By Pastor Glenn Pease
A farmers son, who was about to begin his studies at medical school said, "Dad, when I get to be a doctor, I think I'll specialize in obstetrics." The old man shook his head and responded, "Likely you'll be just wasting your time son. Chances are, soon as you begin making money at it, somebody else'll find a cure for it." Ignorance can be the basis for a lot of humor. A pastor was once visiting an elderly woman in a nursing home, and as he talked to her he noticed a dish of peanuts on the stand by her bed. As he talked, he helped himself to the peanuts. After a while he noticed he had eaten a good share of them and he apologized. The old woman said it was all right because she didn't like peanuts anyway. The pastor was surprised and asked, "Why then do you have them sitting here on your stand?" She replied, "I just like to suck the chocolate off them." Ignorance can be bliss, but revelation can be gross.
Ignorance can be funny, but it is no fun when people risk their own health and that of others out of ignorance. Ignorance is probably the number one enemy of health in this world. Medical missions has been a major part of the churches mission to the world because pagan darkness leads people into so many practices that destroy them body, mind, and soul. The Christian world has compassion for the whole man, and so with the light of the Gospel goes the light of the knowledge to bring good health. In our advance Western culture we have overcome most of the problems of pagan ignorance, but ignorance is still alive and well.
Back in 1928 women were working for the US Radium Corporation painting radium on various articles like luminous clock dials. They were instructed to moisten the brush in their mouth. They became ill, and one even reported that her hair glowed in the dark. Their health was damaged by ignorance, and we all know of the modern problem with asbestos and chemicals of all kinds. There is no way to know just how devastating human ignorance is to the health of human lives. What we don't know is hurting us all the time. But what we do know is helping us constantly to overcome the ignorance that hurts us, and experience the health God intends for us to have.
Feeling good is a good feeling and a feeling that God's Word says is good. Here in the shortest book of the New Testament, with only 219 Greek words, and one of these words is health. It is the same word Dr. Luke uses in Luke 5:31 where he quotes Jesus saying, "These that are whole need not a physician." To be whole is to be healthy, and when you are healthy you don't need the doctor. The implication is that when you are not whole or healthy you do need the doctor. Jesus, therefore, puts His stamp of approval on the ambivalent feelings we have toward doctors. The poet put it-
When I am well and feeling fine,
And not a pain or ache is mine,
I brand the Doc the King of ills,
And laugh at all his sugar pills.
There is no merit, I contend,
In any dose you recommend.
Your punk advise is but a joke,
Designed to keep the people broke.
But when I'm sick and full of aches,
And get the shivers and the shakes,
Or when my stomach starts to rock,
I call upon my friend the Doc.
I praise him then and think him great,
And take his doses by the crate,
Until I'm fully cured--and then-
I tell him he is a joke again.
We are glad they are there, but we hope and pray we don't need them, , for not needing them means we are feeling fine, and this is the way we should want to feel. It is the way John wants his friend Gaius to feel, and in wanting that he shows us-
THE CHRISTIAN ATTITUDE TOWARDS HEALTH.
It is an attitude of admiration. It is the ideal state of life, and is the state in which God created Adam and Eve, and the state of the risen and glorified humanity of Jesus. It is the state of perfect health that is the goal of God for man. It is perfectly natural then that John would pray for his friend to enjoy good health. That is the one goal of life that all men have in common. Feeling fine is a fine feeling, and nobody doesn't like feeling fine. Adam was made so healthy that even after the fall he lived to the age of 930. His son Seth lived to 912, and five generations later Methuselah lived to 969 and Noah to 950. Then came a sudden change, for Noah's son Shem lived only to 600 and his grandson only to 438. Two generations later it was down to 239, and by the time of David people lived under 100 years old, where it has been for 3000 years. It took centuries of human folly, sin, and pollution to destroy the health of man's body. It is one of God's greatest gifts.
Ben Johnson wrote, "Oh health! Health! The blessing of the rich! The riches of the poor! Who can buy thee at too dear a rate since there is no enjoying the world without thee." God's will is that we be healthy, for health is essential, not only for fun, play, and all the pleasures of life that God desires us to enjoy, but it is also essential for our service to Him. Jesus by His many miracles of healing demonstrated that sickness is an enemy, and that health is our friend.
