Medicine as a Ministry
Why a ministry
Features of a medical ministry
Created in His Image
A broken body
The Sick role
The work of a Doctor
I am writing of a medicine ministry as a healing ministry practiced using medical science. Medicine is a science based on theories and concepts that are observable, reproducible and falsifiable. Healing through medicine is different from faith healing which is a miraculous act of God that can transcend the natural history of a disease. Healing through medicine is no less than faith healing. Science is a gift from God. Medicine practiced today would have been a miracle compared to medicine just 100 years ago.
Today healing only forms a small part of a church program. Most churches would have a prayer ministry which will have praying for the sick as one of its agenda. Some churches believe and practice faith healing. Others believe the age of miracles is past. Some churches and missionary groups organise medical mission trips. There are still a few Christian hospitals in the world. Medicine practiced as part of a Christian effort is woefully small compared to the number of Christian healthcare professionals. Many churches have doctors, nurses and other trained medical staff. Unfortunately many of them have separated their secular and religious obligations. Christian health care professionals have kept their skills at work because of concerns like medicolegal issues, feeling of uncertainties and uneasiness in giving advice in a non medical setting,
Hence I am writing this essay to encourage the medically trained Christian to use their skills in God’s service. This essay begins my argument for a bible based platform to practice medicine as God wants us to.
Why a ministry
Medicine is a ministry. It can be a standalone ministry but usually it complements another ministry. There are many definitions of what is a ministry. Wiki defines a ministry of a church as an activity carried out by Christians to express or spread their faith. The most important being the Great Commission. In the New Testament, ministry is a service to God and people in His name. Jesus said of his ministry that he came to serve. Matthew 20: 28 Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve.
In church , we have many ministries, Some of which are age related ie youth ministry, adult fellowship. Others have to do with church service ie worship ministry & ushering, and outreach ministries ie giving tracts & home visits.
There are many special ministry opportunities for medical professionals. A medically trained staff would be an important addition to a visitation ministry to the sick and elderly. It could be part of a need based evangelism program ( free clinics, short medical mission trips ). There are many ill among the congregation who would like to seek a simple advice or may have nagging questions about their health. For the IT savvy, internet is a good source of information but medical jargon is a big hurdle. A word of comfort; or a simple health advice on an illness from a trained professional is often an answer to a prayer to those suffering.
Medicine being a ministry,
● Makes the healing activity biblical. The education & practice of medicine is largely secular, and it carries its own philosophical ideas - termed ethics in medicine. Some of these ideas are common to the bible, some are not mentioned in the bible, and others are anti Christian. If we impose our own philosophy over or against biblical teaching, we begin to move away from God’s foundation.
● It helps set real and focused goals. It prevents us from spending time and effort on things that not part of God’s mandate. 1 Corinthians 9:26 Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air.
● It helps us to remain faithful to our calling in a medical or healing ministry
Features of a Healing Ministry
The following are short discussions of the features of a medical ministry. It is not a comprehensive list. They are what I think makes a medical ministry unique and we can d understand certain concepts. I will expand on some of these concepts in later essays
Created In His image
So God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.
Medicine / Healing begins with the understanding man (or the patient ) was created in the image of God. That is why God loves man so much, we are His children. He made us and we are like Him, and our lives are precious in His eyes.
I never really appreciated I was God’s child until I had children. I have a 8yr old girl and a 5yr old boy. I have come to realise how much my children are in my wife and my image. They bear physical resemblance to my wife and me. I remembered when my girl was born, my parents said “ She has so much hair just like when you were born”. Our friends will sometimes say my kids look like me and sometimes look like my wife. But really I think my kids look like a mixture of my wife and me. And it goes beyond the physical into behaviour and moods too. My kids have certain childhood habits which they could not have picked up from us or their friends. My girl from age 3 years liked to tickle her bolster before going to sleep. But my son does not. I remembered doing that myself when I was young. My son loves maths from 2 years old. He is quite good at mental sums just like my wife. I am terrible at mental sums. My girl loves shopping malls and would take every opportunity to follow my wife in trying new shoes. I told my wife that “ she’s just like you or maybe that’s the effect of a woman XX chromosome." Women love shoes. My son is not interested in apparels. He would look bored whenever he has to hang out with mom and sis in a shop. And like the young me, he loves Legos, cars and iPad games ( It was Nintendo Game & Watch in my days ). It’s a boy thing or the influence of the XY chromosome.
My kids share 50% genetic material from me and 50% from my wife. So they are like us in so many ways. That’s why we love them. ( See references for genetic inheritance)
Here are some things I have learnt from being a father.
