From Richard Roberts:
As the frustration from the separation from another sets in, due to this pandemic and the necessary cautions which it dictates, I have found it necessary to often step back and look at the big picture, the eternal picture, of what God is doing.
For, though it feels like everything has changed, the truth is that nothing has ultimately changed. God’s redemptive plan, His judicial oversight, His purposes and calling to us is exactly what it was before our society slowed down and our social interactions were physically distanced.
Therefore, it is imperative, for the sake of one another, to “guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus”, as Paul instructed the Philippians, by recounting the gospel of God’s peace towards us (4:7), and remembering “whatever is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, whatever is excellent or praiseworthy.” (4:8)
As we continue to read and listen and discuss with our leaders, our coworkers, our families, what we believe to the be wisest course of action in the face of the plethora of information available to us, much of which is contradictory to other information and therefore dangerously tempts us to confirmation bias, we need to be on guard for what we ultimately are resting in for peace and hope and joy.
Are we banking on a return to our “normal” for peace in our souls? Is this how we are guarding our hearts and our minds in Christ Jesus? Does our union with Jesus, in this moment, right now, the controlling reality by which we interpret the world around us? These are basic questions of what we believe to be ultimately true.
There are good arguments to be made for being cautious in the face of what we do know about germs and the spread of disease today. There are also good arguments to be made about the devastation of economic stasis and its effects upon the human soul, too. There are good arguments to be made about submitting to governing authorities (Romans 13) and for our longing and striving to be together (Psalm 133; 1 Thess 2:17) face to face.
One of the temptations which is crouching at our door today is to use our words to tear others down, rather than to build them up. To speak with disdain and hopelessness and corruption towards those who differ in their approach to these evil times. Those who are more cautious, who isolate themselves more than others, who believe that love for one’s neighbor means wearing protective equipment like masks at all times when there are others present, within 6 feet or not, and who are hesitant to return to social gatherings, are tempted to look upon those who do not feel this way or behave in such ways as “foolish” or “ignorant” or “dangers to all of us.” Those at the other extreme, who refuse to wear protective gear, who refuse to physically distance themselves, who reject the idea that such measures do any real or lasting good in the face of the disease, may be tempted to look upon those cautious brothers as “fearful” or “faithless” or deceived by a manipulative media or government.
Such name-calling, expressed in such ways or not, is not fitting the household of God. Paul reminded us all, as he wrote to the Ephesian church, that “no corrupting speech should come out of our mouths, but only such as is good for building up the one in need, that it may give grace to those who hear it.” (Eph 4:29)
“Corrupt” speech means “rotting” or “decomposing” words. I like that word, “decompose,” because it really breaks down what such words do. They “take apart” or dis-integrate brothers. They break another person down to nothingness. And we are not to let “any” of it come out of our mouths. Not a single word which destroys or tears down to rottenness, to uselessness. Now, this does not mean that we may not wound a friend for their benefit (Pr 27:6) or that our words, spoken in love (Eph 4:15), may not hurt our brother’s pride or cause him pain. The same drug that heals an illness can also destroy if applied wrongly. The same fire that cooks your food can consume your house. But we are to bring out words which are for the building up of our brothers and sisters, to compose them, to integrate their souls, rather than decompose them.
Therefore, as we debate, and we should, and as we discuss our thoughts and reasoning and evaluations, as we should, let us use our mouths for the composing of others and the decomposing of others, whether they be close friends, distant friends, or even enemies.
Such words are to be attended with grace, seasoned with grace, so that they leave behind a gift for the one who hears them. A gift of grace to do them good, to build them up, to compose their souls upon the eternal bedrock of Christ Jesus, of His victory over sin and death, of His great compassion towards the suffering and the fearful and the anxious, and of His promise that he will “always be with us, even to the end of the age.” (Matt 28)
We must extend grace towards those who are viewing the measures taken to deal with these evil times differently, especially in regards to how the church functions and begins to gather again. Respect your brothers and sisters, however they may be choosing to love their neighbors and entrust themselves to God. Show them the beauty of Christ Jesus, the security of His kingdom, where moth and rust and germ cannot do harm, no matter what their position on the wisest course of actions to take.
And pray for one another. Pray for the peace that passes understanding and the faith which hopes in God and loves our neighbors.
And pray for your elders. We are beginning discussions on how to begin meeting again. We need the wisdom and patience and gentleness of God to love and care for His flock in the manner and to the end which He has ordained.
We will keep you all updated on our plans to return to gathering together, in whatever numbers that we deem to be wise and in whatever ways which we conclude to be loving to all. In the meantime, remember your Master’s grace towards you, who built you up when you disagreed with Him, patiently, compassionately, and with great love. Do the same for one another. “Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God, in Christ, has forgiven you.” (Eph 4:32)