I suppose therefore that this is good because of the present distress—that it is good for a man to remain as he is. (1 Corinthians 7:26)
The Present Distress
The world is living in an incredible time of change. There has not been this kind of global impact since the depression during the 1930s that put the world economy into an economic depression. The COVID-19 virus began innocuously enough in the minds of most people but has become a health pandemic and economic nightmare. Leaders of all nations are scrambling to tighten controls on the spread of the virus that has claimed many lives. The church has had to reassess its procedures in a manner unprecedented in the lives of all of God’s people. What was a common sight of saints gathering together to exhort, encourage and admonish one another is now considered a threat to the health of those susceptible to the ravages of the disease.
There can be no doubt the church is living in perilous times. This is not the first time the church has come under attack from sources that will change the makeup and outlook of the kingdom of God. In Paul’s letter to the church at Corinth he offers advice to the people of God regarding marital decisions in a time of great distress. The church had written to Paul with concerns about marriage and relationships between men and women. Paul confirmed the will of God by showing that nothing had changed in the mind of God regarding the marriage vow and that the people of God should exert every effort to honor the Lord in their marriage. Nestled within the instructions of how to obey the word of the Lord, the apostle makes a suggestion that seems to point to advising people to remain as they are because of a distress that was afflicting the church. Paul realized that because of the time that it would be prudent for some to remain as they are and this instruction was merely a means of advice that would better serve the situation. He did not suggest this would be a binding law of celibacy. His advice was simply to try and make lives a little easier for those who were enduring the suffering that was coming against the church. Because of the distress, wisdom would dictate to make different decisions that would not normally be advised. All of this pointed to the present distress.
There is a great similarity with the advice of Paul and the very real present distress that is coming against the norms of the worship, ministry, and work of the church. Things are not the same with churches having to cancel services unable to meet together with larger groups for the foreseeable future. This is very unsettling and causing concern. It has been taken for granted the joys of assembly and the personal fellowship of greeting one another. What was the norm has now become a rarity. The leaders of government and health organizations are warning against more than ten or fifty people meeting together flying in the face of what the church has been doing for two thousand years. The early church met regularly as a people united in the work of the Lord and that is now threatened. No one would have imagined the year 2020 would be marred by the upheaval of a single virus impacting the church worldwide.
The present distress brings about change. Paul gave his advice on the distress his fellow Christians were living through and today there must be sound judgment and merciful kindness to all involved in this tragedy. Every congregation is autonomous in the decisions they must make in the situation they find themselves in their communities. There are no right answers that are imposed upon every church. Each group must make a decision that comes from their circumstance, need and impact of the virus on their community. One of the concerns for the New Testament church is the partaking of the Lord’s Supper. Many churches have taken proactive means to ensure people are comfortable in how the supper is conducted. Questions have been raised about churches canceling services and families having worship at home. This is a perilous time and changes have been in place that requires other means to worship. Strong arguments have been made in the past against those who denied the nature of the assembled church to engage in the work of the Lord but this is distress that has temporarily retooled the manner the church carries out its work. What churches are doing now is not going to be the norm. It is the fervent prayer of all the faithful the days of this virus will pass and the church will once again be able to return to the pattern of the New Testament. Until that time and because of the present distress, some decisions are made that are in the best interest of the members of the local church guided by the decisions of godly men who still serve the purpose of the church.
Paul sought to deflect any harsh judgments against a man who decided in the distress of the Corinthians to remain as he was. This same attitude must pervade the hearts of God’s people to realize that everyone is trying to do the best they can in very uncertain and quite honestly fearful times. How large this virus will impact the world is unknown. What is known is there is a real concern for the health of many and the economic impact will last for years. May God’s people continue to shine as examples of faith in the God that promised that He would never leave nor forsake His people. God still rules and He still loves His people. Trust in the Lord. The Lord is our strength and our song; He will give victory whether in life or death.