My wife and I and a few friends recently met with a couple (I will call them Barry and Jane) who testified to us that several years ago, they made up their minds to read the gospels (they may have said the entire New Testament) and put into practice every commandment of Jesus, no matter how odd it might seem to people, or what the cost to them. In their reading, they noticed that Jesus healed people instead of sending them to the doctor, and so, they concluded that it is God’s will that His children not to go to a doctor or take any medicine, but trust His Son instead. Our body is God’s temple, they told us, and it is His responsibility alone to take care of it. They canceled their health insurance, threw away all their medicines, and began to trust Jesus alone to take care of their bodies “without”, as Jane said, “any back-up plan.” Jesus would heal them, or they would remain sick. And they also testified that since taking that course, they experienced a number of remarkable healings, and their overall health improved.
Their testimonies challenged me to examine myself, to make certain that I look to Jesus when I need healing, rather than thoughtlessly resort to medicines. I told them that I loved their faith and zeal and that I believed their testimonies held some benefit for me and my congregation. At the same time, however, I sensed that the Spirit did not agree with their teaching and that the course they had taken was not the way of true holiness, and I gently suggested to them that in time, Jesus would temper their views on medicine. To that, Jane sweetly responded, “I hope not.” In other words, as I took it, she was so blessed and happy with the results of her decision to trust Christ to heal them, with no “back-up plan”, that she hoped things would never change.
After our visit, certain brothers and sisters who were aware that Barry and Jane were visiting us wanted updates concerning our visit, but the Lord would not give me anything to say. To some of their inquiries, I responded that I just felt to be quiet and that time would tell if Jesus will unite us in faith. I am thankful for those saints’ interest in our visitors, but I am more thankful for their willingness to back off and give me time when they sensed that I could not talk about it. I was waiting, very still in my soul. I could only place my conversation with Barry and Jane at the feet of Jesus and ask him to help me know what to think and what to say. I could not completely throw away what they had said, but neither could I follow them in their doctrine concerning medical aid. Jesus had to show me the way.
That day passed, and then that night, with the conversation heavy on my heart. The next morning found me rehearsing in my mind the things I had heard, and still waiting on the Lord’s judgment of it all. Then, the Lord brought to my mind the very first thing Barry and Jane had told us regarding their decision to reject all medical assistance and to trust Jesus alone, live or die. The first thing was that years ago, they made up their minds to read the gospels and to obey every commandment they found, regardless of how it appeared or how it made them look. With their words echoing in my mind, the Lord spoke very sternly and said, “You [that is, you children of God on earth] are never supposed to do that!” Suddenly, I realized that I have heard similar testimonies before, and that every time someone became zealous and made up his mind to read and obey the Bible, they became over-religious and odd. Sometimes, they became very odd.
If Paul had been of such a mind as Barry and Jane, he would never have told Timothy to try drinking a little wine to help with his frequent stomach ailments. Paul was, in effect, telling Timothy to take some medicine! (Prilosec, after all, had not been invented.) One lady in our congregation said recently that she grew up in a church that taught against using medicine and doctors and that she had seen people die as a result. That is not the way of holiness; that is the way of lunacy. True holiness is not contrary to common sense; in fact, true holiness gives us common sense. The most spiritual people I have known have always been down-to-earth, sensible souls.
Some commandments of Jesus were intended for us all, such as, “Love one another the way I have loved you.” But some commandments were just for the ones to whom Jesus was speaking at the time. According to his own testimony, the TV evangelist Pat Robertson once read in the Bible that Jesus said, “Sell all that you possess, and give it to the poor, and come follow me” (Lk. 18:22). Being young in the Lord and zealous, he went home and told his wife that he was going to obey Luke 18:22. Then he sold all his furniture, etc. But do you know what he did at some point after that? He had to go buy some new furniture and replace the furniture he had foolishly sold, thinking he was obeying Jesus. Jesus didn’t tell Pat Robertson to go sell all that he possessed; he gave that commandment to the rich young ruler, and he did so for a specific purpose. For another example, during our conversation, Barry and Jane asked me if I had obeyed “the Great Commission”, which is the commandment Jesus gave his disciples to “go into all the world and preach the gospel.” But there is no such thing as “the Great Commission”, and I pointed that out to them. That is only a phrase invented by Christian leaders to pressure believers into giving money for their self-willed missionary efforts. Jesus has not commanded me to go into all the world to preach the gospel, and I am convinced he has not commanded most of the men and women who go out on some foreign mission field. I believe, instead, that they were taught, or just assumed, that Jesus’ commandment to his disciples applied to them.