John shows a concern for his friends health right from the start. It was a common way to greet people in the ancient world, and it still is today. We meet people all the time and ask them, "How are you?" We do not want a medical report, but it is still an expression that shows an interest in how people feel. Hello is the same thing. It comes from the old Saxon word from which we get words like hale and whole which are terms for health. Hello then is an abbreviation for how are you. So all through history it has been a friends role to be concerned about health.
Jesus did not exalt health to the level of life's highest goal. There were plenty of healthy Pharisees and Saducees. Nine of the ten lepers He healed did not even come back to thank Him. They did not get the best Jesus had to give by receiving their health back. Health was far from the ultimate value of life. Locke was wrong when he said, "A sound mind in a sound body, is a short but full description of a happy state in this world." He left out the third leg of the tripod which was number one with Jesus, and that is a healthy relationship to God.
Jesus had compassion on those who had sick bodies and minds. He healed them as a demonstration of God's power and love, but his goal was always that men see that the kingdom of God had come, and to get into a right relationship to God. Healing was a sign of God's love. It was a step in the right direction, but healing and health were only temporal values, and unless they led to repentance, and to surrender to God, they fell short of the goal of an eternal relationship with the heavenly Father. Good health only lasts a lifetime, but one's relationship to God is forever. Health is good but not the best thing there is. Sickness is bad, but it cannot rob man of the best. One can lose health and still have an eternal relationship with the Father.
The ideal, of course, is to get it all together and enjoy wholeness on all levels of body, mind, and soul. Those who achieve the third level of soundness of soul, because of their trust in Jesus as Savior, will achieve the other two for all eternity. But those who strive only for level one and two and neglect the third, will have their health only for a short while, but lose total health forever. John is happy that Gaius is in good health even as all goes well with his soul, and he goes on to delight in his soul health, which is demonstrated by his walking in truth and being faithful in love.
Paul also stresses the relative value of bodily care as compared to the absolute value of soul care. He recognizes the good is less than the best. In I Tim. 4:8 he writes, "For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come." In other words, do not exalt health and body above health of soul. The Christian with a weak body in time will have just as perfect of body in eternity as those who have good bodies now, but the Christian who neglects his soul will not be as well off for eternity as the mature Christian who is always growing in grace and in knowledge. The differences in heaven will not be based on the physical, for all will be equally like Christ in their glorified bodies. The difference will be in the degree to which they expanded their souls by developing their gifts and exercising them in a life of service.
This leads to the conclusion that the very healthy Christian who does not use his health for the glory of God is no match for the sick Christian who does use his sick body for the glory of God. It is possible to have a sick body and mind, and a healthy soul. The wise choice is always to go for the healthy soul, for that is a choice that is always open by the grace of God. You may not have the choice to be healthy in body and mind. When the choice is there, the Christian is to always chose health on every level. It is always right and wise as long as by doing so one does not damage his relationship to God.
All of this is to say, the Christian attitude is that health is a precious value on all levels. The Christian is to always be pro-health in prevention, education, and in ministries of health care. Some great Christians have made grave mistakes in this area. Timothy Dwight was born in 1752 and he became a great preacher and the president of Yale. He felt that he did not have to obey the laws of health like lesser men. He allowed himself only four hours of sleep a day. He had no exercise and no fun. He was a brilliant man, but also very foolish. He had a total collapse and almost lost his eyesight. By being forced to rest and exercise properly he did recover, but with scars and weakness the rest of his life. He fell for the angelic fallacy which says, if you are spiritual enough you do not need to obey physical laws.
One of the first things the Christian needs to do in developing a proper attitude toward health is recognize his or her limitations. Christians make most of their mistakes in the realm of health by neglecting the reality of their limitations. They say God can do anything, and then assume by this that this means they can do anything. Jesus did not think that way. He recognized His human limitations and sought to get away from the constant press of the crowds. He needed rest and sleep or He would hurt His own health. Jesus had a balance between labor and leisure. He got exhausted, but He also got away, and one occasion He even slept in a great storm. Jesus lived with the laws that limited his human body and mind. To think we can neglect them is not being people of great faith, but of great folly.
