As I prepare for my Sunday morning message – “The Goal (of Christian discipleship and church unity): All for the Glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:23-11:1), I am struggling with the balance of how far is too far and how little is too little? When do I go too far with my expectations of others? When do others go too far with me? When do I give too little and thus dishonor God and His Word? When do others?
In some things, this is abundantly clear because God’s Word is abundantly clear. We are not taking things too far, for example, when we expect followers of Jesus to be truthful, faithful to God, sexually pure, hardworking, etc. Some things are easy to expect and to declare (even while not easy to do, as sinners) because the Bible is clear. In other things, though, we can go too far in our expectations of others and/or one another (see my recent posts about tattoos and alcohol). Still, we have to be careful, as I hope to clearly communicate Sunday, not to come down on those who take a more conservative stance on such issues, as long as they are not claiming extra-biblical requirements for salvation. Rather, we need to clearly teach the biblical expectations for Christ-followers, while willingly sacrificing some of our freedoms to help others follow Christ. As we will see Sunday, this is all – above all – for the glory of God.
HAVE WE MADE THE CLEAR UNCLEAR?
One thing that has always seemed to be clear and agreed upon among faithful followers of Jesus is our need to be faithfully involved with a local church. Places like Hebrews 10:19-25; 1 Corinthians 12; Romans 12; etc. declare our need for one another in Christ, the command that we regularly gather (in person), and the fact that we simply cannot function properly apart from one another in a biblical church.
Has our current situation muddied that clarity, though? Have we muddied it? Are some of us expecting too much when we think COVID-19 is no longer a legitimate excuse to avoid gathering with the church? Are others doing too little?
Please realize – I am posing these questions while certainly not having all the answers. My heart is burdened, though, when I attend an eighth grade graduation in a crowded gymnasium (pictured above) and see a packed Madison Square Garden televised for an NBA playoff game, and yet know of people who are missing out on what I believe to be the closest thing to heaven on earth – worshiping our awesome God in the gathering of His saints.
Just 12 days ago, I had the amazing privilege of baptizing my son Silas and niece Sahari, and I was beyond blessed and encouraged by yet another great turnout for that morning’s worship celebration with our church. People continue to gather for fellowship and worship, respond to the gospel, and serve the Lord and His church. Praise God!
What about those who are not gathering, though? Is it wrong that we expect their return (if they sincerely follow Jesus)? Well, if they are getting back to “normal life” with other public gatherings, then certainly we should expect them to return to the greatest of gatherings, right? What about those who continue to take extreme precautions, though, throughout their daily lives? No, I am not referring to those with serious health problems who are in the hospital, in nursing homes, on bed-rest, etc. Rather, I am referring to people who are otherwise currently healthy but are simply being extremely cautious because of the possibility of COVID-19.
“Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for God’s glory” (1 Corinthians 10:31).
Are they staying home for God’s glory? Are our desires and expectations of them (and of ourselves) to gather as a church for God’s glory? If you follow Jesus and are thus a faithful member of a Bible-believing church, I am certainly interested in your input.
HEALTH vs. PERSECUTION
In ages past or in many parts of the world today, is the threat of physical harm and even death a legitimate reason to neglect gathering with your church? No faithful teacher of the Bible has ever made such a case, at least not for an extended period of time. In fact, that is the very thing the writer of Hebrews was speaking against. Jewish-background Christians were tempted to stop gathering with the church because of the resulting persecution. Woe to anyone who does that!
What about COVID-19, then? Sure, staying away for a time when one is ill makes sense (for the love of others and for healthy recovery). Again, though, how long is too long? How far is too far? The Bible does not give persecution and the threat of death as legitimate reasons for avoiding the church. Are potential health concerns somehow different?
COVID-19 is real. People have died from it. Others have yet to fully recover from related illnesses. Please do not take COVID-19 lightly, and please do not assume I am.
What is your response, though, when considering our call to follow Jesus and help others to follow Jesus, even in the midst of a pandemic? How much is too much in regards to our expectations? How little is too little in regards to our commitments?
If we sincerely seek to do all things for the glory of God above all, seek Him through His Word, and talk through this together, I believe we can and will be united in Him.