God's Word in tumultuous times

Everything is different, yet nothing has changed.

If you remember nothing else from this article, remember that. Everything is different, yet nothing has changed. Our public lives, private lives, jobs, circumstances, roles, opinions, and expectations have all changed, and for many are a moving target.

And yet, nothing has changed. Some of you will [rightly] read that clause as an indictment against our culture. Nothing has changed, meaning that people are just as divided as they’ve always been, hope is just as misplaced as it has always been, and passions of the flesh are just as alluring and entrapping as they have always been. COVID has revealed what was already inside each of us.

Others will [rightly] read it as an encouragement. Nothing is different because God is sovereign, Jesus reigns, our salvation is sure, the Church will not fail, our mission and calling are unchanged, and God’s Word is as sure a foundation as it has ever been.

Let these words from 1 Peter 1:13-21 (which we preached on in full this Sunday) sink in:

Therefore, with your minds ready for action, be sober-minded and set your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the desires of your former ignorance. But as the one who called you is holy, you also are to be holy in all your conduct; for it is written, Be holy, because I am holy. If you appeal to the Father who judges impartially according to each one’s work, you are to conduct yourselves in reverence during your time living as strangers. For you know that you were redeemed from your empty way of life inherited from your ancestors, not with perishable things like silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of an unblemished and spotless lamb. He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was revealed in these last times for you. Through him you believe in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.

In summary: we’re instructed to be sober-minded and prepared for action, obedient and holy in our conduct, with our faith, hope, and confidence set fully (fully!) on Jesus and the good news of his substitutionary death and glorious resurrection!

Read that sentence again, and be honest: does that describe you right now? My hunch is that it may not; it certainly isn’t as true for me as I would like!

As Christians, I believe our intentions are good, and we, of course, desire to follow Jesus and submit to his Word. But right now, there exists a whirlwind (or perhaps a tunneling vortex?) of distractions from that, making it difficult for many. Everywhere we look, someone or something is trying to get our attention, to convince us of something, to define our priorities. And so we ask: where do we turn when everything around is us unsure? We turn where Christians have always turned, to the only thing that is sure and unchanging—God’s Word.

As your pastors and elders, we want to help you navigate these tumultuous times in a way that maintains a godly and gospel-centered perspective. This won’t address every issue that’s out there right now, but we hope that it will help you take an honest look at yourself and see where you might be able to more properly align yourself with God’s Word and purposes. We encourage you to look up each reference as you read through the questions.

1. Can you be content in these circumstances without having all the information or all the answers? (see Philippians 4:11-13)

This reveals where our hope truly lies. We may say it is in Jesus, but functionally, most of us put our actual hope in things like information, knowledge, and understanding. If we can fully grasp our circumstances, then we feel that we can know—and therefore control—the future. While we are certainly free to pursue better circumstances, we must be careful not to subtly shift our hope toward change, progress, and idealism.

2. Is your first impulse to speak or to listen? (see James 1:19-21)

It could be pride, narcissism, or obliviousness, but let’s be honest—we all tend to be quicker to speak than to listen! Imagine all the trouble we could avoid by listening more than speaking, by waiting 24 hours before posting a reaction, by checking the veracity and reliability of sources before sharing information/misinformation, by running a Facebook post by a trusted friend before posting, by seeking out those who disagree with us to try to understand their arguments. There’s no doubt that this requires death to self, because an inflated sense of self is the root of all these problems.

3. Are you more concerned with being right than with loving your brother? (see 1 Corinthians 8:1-3)

The situation we’re in is different than Paul’s in this passage, but the question still rings poignant and true: is your knowledge puffing you up, or is your love building others up? Is your “knowledge” of the origins of COVID-19 or the best political and regulatory approach to COVID-19 or the extreme dangers of COVID-19 undoing or replacing your efforts to love, support, and encourage those around you?

A couple more things can be said here. Some may object on this point, saying that proclaiming the truth about these things to others is loving, citing Ephesians 4:15. And while that is certainly true and important, speaking the truth in love should be done carefully. Earlier in that paragraph, Paul instructs us to walk “with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:2-3). If our truth-telling looks like that, great! If not, we’re missing the point.

We must also be careful in how we use the word “truth”. God the Father, Jesus the Son, and the Holy Spirit are all described as being truth (see Isaiah 65:16, John 14:6, and John 15:26) because truth originates with God. So we should not take it lightly. If your “truth” does not come directly from God and his Word, yet you are insistent on proclaiming it, you are on shaky ground and in danger of sin such as slander, which Paul says comes from a “debased mind” and likens to those who hate God and invent evil (Romans 1:28-31).

Instead, let us be significantly more focused on building up one another in love with the truth of God’s Word than we are in evangelizing others toward our particular political and ethical theories and opinions. “It is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ” (Philippians 1:9-10, emphasis added).

4. Are you known more for your opinions on COVID or for being a follower of Jesus? (see 1 Corinthians 2:2-5)

Admittedly, I have always loved verse 2 of that passage: “I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” And that’s exactly what Paul was known for (Galatians 1:22-24)! I hope that will be true of me. I hope that when my name comes up in conversation, people don’t say, oh yeah, he’s that guy with strong opinions on quarantining, or vaccinations, or government overreach, or [fill in the blank]. Instead, I hope they say, oh yeah, he’s that guy who seems to really care about others and is always talking about Jesus.

Church, we have been called to a holy calling (2 Timothy 1:9), to live in obedience to God’s Word (John 14:15), ready to give an account for the hope that we have (1 Peter 3:15). And we can successfully fulfill that calling because in Christ we have been saved to such an end, saved for a time such as this.

“Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God” (1 Peter 1:22-23).