The week of September 11th, 2001, pastors across our nation took to their pulpits to address a populace in panic, a nation confused about the future after one of the most horrific attacks carried out on American soil.
Again we find ourselves in another unprecedented time of panic and confusion, albeit for a very different set of concerns. Yet the task is still the same. We must offer the comfort of the true Gospel of Jesus Christ!
At all times, and especially in moments like these, pastors have a responsibility to shepherd God’s Church in helpful and meaningful ways (1 Peter 5:1-4).
The task set before us is to bring about a greater focus on God and His Kingdom, over and against the sinful world and harsh realities in which we live. In doing this, we are to teach (both in word and deed) the Biblical response. That response is summed up in the phrase “walk by faith.”
But there are unique challenges in accomplishing this task, particularly in today’s online world. In a culture like ours, where there are so many voices saying so many things, the challenge is in cutting through all the noise.
We each can get online to find personalities that tell us exactly what we want to hear. We can, and often do, choose voices that simply confirm our biases. If it’s fear, we find voices to stir that fear. If it’s faith, we find voices to stir faith. However, picking and choosing biased voices leaves us unable to be corrected by the people whom God has put in place to shepherd our souls (Ephesians 4:11-12; Hebrews 13:17).
The product of a postmodern world, the attitude of the masses, is that there are no absolutes in life—we can have our own truth. When confronted with a correction from God’s Word, we resist because “we just see things differently.” If this were taken to its logical conclusion, there would be no sense in “rightly dividing the word of truth.” What would it even mean to RIGHTLY divide the Word? Better still, who gets to decide?
However, there remains an absolute and those given by God to deliver it.
With that said, here’s my promise, in this message and any other message, I will stay in my lane. I’m no expert in pandemics or disease prevention and control. Let’s listen to the CDC and other organizations which are tasked with these matters.
It’s terribly irresponsible for anyone (especially pastors) to pretend they know more than these experts do. Instead, what I will do is focus on how, as Christians, we should interact with one another, the world around us, and how those interactions affect our testimony. Today, I want to focus on living by faith vs. fear.
Faith vs. Fear
Let me speak boldly to you, Christians at large sound very foolish, and immature right now. While the world watches, Christians are fighting like little children over whose faith is bigger and stronger. Meanwhile, the world is either mocking us, or they’ve hit the proverbial mute button.
This is a tragedy! That God’s people, marked by a saving message (that is the Gospel), are forfeiting the ability to be heard.
On one side of this situation, we see Christians who are living with irrational fear. They present a faith of no actual value. The God they espouse is a God who makes no real promises, and if He does, He’s unable to carry out those promises.
On the other side, we see Christians who have the most absurd and unhelpful definition of faith. Their idea that taking any precaution whatsoever displays a lack of trust in God, is irresponsible. This group often espouses promises God never actually made. Both sides voice out-of-context biblical justifications.
What are we to do? Are we at an impasse? No. In God’s story, the purpose of His servants (Pastors, Teachers, Prophets, etc.) has and always will be to offer course correction when needed. This is the reason that these servants must be qualified, mature, and continually growing in maturity.
This is why just any old talking head will not do. As bold as this sounds, being one who is appointed as a pastor and teacher of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, let me offer a way forward.While the world watches, Christians are fighting like little children over whose faith is bigger and stronger. Click To Tweet
Answers to Faith & Fear
To the first group (those living in fear), I would remind you that we are to be people who live by faith (2 Corinthians 5:7). The world around us is supposed to see how we live and consequently ask about the hope that we have (1 Peter 3:15). To look exactly like the rest of the world (living in fear) is to abdicate our role and to reject our call to be Holy (set-apart) as God Himself is Holy (1 Peter 1:16).
To the second group (the hyper-faith crowd), I would remind you what faith is, and what its true object is: “Faith is the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). There are concrete things in which to hope. There is actual behavior that proves true faith. All too often, people who hold to a hyper-faith view end up placing faith in their amount of faith. This is not right! Trust me when I say your faith is not, and never will be, the object of your faith. The object of our faith is God and His promises alone.
This week has been a Christian social media dog-pile. The two sides, as mentioned earlier, passive-aggressively fight it out for all the world to see. One side posts, “God says ‘fear not’ and ‘trust me’ over 500 times.” They follow this with, “People don’t know faith; they just know fear… sad truth.”
We must remember where we are in this storyline. We’re not at the point that the black plague is sweeping through our towns, killing 40 and 50 a day. No, we’re at the place where we may be able to prevent such a tragedy. Is it not walking by faith (in the actual word of God) to use wisdom?
We also read things like, “I’m believing that the fear of the Lord is about to return. One that is a healthy fear. Full of power and glory.” And that is amazing! But here’s where it goes off the rails, “Not sickness and isolation. And I hope you’re ready for that!” What does that even mean? This is just another voice adding to the confusion.
Does this attitude mean that taking a preventative measure (say isolation) is an unhealthy fear? Let’s take this philosophy to its logical end. Do those who promote this view wear seatbelts? Wouldn’t it be fear to do so?We're at the place where we may be able to prevent tragedy. Is it not walking by faith to use wisdom? Click To Tweet
I’ve seen post after post on 2 Timothy 1:7. But this verse has nothing to do with pandemics. It’s all about sharing our faith with a world who doesn’t want to hear it. Are we isolating the Gospel? The truth is a double edge sword; we must be careful how we attempt to wield it.
