“So we do not focus on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”-2 Cor. 4:18
At some point the stay at home mandates will be lifted, and it will be time to leave our homes. While part of me is thrilled at that prospect, another part of me—the fearful part—is not. As a culture we’ve been focused on the fact that going outside and being around other people is risky. What if we just didn’t? Wouldn’t it be safer to just not be around people? While God is doing a work in these unusual times (watch for a post from pastor Jesse on that next week), we need to think ahead a little and consider re-entry.
In the coming days we will need to battle our fear with faith. We will need to leave our homes, but not just to go to work or school. We will need to leave our homes to fulfill the great commission, because the gospel of Jesus Christ matters more than our lives.
Of all the problems that have accompanied the coronavirus, one that may linger with tragic consequences is we will neglect risking our lives to make and mature disciples of Jesus because we have adopted the earthly perspective that longevity/quality of life matters most. In short, we want to live long, full lives instead of risk our lives for the gospel.
Consider these two scenarios:
Scenario #1– Should Christians travel to high risk countries to make and mature disciples?
Let’s say God has given me the desire, passion, and means to make disciples in a middle eastern country generally hostile to Christianity. Given that the risk of persecution including imprisonment and/or death is relatively higher than in other nations, should I go?
Most Christians would answer this question with a sober affirmative. Jesus calls us to make disciples of all nations, and in certain times and places that mission is high risk. Even so, it is crucial that we go because people’s eternal fate is dependent on the feet of those who bring good news.
This does not mean that we shouldn’t be wise and prudent in our endeavors to make disciples of all nations. Sometimes we have to temporarily suspend ministry in an area due to extraordinary circumstances like terrorist activity or outbreak of severe illness, but those are not reasons to abandon the mission entirely. Why? Because the unseen is eternal.
Scenario #2– Should Christians leave their homes at all to make and mature disciples?
Let’s say the government removes all stay at home mandates, which they eventually will. No one will be able to promise you will not get the coronavirus (or influenza, or cancer, etc.). Should you stay at home until the risk is zero? Of course not.
But at what point do we embrace risk for the sake of the gospel? Maybe we’ll use a concept like “acceptable risk” to help us weigh the decision—as in, “I’ll come out again when the risk is acceptable.” Here’s where I think we’ve drunk the cultural Koolaid—we’ll always be able to find ways to justify our fears. When we look honestly at the Scriptures and face eternal realities, we will be hard pressed to find any unacceptable risk for the sake of the gospel.
Here are some problems with the “stay home and be safe” worldview:
1. It produces mission laziness. Consider Proverbs 22:13, “ The slacker says, “There’s a lion outside! I’ll be killed in the public square!” Note the line of thinking—I might die, albeit by a statistically implausible means, therefore I’ll stay home and be safe. But the unseen is eternal.
2. It forgets that for Christians death is gain. Paul didn’t say “Live long and prosper.” He said, “To live is Christ, to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21). Paul knew full well that his living for Christ might result in his death. He made peace with that fact. The vast majority of us will never face anything close to such a decision.
3. It does not account for the sovereignty of God. God has appointed the day of every person’s death, and because he is good and trustworthy we need not let fear of death prevent us from faith-driven obedience.
I believe we should comply with our government to temporarily suspend church gatherings and observe the stay at home mandate, but we cannot do so indefinitely. At some point we must, for the sake of the gospel, leave our homes. We can’t fulfill the great commission digitally (I don’t mean fruitful ministry can’t happen via technology, I mean we can’t make, baptize, and mature disciples exclusively over the internet).
People will object to this way of thinking. They’ll say, “We shouldn’t be reckless with our lives.” But what is worth risking our lives for? This is the crux of the issue; the unseen is eternal. Have we lost the Biblical view that an eternity with Christ is worth risk, loss, and sacrifice now? Consider the worldview of 19th century Scottish missionary John Paton when surrounded by hostile natives who wanted to kill him,
“I… assured them that I was not afraid to die, for at death my Savior would take me to be with Himself in Heaven, and to be far happier than I had ever been on Earth. I then lifted up my hands and eyes to the Heavens, and prayed aloud for Jesus… either to protect me or take me home to Glory as He saw to be for the best.”
I think we need a lot more of that.
People might say, “We should love our neighbor by not exposing them to disease.” Of course… but to a point. When we seek to make and mature disciples of Jesus we value the souls of the lost and their eternal state. We are not hating them by possibly exposing them to a disease we may or may not have; we are loving them by sharing the gospel.
For some who have health complications the situation is more nuanced. We must prayerfully consider the specifics of our own situation and what opportunities we have to engage in the mission. We must ask God for wisdom who gives generously.
So the day will come when the stay at home mandate is lifted, and we’ll have to decide: will we stay or go? I encourage you to spiritually prepare to leave your home to make and mature disciples of Jesus, whether in your community or on the other side of the world. When the time comes, let us go to work in faith, let us gather with the church in faith, let us meet our neighbors in faith. Our safety and longevity of life never trump the mission of the church. The unseen is eternal.