Three Scriptures for Responding to a Lockdown

We live in strange and unusual times. If you’re anything like me, I’m sure you’re finding it an odd time to navigate. I wrote a blog a few days ago about feeling a sense of grief, and had many, many people connect with me to show solidarity, or express their own feelings at the situation we find ourselves in.
It’s quite obvious that people are trying to make sense of it all – to find a centre in it and a foundation from which to respond.
If you’re a follower of Jesus I want to encourage you to anchor your response in Scripture.
A few weeks ago I was struck all of a sudden with a new understanding of God’s omnipotence in the midst of the current global pandemic, and that he is able to use this time – an extraordinarily slow selah – to bring us closer to him and refine us. Nothing could actually be more important right now for those of us who follow him, than re-learning how to lean into him and have his perspective be our resting pulse.
It’s not easy though, largely because this is also a time when there are many, many voices, and many, many people weighing into why we’re in this season, and what our response should be. We’re saturated on one side by the media, and on the other by ‘experts who know things’ in our social media platforms.
I’ve been forwarded blogs, news articles, funny memes, disturbing political videos and a number of videos on the end times.
There’s a growing concern in a number of the minds and hearts of Christians especially, that the last days are upon us. And that notion comes with all manner of responses and consequences.
I know that uncertainty and societal change causes tension and stress. We don’t like not knowing what’s around the corner. We don’t like things being fluid. So it’s not entirely surprising that a growing number of people are looking for answers or joining dots to try and make some sense of it all. But frankly, none of us knows what relationship any of this current global crisis has in regard to end times. Some people are sharing opinions, but none of us know… including me. So I have absolutely no intention of publicly weighing into such a debate. What I will do, however, is point the way to three Scriptures that should be helpful for Jesus-followers who are trying to make sense of it all, and want to know how to respond.
Hear me well: Whether you believe our current experiences are a natural consequence of a global community, or a cosmic designation, or even an elaborate political plot, as followers of Jesus, our response to government authorities in the midst of this crisis needs to be founded in the teachings of Scripture – not in the collective opinions of people who share our view.
Here are just three passages that give a good overview of a godly way to live and respond in crisis.
One. Matthew 5:38-42
During the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus gives three metaphors for how his followers must respond to Roman oppression:
Turn the other cheek;
Go the extra mile, and;
When asked for your tunic give your coat as well.
All three have the same sentiment and the same reasoning.
When Jesus was speaking these words to Jewish people he was keenly aware of their circumstances. They were occupied by Rome, and it wasn’t pleasant. They knew they were the people of God, and they were wondering why he hadn’t shown up to release them, or avenge them. Roman military personnel were allowed to treat Jews abominably during this time in history. They could strike them across the face for no reason. They could force a Jew to be their pack-horse and carry their stuff for a mile. They could demand their clothing. It was a demeaning existence for a rightly proud Jewish people, and they were outraged that uncircumcised Romans were able to treat them with such contempt.
And it’s into that context that Jesus preaches, “When someone slaps your cheek, offer him the other cheek too.”
His teaching would have been outrageous to the ears that heard it – but here’s the reason it’s profound: When someone forces you to be their packhorse for a mile, and you continue to serve them for an extra mile, without them commanding you to, what is unspoken is that you have an inner strength and freedom they know nothing about.
The reason a Roman would strike a Jew was to show their power. But they become powerless when, in response, the Jew offers to serve instead of retaliating. What the very act of a serving response does is that it shows the oppressor they can’t control you. It strips them of their power to humiliate you.
Contrary to popular teaching, this command from Jesus wasn’t an instruction to display weakness, it was an instruction to display inner strength. Strong people can choose to comply without it breaking their spirit.
The implication is this: when you comply with an instruction, even if you disagree with it, that is not evidence of weakness. As a follower of Jesus your strength, peace and hope is located in him, which means you have the strength to comply without becoming oppressed. He holds the ultimate power, which means you can live with peace even when you can’t stand what is happening in the world around you.