Jesus suffered and died to deliver us from dependence on our understanding of the scriptures to guide us. To receive guidance written by the hands of men was the Old Testament way of learning how to serve God, but that way can never perfect or unite the saints of God. That’s why Jesus came to bring us this “new and living way”, that is, the way of being led by the Spirit from within. If what we are doing was given to us by the Spirit, then it is right. But if our deeds are the result of reading the Bible and making up our minds to do whatever it says, we are wrong. “The letter kills; but the Spirit gives life.” And it is obvious that we will never be led into eternal life by something that can only kill us. If someone insists on going that way, his life will only become more perverse with the passage of time.
I am so thankful that Jesus took away my quiet burden regarding our conversation with Barry and Jane. And when he did that, he reminded me of one of Jane’s comments and let me hear it now as he had heard it then. You may recall that I gently suggested to our visitors that Jesus would, in time, temper their absolute rejection of all medical intervention, and that Jane very sweetly responded, “I hope not.” Now, however, I saw that response as Jesus had seen it: a sweet, self-willed spirit that was determined to do things its own way. At the time, the sweetness of Jane’s tone impressed me, but Jesus warned his disciples not to judge by what we see and hear. What Jesus had taken note of was the self-will behind the sweet demeanor.
At one point in our conversation, Barry said he would start taking medicine again if I could show him just one place in the scriptures where Jesus or Paul told someone to go to a doctor. Of course, I could think of no such place. I could just point out that God sent Jesus and Paul to heal people, and they weren’t supposed to tell the sick to go somewhere else. That was the best answer I could come up with. But after Jesus spoke to me and relieved me of my burden concerning the conversation, he gave me the right answer for Barry. He let me know if Barry ever again asks me to show him one place where Jesus told someone to go to a doctor, I was to say to him, “I will show you a place where Jesus told someone to go to a doctor if you will show me just one place where he or his apostles ever told someone not to.” Jesus’ point in giving me that answer was to get me to see that Barry and Jane are not obeying any commandment of God contained in the scriptures, as they think they are. They are only doing what they claim the Bible teaches, and they can show no one a single verse that commands God’s people to take no medicine and see no doctor. And I believe that Jesus loves them enough that he will, at some point, do as I suggested he would do for them, namely, temper their extreme position against medicine. I hope that he will not have to resort to extreme measures to do that.
Believers are sometimes carried away with “winds of doctrine”, including doctrines that lead them to do things that cause them pain. The “name-it-and-claim-it” movement of the late twentieth century is an example of believers becoming strange by “standing on the word” instead of being led by the Spirit. Another such movement of that time is the “shepherdship” movement, which destroyed families and damaged many innocent, trusting souls. Both of those movements used scriptures profusely to justify their madness. Speaking of this sort of thing, Paul told the Colossians that “such things, though having an appearance of wisdom in a self-willed religion, humility, and abuse of the body, are of no value to anyone in opposing gratification of the flesh” (Col. 2:23).
God has given us all things in this life to enjoy and use, but everything in this world waxes old or is sometimes damaged, and everything God has given us will occasionally need maintenance or repair. God does not expect us to fast and pray about whether or not to put a bandaid on a cut. The possessions of a righteous man are precious, Solomon said, even his animals (Prov. 12:10, 27). Righteous people value all of God’s gifts, and they take good care of them, whether the gift be a house, a car, a pet, or a fleshly body. They sweep their porches and repair leaky roofs; they wash their cars and change the oil; they feed and nurture their animals; and they bathe their bodies and treat a damaged part. There is no more sin in changing a flat tire than there is in pouring balm on a wound.
God made His Son a sacrifice for sin to rescue us from self-willed religion, the kind of religion that Barry and Jane fell into a few years ago. Hear the word of the Lord: “You are never supposed to do that!”
Pray for our friends, Barry and Jane. We love them, but we cannot follow their example.