Christians. They are "blessed in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ." They were "chosen before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless. . . adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ . . . given grace freely . . . redeemed, sins forgiven . . . lavished with God's grace, wisdom and understanding" (Ephesians 1:4-8). All of this comes simply by believing in Jesus.
For reflection: Grace and blessings from God are unearned by what we do other than believing in Christ. If we find ourselves working to deserve or earn God's attention or blessings or reward, why?
Let us pray. I thank you, Father, that I am blessed in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing. I thank you that I was chosen to be holy and blameless in your sight. I thank you that you have adopted me as your child through Jesus Christ. And I thank you that you have freely given me your grace. I thank you that I am redeemed and my sins forgiven by the blood of Jesus.
We've reviewed the reasons for and against believing in divine healing. Today let us listen to some words of encouragement through song.
Another argument against healing is what's known as Paul's thorn in the flesh. The apostle Paul mentions this in his second letter to the Corinthians (2:7-10). Many people have interpreted the thorn in the flesh to be some physical illness, and argue, therefore, that if Paul was not healed of his thorn in the flesh then healing is not for all Christians.
Paul says the thorn in the flesh was given to him - God does not give us sickness because God is all good. Paul says the thorn in the flesh is a messenger from Satan - obviously not from God and Paul recognized that it was not from God. Paul then goes on to testify that he prayed, asking God to take it away, but God said "no."
There is really no indication that this is a physical illness. More likely it was a person or persons who followed him around accusing him of apostasy to the Jewish faith and leading people astray. This is similar to what Paul was doing when he was called by God. God does not remove this person(s) who constantly reminds Paul of his former life. So it is another instance of Paul suffering on behalf of the Gospel - an irritating thorn in his side rather than the 40 lashes or stoning or shipwreck that he suffered at other times.
Let us pray. Jesus, you suffered much more than we will ever have to suffer. Give us discernment and the ability to hear your voice as Paul did. Help us to know how to pray for healing and deliverance from suffering.
We have been considering arguments against healing in modern times. Another point brought up by people is the prayer of Jesus when he was in the Garden of Gethsemane. As recorded in Luke 22:42, Jesus prayed, "Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done."
Jesus was not asking if his Father was willing to heal him because Jesus was not sick. Jesus was asking if there was some other way to redeem the world other than his suffering and death. The answer to that prayer was "no", but the Father graciously sent an angel to strengthen his Son in his time of anguish.
So the idea of "if it by thy will" (to heal) is not justified by Jesus' prayer before he died. We've looked at suffering on behalf of preaching the Gospel (which Jesus certainly did) in other posts. We will come back to it again soon when we consider Paul's "thorn in the flesh".
Let's look now at the idea of "offer it up" which is another popular response to illness. Offer it up seems to mean that we are to combine our suffering with Jesus' suffering on the cross. Scripture says that Jesus died once for all. I can't imagine that he didn't get the job done or that the redemption of the world requires some suffering from me in order to be complete. Surely not.
But there is a meaning for "offer it up" that is useful. What is offered to God, or sacrificed to God, is placed on the altar. It is literally "given to God" so that the person offering it no longer owns it; it now belongs to God. If we can offer our illness to God, place it on the altar and let him have it, then the sickness is no longer ours. We are free from it.
Perhaps we are hesitant to give him our illnesses. Why would he want to take them anyway? Yet we believe that he takes our sins, which are much worse than our illnesses.
Let us pray. Christ, my Redeemer, I give you today all the things that I have been holding on to that I don't need, don't want and can't handle.
There are some arguments against healing by Christians. The first is that healing was meant for the early years of the Church in order to give weight or proof to the Gospel but it was not meant to continue and is not necessary now. (Again, I give only the briefest summary here.)
My response is that healing never completely died out in the Church and the Gospel still needs to be preached with signs and wonders. People still get sick today and seek healing. God still heals today.
The second argument is that it is not always God's will to heal. There are a couple of responses to that. If we don't know whether or not it is God's will to heal someone (and, as I pointed out before, Jesus healed everyone who came to him in faith asking for healing), why not pray until we know God's will and then pray in accord with what we have discerned of God's will? That way we are praying in accord with God's will.
