Usually I don’t write blogs like this, but this one is intended specifically for Christians. It might be a little confusing for those of you friends who don’t follow Jesus and don’t know much about “church” culture.
I love the Church. With all her mess and brokenness, I still believe that God’s chosen vehicle for taking the message of Jesus into the world is His people, the Church.
However, one of the things that break my heart is seeing Christians belittle themselves or others who express their faith differently than them. It’s the same mistake that many first century followers of Jesus made, which Paul addressed in 1 Corinthians 11. In my opinion, this usually happens because of some key misunderstandings:
MISUNDERSTANDING #1: Projecting our gifts or passions on others. Almost every person with a strong gift or passion makes the mistake of judging others through the lenses of their own strengths.
We think other Christians should define their ministries in the same way we define ours. Here are some examples of how Christians with specific spiritual gifts and passions project their gift on others and expect them to define “true” ministry their way:
- Teaching-gifted people say: “ministry should be defined by Gospel-centric teaching”
- Evangelism-gifted people: “it’s all about reaching the lost”
- Tongues-gifted people: “it’s the sign that you really have the Holy Spirit”
- Healing-gifted people: “Jesus healed people, so that’s what we should all be doing”
- Deliverance-gifted people: “all believers must take authority over demons in order to do effective ministry”
- Leadership-gifted people: “the effectiveness of the Church rests in the hands of it’s leaders, so it’s all about leadership development”
- Apostle-gifted people: “Church planting is the most effective way to reach people, so we should all prioritize it.”
- Prophecy-gifted people: “the sign of spiritual maturity is hearing God and sharing that ‘word’ with others.”
- Mercy-gifted people: “Preach the Gospel, use words only when necessary. Being like Jesus is helping the poor and needy, so we should all be doing that.”
Most of those statements above have truth in them. What’s bad is thinking others should be the same as us. Even worse is diminishing other Christians who express their faith differently than us. Why not thank God for His specific grace in our lives and appreciate the difference in others?
I actually think it’s ok for local churches and individuals to fulfill their mission of spreading the Gospel in different ways. Some expand the Kingdom by being more evangelism focused, others by being healing-focused, others by focusing on solid biblical teaching.
MISUNDERSTANDING #2: Interpreting passages of Scriptures for the individual, when it’s meant for the body.
Many Christians diminish others because they believe that ALL Christians have ALL gifts (spiritual abilities). They quote verses like Mark 16:17 “And these signs will follow those who believe: they will be able to cast out demons in My name, speak with tongues… and lay their hands on the sick to heal them.”
It is true that the Church (followers of Jesus) together has every spiritual ability that Jesus had on Earth, but that does not apply to the individual (1 Corinthians 12:30). There is no ONE person like Jesus on the Earth, but we TOGETHER are Christ’s body on the Earth.
When a coach says to his basketball team, “Go and dunk the ball, make threes, block shots, steal the ball, and win this game”, he is not expecting every player to all those things. He expects them to combine their unique abilities to accomplish their mission.
This is why Paul devoted much of His teaching (1 Corinthians 12-14) to explain the way the body works. Different gifts and strengths complementing each other to accomplish the mission.
MISUNDERSTANDING #3: Assuming God’s will is always to heal and keep us from pain and suffering.
I’m really grateful for the rising emphasis on healing happening in some circles of Christianity. I think it’s needed and it is part of the Holy Spirit’s work. However, we Christians are often so bad at taking the pendulum farther than it’s meant to go.
There’s a real problem in my opinion with believing that God’s will on earth is always to keep us safe, healed, and pain-free. That would mean that Jesus and all his apostles were out of God's will most of their lives, since they were often in pain, in oppression, and suffering.
Many in the “healing-world” quote Jesus’ prayer to prove their theology: “may your will be done on earth as it is in Heaven” (Luke 11), so they say, “is there sickness in Heaven? Nope, so God’s will is for there to be no sickness or pain be on the earth also”.
