By now we have all witnessed a wild variety of our culture’s responses to the COVID-19 outbreak. I’m waiting for Facebook to be renamed “COVID-19 Opinion Repository.” Below are just a few of the responses I have seen:
- Fear: A panicked rush on toilet paper and other “essentials” has left store shelves bare. One radio talk show host even admitted that he has a “self-surgery kit” in his home, preparing for the worst.
- Compliance: Responding to local government directives, large churches canceled weekly worship services.
- Humor: Social media is full of creative postings, such as a meme of a claw-crane game containing rolls of toilet paper as the prize. I confess that I may have “shared” this.
- Contempt: This is a response I see in many of my brothers and sisters in Christ. Even appearing a bit contemptuous in scolding those who are afraid and altering their lives in contrast to their own countenance.
So, which is the correct response for Christians? As followers of Christ, how should we respond to something like the COVID-19 virus?
Where to Begin?
Each person and situation is unique, but we do have a Biblical instruction that is relevant right now. When the Apostle Paul was inspired by the Holy Spirit to write these words, he was under arrest and waiting to hear whether or not he would be executed by the Roman authorities:
5 Let your gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand. 6 Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; 7 and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4 NKJV)
This is how God wants his children to handle stressful situations–situations like the coronavirus outbreak. Allow me to pull out three points from that passage of scripture.
1 Be Considerate
Let the world see your gentle spirit. I like the way the New Living Translation states verse 5: Let everyone see that you are considerate in all you do. The Greek word translated “considerate” here means gentle, mild, suitable, or fair. This is an opportunity for us to stand out from the rest of the world – in a loving way. Mrs. Nita (a member of the church I attend) recently went to the store to purchase eggs. There were two dozen left, which she could have easily used, but she purchased one dozen and “left the other for someone else.” AMEN Mrs. Nita, that is considerate! We need not be amongst the crowd purchasing pallets of hand sanitizer and water so that “ME and MINE can make sure to have OURS.” And we definitely shouldn’t be buying in bulk so that we can sell to others and profit over this misfortune! Rather, we should always keep in mind that there are others in need. (Philippians 2:4)
Being gentle and mild with people would also imply not mocking them. We are to be bold about proclaiming our Lord, but not obnoxious. This is a good opportunity to practice that Biblical principle of “speaking the truth in love”. (Ephesians 4:15) Some have a more difficult time speaking the truth, while others struggle with the love part of that divine formula. I applaud those proclaiming their “peace that defies understanding” in this situation. But let’s try to share the gospel of God’s peace without a virtual kick to the recipient’s shin. Remember, you have nothing to boast about (Ephesians 2:9).
Let your gentleness be known to all men.
2 Fear no, Prayer yes
I think my friend Mylon Avery put it well when he said “Do not be afraid…but do not be stupid”. Living a faith-filled life does not mean we live recklessly. God wants us to be wise. If anyone claims that Christians should disregard warnings from the authorities as proof that they trust in God, I would also expect that they not take cover when a tornado is on the ground. Let us not judge the hearts of others. If you are concerned about fear in yourself or other believers, I encourage you to pray. Ask and trust God for protection, ask God for wisdom, and ask God to guide you in how to respond.
Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. (NLT) The word translated “worry” in the New Living Translation is “anxious” in other versions. It implies hand wringing or to “take thought” as one definition puts it. This is not a terror that induces a fight or flight response. This is being distracted, projecting negative scenarios, or “going to pieces.” This kind of worry does you no good, but the prayer of faith is an effective way to spend your time and energy. As you can see in the verses that follow, prayer, thanksgiving, and positive meditation are all ways God has provided to offer us His peace and the assurance of His presence. And if God leads you to minister to those infected with the virus, or to venture out in some other way, then you do so without worry. But as you pray and listen for how to respond, be a source of calm, peace, and light for those around you.
3 Make this Your Lifestyle
Of course we would be mistaken to think that what the Bible prescribes in Philippians 4 is medicine only to be applied during pandemics. This is a lifestyle to be practiced every day! Paul wraps up this body of thought in Philippians 4 with these words:
The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace will be with you. (Philippians 4:9 NKJV)
Rejoice! You are invited to give your cares to the Lord. Trust Him, don’t worry, and be thankful knowing He is present, He is love, and you are eternally His. Rather than projecting doom, focus on blessings. This is how God wants you to live because it is best for you, His child. Live like this, and you will realize that the God of peace and comfort is with you!