(The following is based on a post from the Gospel Coalition. It is the subject matter we used during this week’s Zoom Bible Fellowship.)
How should we think about that guy who refuses to wear a mask or the woman who insists that we must? What if our friend thinks COVID-19 is a conspiracy? Do you want to hear my opinion about this pandemic? Why let the Governor decide whether or not we should assemble to worship?
The truth of God’s word brings clarity to how we are to live in this world amid difficulty. God’s people are to be set apart as citizens of the kingdom of God. We follow different laws and a higher code of conduct. Therefore, when Christians enter the marketplace, work, sporting event, or any other place where people gather, we are to be set apart. Our calling is to live by a heavenly standard. Therefore, the ethics of Christians are to be excellent and exceeding the culture of the world.
Excellence in Sacrifice
Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:1-2)
Our calling is to the highest standard of conduct. Being a holy sacrifice is our worship.
The church has an opportunity to model love that places the interests of others above the self. Some believe that it is unnecessary to wear a mask or to stay six feet away when assembling with other people. They think these precautions are a needless overreaction.
But even if the precautions turn out to be needless, can we not sacrifice, out of love for others who believe the precautions are necessary? Should we think of those who believe precautions are required as being silly, cowardly, or lacking in faith? The Bible says we are not to judge others because they think precautions are necessary. Even if we think these precautions are a needless overreaction, can we not sacrifice our ideal for a season, out of love for others who believe the precautions are necessary?
In the same way, some pass judgment on those who question the wisdom of the ongoing restrictions. They judge those who don’t wear a mask in public as reckless and rebellious. As believers, we need to strive to honor people with differing opinions.
Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves (Philippians 2:3)
Yes, it is challenging to continue offering online services for those who do not feel comfortable attending in person. Yes, many of us prefer not to wear masks, practice social distancing, and visit with one another on Zoom. But having a posture of putting others first and sacrificing our preferences is to be like Christ. We are to embrace the opportunity to gladly lay aside our opinions and preferences.
Excellence in Humility
Have you noticed how remarkably confident so many of us are in our views right now? The certainty of so many people of their opinions is a contagion as viral as COVID-19 itself. When did everyone become such an expert on such a wide variety of subjects (viral transmission, economic impact, political motivations, healthcare capacities, etc.)? We could all use a bit more humility, and the church should lead the way.
Imagine Christians being as vocal about the gospel as they are about politics!
When there are many words, transgression is unavoidable, But he who restrains his lips is wise. (Proverbs 10:19)
If anyone thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this man’s religion is worthless. (James 1:26)
True religion is to bridle the tongue. Ouch. I thought true religion was for me to make everyone else understand what I understand to be right. Whoops.
As much as ever before, Christians should follow the advice of scripture and speak far less on subjects for which they are ignorant. Whatever opinions we have, we need to model Christlike humility in how we react to the plans outlined by leaders (of the church, healthcare, and government), even if we do not agree with every aspect of it.
None of us should assume we have arrived at the definitive answer on how to do this well. Let us model humility by acknowledging that everything is not as obvious as it may appear. Life is full of nuances and subtleties. We are sometimes right and sometimes wrong. Not one of us is always right.
Excellence in Patience
Love is patient. (1 Corinthians 13:4)
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. (Galatians 5:22-23)
Every Christian looks forward to the day when we may reassemble. That day will come. But we should be careful not to rush it because of the inconvenience we experience. We should be cautious not to go faster than the government allows or those in our community expect.
We need to be patient with a timeline that is slower than we prefer. We need to tolerate a reopening process that will doubtless be awkward and riddled with error. Let’s endure leaders who feel the pressure of a complex situation with which there are no textbooks. And, let’s be patient with one another as we figure out new ways of living. Those not comfortable with physical assembly should be patient with those who are, and vice versa.
Let us also show patience with one another while waiting for the guy next to us to figure out that he is next in line. Let us be patient with the mom who forgot her mask at home. Let us be patient with the pastor who struggles with whether he is “live” or “not live” on the church video broadcast (Am I on? Is this working?).
Excellence in Submission
Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves. For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you will have praise from the same; for it is a minister of God to you for good. (Romans 13:1-4)
When the government tells us to sin, we do not obey. If the governor says we may no longer pray, we will pray as Daniel prayed (Daniel 6:10). If the governor tells us to bow down to a graven image, we will not worship an idol (Daniel 3:11). We need to determine when to heed authorities and when to not (Acts 4:19).
When the government tells us to protect the health and well-being of the community, we are to obey. To resist the authority of government is to resist the authority established by God. God refers to those who work in government in verse four as “deacons” (the word minister is the word we translate as deacon). To not honor government officials is to disregard God’s appointed authorities.
Excellence in Striving for Unity
Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. (Ephesians 4:1-3)
God calls us to commit to one another and the gospel of Jesus Christ. We need to be tolerant of the weaker brother and sister. We need to get off our self-righteous high horse and learn humility. We need to be patient with people and methods we do not find agreeable.
If we are to work hard at something, let us be diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. The way we live through this pandemic reflects upon our understanding of Jesus. We need to walk in a manner worthy of the gospel of GRACE (undeserved, unworthy favor).
Excellence in Encouraging
Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near. (Hebrews 10:23-25)
As we study God’s word, which tells us not to forsake the assembling of one another, let us not lose sight of the reason for assembling. Twice, the writer of Hebrews speaks of the need for us to encourage one another. We are to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, and we are to encourage one another in our faith and blessed hope. The objective of our assembling is encouragement, not assembling for assembly’s sake.
As we contemplate excellent ethics, let us be sure to help one another preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. When we hear someone complain about the authorities, let us gently and lovingly remind them of our call to submit. When others engage in opinionated discussions, let us lead in the example of being humble.
Encourage me, and I will encourage you.
Pray and ask God to help us demonstrate excellence in our manner of conducting ourselves in this time of challenge and difficulty.