Almost a month ago, I tried to answer the question, “How should we think about church right now?” That conclusion was easier to arrive at and, likely, easier to rest in than the question I am attempting to answer today: What should Christians do when and while we are being asked to stay at home and stay apart? The ongoing pandemic both changes everything about the way we answer this question and doesn’t change anything about all. Is that paradoxical enough for you?
The commands, admonitions, warnings, and promises given to us by God in the Bible are not pandemic-sensitive. Everything we are called to now, we are always called to as God’s people. Of course, there will be unique and specific applications of God’s Word in the midst of a pandemic, but there is, generally, nothing more and nothing less for us to do now compared to three months ago. There should be great comfort in that for us as Christians. When everything around us is different, neither Christ, nor discipleship of him is.
Even though nothing has been fundamentally altered in the Christian calling, it feels different because many other aspects of life have changed. That’s why I did not just ask what Christians should do, I asked what we should do right now. For these peculiar days, I will try to apply timeless truth and our consistent calling to three big changes in our daily lives. What should Christians do when we can’t go to church? What should Christians do when we can’t practice hospitality with our neighbors? And, what should Christians do when we are being ordered to stay at home as much as possible?
What Should Christians Do When We Can’t Go to Church?
Hebrews 10:25 says we should not neglect meeting together. I want to worship and fellowship with the church, but we should not right now. The writer of Hebrews lived in a world with disease, natural disasters, and other extraordinary circumstances. He knew not every member would make it to church every Sunday, but he wrote these words anyway. Their purpose is not to scold us for missing the worship service, they are written to remind us of how we are motivated to love and good works and the benefit of mutually encouraging one another. Those are the reasons given for our meetings immediately before and after the admonition not to neglect them. We can still love and encourage others even without a meeting, so do that. And, when it is safe and right for us, joyfully meet with the church again. If I have learned one thing this past month and a half, it’s how good it is to be with the family of God in the local church. I hope I never take our meetings for granted again.
What Should Christians Do When We Can’t Be with Neighbors?
Romans 12:13 puts showing hospitality at the end of a long Greek sentence (verses 9-13 are one sentence in Greek) that includes practices like loving genuinely, abhorring evil, showing honor, praying constantly, and being generous to the poor. The sentence isn’t a list, it’s a lifestyle. It shows us how to bless others, even from a safe physical distance. While people think of themselves, hoard, and plan for the worst, we should exhibit joy and offer every kind of care possible for our neighbors. Ask if you can meet any of their needs. Be safely helpful. Be neighborly. My family has had more conversations across a street or from the garage to the curb in the last month than in the previous six combined. People are hungry to see smiles, say hello, and talk together. Talk to them about the greatness of God!
What Should Christians Do When We Are Being Ordered to Stay at Home?
1 Peter 2:13 instructs Christians to be subject to governing authorities. The reason is so that people will see our conduct and glorify God. The incredible way the Apostle Peter lays this out is to say that it is actually our blood bought freedom as Christians and our declaration that God is sovereign that motivates us to live this way. This is not an argument about the virtue, correctness, or necessity of the “Stay at Home” order, it is the biblical instruction for Christians living as citizens of a nation that is not our first kingdom in a world that is not our true home. There have been and will continue to be situations where Christians must choose between the immoral laws of worldly authorities and the holy law of God, but this is not one of those times. Right now, because these orders do not contradict the commands of Scripture for Christians living in earthly nations, we should abide by the orders and guidelines.
The Bible also clearly tells Christians what glorifies God right now and at all times. He is glorified when his people are known as upstanding, exemplary members of their community, loving neighbors, and doers of good (1 Peter 2:11-17, Matthew 22:38-39, 1 Timothy 6:11-19). Christians may hold differing opinions on whether today’s measures are the correct approach, but any expression of those opinions should be toward peace, unity in the body of Christ, and love (Matthew 5:9, Ephesians 4:3, 1 Peter 3:8, John 17:20-26, 1 Corinthians 13:1, Galatians 5:22-23). The Bible is clearest on that.
Thank you so much for this thoughtful look at our current situation and how scripture still speaks into it. While the Bible, as you say, doesn’t give specific quarantine instructions, the principles that are given, when rightly understood, bring more clarity, hope and motivation to our actions as Christians. I especially love when you said: “This is not an argument about the virtue, correctness, or necessity of the “Stay at Home” order, it is the biblical instruction for Christians living as citizens of a nation that is not our first kingdom in a world that is not our true home. There have been and will continue to be situations where Christians must choose between the immoral laws of worldly authorities and the holy law of God, but this is not one of those times. Right now, because these orders do not contradict the commands of Scripture for Christians living in earthly nations, we should abide by the orders and guidelines.” There are so many things on social media, coming from Christians I know, who live in many different parts of the US, that urge all of us to use civil disobedience because they say it is our “right as Americans” to protest the Stay at Home order. I know people want to get back to their previous routines, and lives, but I am reminded when I read your wise comments, that our first loyalty is to Christ and His Church. Then we are called to encourage and help our families, neighbors and communities. There are ways to still be a part of each of those things and to act in love! Thanks for the wonderful reminders and words I’ll take into the rest of this pandemic.
Pastor Adam, Thank You for reminding us of “… biblical instruction for Christians living as citizens of a nation…and that when everything around us is different, neither Christ, nor discipleship of him is.” As you said, everything that we are called to as God’s people we are always called to, and that even though we are in a very different situation right now all the guidelines given by God haven’t changed and are not specific to just this current circumstance. I appreciate this commentary because confusion has easily set in among many as the world bombards us with ever changing regulations making some feel that they need to defy the authority God has put over us. “Christians may hold differing opinions on whether today’s measures are the correct approach, but any expression of those opinions should be toward peace, unity in the body of Christ, and love.” (PA)
After I read this I found a John Piper message that takes this even a bit further and is fantastic! I hope you will get a chance to read it. https://www.desiringgod.org/messages/obey-the-government-for-gods-sake And he has just published a book called Cronavirus and Christ which I hope to read.
I would commend the book by Piper. He very helpfully outlined a biblical way to process the current circumstance.
Thank you Pastor Adam and Cheryl. I respect and appreciate your wise words. God Bless.