God gave me children so I know His love for me goes beyond how I look or what I do.
God gave me sinful children so I know He still loves me though I sin.
God gave me sinful children who can be willful and naughty again and again, so I know how God must deal with me. By continually disciplining and loving me at the same time.
God made me a father and a doctor so I understand the relation between Genesis 1:27 and John 3:16
God cares for His people. No just in spiritual matters but in the person as a whole. So God is also concerned about our health too.
God is our Savior.
Jude 1:25. to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority
God provides for our earthly needs.
Philippians 4:19 And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.
God is a healer for our bodies.
In the Old Testament, Moses told the Israelites God will bless them if they obeyed. Exodus 23:25
In the New Testament Jesus healed the sick as a sign he is the messiah. Matthew 8:16
And in Jesus death and resurrection God has healed our spirits and body. 1 Peter 2:24
( See The Sick Role for a more detailed explanation on healing of the body )
Being a savior, provider and healer goes beyond a job for God. He wants to have a relationship with man. The gospels recorded Jesus healed the sick individually, not through mass prayers. And during the healings, at many times he provided a word to the sick or the carer, Some examples are Matthew 8:1-4, 8:5-13, 9:1-8, 9:20-22 . Jesus not only healed the sick, he formed a relationship with them and proclaimed the gospel.
When we practice medicine, it is too a one-to-one interaction with the sick and sometimes the family. The doctor – patient relationship is very powerful. We in the medical profession are in the position of trust and authority to the people we are treating. The sick are usually vulnerable and open to the healer. Jesus taught us that during the healing, we too can use our words in a powerful way to comfort the sick and bring them closer to Christ.
A broken body
Man was created with a dual nature. A physical body made from the elements of the earth and a spirit. I think the spirit is created from God’s breath. It is not a literal breath of air but something that came from or out of God into man giving man the image of God .Both body and spirit are intimately linked.
Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.
When God created Adam, there was no death. When Adam sinned, he started to grow old and then died. Not just man but animals died and creation started to decay.
Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people
Pslams 102:25-26 also repeated in Hebrew 1:10-12
In the beginning you laid the foundations of the earth,
and the heavens are the work of your hands.
They will perish, but you remain;
they will all wear out like a garment.
Like clothing you will change them
and they will be discarded.
Then when Adam sinned, God cursed the earth but not Adam. It can also be said God judged the earth. Judge can be defined as to form a conclusion about a matter. So when God makes a judgment, it is permanent.
Cursed is the ground because of you;
for dust you are
and to dust you will return.
Adam’s body was made from the earth, so when God cursed the earth, the body started to die and eventually decay into the elements that made it. Because of the body/spirit link, Adam spirit too had to be separated from God. Fortunately God did not curse / judge Adam directly otherwise Adam spirit would have no hope of salvation. Man’s spirit judgment is reserved for judgment day ( 2 Corinthians 5:10, Revelations 20:11-12).
All illness, physical or psychological or spiritual can be traced back to effects of the fall.
*On death and decay. Before the fall, man and animals don't die. Plants were created as living food for man and animals. We were all vegetarians (Genesis 1:29). So plant death does not count as death in God's definition of death. This then translates that cellular level death was also possible before the fall. And earth probably had recycling of natural resources eg water cycle. So living bodies and earth ecosystem as a whole did not decay and die. Because God sustains. Colossians 1:17
The sick role
In medicine, we expect an ill person to take on certain behaviors and are given privileges termed as the sick role.
Here is the definition of a sick role
An unconscious adoption of characteristic attitudes and behaviours by a sick individual. As a result, he or she is temporarily granted certain advantages and privileges and is relieved of particular responsibilities.
Jonas: Mosby's Dictionary of Complementary and Alternative Medicine. (c) 2005, Elsevier.”
The bible also says if a person falls sick, he should seek to be healed. The bible describes avenues for the sick.
1. Pray for oneself when sick or for others who are sick
Lord my God, I called to you for help,
and you healed me.
And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven.
2. Church elders can help
Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord.
3. Confess your sins
Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.
4. See a doctor
Jesus answered them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.
However not everyone seeking to be healed for a physical ailment will be of healed of it. Sometimes the healing is spiritual, emotional or healing of relationships. Not being healed physically should not be confused with unanswered prayers or that God’s promises are not fulfilled. For example someone who is stricken with a terminal illness prays to God and is restored in his relationship with God and his family. Sometimes to continue in suffering is God’s will for our growth. Paul’s thorn in the flesh is a classic case.
