How can Christians live as lights in a dark time?
CHARLES: A couple of things come to my mind. One is what Burk mentioned, which is the second great command that Jesus gives—to love your neighbor as yourself (Matt. 22:39). We, as shepherds in our church, have been trying to think through decisions in a way that reflects that priority for the members of our church so that we, as a church, are reflecting how to love our neighbor in this critical time. It is not just about our own safety, security, priorities, comfort, or whatever you would add to that list. There is a love of neighbor that motivates us, which is tied very closely to our love for God.
At the end of the talk I gave earlier, I said that it’s important for the saints to live with hope. When you asked the question about suffering, I didn’t get the chance to answer. I’m almost glad I didn’t because they had much better answers than I would have, but what came to my mind were Scriptures that bid us to rejoice, such as James 1, 1 Peter 1, and Romans 5. God is sovereign. His providential care is at work in the worst of circumstances.
I am not saying to rejoice in any frivolous way that fails to take seriously the gravity of the circumstances, but there is a hope that is untouched by the affairs of the world. There is gospel power in the saints reflecting Jeremiah, who sat amid ruin and despair, declaring that the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases and His compassions never come to an end. I don’t think it counts if you sing “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” during graduations, celebrations, and anniversaries. Anybody can sing it during those times. Rather, it is during times of crisis and calamity, during times of sorrow and suffering, that you really mean it—when you don’t know what’s about to happen next and the pressures of life are weighing down on you, but you are still clinging to the faithfulness of God.
As Sinclair said earlier, this is a time for us to live out the gospel we proclaim and profess. Being good and godly neighbors wherever God has placed us and living with the hope of our risen Savior are two things that I think are critical during these days.
FERGUSON: Chris, I was thinking when you were quoting Luther how often I have heartily sung the verse, “And were this world with viruses filled and threatening to undo us.” We’ve sung that so often, and this is a time which presses us to believe that these things are true and to live them out. My observation is that we all have different resources and gifts to serve the people around us. There are some people who know exactly what to do and then there are people, like me, who are asking, “Is there anything I can do?” We need to help one another in that regard.
It seems to me that the absolutely fundamental thing is who we are and what we do. There are all these verses in the New Testament about Christians having peace because they have a God of peace. It’s those things, in terms of the impact of our Christian witness to others, that will show that we are inwardly on our knees before them. They know we proclaim Christ as Lord, but we are saying, “We are your servants for Jesus’ sake.”
It begins to make sense to people that we live and trust in the Lord when they see the connectedness between the gospel that we may have spoken to them and the dispositions we now have. Yes, we have our anxieties, but we’re able to cast those anxieties on the Lord. We have our needs, but the gospel has given us poise and peace. That’s not something that we put on. We don’t flick on the light in order to be lights to the world. We are the light of the world. We have peace with God. We must have confidence in the Spirit’s ministry to use what God has done in our lives in order to speak through the service that we render to people who are around us, especially those who are most anxious.
PARSONS: Living out what we believe in the gospel, as you said Dr. Ferguson, means living with a certain peace. This is a time for Christians to show forth the calm that we can have, namely, that we take proper precautions, but we don’t overreact, and that we are able to truly live out the fruit of the Spirit with a calmness and a steadfastness.
I know there are many people who think that many others are making too much about this virus and its impacts. Then there are others who think that people aren’t making enough about it. That has been one of the most difficult things in striving to serve people well, teach people, and shepherd people through this, because there are people at different ends of this spectrum and all throughout it. Even among us here today, I’m sure there are people who are very worried and also people who are not worried much at all.
I think this is a time when the devil is going to try to divide homes. He is going to try to bring division and unnecessary disagreements in the home, in marriages, and in the church. This is a time for us to strive to serve one another well as we strive to lead in helping people to show grace to each other and to show a tremendous amount of freedom. We’ve been meeting this week as a staff at the church and talking about how we really want to strive always—not just during this time, but always—to give grace and freedom and help people wherever we can.
One last thing. I have talked with a number of people who are simply asking the question: “When are we going to be through this? When are we going to be done with this? When is this crisis going to be over? When are the markets going to come back? When is the economy going to begin to come back?” The answer, of course, is that none of us really knows completely.
Too often we are treating this trial like we treat our own trials in life, where we’re just trying to muscle our way through them. Often, however, the purpose of trials, difficulties, hardships, and suffering in our lives is not just to muscle our way through by grinding our teeth and saying that we’re going to get through it. Rather, it is to humble ourselves, as Dr. Ferguson was saying. This is a time to investigate our own hearts and ask the Lord to examine us and know our ways. It’s a time for us to pause and see if there’s any wicked way in us. It’s a time for us to focus our lives on the Lord and to take our theology seriously.
This is a transcript of Sinclair Ferguson’s, H.B. Charles’s, and Burk Parsons’s answers from the Pastoral Care in Times of Crisis panel discussion during our Made in the Image of God event and has been lightly edited for readability. To ask Ligonier a biblical or theological question, just visit Ask.Ligonier.org or message us on Facebook or Twitter.