As 2020 comes to a close, I have been thinking about how to describe everything that has happened this year without being cliché. One would say that the events of this year have been unprecedented, but it’s also unprecedented itself how many times we’ve heard the word “unprecedented.”
We’ve used words and phrases we never thought we’d have to use and talk about so regularly, like “socially distancing” and “masking.” Just think about it: if you were plucked from 2019 (just a year ago!), dropped into the present time, and given no information or context, you would wonder if the world had gone mad because wherever you go, almost everyone is wearing a mask and staying apart from one another. This is not to advocate a certain position for or against masks because frankly, there’s enough talk about that and even if I were to chime in on the debate, I’m not sure too many people would care about what I have to say, to be honest. Additionally, these have become very divisive issues and stirring up division and controversy is the complete opposite of what Christians are supposed to do (Titus 3:2, 9).
So what has been the purpose of all of this? Surely, there must be a purpose for all the fear, tragedy, and tensions we have experienced. Thankfully, as Christians, we know that the pain we face here on earth does have a glorious purpose (Romans 8:18; 2 Corinthians 4:16-18). How then does this relate specifically to 2020 and all that we have gone through this year?
In trying to describe this year, and in doing so, pursuing unity, not division, I want to explore the following for what I think God is, and has been doing in the world this past year: God has used 2020 as a wake-up call, asking what it is we will serve: him, or other things. He is telling us to “get ready.” I will consider two texts in moving forward with this.
First, Matthew 10:37-38. Jesus says, “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.” These verses quite literally hit close to home. Throughout the year, we have spent days upon days locked in our homes, some of us alone, but many of us with family members. These are people we love deeply and we know the best; they are our best friends for many of us.
This is a wonderful thing and a blessing from God, as our earthly families and love for them are meant to point us to our heavenly family and the love we have for them. But what is at the root of all this? In other words, how is it that we enjoy the blessings of not only an earthly family, but also a heavenly one? You can probably guess, it’s the Sunday School answer: Jesus.
Ephesians 1 is one of my favorite chapters in all the Bible and is a wonderful place to go to expand on this idea. In verse 3, Paul says that God the Father “has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.” Every spiritual blessing; this includes our spiritual families! One of the reasons that Christ died was to purchase for himself his church, his bride (Ephesians 5:25-27), thereby uniting the people God had chosen before the foundations of the world in himself (1:10). Isn’t that amazing?!
Though this may be amazing, the fact that we have earthly and spiritual families as a blessing from God is not my point in examining these verses from Matthew. My point is that though we do have earthly and spiritual families, and though we should have a great, deep love for them, it should never be greater or deeper than the love we have for Christ. After all, he’s the reason we have them in the first place! We must never love the gifts (not just family, but every other gift!) more than the Giver. To do so is idolatry.
What is at stake if we do love the gifts more than the Giver? It is this: If you (or I) dare love anything more than Christ, if we dare follow anything or anyone (family included) more of Christ, and if we dare deny him for the sake of anything else, he will also deny us (Matthew 10:33). Our relationship with God and eternal destiny is at stake! I plead with you, reader, that yes, you enjoy and cherish these blood-bought gifts that God has given you. But do not love what you have been given more than the One who died in your place to give you those gifts.
The second set of verses I want to look at is from 2 Corinthians 5:14-15. “For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.” The love of Christ controls us. No, this does not mean that the love of Christ makes us act like programmed robots. Rather, the word Paul uses here is that the love of Christ is what motivates us, or compels us to live as Christ did. So then as we have this great love as our motivation, we are to live not selfishly and for ourselves, but for others.
This is very similar to what Paul writes when he says, “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God–this is your true and proper worship” (Romans 12:1). In this case, it is God’s mercy that is our motivating factor for offering our bodies as living sacrifices. The conclusion can then be formed that when we receive God’s love and mercy, we aren’t meant to just go about our lives, living passively and just hoping we squeak into Heaven. No, God’s love and mercy are meant to compel, to motivate, and control every area of our lives.
When I say “every area of our lives,” I really do mean every single area of our lives. “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). How many of us could honestly say that while in quarantine and isolation, everything we did was to the glory of God? I think that if we’re being completely honest, not very many of us did. Many of us wasted away our days watching show after show on Netflix, playing game after game, scrolled through social media post after social media post, and did so many things that have little to no Kingdom value. We had all this time on our hands to grow closer to God, yet we threw so much of it away.
Or maybe you were one of the people who took seriously the time that had been given to you, and you dove deeper into the Bible than you ever had before. Motivated by God’s love and mercy, you spent your days enjoying deep, fruitful fellowship with him. Looking back, I wish I had done more of this. Sure, I was able to focus more on my relationship with God while in isolation, but I also see now that I wasted a lot of my time.
Let us not be people of the latter. Let’s not be people who, whenever they have spare time, use it to gratify their earthly desires for entertainment and what not. This is not to say these things are sinful, but they can be if they take the place of God, as mentioned previously. Let’s be people who are motivated and compelled to live not by our earthly desires, but by godly desires, which rest in Christ’s love for us.
I would be remiss to think that the pandemic was the only thing people struggled through this year. Over the summer, we saw the country all but explode over racial tensions as protesting and rioting took place in many major American cities. Again, I am not here to advocate a position of whether or not there is widespread racism and police brutality in America. We can go back and forth all day about the issues surrounding racial or social justice but at the end of the day, there is only one justice that matters, and that is the justice of God.
We can talk about justice for this group of people, and justice for that group of people, and that’s great! We are command by Scripture to do justice (Micah 6:8) and care for the less fortunate (Isaiah 1:17). We should never be passive about issues here on earth just because we know that everything will be worked out when we get to heaven. Just as we stated earlier, we are to do all things to the glory of God.
At the same time, however, we must never get so caught up in the issues of this time that we lose sight of bringing glory to God and instead focus more on bringing glory to ourselves. Going back to the Matthew passage, we can hear Jesus saying, “Whoever loves social justice more than me is not worthy of me!” Again, it is a good and right thing to want to help the less fortunate here on earth. But do not love your work for Christ more than Christ himself.
John Piper once said, “God is always doing 10,000 things in your life, and you may be aware of three of them.” I think this is a good way to summarize everything I have tried to communicate in this post. Though I or you may only see a few things that God has been doing this year, he is doing so much more than we could ever imagine! “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9).
I believe that through the pandemic, through the racial tensions, through the highly contested election, and through every other struggle we faced this year, God has been orchestrating something big. Some of it, we may be able to see now. But my guess would be that for most of it, we will never know in this life. But one day, though all or most of what we see now is confusion and chaos, it will all make sense some day (1 Corinthians 13:12).
God “works all things according to the purpose [and] counsel of his will” (Ephesians 1:5, 11). Think about that. God has been actively working in everything we have seen this year to bring attention to Jesus. He has demanded our attention to him despite all the other distractions going on around the world. He has orchestrated and used these events that we may see as tragedies to wake us from our lives of passivity. In closing, I want to leave you with a passage of Scripture from Romans 13:11-14.
“Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.”
“Wake up!” God calls to the world. “There is no better day to believe than now.” Won’t you trust Jesus rather than the fading things of the world?