Faithfully Enduring a COVID-19 World

Faithfully Enduring a COVID-19 World

Romans 16:17-27

In 2018, The New York Times published an article titled, “Scott Hamilton Was Demoted as an Olympic Broadcaster. Don’t Feel Sorry for Him.”  Throughout the 80’s, all that Hamilton knew was winning.  In 1981, Hamilton won the National and World Figure Skating Championships and then won his first gold medal in the 1984 Olympics.  After a long career as a figure skater, Hamilton was inducted into the United States Olympic Hall of Fame.   

When asked during an interview by the Times about his demotion as an NBC figure skating analyst how he was taking the demotion in light of his past successes, Hamilton reflected that change is an inevitable part of life.  It wasn’t just change that Hamilton was familiar with, he was also very aware of the brevity of his own life after facing Stage 4 testicular cancer followed by three brain tumors… one of those tumors he is still living with today.  In light of his past successes, failures, and his present suffering, Hamilton said something that was not included in the interview but has afforded him the ability to understand his demotion with the right perspective: “I understand that through a strong relationship with Jesus you can endure anything… God is there to guide you through the tough spots. God was there every single time, every single time.” 

Hamilton said something else that was included in the article that I think is interesting, especially in light of what he said about his faith in other interviews.  Here is what he said about the secret to his success: “I calculated once how many times I fell during my skating career — 41,600 times, but here’s the funny thing: I got up 41,600 times. That’s the muscle you have to build in your psyche — the one that reminds you to just get up.”

By the time Paul wrote his letter to the Christians gathered in Rome, he too had experienced his share of successes and suffering; in his letter to the Philippians, Paul wrote: “But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ” (Philippians 3:7–8, NIV).  For Paul, the gospel of Jesus Christ was everything.  In his second letter to the Corinthian Christians, he described the kind of suffering he faithfully endured while carrying out his mission to tell others about Jesus:

Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to fall, and I am not indignant? If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness. (2 Corinthians 11:24–30)

What he wrote to the Philippian and Corinthian Christians, he wrote before his letter to the Romans, which makes his opening remarks in the epistle even more poignant: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” 

The first and last chapters in Romans serve as bookends in what many consider the apostle’s Mangum Opus.  In chapter one, Paul stated that the reason he was not ashamed of the Gospel was due to its power to transform lives and in Romans 16:17-27 he warns against the forces that threaten it and our only hope in keeping it. 

Keep Watch Over the Gospel

What is the Gospel?  The gospel is the good news that I am saved by the grace of God alone through faith in Christ alone, for the glory of God and my good.  The power of the gospel to transform is demonstrated in and through our lives by the way we are now able to love God and love our neighbor like never before. 

We are the living and tangible evidence that God is in the business of doing the impossible by raising the dead.  This is why Jesus said, “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.” (Matthew 5:14).  However, there is an enemy who not only hates you, but will stop at nothing to keep the light of the church from shining in this dark world.  This is why Paul drops a warning that seems random and out of place.  Some have even wondered if someone added verses 17-20 other than the apostle sometime later. 

The reason why verses 17-20 is in Romans and why Paul felt that he had to add this warning is because there are forces at work to keep the Gospel of Romans 1:16 from the world.  Those forces are supernatural, they are real, they are dangerous, and they are demonic.  They often come from false teachers who creep into the Church and teach a different gospel and/or they come into the Church for the purpose of creating divisions in the Church.  The people who we are told to watch out for are false teachers and divisive people, “who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine/teaching that you have been taught…”.  We are told to avoid such people because they serve their own selfish desires (v. 18).  Douglas Moo, in his commentary on Romans makes the following statement about the purpose of any teaching from the Bible: “All theology has its ultimate goal in the glory of God, and any true theology will only lead to this end.”[1]

Any person who uses the Bible or religious language to place the focus on anything on anyone other than God is not serving God or you, but himself/herself.  Every false teacher and every person seeking to cause harm and division in the Church does so with the ultimate goal of glorifying himself/herself.  These people tend to be smooth talkers who use flattery to manipulate people into believing and acting in ways that harm the Church and disrupt the mission Christ has called Her into.  In his letter to the Philippians, Paul describes these people in the following way: “For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things” (Philippians 3:18–19).  The three characteristics you can look for in identifying such people according to verses 17-18 are the following:

  1. They serve themselves rather than Christ.
  2. They are smooth and effective communicators.
  3. They create divisions in the Church.

Not every Church will experience a false teacher in their congregation, but every church will experience someone seeking to divide it.  What is true of both types of people that Paul warns us of is, that they will always look for ways to manipulate others in the name of Jesus to serve themselves.  The smooth talk and flattery these people use, either add to or take away from the gospel; these people also tend to make minor issues into gospel issues or they use their influence to discredit or harm others who God has called to care for the Church, sometimes deliberately and sometimes they do so ignorantly.  What is true categorically, is that the false teacher and the divisive person bought into a lie that is ultimately satanic in nature and harmful to God’s people.  