2 Corinthians 12 :7-8
Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
Nevertheless when healing does not occur, we should ask God why. Perhaps it is a trial , or maybe a hidden sin. But the sick person should not always be blamed for being cause of the illness.
An illness can a tool used by God
His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”
“Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.
The work of a Doctor
The traditional role of the doctor is to attend to the sick. Jesus recognizes that and I believe it has not changed. Luke 5:31 Today medical science has expanded the range of sickness. There are many new diseases. Some are symptomless ( hypertension, hyperlipidemia, carcinoma in situ ), some were previously no regarded as illness ( mood disorders, schizophrenia ). And doctors are also specializing in aesthetics, anti ageing medicine and alternative treatment.
It can be difficult to discuss if some of these new diagnosis and treatment are biblically correct. I myself am a family physician and I believe in preventive medicine and basic health screening. I also believe that most mental illness have a spiritual dimension. Therefore mental illness cannot be resolved using a bio-psycho-social model of treatment. There are doctors who misuse their authority. In Singapore, it is common news doctors have been caught peddling sedatives. In America, doctors have been accused of using their medical license to peddle opiates 2.
I beg every Christian doctor to examine themselves in the light of the gospel
2 Corinthians 13:5
Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves.
There are no verses in the bible describing range of services provided by a doctor. But let's look at two verses that describe the division of work between God and man
The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.
The first job of Adam was to work and take care of the Garden of Eden. How hard was Adam’s work? Not hard at all. God provided the sunlight and water; maintained the life cycles (without animal death ) of the plants and animals; maintained the running of the garden ecosystem. Adam’s work was light compared to God’s work, and it was easy and enjoyable.
Cursed is the ground because of you;
through painful toil you will eat food from it
all the days of your life.
After sin came, Adam’s work was still the same. But it became painful and Adam needed to work to sustain himself. God still provided everything else as He continues to sustain all creation - Matthew 5:44-45. As a parallel, a doctor’s work is tough. Our working conditions, patients and disease types are difficult. We often work hard to meet our own or patient’s expectations. Nevertheless what we do is very little compared to what God is doing to sustain our patient’s life. He decides whether they live or die ; get better or worse. We are often instruments to carry out God’s will in our patients. Although the God holds the fate of the patient in His hands, God also holds us accountable for our work. So we have to work hard ( painful toil ).
So let's count it as a privilege to work alongside with God to help sustain each life entrusted to us.
Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters,
As Christians we have to accept death. Because of our sins, ourselves and our patients will have to die one day.
For the wages of sin is death
a time to be born and a time to die,
Consider this Jesus raised three people from the dead. Jesus raised the widow's son at Nain (Luke 7: 7-11-17), Jairus' daughter ( Matthew 9:18-26), and Lazarus (John 11:1-44). Do you think they were raised in immortal bodies? A natural reading of the text is that these three were raised back in the old bodies, probably just without the illness that caused their deaths. They still looked the same, were of the same age and acted normally, Lazarus was so normal that the chief priests made plans to kill the resurrected Lazarus ( Jn 12:10).
To us Christians, death of our bodies and to be raised in the new body is the ultimate healing. Imagine what if we could not die but continue living in a cursed body that continue to degenerate.
Jesus said in John 12:24
unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.
I believe Jesus statement has multiple meanings. The most common meaning is we have to die to our selfish desires to order to live for Christ. I believe another meaning refers to our bodily deaths
Paul repeats this idea in 1 Corinthians regarding our resurrected bodies
1 Corinthians 15:36
How foolish! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies
And Jesus work on the cross did not just save us our spirits from hell but also we have the promise of a new body. And too would creation be saved from decay and become new again.. See Romans 8:18-23 and the new millennium in Isaiah 65:17-25.
Our last enemy in this life is our bodily death. For us who are in medicine, and have seen the dying, we will realize what a terrifying enemy death is even to the saved. King David speaks of his fear of death in Psalms 55.
1 Corinthians 15 :26
The last enemy to be destroyed is death
My heart is in anguish within me;
the terrors of death have fallen on me.
But praised be to God for Jesus has overcome death and we share in His victory.
1 Corinthians 15:54-57
When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”
1 About genes and traits.
Types of Inheritable physical traits
On Genes & Personality. The Minnesota centre for twin and family research has a wealth of research on the affects of genes.
2. The American Pain. The largest Pill mill rise and fall.
Article 1st published on 6 Apr 2013
by Benjamin Cheah
with inputs from Yap Wei Hua