During Coronavirus Christ Is Being Proclaimed--And In That We Rejoice1
Two thousands years ago Paul of Tarsus was in a jail cell in Rome writing a letter to his beloved church, the Philippians.
The imprisonment wasn’t easy on him. Roman prisons were very different from ours. He relied on others for food and clothing. But as hard as it was physically, we can imagine it was even more so emotionally. He was separated from most people, torn about what to do next, and uncertain when he’d die (Philippians 1:22).
Yet as we read Philippians we notice a man of joy and peace. With unbending authenticity, he oozed a special contentment and security in his words.
How could this be? How could he have such joy and peace in his trying circumstances? How can we?
How to Have Joy and Peace in Difficulty
The greatest answer—and the one we typically give—is: because Paul knew Christ. This is a dominant theme in Paul's letter to the Philippians. Christ had taken hold of his life (Philippians 3:12). He discovered that Christ’s good news was better than anything the world could offer (Philippians 3:7-9). He possessed a purpose now greater than any other he’d had before (Philippians 3:14). “To live is Christ” (Philippians 1:21).
Furthermore, he had great promises through Christ. He knew his God would supply all his needs (Philippians 4:19). He could be content in whatever circumstances because Christ strengthened him (Philippians 4:13). And perhaps most important of all, he believed even if he were to die, he would go and be with his Christ—which was far better anyways (Philippians 1:23).
Thus, the imitable apostle Paul. Because of his vital relationship with Christ, he experienced joy and peace in whatever circumstances he faced. So can we.
But there’s another reason that Paul had such joy and peace. It’s a reason we don’t talk about as much but may particularly apply today to our coronavirus situation. We see it in Philippians 1.
Another Way to Have Joy and Peace in Difficulty
Paul is explaining one of those circumstances that could’ve caused crabbiness and turmoil (opposites of joy and peace). People were proclaiming the genuine gospel of Christ but in a mocking way. They were reviling Paul. Making fun of Paul. Using the gospel to bring disrepute on his name.
Paul explains the situation:
“Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment.” (Philippians 1:15-17)
Some were proclaiming the gospel sincerely, engaging in the same work Paul was doing with good motives. Others, however, were proclaiming the gospel for a very different reason. They were selfish, mocking Paul, looking to “afflict” him while in prison. They were not changing the gospel message—if that were the problem, Paul would’ve responded very differently (see Galatians 1:6-9 for example). Rather, they were attacking Paul’s reputation, Paul’s character, Paul’s prestige.
We can assume Paul was hurt by this. We can imagine he was tempted to let it get to him. Nonetheless, notice his response. How does Paul feel about this situation? What’s his response? One that oozes with both peace and joy. Paul writes (we’ll start at the beginning again for context):
“Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment. What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice.” (Philippians 1:15-18)
“What does it matter? Christ is proclaimed!“
And so we discover another way this apostle in chains could have such joy and peace. He was so thrilled about Christ being proclaimed—even if people did it from evil intentions—that he was able to bear the affliction.
As long as his Christ was being promoted, Paul could withstand the face-smearing. He was able to look at the circumstance and even feel peace and joy, responding with a genuine “What then? It doesn’t matter...I rejoice.” How? All because “Christ is proclaimed.”
The Coronavirus Crisis Today
During our present coronavirus situation, we can learn from Paul’s heart’s desire. For him, even in a situation that was very difficult, he was able to respond with joy. Even in physical affliction (being in prison) and emotional distress (receiving mockery), he had peace. All because he saw that in that situation Christ was proclaimed—and in that he rejoiced.
So how does this apply to our current coronavirus crisis?
To answer, what if we took Paul’s paragraph here and applied it by changing only a few words? Paul described how he could have joy and peace even when people proclaimed Christ from good and bad motives. What if we applied it to Christ being proclaimed in good and bad situations? It would read something like this:
“Sometimes Christ is proclaimed during times of difficulty and confusion, but other times when things are going well. The latter we love, because they’re more comfortable for us. The former times are much more difficult.”
This would be true, wouldn’t it? Sometimes things go well. Other times not as well. We prefer when things are smooth, but often things are rough. With the coronavirus outbreak, we’re in the not-as-well. We’re in difficulty.
Yet what should be our resounding response? Similar to Paul’s. We might say:
“What then? Only that in every situation, whether in comfort or in trial, whether we’re in a coronavirus season or not, Christ is proclaimed, and in that we rejoice.”
We’re in a situation that is disruptive and chaotic. Yet we, too, can still have joy and peace in our situation through Paul’s same way: “Christ is proclaimed, and in that we rejoice.”
Christ Is Being Proclaimed Through This
Such a realization is a hidden balm of comfort that can help us Christ-lovers through times of trial, especially global and catastrophic ones like this coronavirus outbreak.
Like Paul, our ultimate hope is in knowing Christ—in being saved through his gospel, living for him, and knowing that even if we die we get to be with him.
And also like Paul, we can carry within us this Christ-is-proclaimed viewpoint. Doing so fuels us to live through difficult times and not panic or lose faith. And it enables us to have joy and peace. We know Christ’s gospel is spreading. We know his church will prevail and continue to grow. And we especially know that this situation is allowing Christ to be displayed in ways that he wouldn’t be if these times didn’t occur. We know Christ is being proclaimed, and in that we can rejoice. We can, and should, have joy and peace.
This Is Not a Mishap
This whole coronavirus situation is not a mishap. Unfortunately when our routines seems to halt, our financial statuses dwindle, and the church can’t even meet physically, we may be tempted to believe this outbreak is a setback for us and for God's purposes for the world. We may see how it’s hurting us and others and think that this must not align with God’s good purposes. We could even say that God didn’t see this coming, that he didn’t plan this.
But we’d be wrong.
It’s true that there’s a lot of difficulty and hurt occurring. There’s also a lot of abnormalities we’ve encountering. (It isn’t normal to not meet together regularly or to have to practice quarantining. We weren’t designed for six-foot social distancing.) But it’s also true that in this time and through this situation and because of this virus, Christ is being proclaimed. Uniquely. In many new ways.
For that, we rejoice.
The darker the room, the brighter the light. The higher the cliff, the greater appreciation for the harness. The deeper the hole, the bigger the rescue. In a similar vein, the more chaotic the society, the more beautiful our Savior’s security. The more our world fills with fear and uncertainty through coronavirus, the greater Christ—and our security and peace and love and hope and joy we have in him—will swell in beauty.
We could list ways this is happening. The global church, by God’s grace, is stepping up to the task. In live-streaming services and content. In eagerness to provide help. In sacrificing for one’s neighbor. In calling and checking in. In financial support. In sharing the gospel. In love. In prayer. Christ is uniquely shining forth in the darkness.
This doesn’t mean we don’t pray for the abnormality to end—we do. Nor does it mean we can’t lament our hurt—we should. But it does mean we trust God’s got this. We believe that he’s working all this for his people's good, even the parts which hurt our finances, security, and health (Romans 8:28). And we know that through this, Christ is being proclaimed.
Our Hearts’ Desire
During this crisis we do well, then, to learn from the chained apostle Paul. Our situation is tough. We’re losing a lot of security, health, and money. And some of us may even lose our lives due to this terrible virus.
But that’s not the whole story.
As believers in God’s gospel and sovereign goodness, we also possess joy and peace in this difficult time. How? Because we know that through this crisis Christ is being proclaimed.
And above all, that’s our hearts’ desire. So in that we rejoice.
Article also published on Pastor Ryan's blog www.lookingatchrist.com.
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