Some of the great Christians of history have fallen prey to what Dr. Bob Smith called the angelic fallacy. It is the delusion that we do not have to live on the level of the laws of nature that determine health. We can live like angels who have no such limitations. Many Christians have lost physical and mental health by thinking they can neglect a good nights sleep. F. W. Robertson, a great English preacher who made the two point sermon famous, was a victim of the angelic fallacy. He burned the candle at both ends. He thought he could labor for the Lord without rest or exercise. It does work for awhile, and so people think they are getting by with it. This supports their delusion and they feel invincible. But then it caught up with him, and he was plunged into a pit of depression. This threw a fear into him and he tried to change. He began to walk and take time to relax, but it was too late. He was an old man in his 30's, and at 36 his candle went out. One of the best minds
for exalting the Word of God, but he only lived half a life because he neglected his health.
A soldier may lose his health, and even his life, in the service of his country, and a soldier of the cross may do the same for the kingdom of God, but when God's will does not call for such a sacrifice, to give it up because of faulty judgment or preventable ignorance, is not pleasing to God nor beneficial to man. The Christian ideal is exemplified by John Wesley. He preached 42,000 sermons and wrote 200 works, and started a movement that will last until Jesus comes again. He ate well and exercised regularly. He never missed a good sleep a day of his life. His excellent health enabled him to preach twice a day even in his 80's. Had he broken his health we might never have heard of Wesley or Methodism. He labored hard, but he also balanced his life with rest.
Every person has a breaking point just as does every fuse. You cannot say I'll trust the Lord and plug in the washer, dryer, toaster, iron, and electric heater in the same socket. You may trust the Lord, but obviously the Lord can't trust you to use common sense. Burn out comes to Christians when they overload their system. It is not necessarily that they are doing too much, or doing the same thing for too long. The problem is lack of balance. The heart of the matter can be seen in the heart itself. This wonder that we all carry around with us is designed as a perfect balance of work and rest. It beats an average of 72 times every minute of your life. You might think that is a good illustration of a workaholic, but not so. It rests a total of 8 hours a day. The upper part works first, and then the lower part, and then the whole heart takes a rest. It rests one third of the time, and that balance of labor and rest makes it the wonder it is.
Health is a matter of balance of labor and rest. Add to this a balanced diet of a variety of foods. Variety is the spice of life, and that is why God gave us such a variety of foods. The greater your variety in foods, the more likelihood you have in getting all that your body needs. People who eat only a few of the same things, and do only a few of the same things are risking their health. Health is promoted by variety in activities as well as food. The life of constant new discoveries will be the healthiest life for body, mind, and soul. Health includes having old treasures and new pleasures.
None of this is to imply that unhealthy Christians have no role in God's plan. Sick Christians have changed the course of history many times. Kagawa of Japan had TB in both lungs, plus heart and liver trouble. He once saw a doctor who wrote out a death certificate instead of a prescription. This frail little man, always on his last leg, built one thousand churches, wrote 60 books, and became one the worlds most influential evangelist and theologian. Don't knock the sick saints, for God uses them often for His glory.
Jesus was the Great Physician, but we sometimes fail to see He also entered into the feelings of the patient, and felt the need for care and healing. After His temptation the angels came to minister to Him. He needed to be nursed and comforted back to strength and health. He became so exhausted sometimes that He had to get away from the crowds to rest. On one occasion He was so tired He slept even as the ship was being tossed by the storm. He loved to slip away to the home of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus to find refreshment and rest. He needed the comfort of companionship as He struggled in the Garden of Gethsemane.
We do not know if Jesus ever had any childhood diseases, or whether He ever got the flu, or a stomach ache and headache. But Jesus did identify with the sickness of humanity when He said in Matt. 25:35-36, "I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was imprisoned and you came to visit me." When the righteous ask, "When did we ever see you in these states?" He said, "As you have done it unto the least of these my brethren you have done it unto me." Jesus is saying that healing and caring for the sick is a ministry to Him. When you bring healing and health to the body of Christ, the church, you bring health to Him.
This picture exults healing to the highest level of spirituality, for it is a ministering to Jesus Himself, and that is why Jesus can use it as a gauge for judgment. The person who does not care about the physical needs of others does not care about them at all, and this means there is no true love or spirituality. If you love people's souls, but not their bodies, Jesus is saying your love is a fiction of fantasy that will vanish as evidence in the court of judgment. You love the whole man, or you do not love the man at all.