Here are some problems with that assumption:
- It communicates that human choices have no impact in God’s work or will. You can eat McDonalds everyday, drink crap, make bad decisions, & God’s will be to heal you.
- It’s hypocritical unless you say God will heal every leg cut off, every eye with glasses, every cavity in your teeth, etc.
- Also, when does it end with age? In Heaven you don’t age, so is that His will on the Earth? Wrong way to interpret the passage.
The assumption that God always wants to heal, though sounds faith-filled, can be hurtful and cause deeper pain. The better approach is discernment.
- To some people healing and miracles do not propel them closer to God. Jesus himself did not do miracles when he discerned it wouldn’t help accomplish the mission of salvation.
- It makes people think they are faithless or doing something wrong, when often they are not. A mentor of mine lost his daughter to cancer and many told him she didn’t get her healing because of her lack of faith or sin in the family, which was untrue and hurtful.
Don’t misunderstand what I’m saying. God hates seeing his children in pain. He hates sickness and brokenness. God has given us authority and power to heal. I’ve seen him do it in me and through me.
However, our ultimate mission is to make disciples, not bring physical healing to people or keep people from pain. Gifts, power, miracles, and healings are a vehicle or tool for the mission of restoring others to their Creator. That’s why He would often send his followers to places where He knew they would suffer, and they did. And the Kingdom advanced. And they were right in the middle of God’s will.
Sometimes people will heal, trust, and be saved more through watching us go through trials then be healed from it. That’s the story of Paul’s life. Paul himself sometimes did not receive a healing he hoped for (2 Cor. 12:8). God said His grace is enough. All disciples ended up suffering and dying without healing.
That’s why SO MUCH of Scripture is about enduring pain, persevering through trials, and being persistent in our faith.
A BETTER APPROACH
#1 What if instead of projecting our spiritual abilities and passions on others, we honestly learned to appreciate them, even if they “seem weaker” and don’t possess our strengths?
“There are many amazing working gifts in the church, but it is the same God who energizes them all in all who have the gifts. Each believer has received a gift that manifests the Spirit’s power and presence. That gift is given for the good of the whole community… You are the body of the Anointed, the Liberating King; each and every one of you is a vital member.” 1 Corinthian 12:6-7
“The members who seem to have the weaker functions are necessary to keep the body moving; the body parts that seem less important we treat as some of the most valuable… that way there should be no division in the body; instead, all the parts mutually depend on and care for one another” 1 Corinthians 12:22-25 (The Voice)
#2 What if instead of reading the Scriptures through the eyes of “individualism”, we began to read it through a “collective” perspective?
The authority of Jesus was given to the Church, the Body of Jesus on the earth. Without other Christians you and I individually cannot be the full Jesus to the world, sorry.
"Because of the grace allotted to me, I can respectfully tell you not to think of yourselves as being more important than you are; devote your minds to sound judgment since God has assigned to each of us a measure of faith. For in the same way that one body has so many different parts, each with different functions; we, too—the many—are different parts that form one body in the Anointed One. Each one of us is joined with one another, and we become together what we could not be alone." Romans 12:3 -5 (The Voice)
To some he assigns the task of advancing God’s Kingdom by boldly evangelizing others they don’t know, others do it by teaching with great wisdom, others by doing signs and wonders through them, others do it by serving behind the scenes, others do it by living with great compassion toward those in need. Together we are stronger, let’s stop comparing.
#3 What if instead of assuming God’s will is always to heal and keep us safe, we learned to discern each situation through the lens of our mission?
Jesus is more concerned with our hearts being healed and restored to Him, then our bodies being pain-free and safe. The internal matters more than the external. The promise of external prosperity of the Old Testament was an illustration of the internal prosperity we would receive in Jesus.
He can heal, deliver, restore, save and he’ll often do it though our pain and suffering. Be God’s voice, hands, and power in people’s lives, but do it within how you are built – be happy with that, don’t belittle others, and know that together in our differences we reflect Jesus to the world.