God does not "put" any sickness on us; God does not make us sick. God is all good. Jesus came that we might have life to the full, abundant life (John 10:10). Nowhere does Jesus say, "My Father gave you this sickness so that you could learn ...."
Let us pray. Father, show us your will regarding healing today. Show us what it means to have life to the full, to have abundant life.
The disciples continued to heal people as they preached the Gospel after Jesus ascended into heaven. Healing and working miracles were quite common and are well documented in the Acts of the Apostles. In Acts 3 Peter and John healed a man who had been lame all of his life. The man was not asking for healing, he was begging for food or money. So there doesn't seem to be any faith present on his part. Yet Peter and John healed him anyway. This was a very public miracle because the man begged every day at the Beautiful Gate of the Temple.
Acts 5 is even more dramatic. Beginning with verse 14 we read, "More and more men and women believed in the Lord and were added to their number. As a result, people brought the sick into the streets and laid them on beds and mats so that at least Peter's shadow might fall on some of them as he passed by. Crowds gathered also from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing their sick and those tormented by evil spirits, and all of them were healed."
As with Jesus, all of them were healed. None were turned away. We could continue to heap up citations from Acts as from the Gospels. The clear fact is that the disciples continued to heal and work miracles in support of preaching the Gospel. They didn't heal people just for the sake of healing people; they healed people to show the truth of the Gospel message. And the basic Gospel message is this: Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God who became a human being, who suffered, died and rose from the dead for the forgiveness of our sins. Repent of your sins and believe this good news. Be baptized and spread the kingdom of God further.
Let us pray and meditate today on Peter's words to the High Priest and the Jewish Council: "We must obey God, not men. The God of our ancestors raised Jesus from death, after you had killed him by nailing him to a cross. God raised him to his side as Leader and Savior, to give the people of Israel the opportunity to repent and have their sins forgiven. We are witnesses to these things - we and the Holy Spirit, who is God's gift to those who obey him." (Acts 5:29-32)
I've been asked to explain why I believe so strongly in Christian healing. There are several reasons. The first, as I've pointed out before, is that Jesus healed everyone who came to him in faith asking for it. There is no record in the Scripture that he turned anyone away. Jesus said that this was part of his mission. In Luke 4:16-21 we have the occasion when Jesus was teaching in the synagogue in Nazareth, his home town. He read from Isaiah: The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has chosen me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free the oppressed and announce that the time has come when the Lord will save his people. Then Jesus proceeds to do just that in his ministry.
The second is that he told his disciples to go and do likewise. Matthew records it as (10:7-8), "Go and preach, 'The Kingdom of heaven is near!' Heal the sick, bring the dead back to life, heal those who suffer from dreaded skin diseases, and drive out demons." Luke has Jesus sending the disciples out twice. In Luke 9:1-5, Jesus sends out the 12. Giving them power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases, he sends them out to preach the Kingdom of God and to heal the sick. In Luke 10, Jesus sends out 72 more men to do the same.
The third reason is that the disciples were successful in healing people. Mark says, "So they went out and preached that people should turn away from their sins. They drove out many demons and rubbed olive oil and many sick people and healed them." (Mark 6:12-13). Luke tells us about the 12, "The disciples left and traveled through all the villages, preaching the Good News and healing people everywhere." (Luke 9:6) The 72 sent out in chapter 10 return to report (10:17), "Lord, even the demons obeyed us when we gave them a command in your name!" Then Jesus rejoices at their success and gives praise to his Father (Luke 10:18-24).
Three reasons are enough for today, but there are more.
Let us pray with Jesus today the prayer of praise upon the return of the 72 (Luke 10:21). "Father, Lord of heaven and earth! I thank you because you have shown to the unlearned what you have hidden from the wise and learned. Yes, Father, this was how you were pleased to have it happen."
I started this website and blog on May 1, 2012. I am a Catholic who has been in ministry for many years. I first developed what I would call a close relationship with Jesus in the early 1970s. Ever since then I have been praying with people for healing and other needs. It is because I have seen so many of these prayers answered that I am so bold as to offer to pray for you individually through this website and phone line.