Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Church In The Time Of The Virus: Sacrificial Of Self, Not Others (Episode 4)

When churches suspended their weekly brick and mortar meetings, I decided to take some time to address online what it looks like for the church to be the church in times like this. Thus, The Church In The Time Of The Virus. I began posting this on my church's Facebook page several weeks ago; since then, I have had some thoughtful conversations sparked by some of the issues I addressed. Because of that - and because I like wrestling with important ideas - each post is going to follow this format:
  • Video
  • Transcript
  • Reflections
The beautiful thing about the reflections part is that I can constantly update it, so the conversation can continue! You are welcome to offer helpful comments in the comment section and be a part of this conversation/archival record (as local and modest as it is).

(Read and Watch Episode 1: Introduction)
(Read and Watch Episode 2:Fearless, Not Fearful)
(Read and Watch Episode 3: Bold, But Not Foolhardy)
(Read and Watch Episode 5: Faith-fullness Involves Trust)
(Watch and Read Episode 6: Faith-fullness Requires Humble Obedience)
(Read and Watch Episode 7: The Church's History During Plagues)
(Read and Watch Episode 8: Thinking With Both Hands)
(Read and Watch Episode 9: Spurgeon And The Plague Of London)
(Read and Watch Episode 10: Thinking With Both Hands)
(Read and Watch Episode 11: A Few Thoughts Have Been Brewing)
(Read and Watch Episode 12: Is COVID -19 A Judgment From God)
(Read and Watch Episode 13: Romans 12-14 - Coronavirus Version)
(Episode 14: Dear American Christian)
(Episode 15: Civil (Dis)Obedience)

Episode 4: Sacrificial Of Self, Not Others.



First, the Bible is clear on this point. There are a number of words for love in the Greek language, the language in which the New Testament was written, and all of them have a place in life. The one that gets the most work is agape. It’s the love Jesus has for us, the love that motivated him to give His life so that we could live. For 2,000 years, the church has claimed that this is the model. We pay it forward by laying down our lives.

This might mean giving our life for the gospel or in service to others. It might mean dying to self, or dying to materialism. This could mean we give time, energy and resources in a way that really, really costs us. The early church cared for plague victims at the cost of their lives. They took in the orphans at cost to themselves. They took care of everyone’s poor in time of need. In the book of Acts, they lived “communally” – that is, those who had more kept an eye out on those who had less, and as need arose, they took care of them (Acts 4:32-35).

When we Christians take communion, we commemorate Jesus: “This is my body which was broken, my blood which was spilled for you. This do in remembrance of me.” We are called to image this – not to die for the sins of others, but to be willing to be broken and spilled out for the sake of others so that –from the smallest to greatest sacrifice – we point toward the One who gave all for us on the cross.

This must be done with wisdom as we consider all the areas of responsibility in our lives. But we are not called to complacency, and certainly not to selfishness, and definitely not to greed or cowardice. We are called to loving action. The church is called God’s “body”; we are built to incarnate the love of Jesus for the world, by doing the things Jesus did. First, sharing the hope of salvation for the spiritually needy; second, taking care of the physically needy as well. We give a cup of water – or a roll of toilet paper, in the name of Jesus.

I think there is legitimate reason to be concerned that the economic fallout is going to be significant. Almost everyone I have talked to who is in the workforce is already feeling the pinch, and for some it’s been a punch.

CHURCH! We were built for such a time as this.

If there is going to be anyone who is known for radical generosity and bold service right now, IT MUST BE THE CHURCH. The government may or may not help, but not helping is not an option for followers of Jesus. Others might; we must.

  • Can your bank account be broken and spilled out for those who are going to need help? Will your resources be broken and spilled out for the family whose jobs dried up? You don’t need an organization (though there are plenty of good ones, and if you live close to our church, we are gathering supplies for those in need, and we would love for you to help). But you don’t need to go that route. You can just keep an eye out for people too.
  • Those of you with lots of space, whom will you house if it comes to that point?
  • Those of you with businesses, how well can you take care of your employees even if that means you take a cut? Will you feel the crunch with them?
  • Those of you with land, how many people can fit gardens on there this spring if suddenly more people need to grow their own food?
  • Those of you who own property, what does it look like to work with renters in a way that may cost you but may save them?
  • Those of you who repair things; what does it look like to work with those in need in times such as this?

Arthur McGill just puts it right out there:

Too often the love which is proclaimed in the churches suppresses this element of loss and need and death in activity. As a Christian, I often speak of love as helping others, but I ignore what this does to the person who loves. I ignore the fact that love is self-expenditure, a real expending and losing and deterioration of the self. I speak of love as if the person loving had no problems, no needs, no limits. In other words, I speak of love as if the affluent dream were true. 

This kind of proclamation is heard everywhere. We hear it said: 'Since you have no unanswered needs, why don’t you go out and help those other people who are in need?' But we never hear people go on and add: 'If you do this, you too will be driven into need.' And by not stating this conclusion, people give the childish impression that Christian love is some kind of cornucopia, where we can reach to everybody’s needs and problems and still have everything we need for ourselves. Believe me, there are grown-up persons who speak this kind of nonsense. And when people try to live out this illusory love, they become terrified when the self-expending begins to take its toll. The t error of relationship is [that] we eat each other. 

Those who love in the name of Jesus Christ... serve the needs of others willingly, even to the point of being exposed in their own neediness.... They do not cope with their own needs. They do not anguish over how their own needs may be met by the twists and turns of their circumstances, by the whims of their society, or by the strategies of their own egos. At the center of their life—the very innermost center—they are grateful to God, because... they do not fear neediness. That is what frees them to serve the needy, to companion the needy, to become and be one of the needy.”

― Arthur C. McGill, Dying Unto Life

My wife and I were excited at the beginning of 2020. For perhaps the first time in our married life, we had a financial cushion in the bank. It wasn’t a lot, but this was new territory for us. I mean, we got a new furnace and didn’t have to put it on our credit card! We had some plans brewing, some things we’ve wanted to do for years but kept putting off because it just wouldn’t have been financially wise.

We realized last week where that money is probably going. It’s not just us planning for life with less income; it’s realizing we are now positioned – in a way we have never been – to be able to help others. I’m not saying it’s what we would have planned, but if it turns out that God blessed us so that we can turn around and bless others, well, I would much rather be a part of that than the plans we had made. After all, it’s “your kingdom come, your will be done,” not mine. A time of service with my wife will probably settle more profoundly than a vacation, though I’m not saying I’ve given up on the latter.

So that’s my challenge. Church, are we ready to sacrifice ourselves in the service of others? It won’t look the same for everybody, but it will look like something for everybody. I don’t have to do what my neighbor does, but I do need to be faithfully and lovingly present in my church and community as I serve as God calls me and equips me to serve.

This do in remembrance of Jesus.


The imagery of being 'broken and spilled out' has lingered with me for years after I heard it expounded upon at a conference. We can't do it infinitely like Jesus did. That's a very, very important point. We must have times of distance, rest and refreshing so that we can be mended and refilled. But we are never called to then sit in comfortable complacency. We are filled up so we can be spilled out. Over and over. This is the rhythm of the Christian life.

That is not to say, of course, that this will look the same for everyone. We must be honest before God (and sometimes it's helpful to be honest before God's people too): What have I have been given? What is my abundance? What does it look like to exercise prudent care of that immediate responsibilities I have been given (such as my family) while looking to be radically generous for those around us? It's not always easy to know the answer - but it is relatively easy to connect with friends in your church and have honest conversations. "It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us" (Acts 15:28) is a pretty good template.

No comments:

Post a Comment