The Coronavirus Pandemic: An Apostolic Perspective

virus closeup for covid19 article

Because the COVID-19 pandemic is unprecedented for virtually everyone alive today, it has forced us all outside of our proverbial box in the way we view the world.

The problem is that, from the White House to my house, this pandemic has left everyone’s heads spinning, and even a few weeks in, we’re all still doing a lot of reacting and guesswork. In other words, this is a perfect storm for mass pandemonium. Not only is there fear of sickness and death, but fear of the economic fallout and a whole host of other potential collateral damages.

For some, these fears are realities, and the closer they come home, the more the fear increases.

The Timeless Truth of God’s Word

As Christians, we not only have the responsibility, but the opportunity to offer a solution to how we should respond to this widespread panic. We may not have a cure for the virus, but we have a cure for how to handle anything and everything that comes along in this sin-cursed, unpredictable world.

This is because we have an objective authority in the word of God, which helps us make sense of this world. It tells us about the One who created it, it tells about ourselves, it tells us why the world is the way it is, and it tells us that it is not always going to be this way because of the immutable plan and purpose of the One whose sovereignty rules over all. With this knowledge comes comfort that will shield us from the fear and hopelessness we see all around us.

But this knowledge is not superficial. It is grounded in the truths contained in the Bible, and therefore we are called to dig in and find answers when we are faced with trials and dilemmas.

Some may protest that the Bible doesn’t address viruses and pandemics, and therefore it is useless for these contemporary times in which we live. But the Bible was not meant to be an encyclopedia of solutions to all the problems—or even just the major ones—that we encounter in life. Rather, it is a timeless theological grid through which we are to run the individual issues we face, and what Christians of all ages have found is that the answer, although nuanced, is always the same.

With that in mind, let’s look at the Apostle Paul’s perspective on the current pandemic by examining some principles from his letter to the Philippians.

“The Bible is not an encyclopedia of solutions to all the problems we encounter in life. Rather, it is a timeless grid through which we are to run the individual issues we face.”

Paul’s Problem: Imprisonment & Potential Execution

Paul wrote the letter to the Philippians while imprisoned in Rome. He was chained to a Roman soldier twenty-four hours a day because he had been preaching the gospel, which tends to rub a lot of people the wrong way. It rubbed the government of Rome so wrong that Paul was awaiting a trial that would determine whether he would be set free or whether his head would be severed from his body.

Yet in the midst of this overwhelming predicament, Paul writes this letter which is nicknamed ‘The Epistle of Joy,’ because the theme of joy and rejoicing keep coming up throughout it. The reason for this is seen in the way Paul discusses his situation, and the encouragement and exhortation he provides for his friends in Philippi, which reveals that what Paul believed about God, himself, and the world had immediate and profound application to life, especially in the midst of suffering.

The Sovereignty of God

While joy and unity are the recurring themes in this epistle, the underlying theme of it all is the absolute sovereignty of God.

Paul believed that God, as the Creator of all things, was in charge of everything, down to the minutest detail–and that certainly included the events in his own life. Therefore, he viewed his imprisonment as the will of God for him, and he trusted that God had a purpose in it. He told the Philippians, “I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel” (Php. 1:12). He then went on to explain that by being shackled to Roman soldiers in the capital city, he had been able to proclaim the gospel to many of Caesar’s imperial guards. When he closed the letter, he even sent greetings from members of Caesar’s own household (Php. 4:22)!

Furthermore, Paul’s imprisonment had emboldened others to preach the gospel. Some of these people were slandering Paul in the process, but he didn’t care, as long as they were proclaiming Christ (Php. 1:14–18). God is sovereign over the circumstances of our personal lives, even those that include suffering, and He is certainly sovereign over a global pandemic. It is not out of His control; on the contrary, He is using it to promote His good purposes in the world, namely, the advancement of the gospel.

For instance, because of this coronavirus pandemic, churches all over the world have had to make use of technology like livestreamed sermons. And through social media, people all over the world who are afraid and looking for answers are tuning in and hearing the gospel. Churches, Christian organizations, and individual believers have all been afforded numerous opportunities to show the love of Christ in tangible ways and to have meaningful conversations with those who are suffering or who are simply confused and fearful—all because of the coronavirus.

The coronavirus has also forced us all to take a step back and evaluate what is really important, and as a result, many of us have invested more intentionally in relationships with our closest loved ones.

These are just a few examples, but they demonstrate the point: because God is in control of all things, we can trust that our present circumstances are not arbitrary. They are ordained and are bringing about the good that God intends for them.

“Because God is in control of all things, we can trust that our present circumstances are not arbitrary. They are ordained and are bringing about the good that God intends for them.”

To Live is Christ, and to Die is Gain

When Paul evaluated his dire situation, he was not given over to panic because he believed that he had been forgiven of his sin and given a right standing before God that was not his own, but that of Jesus Christ, credited to him by a gift of God’s grace through faith in Jesus (Php. 3:7–11). Therefore, he had nothing to fear because he would either be released, which would mean that he could go on serving Christ, or he would die, which meant that he would go immediately into the presence of Christ.

