Remembering the Lord in Difficult Times
At the time of writing, 30% or more of the world’s population is subject to some form of government-imposed lockdown directed at slowing the spread of the new coronavirus (COVID-19) and minimising its impact on public health and the provision of public health services. Many of us are confronted by restrictions on Christians gathering together for the first time in our lives.
What are Christians seeking to be faithful to the desire of the Lord Jesus as expressed in Luke 22:14–20 to do in such times? As always, we should see what the Scriptures say (Rom. 4:3; Gal. 4:30) and ask the Lord to ‘give [us] understanding in all things’ (2 Tim. 2:7).
Respect for the authorities set up by God is important (Rom. 13), as is our testimony before the world, which should be a positive one (Phil. 2:15) and, as a general rule, include submission to the authorities and the laws they have enacted (1 Pet. 2:13–17). However, where the two conflict, ‘we ought to obey God rather than men’ (Acts 5:29). Peter’s words are not limited to overt governmental acts aimed at supressing the Christian testimony. Rather, their application is universal. God always comes first.
The Lord Jesus asked each believer to remember Him in the breaking of bread on a regular basis until He comes (Luke 22:14–20; 1 Cor. 11:23–26). The Lord knows the end from the beginning (Isa. 46:9–10). To be more explicit, He knew that, in 2020, COVID-19 would spread around the world when He instituted His Supper and asked us to follow what took place then, which was:
· ‘Jesus took bread, and blessed it, and brake it, and gave it to the disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is my body’ (Matt. 26:26). A single loaf, broken by the Lord and given to the disciples, from which they each ate.
· ‘In like manner also the cup’ (Luke 22:20) — ‘he took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, Drink ye all of it’ (Matt.
26:27), ‘and they all drank out of it’ (Mark 14:23). A single cup, from which all of the disciples drank.
The Lord’s words ‘this do’ (Luke 22:19; 1 Cor. 11:24, 25) confirm that, as we remember Him, we are to emulate what He did.
In sizeable meetings, it may (in ordinary circumstances) be necessary to break a large loaf into smaller portions and to dispense wine from one container into several cups for practical reasons. However, in those instances, the pattern established by the Lord (brethren partaking from the same portion of bread and the same cup) is essentially maintained. While we should not tempt God (Matt. 4:7; Luke 4:12), it is difficult to imagine circumstances in which it would become right for us not to follow what the Lord and His disciples did when the Lord’s supper was instituted.
The pattern established by the New Testament is that a meeting for the breaking of bread should be held weekly, on the first day of the week (Acts 20:7). If circumstances suggest that this is not possible, we may find help from Numbers 9. Israel were commanded to keep the Passover in the first month of each year (vv. 2–4). However, some Israelites were concerned that complying with other requirements of the law, namely the need for cleansing, meant that they could not join in the celebration of the Passover in the first month (vv. 6–7). After Moses brought the matter before Him, God made provision for those who were unclean in the first month or could not keep the Passover at that time for reasons of physical impossibility: they could keep the Passover in the second month (vv. 8–12). At least two lessons can be drawn from this. First, if something which we know is right seems impossible, bring it before the Lord, as He may reveal a way in which it is still possible for us to do what He has asked. At the same time, He recognises that circumstances may arise in which it is impossible for believers to remember Him. However, this then leads to the question as to whether our present circumstances are analogous to those described in Numbers 9:10. Consideration should also be given to verse 13.
Another pattern which we find in the New Testament is that assembly meetings should be held in the same place (Rom. 16:5; 1 Cor. 16:19; Col. 4:15; Philemon 2). Should it not be possible to convene the meetings in the usual place, let us remember that the Lord has promised His presence wherever believers are gathered together (in one physical place) unto His name, even if they are only two or three in number (Matt. 18:20).
None of us knows why God has allowed COVID-19 to spread so rapidly or permitted government responses to go as far as they have in restricting Christian meetings. Hopefully, at the very least, those of us living in Western countries are led to thank Him for His grace in having preserved us from so many of the natural hardships which much of the world’s population, and countless Christians, have suffered. In addition, we may do well to consider whether the Lord is testing the faith of His people, as He did with Abraham in Genesis 22 (to take but one example).
Our professions of trusting in Him may also be the subject of testing. In Ezra 8, Ezra and his companions embarked on a long journey from Babylon to Jerusalem, carrying much treasure for the temple. Before they left Babylon, they had made the profession (rightly) that ‘the hand of our God is upon all them for good that seek him; but his power and his anger is against all them that forsake him’. Because of this profession, they had forsaken offers of protection from King Artaxerxes. They knew that to accept his help would be to undermine their profession (see vv. 21–23). If we have previously asked the Lord to guide and bless our gatherings, our actions in a time of crisis should be consistent with those prayers.
Finally, everything will be manifest at the judgment seat of Christ (2 Cor. 5:10) — motives as well as actions. This article is not intended to criticise anyone or to suggest that a believer should act against his or her conscience or the liberty which the Lord has afforded us. The Lord is a righteous judge (2 Tim. 4:8), and His judgment of us in a future day will no doubt take account of all of our circumstances. However, let us strive to be the recipients of the following words in that day: ‘Well done, thou good and faithful servant’ (Matt. 25:21). The proving of our faith during trials is precious to the one we love, the Lord Jesus Christ (1 Pet. 1:6–7).
Author’s addition (28 March 2020):
This article is not intended to advocate open opposition to any laws or imprudent flouting of public health advice, nor is there any suggestion that, as Christians, we ought to be oblivious to circumstances or continue as if there were not a serious crisis unfolding around us. We should do all we can to support the efforts of governments and health services in the countries in which we live. They are battling a dangerous and contagious disease, and we should give heed to advice as to when self-isolation is necessary and so on. Individuals in high risk groups and those living with them will be especially conscious of the advice of medical professionals (which, incidentally, is also something for which we can give the Lord thanks). We should neither take unnecessary risks or ignore rules and advice, nor give up Christian privilege too lightly – but be exercised before the Lord in all of these matters.