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John Calvin gives some great advice:

The greatest need which a man ever has of the spiritual doctrine of our Lord is when His hand visits him with afflictions, whether of disease or other evils, and especially at the hour of death, for then he feels more strongly than ever in his life before pressed in conscience, both by the judgment of God, to which he sees himself born to be called, and the assaults of the devil, who then uses all his efforts to beat down the poor person, and overwhelm him in confusion.

And therefore the duty of a minister is to visit the sick, and console them by the word of the Lord, showing them that all which they suffer and endure comes from the hand of God, and from his good providence, who sends nothing to believers except for their good and salvation. He will quote passages of Scripture suitable to this view.

Moreover, if he sees the sickness to be dangerous, he will give them consolation, which reaches farther, according as he sees them touched by their affliction; that is to say, if he sees them overwhelmed, with the fear of death, he will show them that it is no cause of dismay to believers, who having Jesus Christ for their guide and protector, will, by their affliction, be conducted to the life on which he has entered. By similar considerations he will remove the fear and terror which they may have of the judgment of God.

If he does not see them sufficiently oppressed and agonized by a conviction of their sins, he will declare to them the justice of God, before which they cannot stand, save through his mercy embracing Jesus Christ for their salvation.

On the contrary, seeing them afflicted in their consciences, and troubled for their offenses, he will exhibit Jesus Christ to the life, and show how in him all poor sinners who, distrusting themselves, repose in his goodness, find solace and refuge.

Moreover, a good and faithful minister will duly consider all means which it may be proper to take to console the distressed, according as he sees them affected: being guided in the whole by the word of the Lord.  Furthermore, if the minister has anything whereby he can console and give bodily relief to the afflicted poor, let him not spare, but show to all a true example of charity. (Catechism of the Church of Geneva)

In summary, then, Calvin encourages all Christians, and especially ministers, to keep several things in mind as they visit the sick.

  1. People need the gospel more than ever when they are ill.
  2. Remind the sick from the word of God that God is sovereign over their illness and has sent it for their good.
  3. If the illness is severe, comfort the sick with the sure knowledge that those who die in the Lord have nothing to fear.
  4. If the sick consider their sins to be light and trivial, teach them of the justice of God and call them to embrace the mercy of Christ.
  5. If the sick are afflicted in their consciences, help them find rest in Christ.
  6. Don’t be afraid to bring some small token of physical relief—books, flowers, balloons, games, movies, a homemade card.

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15 thoughts on “What Should We Do When We Visit the Sick?”

  1. Phillip says:

    The hand of love, grace, compassion and hope; Christ Jesus.
    Let us not forget the inspired words of James 5; from a Reformed perspective. It is in keeping with Glorifying God.

  2. Mark B. says:

    It’s interesting that praying for the sick person is not on the list. James 5:13-18

  3. David says:

    I must agree with Phillip and Mark B. When there is a command in the Bible to pray for the sick so that the Lord can heal them, why should we believe that all sickness is sent from God? Should we then also stop taking medicines when we are sick?
    Certainly God can be glorified in our lives through sickness, but he can also choose to be glorified by healing the sick.

  4. anaquaduck says:

    I have a devotion book written by Joel Nederhood. As a minister he shares how at times he had been encouraged greatly by those coping with serious illness & nearing death. He was the one that received a lesson about the grace of God & the power of the gospel transforming peoples lives.

    As a younger Christian I appreciated a visit by a minister who shared a portion of Scripture & a time of prayer before going into an operation.There were a few complications during the minor operation, thankfully the providence of God was sufficient & my mum(mom) was a great help.

    I have a good friend who is also a Christian doctor, he is great & his jokes are funny too (& he’s reformed !)

  5. concerned says:

    As to #2…however true one might feel this is — that God sent illness or affliction or sickness to a person — one might do well to simply sit with the ill or the afflicted or the sick, to listen, to brings words of comfort concerning the God that HEALS, not the God that afflicts, regardless of God’s intent in afflicting. As someone who’s wrestled with severe illness, I’ve found most comfort, faith, joy and growth hearing from others that God is my healer, that He can be trusted with my illness. Not that He’s inflicting me with it to bring about some greater good. Yes, he works all things together for the good, but does He willfully and intentionally inflict these things on us so that He might work them together? Or does He use what satan intended for evil for our good? I believe the latter. And THAT has what has helped me to trust more and grow more and extend more compassion to others.

  6. Good grief, I love Reformed guys! Their wisdom liberates me from charismatic kookiness.

    But let’s not forget that prayer for healing ought to get into the mix. It might even be the most appropriate first reaction.

    How about learning God’s purposes in sickness AFTER we spend ourselves in prayer?

  7. Mark says:

    Or we could do what Jesus did — *not* battering the poor person with over-heavy theology, *not* making God to be the cause of sickness (it can come from the devil, according to the Gospels!), and *praying* for them with confidence. God still heals! I’ve seen it in my pastoral ministry, many times, as have many other pastors and Christians.

  8. Jane says:

    Thank you. This is helpful.

  9. Phyllis says:

    I like this quote from F.B. Myers.

    “Read me something from the Bible, he whispered the day before he died, Something brave and triumphant”

    Dealing with cancer and hospitals, I know that is a message that I would treasure too.

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Kevin DeYoung

Kevin DeYoung is the senior pastor at Christ Covenant Church in Matthews, North Carolina. He is chairman of the board of The Gospel Coalition, assistant professor of systematic theology at Reformed Theological Seminary (Charlotte), and a PhD candidate at the University of Leicester. Kevin and his wife, Trisha, have seven children. You can follow him on Twitter.

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