The English philosopher Bertrand Russell said, ‘Most people would rather die than think and most people do so’.
God urges his people to think—to think about history, to think about what he is doing in the world. God is not aloof and distant; he is involved in human history, nothing happens apart from his permission.
History is indeed his story and when one takes a bird’s eye, rather than a worm’s eye view, God’s hand in world and personal events is readily apparent.
The letter of James is probably the oldest piece of writing in the new Testament. The epistle was written by James, the half-brother of the Lord Jesus, and dates from as early as 40 A.D.
It gives us a glimpse into the very early life of the church and it is therefore significant that James begins as he does.
He wants his readers to have a God honouring attitude to trials and suffering. Here is first century discipleship 101, he makes it plain they are to get a right attitude to suffering, because they will inevitably face suffering. That attitude is to count trials as ‘all joy’ (v. 2), because of where they lead—to steadfastness (v. 3), and completeness (v. 4).
Trials are a means God uses to bring about the maturing of his people. The believer recognises that trials and suffering are a furnace, not to burn us but to refine us.
The apostle Paul tells us in Romans 8 that one of the freedoms of being a Christian, is the freedom of living a life not subject to fate, luck, or chance. There are no accidents, he says in verse 28—that for those who love God who have been called by him, God is at work in all things for good; and in verse 29 he tells us the good—that we should be conformed to the image of Christ.
There is no circumstance, virus or alien cell which can enter the body of the believer, that is not determined by God to be for their good, their maturing, or their growing Christ likeness.
Christians will not be reckless but will approach the pandemic with a firm trust in God who orders all things well.
Proverbs 15:15 says that when days of oppression come, some will experience these days as evil, while the cheerful of heart, those with a glad heart, a right worldview of trust and reverence for the Lord, will experience these days as a ‘continual feast’.
It is noticeable that believers abound in times of crisis!
History is under the control of God who is working his purpose out day by day, and he can be trusted. These are the convictions which ought to guide our preaching in these days.
Why not preach a series through Acts, where Luke’s emphasis is on the gospel’s unstoppable march from Jerusalem to Rome. No matter what contrary forces the gospel meets— persecution, imprisonment, internal hypocrisy and error, judicial activism—the gospel overcomes them all. The gospel is God’s unstoppable instrument and will prevail and achieve his purpose.
Or a series through Judges would show how God so orders history to refine his people and then rescues them in the most surprising ways. He always triumphs no matter how dark the days.
If you have a shorter time frame, here is the outline of a four week series entitled Living in the days of coronavirus:
Week 1—Genesis 3:14–20 and Luke 12:54–13:5
Understanding the world we live in: we live outside the garden Paradise created by God, because of Adam’s sin . Jesus says events like political atrocity and industrial accidents outlined in Luke 13: 1-5 remind us of the fallenness of our environment. It is not paradise any more, and the right response of living in this environment is to continually repent of our part in Adam and Eve’s rebellion against God’s rule.
Week 2—Romans 1:18 to 2:5
This world is under the passive judgement of God. Humankind has rejected the revelation of God in creation and turned to idols and the result is that God has ‘given them over’, this is mentioned 3 times, in verse 24, verse 26 and v28. As a result these are days of uncleanness, scrambled sexuality and counterfeit thinking, all due to the lie of idolatry. We must repent of such activity. In Romans chapter 2 versus 1 to 5, we read that when times are good, we also ought to repent. Whatever your experience of life, good or bad days, God’s message is the same, repent!
Week 3—Hebrews 12:5–11.
God is a perfect and loving parent who disciplines his children as a mark of his love. A time of pandemic is one such form of discipline. Trust him as the perfect father.
Week 4—Romans 8:28–39.
Live the freedom and have the assurance that our faithful God controls all things; yes, even the things listed in verse 35, and he does it for our maturing, our growing Christ likeness. According to Titus 2:11–14, God’s great purpose in history is to glorify his son by purifying a people for his own possession.
In 404 A.D. the Christian preacher John Chrysostom was called before the Emperor Arcadius, the Emperor of the eastern Roman Empire. Arcadius called on Chrysostom to recant and turn away from Christ.
‘I will confiscate your property,’ he threatened. Chrysostom responded, ‘You cannot, for my treasure is in Christ.’
‘I will take your home,’ he said. ‘You cannot,’ said Chrysostom, ‘my home is in heaven’.
‘I will take your life’. ‘You cannot,’ Chrysostom responded, ‘for that would be to send me to be with Christ my saviour.’
That is the evidence of the glad heart of the believer—living for the eternal, and trusting in the God who orders all things well.
If our possessions, property and life are our priority, then there is no greater threat than to take them away. But if we have Christ, then no property or pandemic threat can affect our eternal security.