Further, those who try to prove their own power by fighting back will find they are stressed, peace-less, and feeling oppressed. This is precisely the opposite of what Jesus taught.
This teaching was extraordinarily wise back then, and it remains wisdom for today. When someone tries to control or lord power over you, graciously give them more than they’re demanding, and they’ll begin to realise they have no power over you at all.*
Two. Romans 13:1-7
In this passage Paul tells the Church in Rome (the most persecuted of all the churches at that time) to respect and submit to the governing authority.
I recently heard a preacher on a video interpret this passage of Scripture, noting that Paul said they must honor the governing authority ‘so that’ they could live in peace. The implication was that if we can’t live in peace we don’t need to obey the governing authority. I’m sorry – but that is possibly the worst kind of shoe-horning of Scripture I’ve heard in quite a while. Firstly, the ‘so that’ comes as a result of the submission, not the other way around; and secondly, Christians in Rome were hardly living ‘in peace’ at the time Paul wrote this letter!
Paul’s point was that you’re less likely to be dragged into trouble if you just obey the law and keep your head down. He even goes so far as to say the governing authority (the Roman Emperor and Senate, who were immoral pagans) were established in their positions by God himself. The implication is clear – even when the governing authority does not honour God, be subject to it.
I want to be clear here: there is no precedent for a Christian fighting for their rights in Scripture. None. Not only did Jesus choose quiet compliance to the Roman regime, the Apostles taught their churches again and again to persevere under intense persecution – to endure til the end – never to fight back.
The only example we have of not adhering to the rules of the governing authority is when Christians were commanded to do something counter to their faith – like worship a false god.
Under God, Christians are only exempt from submitting to a governing authority when they are forced to act in contradiction to their vows to God.
Here’s the reality: God is all-powerful. If we truly believe that we should believe that he is ‘over’ governments whether they follow him or not. He may choose not to force their hand (as is his sovereign right), but that does not mean they are functioning outside his power. He has seen civilisations rise and fall for many millennia, and will see more. So frankly, he doesn’t need our help!**
If your ‘bent’ is to resist, remember God is above it all, and there is peace to be found in knowing that.
Three. Ephesians 6:11-12
This, for me, is the clincher.
Paul says categorically that our battle is not against flesh and blood, but against powers, principalities and rulers in the heavenly realms.
Of course we can see and sense evil in our world. And we can see and sense when harm is done. The problem is that it appears the evil and the harm originates with people, which then causes us to regard humans as enemies, when really they are just as lost… just as much in need of release, freedom and forgiveness as we are. Our governments are made up of people made in the image of God. And he loves them passionately.
That means that Christians have no earthly enemies to be defeated or ‘stood against’. What the Church does have is an enemy in the spiritual realm. He’s already been defeated by Christ, but tries to wreak havoc while he still can, before the end of things. We absolutely need to stand up to him, and to fight. But the only place you can fight a spiritual enemy is through spiritual means: i.e. prayer.
Our battles should be spiritual ones.
Standing up to an earthly power is not what we are called to do.
Finally, can I encourage you… God is able to use what is happening globally at the moment to affect us and change us and his goal is always to use whatever situation, whether comfortable or not, to grow us and make us more like him. I’d like to think we’d cooperate with him in this time, so the work he’s doing in us has the opportunity to reach its full potential.
Tragically, what the ‘voices and opinions’ have been doing for too many people is compounding the stress, destroying God’s peace, and keeping godly people distracted from him during this time.
And we absolutely need to be focused on him, especially at this moment in these days.
What’s he saying to you? What’s he doing in you? How’s he growing you? In this extended selah – a time to breathe, and pause, and renew – let’s chase after everything he wants to do in us, and grab it with both hands.
– Heather Packett, Teaching Pastor
*Jesus was not speaking to people in situations of abuse. Domestic violence victims cannot be instructed to ‘go the extra mile’, and Scripture suggests nothing of the sort, in any context.
**Standing up for the cause of the voiceless and genuinely oppressed is a Christlike virtue. However, if we have a voice, it’s unlikely we’re a part of this category.