“do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”Philippians 4:6-7 (ESV)
I’m an associate pastor on staff at a Baptist church, one that professes the authority and inerrancy of Scripture, that confesses Christ alone for salvation, that preaches the word and cherishes prayer. I’ve read the Bible many times in my Christian life. I have a degree from a Reformed/Evangelical seminary, one that confesses the sovereignty and supremacy of God in all things. I strive to grow in my knowledge of God’s word daily, commune with him in prayer and live according to the qualifications of an elder as set out in Titus 1:5-9.
So I wish I could tell you that with all of that background in light of the coronavirus and Covid-19 news going on, that because my faith is so strong, everything is just bouncing off of me like nothing is happening. I wish I could say that I’m going about my day just as carefree and unstressed as can be, and because I know God’s word, his promises and goodness, that I trust that everything is going to be just fine. I wish I could tell you that…but I’d be lying and lying is something an elder in God’s church isn’t supposed to do either.
The Apostle Paul’s Own Struggles
In Philippians 3:17 the Apostle Paul writes by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, “Brothers, join in imitating me,” To some, Paul’s words may seem arrogant, as if he were saying “Look at me, I’ve got it all together. Imitate me and you’ll be fine.” But just a few paragraphs earlier, the same Paul wrote,
“Indeed [Epaphroditus] was ill, near to death. But God had mercy on him, and not only on him but on me also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow. I am the more eager to send him, therefore, that you may rejoice at seeing him again, and that I may be less anxious.”Philippians 2:27-28 (ESV)
The same Paul who told us “do not be anxious about anything,” and to “join in imitating me” is the same Paul who said that if Epaphroditus would have died, he would have had “sorrow upon sorrow” and that his recovery made him “less anxious.” In other places Paul writes about how in one instance he “despaired of life itself” (2 Cor. 1:8), and in another place how he pleaded with God to take away his “thorn in the flesh” (2 Cor. 12:7-9). So what gives? Is Paul being a hypocrite?
Looking at Philippians 3 closer helps us understand what Paul meant. In the same chapter he says,
“forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”Philippians 3:13b-14 (ESV)
Paul was a man. Redeemed, saved, made new, yes, but still a man in the flesh, being sanctified and conformed to the image of Christ. Paul, the man who by God’s Holy Spirit told us not to be anxious, himself seemed at times to battle anxiety. He who wrote and told us to “rejoice always,” himself seemed to sorrow. The point Paul was trying to make when he told the Corinthians to imitate him wasn’t, “Be like me, I’m perfect,” but “Be like me, press on toward the goal.” In other words, “fight.”
Battling Anxiety With Biblical Truth
There may indeed be many pastors and believers out there for whom this current pandemic is causing not the slightest bit of angst. Perhaps they have battles in other areas of temptation they must fight. But for me, I will confess that there have been many unsettling moments as I ponder the news and the implications of what is to come. What can I do in these moments? I can dwell in them and make it worse. I can distract myself with something else, which only helps for a short while. Or I can go to the Lord with it and meditate upon his promises. I can “press on” in the battle.
In this war, his word is my weapon. The word which confirms to us the nature and character of God, and his unshakable promises to his children. Here are five truths I’ve been meditating upon and using to combat any anxieties when they arise.
For the believer, this life is not the ultimate reality.
- Colossians 3:1-3 – “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.”
- Hebrews 11:10 – “For [Abraham] was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God.”
- Hebrews 11:13 – “These [saints] all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth.”
It is true that this life matters, but for the believer, this life is not our ultimate reality. While we have breath, we live for the glory of God. But our ultimate hope is “not on things that are on earth.” Remember that our final home is in Heaven with God. Yes, we should use wisdom and steward all in this life he has given us. We should care for our own health, our families, our neighbors, etc. But remember this world is not the ultimate reality in which we hope. There is a greater reality than what we see and experience now.
God is in sovereign control of everything including coronavirus.
- Ephesians 1:11 – “In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will,”
- Lamentations 3:37 – “Who has spoken and it came to pass, unless the Lord has commanded it?”
