Can Physicians Be Helpful to God’s People Today?
One of our many booklets is entitled, “Sickness and Healing – What the Bible Tells Us,” and the aim of this Q&A can be likened to a trailer which is a preview, generally, for a film or book coming out in the future. However, in this case, it is for a booklet that was first published in 2004.
With the coronavirus pandemic, most people are looking to the medical profession and scientists for answers, although politicians and other leaders are also involved in the implementation of the recommendations that the scientists and the medics make. Hopefully, the people of God will have their priorities right and the last sub-heading in our booklet is, “Let God’s Will Be Done”—where it states the following:
“Whatever trials or sicknesses we have to deal with in our lives, let us ALWAYS be subject to God’s Will, giving Him the honor, praise and thanks for whatever He does for us. God created us, and He knows what is best for us. When Job was plagued with sickness, he thanked God for it, knowing that God would not have allowed it unless there was a purpose. Job did not understand that purpose for a long time, and neither might we be able to see God’s purpose clearly during a particular illness, but God knows, and that should ultimately be sufficient for us.
“Once everything in God’s plan for all of mankind has been accomplished, sickness and death will be a thing of the past. Let us always have this hope of a better future in mind when we go through trials and sicknesses, because the time will come when EVERYTHING will be different.”
On pages 18/19 of this booklet we read about those who may have a problem with the medical profession:
“While some may concede that there might be certain ‘medicines’ that can be used by sick people without constituting a lack of faith, they claim that we must never consult doctors, let alone receive treatment from them, as this would clearly mean that we place our trust in doctors, rather than in God. Yet, they don’t seem to have a problem with consulting those who profess to have knowledge regarding ‘health foods’ herbs or other ‘natural’ substances, and asking them for a ‘prescription’ of numerous vitamins or vitamin supplements.
“Then, there are those who would allow a doctor to conduct ‘repair surgery’ but they would be strongly opposed against any operation going beyond such ‘repair surgery.’ When those people are asked what they mean by ‘repair surgery,’ the answers vary and are many times dependent on the ‘need’ of the individual being asked. While they would perhaps agree that medical assistance regarding the healing of a fractured bone might be ‘repair surgery’ they would vehemently deny that ‘laser surgery’ of an impaired eye would fall into that category, until they themselves are confronted with the question of whether or not to undergo such surgery themselves.”
And there is much more to read about these issues. If you haven’t read this booklet yet, we would encourage you to do so; if you have read this, a revisiting of this material could be beneficial.
Let us review some Scriptures where physicians are mentioned.
In the Old Testament we read about physicians to heal, repair (rapha—Hebrew).
“And Joseph commanded his servants the physicians to embalm his father. So the physicians embalmed Israel.”
Physicians were not spoken of in a derogatory sense but that they were helpful in this task.
2 Chronicles 16:12
“And in the thirty-ninth year of his reign, Asa became diseased in his feet, and his malady was severe; yet in his disease he did not seek the Lord, but the physicians.”
This indicates the issue of priorities, as God must always be first!
Matthew Henry’s Commentary observes as follows:
“…his sin was that in his disease, instead of seeking to the Lord for relief, he sought to the physicians. His making use of physicians was his duty; but trusting to them, and expecting that from them which was to be had from God only, were his sin and folly.”
“But you forgers of lies, You are all worthless physicians.”
Albert Barnes Notes on the Whole Bible comments:
“Physicians of no value – The meaning is, that they had come to give him consolation, but nothing that they had said had imparted comfort. They were like physicians sent for to visit the sick, who could do nothing when they came.”
This was not saying that physicians in general were of no value but they had come as “worthless physicians”—of which there are undoubtedly some physicians who are not competent or who are of no value (consider those who perform abortions, which is against their remit /oath to preserve life).
“Is there no balm in Gilead, Is there no physician there? Why then is there no recovery For the health of the daughter of my people?”
Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible:
“Is there no balm in Gilead?…. Which was famous for it; see Genesis 37:25, or rather turpentine or rosin, a gum which drops from pine trees and the like; since balm or balsam grew on this side Jordan, near Jericho and Engedi. Is there no physician there? or surgeon, anyone that heals wounds and bruises; very probably there were many such lived in Gilead, since it was a place where proper medicines were to be got and applied: this may be understood of prophets and teachers, who, in a moral and spiritual sense, are instruments of healing of men, by showing them their evil, calling them to repentance, and directing where to go for healing or pardon of sin; namely, to Christ, the alone physician, and to his precious blood, shed for the remission of sins.”
