Tuesday, May 14, 2024

Life by the Spirit in the Age of COVID-19

by Ben Hein

For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control. (2 Timothy 1:7)

The last several weeks have been a whirlwind of developments as the Coronavirus continues to spread across the globe. In just recent days, many of us in the United States have been deeply impacted as events are canceled, schools are closed, work is suspended, and stores are emptied of nearly every basic supply. Almost every church or other religious gathering in the DC-Metro area has either shut down or moved entirely online. Those who are most vulnerable: the immunosuppressed, the elderly, and those with other serious medical conditions – have to live in a heightened state of fear and precaution. My wife and I, expecting our newborn any day, can’t help but worry about how these circumstances might impact our stay and care at the hospital.

As these events unfold, I have turned to God’s Word as a source of comfort and strength. God has not left us without his voice and instruction for us during these difficult times. In particular, 2 Timothy 1:7 has been helpful for me in my own meditation and I want to share some reflections that I hope might be of benefit to you as well. Taking a posture of encouragement, we have the power to be his witnesses, the Source of love, and the ability to model self-control.

  1. Taking a Posture of Encouragement

The letter of 2 Timothy is one of two letters we have which were written by the Apostle Paul to his young protégé Timothy. Paul traveled with many younger men throughout his ministry who he loved and desired to train for the work of ministry. Timothy was a one such young pastor sent to Ephesus to build the church and spread the good news about Jesus.

It is clear in Paul’s writings that Timothy faced incredibly difficult circumstances in Ephesus. There were numerous false teachers who created opposition for Timothy, slandering him and setting up opposing factions within the church. Other church members looked down on him and did not respect him. It makes sense that Timothy – or anyone for that matter – would have been very discouraged in those circumstances.

What is remarkable throughout 1 & 2 Timothy is Paul’s encouraging words that he has for Timothy. Paul never rebukes Timothy for being discouraged, nor shames him for feeling fear. Instead, he constantly reminds and exhorts Timothy with words grounded in the gospel. Here are a few examples:

  • Not to let others look down on his youth and to be encouraged by his gifts (1 Tim. 4:11-14)
  • That he does not have a spirit of fear, cowardice or timidity (2 Tim. 1:7)
  • That he need not experience shame (2 Tim. 1:8)

We don’t know if Timothy needed constant encouragement because he was predisposed to discouragement (see 1 Corinthians 16:10-11) or if it was simply because of the difficult situation he was it. But we do know that Paul felt it was important to shower this young pastor with support, encouragement, and grace in a really difficult situation.

It’s no secret that the days ahead are going to be a very difficult situation. Many of us will be prone to fear and discouragement. It would be Christ-like of us during this time to lead with encouragement and support for others – especially for those who may be easily discouraged or fearful.

When we make light of this situation, perhaps by telling jokes or sharing memes on Facebook, we create an environment where those who are fearful or discouraged will not feel comfortable expressing themselves to others. This will only alienate the fearful, anxious, and depressed in our midst.

Many people will be making decisions based on what they believe to be best for themselves or their loved ones. These decisions may be different from the ones that we make. It is important not to shame others right now for making restrictive choices or for choosing not to go out in public. We ought to be those who encourage and strengthen others with our words.

Why? Because we know who our God is and what he has given us the power to do.

  1. We have the power to be witnesses for Christ

Paul reminded Timothy that the Spirit given to us is not one of fear but of power. Jesus said something very similar in Acts 1:

 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)

In the coming days and weeks, most of our “formal” church activity is going to be canceled. Our regular corporate worship times may be canceled or simply live streamed, and many of our smaller group ministries will also be canceled. However, just because “formal” church is going to look very different, that does not give us a reason to stop being THE church!

Christ has given us the power to be his witnesses. He knew the Coronavirus was coming. He is control. Our job now is to be more creative about what it means to be the church in these difficult times.

Whenever I have the privilege to pronounce the sending blessing in our worship service, I have reminded our congregation that the love and grace we have received from God is not just for us but for all those who are not here yet. Well, the Spirit is still at work in us even if we are not gathered together in our churches. The days ahead will give us opportunity to be Christ’s witnesses to our neighbors and friends.

Let’s get creative about how to be the church! Maybe you and your family can go on a prayer walk to stop and pray in front of houses or apartments near you and for those who live there. Get in touch with elderly or at-risk neighbors to make sure they have what they need. Host a prayer meeting on Google Hangouts and invite a friend or neighbor to join you. Who knows what God might do?

  1. The Source of love

The Spirit given to us is the Spirit of love. This is that wonderful little word agape, the first of the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22ff). Elsewhere, Paul reminds us that this love holds all things together in perfect harmony (Colossians 3:14). This love is supernatural and can only come to those who have known and received the love which can only come from God through Christ (John 17:26, 1 John 4:7-12).

Why? Because love must be selfless. It is more concerned with the needs of others than of our own. We love others for their sake, and not for ours. But this is not the natural disposition of the human heart. We need the love of God to pour into our hearts (Romans 5:5), which he has shown to us through the selfless sacrifice of his Son.

We love others because we have been loved by God, and we know that our neighbors, friends, and family are image bearers who deserve our love and respect. Our society is built on an idea that treats others as marketable goods in an economy. But as the economy slows, production stops, and jobs are suspended, we have the privilege of showing others they are loved not for what they produce but for who they are.

  1. The ability to model self-control

Finally, the Spirit given to us is one of “self-control.” This is a word that is used elsewhere which means to have sound judgment (Romans 12:3). During these trying times, we ought to be those who – more than anyone else! – can reflect a wisdom and discernment which can only be described as supernatural.

Let me be frank here. I have been shocked and discouraged by the amount of mockery, belittling, sarcasm, and cynicism which I have seen from professing Christians both in person and online. Whether that is a belittling of our governing officials, or a mockery of the seriousness of the situation, Christians ought to have no business with mockery and sarcasm. None.

It should not matter if everyone else around us is posting memes and satire making light of the Coronavirus. Lives are being lost. People are at risk. Many are without the supplies and care they need. These behaviors are not becoming of a Christian right now. They are not representative of those who ought to evidence self-control.

May we take hold of the Spirit who God has given to us to face these difficult times together!

My God, my rock, in whom I take refuge,
my shield, and the horn of my salvation,
my stronghold and my refuge,
my savior; you save me from violence.
(2 Samuel 22:3)

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