MYTHBUSTER: Are Christians required to visit the sick?
ReligiouslyIncorrect.org—Uniting Bible believing Christians worldwide
HYPOTHESIS:
"The Bible commands Christians to visit the sick. However, the word 'visit' means only to 'tend to physical needs.' Therefore, if a Brother or Sister is hospitalized (or recovering at home), it's not necessary for me to visit him/her in person—so long as I know his/her physical needs are being met."

ANALYSIS

Please consider the following verses:
Then He [Jesus] will also say to those on His left, "Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry, and you gave Me nothing to eat...sick, and in prison, and you did not visit Me..."
Then they themselves also will answer, "Lord, when did we see You hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not take care of You?"
Then He will answer them, "Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me."
These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.

(Matthew 25:43-46)
Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.
(James 1:27)
The Greek word for "visit" in these passages is episkeptomai (transliterated). That word means (per Strong's Lexicon, paraphrasing):

"To look upon or after, to inspect, examine with the eyes, in order to: (a) see how he is; or (b) to look upon in order to help or to benefit..."

From this definition, it is clear that "visiting" ALWAYS includes a physical inspection of the situation, for the purpose of determining how your help is needed. In some cases, physical assistance will be needed (even if he/she is in the hospital, by the way). Often, all a person needs may be spiritual encouragement and comfort.

In some cases, it may not be obvious what a sick person's needs are (if he / she is already being cared for physically), and perhaps it's always good to ask how you can help (either physically or spiritually).

However, in every case, a physical "visit" is involved (see again definition above). Please note also that "showing concern during the visit" is also implied in some translations.



Other passages using the same Greek word for "visit" (episkeptomai)

The following passages use the exact same Greek word, and help provide an idea of how Bible writers use the word episkeptomai:
But when he was approaching the age of forty, it entered his mind to visit his brethren, the sons of Israel.
(Acts 7:23)
After some days Paul said to Barnabas, 'Let us return and visit the brethren in every city in which we proclaimed the word of the Lord, and see how they are.'
(Acts 15:36)


CONCLUSION

An examination of the word episkeptomai—along with observing how Greek-English translators translated the word—reveals that the assumption "we need only tend to the physical needs of Brothers and Sisters" is false.

In every case, a physical visit of spiritual support is implied, I believe; and (as mentioned), if after visiting, it is observed there are other needs—then the church must attempt to supply those needs as well.

Of course, some hospital stays are so brief it is impossible to visit before a person is discharged, and the Brother or Sister is never really confined to his/her bed. But when confinement becomes more significant, the Biblical command to "visit" comes into effect, provided we ourselves are able.



An oft-forgotten responsibility of Christians: Spiritual support

Many Christians forget that the Kingdom of Christ is a spiritual kingdom. Our primary battle is on a spiritual battlefield. That means healing and saving of spirit are among our primary responsibilities.

Providing a true "spiritual family," a "support group" if you will, is essential.

Jesus said: "My Kingdom is not of this world..." Paul said that "flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God..." and "our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against...the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil..." and therefore we must "put on the full [spiritual] armor of God..." etc (See: John 18:36; 1 Cor 15:50; Eph 6:12,13).

Clearly, the Kingdom in which we reside is SPIRITUAL.

That's not to leave the impression that we need not supply physical aid when necessary. The spirit of man controls his flesh; however, the main battleground of the universe is in the spiritual realm, and therefore the main charge of the church is of spiritual nature. This should never be forgotten.

What does that mean?

It means that we must be actively providing all types of spiritual aid to others: spiritual teaching, encouraging, rebuking, comforting, strengthening, and so forth.

Please note that "encouraging and comforting" are critical, continual responsibilities of Christians.

I believe spiritual encouragement is one of the most neglected responsibilities in our churches. Christians are commanded to "encourage one another" when they assemble (Hebrews 10:25). When not assembling, we are commanded to "encourage one another daily..." (Hebrews 3:13; see also 1 Thess 5:11). So, be continually encouraging your brothers and sisters spiritually with meaningful words from God's Spirit of Truth.

Likewise, spiritual comfort is another similarly neglected responsibility. Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 1 that all comfort flows from God, and from there to us, and subsequently to others as well. In 2 Corinthians 7, he continued by showing how the Corinthians had comforted him, and he in turn comforted them.

The Bible also said: "Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep..." (Romans 12:15).

These responsibilities clearly come into play when it comes to visiting the sick, widows, orphans, and elderly (more on this in the next part of this series).







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