Again, physicians are mentioned, but not condemned as such, but the spiritual application is the most important aspect here. Many other commentaries make similar observations and in Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary we read about the spiritual application of these comments:
“At length they begin to see the hand of God lifted up. And when God appears against us, everything that is against us appears formidable. As salvation only can be found in the Lord, so the present moment should be seized. Is there no medicine proper for a sick and dying kingdom? Is there no skilful, faithful hand to apply the medicine? Yes, God is able to help and to heal them. If sinners die of their wounds, their blood is upon their own heads. The blood of Christ is balm in Gilead, his Spirit is the Physician there, all-sufficient; so that the people may be healed, but will not. Thus men die unpardoned and unchanged, for they will not come to Christ to be saved.”
In the New Testament we read about physicians–a healer (iatros–Greek).
“When Jesus heard that, He said to them, ‘Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.’”
Barnes’ Notes on the Bible:
“They that be whole … – Jesus, in reply, said that the whole needed not a physician. Sick persons only needed his aid. A physician would not commonly be found with those that were in health. His proper place was among the sick. So, says he, ‘If you Pharisees are such as you think yourselves – already pure and holy – you do not need my aid. It would be of no use to you, and you would not thank me for it. With those persons who feel that they are sinners I may be useful, and there is my proper place.’ Or the expression may mean, “I came on purpose to save sinners: my business is with them. There are none righteous; and as a physician is in his proper place with the ‘sick,’ so am I with guilty and miserable sinners.”’”
Here, Jesus did not say that we should not use physicians but that the sick needed them. He was speaking in a spiritual sense as verse 13 would imply. Jesus was not condemning the use of physicians where they are needed.
Of course, Church members should seek God’s healing first for physical healing but that doesn’t rule out any help from a physician where necessary.
“When Jesus heard it, He said to them, ‘Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.’”
This is the same as in Matthew 9:12.
“…and had suffered many things from many physicians. She had spent all that she had and was no better, but rather grew worse.”
Without making any excuses for the medical profession, there are usually a few charlatans in their midst as there are in every profession, primarily because human nature exists and people are imperfect. But Christ did not condemn them, because they can be very helpful in many ways.
“He said to them, ‘You will surely say this proverb to Me, “Physician, heal yourself! Whatever we have heard done in Capernaum, do also here in Your country.”’”
Luke himself was a physician (see Colossians 4:14 where he is called the “beloved physician”) and neither Christ nor the apostle Paul, who wrote the book of Colossians, censured him in any way about his profession. The medical profession, and physicians, were not in the dock here.
Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible:
“…physician heal thyself; and which was a proverb in use with the Jews……the meaning of which is, that a man ought to look at home, and take care of himself, and of those that belonged to him; and Christ was aware that his townsmen would object this to him, that if he was the person he was said to be, and could do the miracles and cures which were ascribed to him, he ought to do something of this kind at home, among them, who were his townsmen, neighbours, relations, and acquaintance.”
“Jesus answered and said to them, ‘Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.’”
Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible:
“…they that are whole need not a physician, but they that are sick: suggesting hereby, that as such who are in good health, who are free from all diseases, wounds, bruises, and putrefying sores, stand in no need of the advice and assistance of a physician, or surgeon, but such who have either distempers or sores on their bodies; so they, the Scribes and Pharisees, who, in their own opinion, were free from the disease of sin, original and actual, and touching the righteousness of the law, were blameless, stood not in any need of him, the physician, who came to cure the maladies of the souls, as well as of the bodies of men;”
The application of Jesus’ words is both for physical and spiritual application.
“Now a woman, having a flow of blood for twelve years, who had spent all her livelihood on physicians and could not be healed by any,”
See comments on Mark 5:26 previously made about this same situation.
At present, with the coronavirus pandemic, most people around the world are looking to the medical profession and potential vaccines as a source of healing, and God never seems to be mentioned by the scientists and politicians in their pronouncements. In the UK, for example, the National Health Service (NHS) can be elevated in many people’s eyes to a god-like status. There are indeed many dedicated and hardworking people in the NHS, but it is a man-made institution with its limitations, whereas God will always do what is best for His people with His unlimited power. We know what the procedure is for members of the Church of God as we read in James 5:13-16:
“Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing psalms. Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.”
We state in our booklet “Sickness and Healing – What the Bible Tells Us” (pages 25/26) the following:
“We are not to place our faith in God’s faithful ministry, however, but we must place our faith in God. Still, God has established certain procedures, as we will see, that need to be applied and that involve His ministry, when it comes to physical, as well as spiritual healing.”
Physicians can be very helpful in advising about diet and exercise. They can bind up wounds and put a broken leg in plaster to facilitate the body’s healing process. God has put a wonderful immune system in the body and as a cut will heal, given a short time, so there are many other recuperative systems built into the human body which may only need time, not the surgeon’s knife. In other cases, the removal of a trapped nerve, or similar, may be necessary to allow the natural healing processes of the body to perform as intended.
The medical profession can be very helpful but God’s healing should always be sought first. However, we must play our part, and if there is anything that the medical profession can do to help a condition then it is not wrong to allow them to help the body function more effectively.
Lead Writer: Brian Gale (United Kingdom)