We need to recognize that secondary things are still vital because the primary things depend on the secondary for their fulfillment. It is like the first commandment of loving God with all your being, and loving your neighbor as yourself. So the love of others is secondary to the love of God, but since you cannot really love God with all your being if you do not love you neighbor, the secondary is essential to the fulfillment of the primary. In a race the primary goal is to win. It would be foolish to say my primary goal is to get my shoe laces tied. But the fact is, if I don't get the shoes tied right, it is not likely I will win the race. Lesser values and secondary objectives are still essential when the primary goal depends upon them. The secondary, therefore, is often part of the primary, and what this paradox means is that anything in life that is an aid to the highest value is itself a part of the highest value.
Health of body is a vital factor in health of soul, and the fulfillment of God's will for our life. Therefore, even though it is secondary to health of soul, it is a part of having a healthy soul, and so it is of prime importance. There is no excuse for neglecting a value because it cannot be exulted to the highest value. Nobody will claim that the bolt in the bottom of your oil pan is the most important part of your car. But leave it out and drive that car, and soon all of the most important parts will not be worth anything, for this secondary part is vital to the functioning of the primary parts. Secondary does not mean unimportant, and so it is with health. It may not be life's ultimate goal to be healthy of body, but it is, nevertheless, a Christian obligation to do all he can to protect the health of his body. The Bible makes it clear that health is important. Prov. 3:8 says, "This will bring health to your body and nourishment to your bones." Prov. 4:22 says, "For they are life to those who find them and health to a man's whole body." Prov. 15:30 says, "A cheerful look brings joy to the heart, and good news gives health to the bones."
What John is expressing in this letter to his friend Gaius is that the Christian attitude is one of respect for the total man. Holistic medicine is thought to be new, but the fact is, modern man is just getting back to the future. Plato centuries before Christ said, "This is the great error of our day in the treatment of the human body that physicians separate the soul from the body." Modern man is discovering that this has been a great error. Leonard Shattuck wrote, "Sometimes it is more important to know what kind of a fellah has a germ than what kind of a germ has a fellah." What kind of a fellah one is not only determines his own health, but the health of others in his environment. Health is not only a personal matter and a spiritual matter, it is also a social matter. Your health, or the lack of it, can help or hinder the health of others. John expresses joy because his friend is in good health. When someone you love feels good, you feel good because of it. Health has a contagious influence.
On the other hand, there is Diotrephes who is a pain in the body of Christ. His pride and soul sickness is not confined to his own hide, but spreads into the body and causes the whole body to suffer. His unloving spirit infects the whole body, and other Christians have to endure pain because he is ill. The sick Christian seldom suffers alone, but makes other Christian sick also. The sick person may not even suffer as much as those he infects. A person like Diotrephes who is so arrogant in his abuse of power may actually enjoy their role and feel fine while they are hurting others. The bacteria that makes you sick does not feel sick itself. It feels great while making you sick.
John Sanford in Healing And Wholeness tells about how Richard Speck had no feelings about the eight nurses he killed. He writes, "Obviously the illness in this man is not something he experiences as his personal pain....but is to be seen in those on whom his illness is inflicted." None of us want to be linked with illness like this, but all of us have this problem to some degree. None of us is in perfect health of the total man. Sin has infected us all, and we fall short of the glory of God. The result is a world full of psychological Typhoid Marys. I am referring to people who are not aware of it, because they don't feel ill themselves, but who by their attitudes and spirit make others feel ill. That is why healing is of the very essence of the Christian life.
C. L. Marshall in his book Dynamics of Health and Disease arrives at an interesting conclusion. "A person can be ill and well simultaneously....Millions of Americans whose blood pressure is too high or whose blood sugar is abnormally elevated function without any difficulty whatever.....Health and disease are not opposites-both may coexist in the same person." This leads to the paradox of the danger of feeling fine. Your feelings may not reflect the true state of your health. You can't go by how you feel, but need the judgment of others. Diotrephes probably felt fine, but he was sick and needed to listen to John and other Christians if he was to get well. The question is not only do you feel fine, but do others feel fine about you.
Why do we come to church and sit on furniture no where near as comfortable as what we have at home? We come to experience healing. The healing of truth from God's Word that enlightens our ignorance so we can better know God. The healing of His forgiveness, and the healing of fellowship, and the healing of belonging, and the healing of music are all a part of why we come. Everything we do aids the health of body, mind and soul. It all ties in to the two great commandments of loving God with your whole being and your neighbor as yourself. Fulfillment of these great loves demands that the Christian aim for, labor for, and pray for a body, mind, and soul that work in harmony so that one of the primary feelings you feel in life is the feeling of feeling fine.