By Christopher VanDusen
As you’re probably aware, the world is in an uproar over this mass pandemic known as COVID19 or “the coronavirus”. This is for good reason. The virus is extremely contagious, and is much more likely to kill people than the common flu. As a result, most churches in the United States and Canada have decided to stop meeting together to avoid spreading the virus.
The purpose of this article isn’t to say one way or another whether it’s right to stop meeting together as churches. Rather, I want to examine a passage of Scripture that I think teaches us valuable lessons on how Christians should view this virus, and what our response to it should be.
The passage is from the apostle Paul’s letter to the Galatians, 4:12-15, which says:
“Brothers, I entreat you, become as I am, for I also have become as you are. You did me no wrong. You know it was because of a bodily ailment that I preached the gospel to you at first, and though my condition was a trial to you, you did not scorn or despise me, but received me as an angel of God, as Christ Jesus. What then has become of your blessedness? For I testify to you that, if possible, you would have gouged out your eyes and given them to me.” (ESV)
First of all, what’s going on in this passage? Paul is addressing the Galatian churches’ forsaking of the true gospel for a gospel of works, and is begging them to imitate him in being free from the works that certain false teachers are promoting to earn salvation, since he imitated them when he first met them to preach the gospel to them.
After he begs them to imitate him, he goes back to their very first encounter to show that they went through a lot to receive him, and yet they received him, and his gospel of grace, with open arms.
This is where this passage becomes relevant for our present situation. There are at least three things it teaches us about how we ought to view sickness, including the coronavirus:
- The Lord can use sick Christians to preach the gospel.
- People are blessed when they welcome sick Christians as if they’re Christ Himself.
- People are blessed when they’re willing to sacrifice their health for the good of others.
First, Paul teaches that the Lord can, and does, use sick Christians to preach the gospel when he says,
“You know it was because of a bodily ailment that I preached the gospel to you at first . . .”
Here, Paul says the reason he preached the gospel to the Galatians the first time was because he was sick. The Lord used his sickness to bring the gospel to lost pagans, and to start churches.
What kind of sickness was this? Well, the Galatian churches were located in an area of modern-day Turkey that was very mountainous and mild, but Paul had to travel through areas where it was easy to contract malaria in order to get there. Some Bible scholars, such as John MacArthur, have speculated that the sickness Paul is speaking of here is malaria, which can damage your eyesight. That would explain why Paul later says that the Galatians “would have gouged out [their] eyes and given them to” him. This is also a possible reason that Paul makes note of how large his handwriting is in one of his letters — because his sight was bad, due at least in part to the malaria. Nevertheless, the important thing is that the Lord gave Paul an opportunity to preach the gospel because he was sick.
If you get the coronavirus, don’t think that means that you can no longer serve people spiritually. It may just be that the Lord is giving it to you so you will have the opportunity to share the gospel with someone, leading to someone’s salvation.
The second thing this passage teaches us about sickness is that people are blessed when they welcome sick Christians as if they’re Christ Himself. Paul goes on to say,
“. . . though my condition was a trial to you, you did not scorn or despise me, but received me as an angel of God, as Christ Jesus. What then has become of your blessedness?”
The obvious implication of these words is that the Galatians were blessed, or happy and/or benefited, when they welcomed Paul in his illness. And notice that they did this even though his condition “was a trial” to them, or trouble to them. They were blessed because they welcomed him as if he was Christ, since he was representing Christ as one of His messengers — and this when he was sick. They didn’t shun him when he was sick, but were willing to help him. The same thing should be true of us.
Finally, Paul teaches that people are blessed when they’re willing to sacrifice their health to benefit others. He teaches this with his further reason that the Galatians were blessed:
“For I testify to you that, if possible, you would have gouged out your eyes and given them to me.”
Since Paul had impaired eyesight, the Galatians wanted him to see, and would have given up their own sight to give him sight. Obviously, the lesson for us in the midst of this pandemic is that we are blessed when we’re willing to sacrifice our health to benefit others, especially if they’re our brother or sister in Christ.
If someone’s truly in desperate need, and you’re the only one who can meet that need, then the call of Christ is to risk your health for the good of that person. Paul commands this in Philippians 2:3-4:
“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” (ESV)
Why are we to do this? Because Christ did it for us. And how did He do it? By coming from heaven to earth at the bidding of His Father to become a man, and to suffer on the cross to take the punishment we deserve from the Father. The Father then rewarded Him by raising from the dead and taking Him into heaven as our King. He now commands everyone to change their minds and trust in Christ alone as their King and Substitute on the cross, to have peace with Him, be forgiven of all their sins, and be saved from His wrath. If you haven’t done that, then I beg you to do it, and you will be reconciled to God as one of His children.
All Scripture quotations are taken from:
English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Text Edition: 2016. Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.