The reason why Paul warns us of such people is because he wants us to be, “wise as to what is good and innocent about what is evil (v. 19).  So, how does one become wise to what is good and innocent to what is evil?  By setting your heart and mind on the gospel Paul dedicated an entire letter to explaining. 

Set Your Heart on the Gospel

Just after he encourages his readers to be wise to what is good, he reminds us of the promise God made back in the Garden of Eden in Genesis 3:15 by stating: “The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.”  Now you may be asking yourself: “I thought that Satan would be crushed under Jesus’ feet?”  The crushing of one’s foe under one’s foot is a military metaphor for ultimate and decisive victory.  Of course, it is Jesus who is ultimately responsible for the crushing of Satan, but he is using his Church to accomplish his mission in the world, which is a part of the crushing Satan is experiencing.  What is the mission of the Church? “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19–20).

The way that we get to participate in the crushing of Satan is by setting our hearts on the true gospel so that we will not be distracted by false doctrines and divisions caused by those who want to hurt the Church instead of help the Church.  So what is it that we must set our hearts and minds on?

We must set our hearts and minds on the good news that although mankind is desperately lost and definitively dead in their sins before a holy God, God has provided a way for sinners to be reconciled to himself (Rom. 3:21-26), and that way is exclusively through his son Jesus; this is the gospel.

  • The gospel is God’s gift that through Jesus, you and I are not only able to be reconciled to him, but that in being reconciled to him, we are made recipients of the promises made to Abraham and are considered no longer enemies of God, but his friends (Ch. 4-5). 
  • The gospel is the good news that because I have been made a friend of God, I am no longer dead to sin but alive to God and liberated to live for him (Ch. 6-7). 
  • The gospel is the good news that not only am I now alive to God, but that I am promised all of the blessings that come with being his child, which includes a resurrection and a future life that will be entirely free from the curse of sin (Ch. 8).
  • The gospel is also the promise that all my past, present, and future hurts are designed by God for my greater good and that he is making something beautiful out of my life that will result in my glorification (Ch. 9).
  • The gospel is not only the good news about what God is doing in my life presently for the future, but it is also the good news that God has a purpose for me in his mission to redeem and restore other dead sinners like I once used to be (Ch. 10).
  • The gospel is the good news that God will also restore lost Israel just as he promised through the prophets of old, and that he is doing all for his glory and our good (Ch. 11). 

Clinging to the gospel is the way to be wise and the way to guard yourself from being duped into believing the lies of the enemy.  How do you cling to the gospel?  For starters, you need to know what it is.  The only way you are going to know what the gospel is, is by exposing yourself to it through the Bible.  The reason why people believe false doctrines taught by false teachers, and the reason why churches split over factions and divisions is the same: ignorance regarding what the Bible actually says. 

You know what wisdom is right?  Wisdom is knowledge applied to life.  Just because you have a lot of knowledge, doesn’t mean that you are very wise; a good example of a knowledgeable person who became one of the greatest fools in the Bible is King Solomon.  Paul gives us the prescription we need to guard us from a COVID-19 world in the last three verses of his letter that come to us in the form of a doxology (worship):

Now to him who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages but has now been disclosed and through the prophetic writings has been made known to all nations, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith— to the only wise God be glory forevermore through Jesus Christ! Amen. (Romans 16:25–27)

The large number of people who died due to COVID-19 are people who were already not healthy due to a compromised immune system related to a previous illness, or poor health due to a lack of regular exercise and a poor diet.  Dr. Claire Steves of Kings College London wrote about the best defense against COVID-19:

Multiple studies have now linked moderate exercise with decreased rates of influenza, pneumonia, and other infections, as well as chronic diseases like diabetes and heart disease.  Staying active supports your immune system in a variety of ways, including reducing inflammation, increasing the presence of innate immune cells, and positively effecting your gut microbiome, all of which support your body’s defense mechanisms.  Regular exercise has also been shown to improve your ability to regulate your immune system, which may be essential for avoiding the severe symptoms of COVID-19 caused by immune system over-reactions.‍[2]

The apostle Paul states that God is able to strengthen his people so that we do not fall pray to the enemy who wants to destroy the Church, and the way to stay spiritually healthy is by understanding and applying to your life the following four truths in a COIVID-19 world.  This is how you can strengthen your spiritual immune system to recognize and fight off the dangers facing the Church:

  1. Know what the gospel is as it is explained throughout the Bible (v. 25a) 
  2. Submit yourself to the faithful and regular teaching and preaching ministry of the Bible in your local church (v. 25b).
  3. Study the Word of God as it has been revealed and preserved in the Bible (v. 26)
  4. Recognize that we exist for God; God is the center of the universe, and not you.  

[1] Douglas Moo, The NIV Application Commentary: Romans (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan; 2000), p. 516.