It's starting to feel old at this point. Social distance, wear a mask, stay six feet apart, meet outside, wash your hands, don't hug. Protect other people from getting sick. Protect yourself.
These circumstances have shaken us to our very foundations. Our economy, our work, our relationships have been disrupted. Our churches have closed and reopened looking far different than they had before.
What does God call followers of Jesus to in times like this? How should we respond to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic? What is the Christian response to seismic events like these?
On the night before He suffered on the cross, Jesus encouraged His disciples with these words: “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” (John 14:27, English Standard Version).
Jesus gives those who follow Him a promise of peace that is different from what the world experiences. If you have accepted Jesus’ death for the forgiveness of your sins, the reality is that you can face any challenge, suffering or loss with hope and peace. As followers of Jesus, we know the One who says of Himself that He is the Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End, the Creator of Heaven and Earth, who holds all things together by His power.
We can rest in a future that is secure because we have a relationship with God through faith in Jesus. Jesus promised His followers they didn’t have to be afraid. And those promises apply to those of us who follow Him today. God has promised that nothing can separate us from the love of God — neither death nor life, height nor depth — nothing in all creation can take from us the love and security and peace of God (Romans 8:37-39). That includes sickness, loss and even death. It includes quarantines. It includes layoffs and economic crises. As Christians, we have a basis for hope that is real and lasting.
And that hope frees us as believers to love others well.
Jesus also gave His followers a command to love others sacrificially. When asked about the greatest commandment, He answered that we are commanded to love God with all our heart, soul and mind and to love others as ourselves (Matthew 22:38-40). Jesus went so far as to say that the whole of the Old Testament depends on these two commands.
As followers of Jesus in the midst of a season of fear and anxiety, we have a unique opportunity to serve the world around us and love others well. We can love others well by following best practices and taking steps to stop the virus from spreading. But we can also love others well by continuing to be people of relationships, by not being afraid, by seeking opportunities to serve rather than trying simply to protect ourselves. As hard as it is to believe, historically, the church has grown more in seasons of hardship and persecution than in seasons of plenty.
In part, this is tied to the security we have as followers of Jesus. If we are experiencing God’s peace in the midst of fear and anxiety, it frees us up to see the needs of others and respond to them. In an environment of fear and uncertainty, being able to come alongside others — even if it has to be six feet away, over the phone, or on a Zoom call — and meet their needs with peace and calmness communicates a love that is based on something far greater than our current circumstances. It communicates hope.
In Matthew 5:14-16, Jesus tells His followers, “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (ESV).
Light is intended to be seen by others. As followers of Jesus in the midst of a pandemic, we have a unique opportunity to demonstrate that the gospel is not just words but that the love of Jesus makes a difference in how we treat people and how we face hardships.
As the coronavirus spreads, so will fear and uncertainty — and the world in which we live will cry out for reassurance and peace. We have the opportunity to live unafraid, to show others a hope that isn’t just based on wearing a mask or the development of a vaccine but that rests in a relationship with the God of the universe. We can be people of peace and love because Jesus has forgiven us our sins and transformed our lives. And as transformed people, we have a message of hope to offer.
In the midst of this uncertainty, reject the temptation to live out of fear. Be at peace. Love others well. Help keep others safe. And share the reason for the hope that you have.
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When we hold hatred in our hearts for other ethnic groups or when we refuse to love or when we think of ourselves as more valuable than other people groups, we rebel against God’s best intentions for us. This divides us and turns us against one another. Yet we are not without hope.
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