The Ministry of a Shepherd: Is there no balm in Gilead?

Editor’s Note: This is the fourth in a series on the The Ministry of a Shepherd from Ezekiel 34.

February is the month we like to talk about love. Valentines are written, gifts are exchanged, and vows are made. It is estimated that this year 36 million heart-shaped boxes of candy will be sold, 50 million roses will be given, 1 billion cards will be sent, and 8 billion candy hearts will be produced.

Just as love will lead some to make promises in sickness or in health, in ministry, love instructs us to serve in sickness and in health. Oftentimes, we minister in both of those arenas simultaneously. But while the temptation may be to limit our attention to the healthy, Jesus reminded us that it is not those who are whole who need a physician; it is those who are sick.

The term “curate” to describe the pastoral office has fallen out of common use. However, it aptly describes one of God’s intended functions of His shepherds. A curate is one who cures or cares for souls. Even a cursory reading of the New Testament reveals how the crowds thronged to Jesus; some to hear, many to be healed. Then, in Luke 10:9, when Jesus sent out His disciples, He instructed them to heal the sick and to tell them that the Kingdom of God had come near. In one sense, they would know that the Kingdom of God had come near because of their care for the sick.

Indeed, if people who are sick cannot turn to the church, where can they turn? I’ve often said in church work, you never know how much you need the church until you need the church. The servant of the Lord must be both preacher and physician. In ministry, we encounter people with wounds medical doctors can’t see and with sicknesses that Obamacare cannot cover.

In ministry, we encounter people with wounds medical doctors can’t see and with sicknesses that Obamacare cannot cover.

But few things are worse to see in life than something or someone not carrying out the function for which they exist. Like clouds that never rain, ministers who cannot heal perpetuate the unfulfilled anticipation of those who have sought but have not found.

Hear the somber cadence of our Lord’s words to those on His left, “I was sick … and you did not visit me.”

One of God’s indictments against His shepherds in Ezek. 34:4 was that they had not healed the sick. To be sure, not all who are sick suffer from the same maladies, nor will one treatment be universally effective. Some may be sick physically; others spiritually. Some will suffer diseases of conviction; others of a wounded heart. Some will be infirmed from bereavement; others from estrangement. Thus, the shepherd must be widely familiar with the science of spiritual therapeutics, understanding that the Lord grants grace at the bedside as well as in the pulpit.

Healing may come through your comfort, counsel, and care, or perhaps merely through your presence. The type of care required depends on the nature of the condition. The faithful shepherd understands the sicknesses of the sheep and dedicates his life to finding the cure.

I must admit, I have been confused over the years by those who have claimed to have the gift of physical healing. If a person truly has the ability to heal, why don’t they go to the hospital and exercise their gift? In fact, why would sickness exist at all? They must either be presuming upon the omniscience of God, too callous to meet people’s needs, too careless to see them, deceived, or deceptive. Paul defines the gift of healing as a manifestation of the Spirit of God, making brash claims upon His power merely pious presumption. Nevertheless, God may reveal Himself through your presence; He may bring physical healing through your intercession; He may provide through your benevolence; or He may sustain through your labor.

To be sure, as believers, we know that the only true healing is through the act of God in Christ and only fully realized upon His return. Yet God expects that His servants will be agents of healing; to avail themselves of the spiritual power He extends to them to render aid to whatever ailments we may encounter.

The old Hymn confidently asserts, “There is a balm in Gilead to make the wounded whole. There is a balm in Gilead to heal the sin-sick soul.”

May we see the fulfillment of James’ counsel that if anyone is sick, they would call the elders, rather than the shocking reality our Lord described in Jeremiah’s day of a people known for healing in whom no balm was found.