In 1 Timothy 5:23 we see Paul telling Timothy to take a little wine for his stomach and his frequent ailments. According to the view I just mentioned, Paul would be encouraging Timothy to live with an unhealthy fear. Even more, Paul would be contradicting what he would later say in his second letter to young Timothy.Are Christians exempt from pain, sickness, and trial? Click To Tweet
In 1637 the plague swept through Europe, claiming thousands of people. This included the vast majority of the town council and an exorbitant number of children in the walled German city where Martin Rinkart lived. It also claimed Rinkart’s wife. He had to do the work of three men, burying 40 to 50 people a day—a total of 4,480 dead. But through it all, Rinkart remained well.
Rinkart wrote the hymn, “Now Thank We All Our God.” This hymn began as a family prayer before meals and was later sung as a national thanksgiving at a celebration service when the Thirty Years’ War ended. With the exception of “A Mighty Fortress is Our God,” this is the most widely sung hymn in Germany, sung on numerous occasions of national rejoicing.
“Now thank we all our God, With heart and hands and voices,
Who wondrous things hath done, In whom his world rejoices;
Who from our mother’s arms Hath blessed us on our way
With countless gifts of love, And still is ours today.”
This great hymn is the product of genuine faith. Faith in the face of true adversity. This wasn’t a faith that acted superior; this wasn’t a faith the pretended God promised things He didn’t. This also wasn’t a faith that could ignore the reality all around. This was genuine faith—the kind of faith the three Hebrew children had when facing a fiery furnace.
In August 1527, the plague had struck Martin Luther’s city of Wittenberg, and many of Luther’s fellow citizens ran for their lives. Luther’s prince, Elector John, ordered Luther to leave immediately to save his own life, but Luther chose to stay to minister to those stricken. The disease and its suffering victims surrounded Luther himself.
Luther said that Christians who trust God and minister directly to the dying should not fear boils and infection, for, in the end, caring for the sick is like caring for Christ. Jesus said, “I was sick, and you cared for me” (Matt. 25:36). John wrote that Christ laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for others (1 John 3:16).
Luther also warned against the over-confident who underestimated the seriousness of the plague and were frivolous toward God. Ultimately Luther left all personal decisions on whether to flee to each individual in light of the Word of God. These were his words:
“I shall ask God mercifully to protect us. Then I shall fumigate, help purify the air, administer medicine, and take it. I shall avoid places and persons where my presence is not needed in order not to become contaminated and thus perchance infect and pollute others, and so cause their death as a result of my negligence. If God should wish to take me, he will surely find me, and I have done what he has expected of me and so I am not responsible for either my own death or the death of others. If my neighbor needs me, however, I shall not avoid place or person, but will go freely.”
What can we conclude from all of this?
- God did not promise Christians freedom from trials like these, quite the opposite. Instead, what He gave us is a hope that, when brought to maturity, will be impervious to such things.
- God did give us a new Spirit. And, as Paul said to Timothy, that Spirit is not one of fear but rather of power, love, and discipline.
As for power, it’s not the power to stop all the evils of this world. As we see from Scripture and Church history, it is rather the power to face those evils, never bending a knee to anyone but God alone.
As for love, this is the kind of love we see in Matthew 25 and 1 John 3. A love that prays, fumigates, gives medicine, and takes it. If you want to understand how true faith employs practical human action read James 2:14-17.
As for discipline, this is a discipline that seeks and trusts wise council. A discipline that stops and thinks about where we are in a particular story. Currently, we are not in the place of Martin Luther or Martin Rinkart or, for that matter, any Christian who has faced plague and famine. Praise God that you and I are at the stage where our actions may prevent catastrophe.
Summing it Up
We are in a place where we have the opportunity to display true hope in our world. Contrary to the hyper-faith crowd, true hope can isolate for a time if isolation is a way to love others and prevent the spread of a disease. True hope can also stock up on a reasonable amount of toilet paper. However, and contrary to the fear-driven crowd, true hope cannot retreat from our responsibility to love God and neighbor even to the point of laying down our lives.
“For this reason I remind you to kindle afresh the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline. Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord or of me His prisoner, but join with me in suffering for the gospel according to the power of God…”
Instead of being mocked or muted by the culture in which we live, let’s be a people who suffer for the Gospel, according to the power of God. Let’s be a people who live by true faith to make the world ask for the hope that is in us.Let's be a people who live by true faith to make the world ask for the hope that is in us. Click To Tweet
- As we walk through this time, we want to be the hands and feet of Jesus.
- If there is anyone who needs groceries or supplies, we want to know.
- If you’re cooped up because of health issues or susceptibility to Covid-19, we want to help.
- If you have childcare issues due to cancellations and need help, reach out to us.
- If you’d like to pray with us, we will be here hosting our morning prayer at Pierce Point Community Church from 9-9:30 a.m. Join us as we pray each day for God’s mercy in this time.
- If there’s something you’d like to do for others in need, please let us know. Each of us has a part to play.
Questions or comments? Drop a line in the comment section below or contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.