Every day we make a thousand decisions about what we’re going to eat and drink, read, do, dress, work on, watch on TV, which people we will talk to, and when we will go to bed. However, these days we are making one big decision in common—when will I join others in public gatherings, following social distancing rules? Perhaps those of us who are suddenly “old” will take this question more seriously. I’ve have been wanting to rescue a dog, is this the time to start looking for one? My church is opening for worship with many restrictions on May 3. Should I go or follow the service online? We make our decisions based on medical facts, experts’ opinions, our consciousness, doing what is right, and conforming to Scripture and God’s wisdom. By God’s providence, I am moving on from joy to peace this week as I continue in the theme of the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23. I spent all of last year writing about godly peace, but there is still much to consider. As usual, the Holy leads us to apply God’s Word in all our circumstances. Here is a passage that will help in our decision making: “So do not let what you regard as good be spoken of as evil. For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Whoever thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men. So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.” (Romans 14:16-19) Our Trinitarian God is served by peaceful, joyful, edifying gospel-centered relationships. We will be stronger together by doing what encourages rather than discourages each other’s faith, at all times and in all circumstances.
Christian writers are helping us with our fears of disease and death, anxiety about our liberties, and biblical faith, for which I am grateful. God desires that we exercise our faith together. Do we only think about what will benefit ourselves and ease our tensions? Or, do we build each other up because we know that what we do affects others in a literal and profound way? God gives us a model of unity in the trinity; our passage speaks of the kingdom of God, the Holy Spirit, God, and Christ. All work together for the good of His will and providence. All approve of each other, strengthen, and perfectly agree. While we cannot match the superior excellence of God’s unity in His three persons, we can seek to do that which is peaceful, righteous, joyful, and approved by him, following his example. Because God knows us so well, he offers particular advice in Romans 14:16, “So do not let what you regard as good be spoken of as evil.” “This is the way John Calvin expresses them in his commentary: Love is violated if our brother is made to grieve for so slight a reason, for it is contrary to love to cause anyone distress…it is clear that the demands of love should override one’s personal freedom in peripheral matters… ‘Love does no harm to its neighbor,’ Paul said (Rom. 13:10). But if this is so and if we do love…To insist on our own way at this point would be selfish at best and most likely be wicked…How can you refuse to give up a merely questionable practice?” (1) Tomorrow we will be faced with an unusually clear choice, but not one that is unique; to make decisions based either on what will benefit ourselves or what will help others. By God’s grace, we often find that God calls us to do both simultaneously. But today we must decide if we are going to forgo simple, little errands or tasks, such as going to the grocery store. Every government in the world has done what it rarely does—administer societal restrictions for every citizen. Our issues of entitlement are rearing their sinister heads, and many fear that their “rights” are being violated. I found Kyle Borg’s article about Christian civil disobedience very helpful. “Admittedly, there’s also regulations and ordinances that inconvenience my life. But…the unconstitutionality of a law is not the same thing as an unbiblical law. In asking questions about civil disobedience we cannot conflate these two. Civil disobedience is not ‘We must obey the constitution rather than men,’ it is ‘We must obey God rather than men.’ As Christians we can submit to laws that are unconstitutional but we cannot submit to laws that are unbiblical. This requires that we be absolutely biblically persuaded of our duty.” (2)
Brothers and sisters, we are always better together by doing what encourages each other through our peaceful, edifying gospel-centered thinking and conduct. “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. (Romans 14:17) It is not that the spiritual world is opposed to the natural world, but men are more important than the “stuff” of earth—food and drink. Our relationships with each other and God are primary. Perhaps that’s why it’s good to see so many advertisements on TV during the pandemic focusing on people instead of material things to purchase (by the same companies). But, if God’s creation here isn’t his kingdom, how are we to relate to it? Perhaps we should turn to the wisdom books of the Old Testament, using them as God intends (and not superficially, which we tend to do). “The message of Ecclesiastes isn’t that earthly joys are worthless, but that they are not ultimate…’What does it mean to love life and the world if it’s passing away, and if I’m meant to enjoy God and live for Christ first and foremost? Let me say that the two things go hand in hand absolutely beautifully, and for this reason: in the created world, you can only truly enjoy what you do not worship'” (3). So the question for us in the pandemic is, “What or who do we worship?” Getting up late, staying in our casual attire, binging on Netflix or Prime, having food delivered—or spending more time with God, reaching out to others, and thinking about how we can be useful to Him? Of course, we can do some of both, but the proportion will reflect our character.
If the habits of our lives have changed, but we are serving God, does it matter that we are not operating in old routines? If our family life has morphed into something different, but we are spending more quality time together and enjoying each other in a new way, is that not good? If we are bearing the spiritual fruit in Galatians 5:22-23, isn’t that glorious? “Whoever thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men.” (v. 18) God is served by our edifying relationships, putting to work the righteousness, peace and joy of the Spirit. God’s kingdom is not served by independence, but by dependence on him and interdependence with each other. Even the sentimental advertisements on TV these days reflect this fact. But God doesn’t want us to merely help and love each other to make the world a more comfortable, better place to live. He desires that we reflect Christ’s glory, grace, and righteousness, to build up his kingdom—to put the gospel to work. “So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.” (v. 19). Earlier, in Romans 14:13-15, Paul writes, “Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother. I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself, but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean. For if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love.” “The strong are urged to weigh the importance of exercising their freedom against two considerations: (a) the use of their freedom may bring division and disrepute on the church, (b) God’s kingdom (and therefore our freedom) is not a matter of food and drink, but of the blessings of grace (5:1-2). Since freedom does not consist in these things, it cannot be lost by our refraining from them.” (4) So I will use only online dog searches for now, and decide whether attending church in person when it reopens partly based on whether going or not going will cause my retirement-community neighbors or friends to be fearful or discouraged. You and I should be guided by our biblically centered consciousness.
Are you being careful about being swayed by media to blame the pandemic on someone without considering if they may be innocent or poor and without resources? Are you a joyful peacemaker with your Christian brothers and sisters? Do you offer your friends, family, neighbors, and acquaintances gospel-centered encouragement to build them up? How do the love, grace, and mercy of Jesus Christ, who died that we might Live, influence your time during the pandemic? Are you willing to grieve with those who are grieving, give up small conveniences for the glory of God? “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God, just as I [Paul] try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved. Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.” (1 Corinthians 10:31 – 11:1)
(1) Boice, James, Boice Expositional Commentary Series, Romans 14:13-16, Baker Books, Software version, 1998.
(2) Borg, Kyle, “Some Thoughts on Christian Civil Disobedience, “April 18, 2020https://gentlereformation.com/2020/04/18/some-thoughts-on-christian-civil-disobedience/?fbclid=IwAR1Wb6eoee0knwljrU8koHEq3iI7-_td9HMIIQIJou9A6T_6ZblNkxaxVpw)
(3) Jamieson, Bobby, “Life is Not Meaningless in Ecclesiastes,” The Gospel Coalition, https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/reviews/living-life-backward-ecclesiastes/
(4) The Reformation Study Bible, Romans 14:16-19, Reformation Trust Publishing (Ligonier Ministries), Sanford, Fl., 2015.
April 23, 2020