He stated it concisely: “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Php. 1:21). By “gain” he meant that going to be with Christ was the far better option, but he was willing to stick around as long as God had work left for him to do (Php. 1: 22–26).

As we consider the COVID-19 virus, we certainly need to be wise and vigilant in protecting ourselves and our loved ones from infection. We must value life at all costs and seek to honor Christ with every breath. However, even if a believer were to be infected–and even if he were to die as a result–death for a Christian is gain because he would go to be with Christ.

This may seem radical, but it is only because we do not train ourselves to think biblically as Paul did.

Fellowship and Christian Relationships are “Essential”

Throughout this letter, Paul expresses how thankful he was for the fellowship of the Philippians, even though he was separated from them (Php. 1:1–8). They had reciprocated this love by sending a gift to him to care for his needs (Php. 4:14–20). But his primary reason for writing the letter was to impress upon them how much they needed each other.

The Philippian Christians were experiencing some level of persecution for their faith, and he exhorted them to pursue unity through Christ-like humility and sacrificial service to one another (Php. 2:1–11). In fact, the main command of the letter came in Php. 1:27: “Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel…”

As we face the challenges of this pandemic, which require us to love one another by keeping our distance, we must work ever more diligently to reach out to one another and serve one another in humility and love.

Depending on God and Digesting His Word

Philippians 4:2–9 is perhaps one of the most beloved passages in all of Scripture because it tells believers how to stand firm, or be spiritually stable, and because it offers the wonderful promise of God’s peace (Php. 4:7).

Sadly, however, the context is often overlooked because Christians tend to focus on the command in v. 6 to “be anxious for nothing.” Of course, we don’t want to be anxious, we want God’s peace, but we don’t think that we have the power to stop being anxious. Therefore, we remain passive victims of the squirrel cage in our minds, and a global pandemic is certain to give that squirrel plenty reason to keep running for a very long time.

However, what we must understand is that God never commands us to simply stop doing something. He doesn’t simply say, “Stop being anxious!” He says that we are to replace that anxiety with a number of godly attitudes and actions. There are a number of them given in this passage, but the two that are given priority are dependence upon God and digesting His word.

“God never commands us to simply stop doing something. He says that we are to replace wrong or sinful attitudes and actions with godly ones.”

However, what we must understand is that God never commands us to simply stop doing something. He doesn’t simply say, “Stop being anxious!” He says that we are to replace that anxiety with a number of godly attitudes and actions. There are a number of them given in this passage, but the two that are given priority are dependence upon God and digesting His word.

First, Paul says in v. 6 that we must replace anxiety with prayer and supplication with an attitude of thanksgiving. This means we must humble ourselves before God and cast our cares upon Him instead of hanging on to them in our prideful self-sufficiency.

Secondly, we must “think about these things” (Php. 4:8). Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, and so forth, are the things of God–the things we find in His word. In other words, we must learn to stop being passive with our thoughts and to speak truth to ourselves. This truth includes all that we’ve looked at up to this point and more. When we do this, we will no longer allow the fears and endless list of “what ifs” generated by the pandemic to cloud our minds and make us anxious, but we will begin to experience the peace of God that surpasses all understanding.

Finding Ultimate Contentment in Christ

Finally, Paul said that he could “do all things through [Christ] who strengthens me” (Php. 4:13). He didn’t mean that he could win a football game or be successful in a business enterprise; he meant that God would give him the strength to endure anything that came his way without losing his joy. In other words, he knew how to be content, whether he had a little or a lot; whether he had health and wealth or sickness and poverty. How was this possible? Because he kept his eyes fixed on Christ, who was his ever-present, unchanging, and all-satisfying treasure.

If you’re falling part because of what you’ve lost—or what you fear you’ll lose—as a result of this pandemic, perhaps you need to examine where you’ve been seeking your satisfaction.

Whether it’s prison or a pandemic; the answer is always the same: it is Christ. Christ is the One whose sovereignty rules over all. He is the One we serve in life and will see in death. He is the One who binds us together with other believers through our union with Him. He is the One we depend on, and it is His truth that stabilizes us because He Himself is the embodiment of truth. It is Christ who strengthens us for whatever we face so that we are content in Him, the One who is the Bread of Life. Those who fill themselves with Him will indeed be satisfied, even in the midst of suffering, regardless what form it takes.

church leaders Pastor Lloyd

About the Author

Lloyd Murphy is the pastor-teacher at Firm Foundation Bible Church in Prescott Valley, Arizona. A northern-AZ native, Lloyd is a graduate of The Master’s Seminary in Sun Valley, California. He and his wife Christie have four children, Caleb, Anna, Leah, and Joel. More from Lloyd ⟶

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