FOR SOME, FEAR OF LIFE MAY BE GREATER THAN FEAR OF DEATH
There is much unrest in the world today because of the current COVID-19 pandemic in our country. This virus does not discriminate in regards to its victims. Everyone has suffered its impact in one way or another. As for this pandemic, with time, it will be dealt with as all the other pandemics in history. If you come in contact with the virus, you could be infected, possibly go through months of suffering, and you could even die.
The disease and possible death from the virus itself are not man’s only concern. While trying to prevent it’s spread, accompanied with the massive stay-at-home orders, it has caused further distress and sufferings through the loss of jobs, businesses and financial stability. Many are overwhelmed by the hardships they are forced to undertake.
We as Americans have enjoyed great liberty and prosperity in this country. But this virus is bringing people to their knees. If not to their knees in prayer, to their knees in sorrow and hopelessness. Nevertheless, believers are instructed to endure sufferings (2 Timothy 2:3, 4:5: 1 Thessalonians 1:4; 2 Corinthians 1:6). But are believers prepared?
The doctrine which prepares the believer to endure suffering is given to us by the Apostle Paul. Paul is our example in how we should respond to sufferings. 1 Timothy 1:16 Howbeit for this cause I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might shew forth ALL LONGSUFFERING, for a pattern to them which should hereafter believe on him to life everlasting.
As Paul endured sufferings, he said, he learned to be content. Philippians 4:11-12 KJV - Not that I speak in respect of want: FOR I HAVE LEARNED, IN WHATSOEVER STATE I AM, THEREWITH TO BE CONTENT. I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound AND TO SUFFER NEED.
Initially, believers prepare themselves for suffering by what they learn and are taught in God’s written word. But, in order for what we learn to be effectual in our lives, it must be brought into our experience. Learning to be content in sufferings cannot be obtained solely on knowledge of the scripture. We will learn to be content as we endure sufferings experientially.
COVID-19 and the civil unrest we face are the sufferings of this present world which is common to man. Therefore, like all of humanity, the believer in Christ will face sufferings of this nature. When Paul instructs the believer to endure suffering, it is not strictly limited to our sufferings for Christ sake.
So, what is the answer to the believer’s endurance of sufferings? First, let’s bring some realities to the forefront by example. It has been instilled in some individuals that they should work hard to accomplish something in life. So, they do work hard. They get married, have children, buy a house and automobiles. They send their children to college to further their education. They travel and take a vacation whenever they want. They save their money and live in comfort. This is what we identify as the American dream.
Then COVID-19 strikes our country. These individuals are caught in the rippling effects of this virus. One or both, husband and wife lose their job. They may have a mortgage, car payments, or loans from sending their children to college. They have reservations about sending their children back to school amid this contagious disease. The government may or may not be aiding them during this crisis. They rapidly deplete their savings and use what money they receive from the government to buy food and pay their bills. Their financial debt is mounting. Things are so bad; they are force to get food from the local foodbank. Their future, to say the least, looks hopeless as the coronavirus continues to spread. They may or may not be able to go back to work for some time. They face the grim possibility that they could lose everything they have worked for and they may even have to depend on government assistance just to survive.
Unfortunately, this scenario is being experienced by both believers and unbelievers to some degree. Again, Paul is our example as one who suffered greatly for the cause of Christ, but can the believer today identify themselves with what Paul experienced? When the Apostle Paul was saved, he gave up everything to follow Christ. Philippians 3:4-8 KJV - Though I might also have confidence in the flesh. If any other man thinketh that he hath whereof he might trust in the flesh, I more: Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee; Concerning zeal, persecuting the church; touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless. but what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my lord: FOR WHOM I HAVE SUFFERED THE LOSS OF ALL THINGS, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ,
Paul’s life and motivation for living was centered in Christ (Philippians 1:20-21). That is where many of us may have to make a distinction. Paul was willing to suffer the loss of all things for Christ sake. Are we, and what will that mean? We live in a country of prosperity and wealth. And we all want a piece of the pie. There is absolutely nothing wrong with working hard in life. And having something to show for it, is not a sin.
When reading the Acts of the Apostles and Paul’s epistles, there is no record of Paul ever having a wife or children. His travels by ship and land took him to numerous countries to preach the gospel, establish churches and care for the saints. It seemed he had no place to call home. He worked as a tent maker, but at times, he relied on the charity of his converts (Philippians 4:16). In your mind, you might view Paul as destitute, yet in the eyes of God, he was extremely rich. 2 Corinthians 6:10 KJV - As sorrowful, yet alway rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing all things.
In times past, God made promises to Israel that they could avoid sufferings if they would obey his commandments (Deuteronomy 28; Leviticus 26). However, the church, the body of Christ is not under Israel’s covenant program of law. And deliverance from sufferings is a future hope (Romans 8:21-23), not a present promise to believers during the dispensation of grace. We are instructed to endure sufferings and hardship.
So why is it that the Apostle Paul could glory in tribulations and infirmities, and say that to depart and be with Christ if far better (Romans 5:3; 2 Corinthians 11:30, 12:5, 12:9; Philippians 1:23)? There can only be one clear explanation. His love for Christ was greater than his love for the world (1 John 2:15-16). Philippians 1:20-21 According to my earnest expectation and my hope, that in nothing I shall be ashamed, but that with all boldness, as always, so now also Christ shall be magnified in my body, whether it be by life, or by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.
Until we renew our minds and view the temporal things in this earthly life as God views them, many of us may not be able to endure the sufferings and loses we may have to face.
1Timothy 6:6-8 KJV - But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and raiment let us be therewith content.
Whether it be our jobs, bank accounts, houses or land, our trust must not be in the accumulation of these earthly riches. Our trust must be in the living God.
1 Timothy 6:17 KJV - Charge them that are rich in this world, that they be not highminded, nor trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God, who giveth us richly all things to enjoy;
THE COMFORT OF GOD
The believer has the assurance of eternal life without sufferings. If they die, they will immediately be in the presence of the Lord to dwell with Him throughout eternity.
2 Corinthians 5:6 KJV - Therefore we are always confident, knowing that, whilst we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord:
2 Corinthians 5:8 KJV - We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord. Philippians 1:23]
In 2020, COVID-19 and the civil unrest in our world has interrupted our lives, and for some has caused a greater fear of life that that of death. Fear of life because of the dismal outlook of what the future may hold.
Many are unprepared for the uncertainty of what may lie ahead. For the believer, God offers us comfort and hope for these troubling times. But first, we must be able to endure suffering and apply what is given to us for our comfort before we are able to comfort others. 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 KJV - Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort; Who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God.