- Luke 12:6-7 – “Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God. Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows.
Remember that God is in sovereign control of everything. Nothing happening right now has surprised God or caught him off guard. The spread of this virus is not “chaotic” or “out of control” from his perspective. We as believers need to remember that our God is on the throne and is ruling and reigning over everything, including what is happening right now. This doesn’t negate our responsibility to care for ourselves and one another. But it means that we should not worry and wonder if things are out of control. They are not.
God is working out his good purposes even through coronavirus.
- Genesis 50:20 – “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.” (Joseph to his brothers who had sold him into slavery in Egypt).
- Acts 2:23; 1 Thessalonians 5:10 – “this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.”…“who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him.”
- Romans 8:28 – “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”
Remember that we are not God. God is God, and he alone is perfect and infinite in wisdom, knowledge and power. His purposes of ordaining, permitting and working in and through sickness, disaster, calamity and trials may seem baffling to us at times, but we are merely finite creatures and cannot fully understand his purposes. When we look at his works and promises in Scripture, we get a glimpse of his good and perfect wisdom operating even in sickness, suffering, and evil, to bring about his greater purposes.
We see Joseph who was wickedly sinned against by his brothers. Yet through the evil acts done to him, God worked to preserve many people and ultimately bless Joseph.
We see even in the death of his Son Jesus, God’s will was still being carried out. The arrest and crucifixion of Christ was something done by “lawless men,” yet it was by God’s plan. And through this great evil the salvation of God’s people was accomplished.
God has foreordained all our days.
- Psalm 139:16 – “Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.”
- Job 14:1,5 – “Man who is born of a woman is few of days and full of trouble… his days are determined, and the number of his months is with you, and you have appointed his limits that he cannot pass,”
- Psalm 39:4 – “O Lord, make me know my end and what is the measure of my days; let me know how fleeting I am!”
- Matthew 6:27 – “And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?”
For the Christian, believing that God has numbered our days should not be seen or understood in a fatalistic way, but with great comfort. Believing that God has appointed our exact times on earth to live for his glory, we can rest with great assurance that nothing can take us from this life unless it is time for us to go.
Nothing can separate the true believer from Christ.
- Romans 8:34-39 – “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, ‘For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
- Philippians 1:21 – “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”
- 2 Corinthians 5:8 – “Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord.”
For the believer, death is not ultimate. In fact, God’s word tells us that through the Apostle Paul that “to die is gain,” for it means that we will enter into God’s presence, made perfect and in perfect fellowship with him for all eternity! No matter what happens in this life, nothing can take away the eternal inheritance we have in Christ.
I’m a pastor, an elder in God’s church, but like all believers, I’m still in process too. Like Paul who at times “despaired of life itself,” who contemplated “sorrow upon sorrow” at the death of a friend, or who pleaded with God to take away a “thorn in the flesh,” I also struggle at times. But also, like him, I’m seeking to “press on,” to keep my eyes on Jesus Christ. I’m fighting to embed the objective realities of God’s promises in my own heart and mind.
So, believer, if you’re feeling anxious, then remember these five truths from God’s word and preach them to yourself. Let them be the weapons of war against fear and despair.
- This life is not my ultimate reality. My ultimate hope is in Heaven with Christ. (Colossians 3:1-3)
- God is in perfect control. He rules over everything that’s happening right now, including my own health and the health of my loved ones. I will not get coronavirus apart from God’s good and perfect plans. (Luke 12:6-7)
- Everything happens according to God’s perfect plan. Whatever happens, even if I get sick, must suffer, or even die, God will work it out for good in ways beyond my comprehension. (Romans 8:28)
- My days on earth are in God’s hands. I do not have to fear death, or that something terrible will happen to me. (Psalm 139:16)
- I’m secure in Christ. No matter what happens, nothing can separate me from him. My eternal inheritance cannot be taken away. (Romans 8:34-39)
So believer, join me in the fight. Nothing would bring our adversary the devil greater pleasure than to see God’s people paralyzed with fear right now. Such would be a fate worse than any pandemic could bring.