You might think I am referring to the miracle of the new birth in Christ Jesus. And indeed, every Christian has been and is being and shall be changed! But I am actually referring to the impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had upon us. It has changed us. Some more than others. But changed we are, every single one of us. In some ways, for good or ill, we will not emerge from this the same.
Will we ever be the same? Well, I for one, hope so. I pray the Lord allows us to put this thing behind us eventually and get back to loving Him and one another and our world with a humble, bold heart.
But friends, we must understand that God’s work of sanctification does not progress at the same pace for each and every one of us. In our church family, we have some who are farther down the road to Christlikeness. They have walked with Jesus longer. They are quicker to confess and repent. They are matured by the grace of God and able to endure more testing. And in our church family we have those who are young in the faith, and those who are young in age (being raised up in the faith but not yet born again). They are sometimes more fervent in their evangelism and excited about the new love they have in Christ and His people. Though they have little life experience, and are not deeply rooted in the gospel faith, and have not studied the Bible rigorously for decades, they still matter greatly to the life of this congregation. They may have been saved out of a life of alcoholism or drug addictions or abuse. They may have been raised in a legalistic church or family, or a libertine church or family. In other words, they bring some baggage. But we all do, right? Thus, we must “bear with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph 4:2-3).
COVID-19 has potential to either divide us, or unite us. Plain and simple. How we treat one another and view one another, and how we even disagree with one another, over the course of the next few months, will either be a tool of the enemy to divide and destroy us, or an instrument of righteousness to make us all more like our Lord and Savior. Surely, we all want the latter! We want to stand united in Christ.
Romans 14 can be very useful to us in this endeavor. I commend your in-depth study and meditation on this Chapter in weeks ahead. Let me lay out the basic argument Paul makes in sequence:
- In matters not explicitly commanded nor forbidden by Scripture, allow for freedom of conscience in Christ, and do not treat others judgmentally in these matters nor question their motives (vv. 1-12).
- Prioritize the sanctification of others and value their growth in Christ and peace in the church more than your Christian freedom (vv. 13-19).
- Do not hinder or hurt someone’s walk with Jesus in non-essential matters of opinions or preferences, and be willing to sacrifice your own preferences for the sake of others’ sanctification (vv. 20-21).
- If you argue someone over to your point of view, but in their hearts they are not fully convinced, you may well be sinning or causing them to sin, as all Christian behavior, speech and thoughts are to flow from faith, not fear or peer pressure or superior logic (vv. 22-23; see also 1 Cor 8:7-13).
Quick Application: Rather than try to force or expect everyone to agree with us on wearing masks and social distancing, we are better to simply learn each person’s preferences and then respect them, adjusting our behavior with that person accordingly. What we must not allow is a hard and fast split in our church into the “mask-wearers” v. “bare faces” or “hand-shakers” v. “smile and wavers.” This would foster a spirit of judgmentalism that would please our enemy and grieve our Lord.
Our enemy wants us to think this is all so brand new. But the Word of God says, “There is nothing new under the sun” (Eccl 1:9). The Church throughout its history has dealt with disasters, tragedies, pandemics, conspiracy theories, and myriad issues about which faithful followers of Christ can and may disagree. When persecution strikes, some pastors and believers flee. Some stay. Both may well be found faithful. When plagues come, some pastors and believers risk their lives to serve the sick at their bedsides. Others think it best to leave that task to medical professionals. Both may well be found faithful. Some believers vaccinate. Some do not. Both may well be found faithful. Some believers home school. Others do not. Both may well be found faithful.
Let us not be ignorant of our enemy’s schemes (2 Cor 2:11).