In the New Testament we find two basic approaches to healing which contrast with one another. The two approaches are generally meant for different purposes and contexts, although the demarcation between the two is not strict and there can be overlap.
In the gospels, Jesus and his disciples ministered to the infirm by exercising their authority over disease and demons.
Luke 4:32 And they were astonished at His teaching, for His word was with authority. 33 Now in the synagogue there was a man who had a spirit of an unclean demon. And he cried out with a loud voice. 35 But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be quiet, and come out of him!” And when the demon had thrown him in their midst, it came out of him and did not hurt him. 36 Then they were all amazed and spoke among themselves, saying, “What a word this is! For with authority and power He commands the unclean spirits, and they come out.” ….38 Jesus left the synagogue and went to the home of Simon. Now Simon’s mother-in-law was suffering from a high fever, and they asked Jesus to help her. 39 So he bent over her and rebuked the fever, and it left her.
Luke 9:1 When Jesus had called the Twelve together, he gave them power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases, 2 and he sent them out to preach the kingdom of God and to heal the sick. …6 So they set out and went from village to village, preaching the gospel and healing people everywhere.
Luke 10:1 After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go. …9 Heal the sick who are there and tell them, ‘The kingdom of God is near you.’
We note that the purpose for which Jesus came was to preach the gospel and proclaim the Kingdom of God to the lost. He also sent His disciples out to do the very same. The miraculous healings they performed were for the purpose of confirming the coming of the Messiah’s Kingdom as prophesied in the Old Testament. The purpose of the healings was not primarily to show God’s compassion for infirm believers. At that time there weren’t any born-believers. There was not yet any Church. The disciples were commissioned to preach the gospel to the lost, and the miracles confirmed its truth.
We may conclude that when the context of a particular ministry event is primarily evangelistic, the approach to ministering healing to the sick should be primarily based upon exercising the authority given to us over disease and demons. This approach involves issuing authoritative and forceful commands to diseases and demons in the name of Jesus Christ. The result is simply a visible demonstration of brute power that impresses the lost and can attract them to the gospel.
In contrast, the second approach to healing in the New Testament centers around prayer and the gifts of the Holy Spirit, especially the gifts of healing.
1 Corinthians 12:4 There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. …7 Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. 8 For through the Spirit is given to one a word of wisdom; and to another a word of knowledge, according to the same Spirit; 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit….
From the context of 1 Corinthians 12, we know the gifts of the Spirit are given to us for the common good, that is to build up the whole body of Christ. Thus the gifts of healing are primarily for ministering to infirm believers. The context of such ministry is not evangelistic, but simply to build up the body of Christ by alleviating the suffering of infirm believers. If the gifts of healing are in operation during the ministry, then one might simply pray and ask God to heal the person directly. The minister might wait for a word of knowledge, word of wisdom, or discernment from the Holy Spirit about the sick person before proceeding. At times there are issues or sin in the life of the sick believer that need to be addressed before God heals. This kind of gentle and probing approach toward a believer differs sharply from the approach used when we desire a demonstration of pure power to draw the lost to Christ. In the latter case, we do not usually need to know much about the infirm person or to ask him to repent of sin. Rather, a manifestation of raw power to heal is indeed what is often needed to convince the sinner to follow Christ, after which he will confess his sins. This power is the result of the active exercise of the minister’s authority over disease and demons in the form of a command, not a prayer.
The instructions for ministering to sick believers in James 5:14-16 might also fit in neatly with this approach. There we are instructed to “pray over” (however, this might not be the same as to “pray for”) the sick believer.
However, in some cases, the approach of utilizing prayer and the gifts of the Spirit do not result in healing for the believer. In such a situation the minister can unsheathe her other weapon, authority, to directly command the disease to be healed in the name of Jesus. There are cases in which prayer did not bring about the healing, but the exercise of authority did. It is good to have both weapons ready for use!