5 Lessons on Social Distancing from the Bible
A Preface to Social Distancing
Before we dive into the topic of social distancing, we’d like to make the disclaimer that this is not a list of do’s and don’ts. The Bible does not speak directly to social distancing as we are experiencing it today, and while theologians, pastors, churches, and believers around the world are trying to determine what it means to practice social distancing through a Biblical lens, we do not think there is a definitive “right” or “wrong” way of doing it.
That being said, as believers we are called to live differently, to live for the glory of God, and to visibly display the truth that this world is not our home. This applies to all aspects of our lives – our careers, relationships, priorities, and even the way we social distance.
As our ultimate guide, the Bible is God’s Word and it contains fundamental truths and practices that we as believers must look to in order to inform how we live our lives – yes, even during a quarantine.
So today, we want to share 5 lessons we can learn on social distancing and responding to COVID-19 from the way Jesus lived His life.
5 Ways to Practice Social Distancing that Align with Scripture
1. Spend more of the time we’ve been given with God
Throughout his life, Jesus lived a life of communion with the Father. As a boy He “got lost” and was found in the temple (Luke 2:41-52), before beginning His missional ministry at age 30 He spent 40 days alone in the desert, and throughout His ministry He would withdraw to desolate places to pray (Luke 5:16).
As believers, we are called to practice spiritual disciplines and to spend time with God regularly – things that oftentimes get either cut short or deprioritized due to the busyness of life. But quarantines and social distancing have given the majority of us more time. This is certainly the case for us, as we no longer have 2-3 hours of commuting each day since we are required to work from home. So the question becomes, “How are we using this additional time we’ve been given?”
There is nothing wrong with an extra episode of your favorite TV show in the evening, but the core question we should ask ourselves when determining how to practice social distancing is “Does the way I define and practice social distancing lead me to spending more time with the Lord?”
2. Work through your heart and mind
Of all the Gospels, Matthew goes into the most detail about Jesus dealing with His grief over John the Baptist’s death. In Matthew 14:1-14, we get a glimpse into both the tragic death of Jesus’ cousin, and how Jesus responded. When “Jesus heard this, He withdrew from there in a boat to a desolate place by Himself” (vs. 13). John the Baptist was Jesus’ cousin; he was the one preaching Jesus’ coming and the one who baptized Jesus Himself – of course there was grief to work through. Let’s take a look at how Jesus did that.
The first thing we see is that He went to “a desolate place by himself”. Oftentimes we don’t give ourselves this much needed space to process things – to lean into all the emotions of our hearts and surrender them to God, to unpack all the thoughts of our minds and surrender those to God as well. As we noted was characteristic of Jesus’ life, this time in desolation more than likely involved time before the Lord.
Whether by our choosing or not, society is much more isolated these days than we’re accustomed to. Perhaps we can take this time as a gift to be still and process the things we’ve been putting aside because we’ve been “too busy to think about it”. Maybe there’s some hurt or burdens that need to be surrendered, forgiveness to be asked for or given, grief to be poured out at the feet of Jesus – mental and emotional processing all in the presence of the Lord, which will lead to healing.
Secondly, we see Jesus ministering through His grief. Verse 14 says that when Jesus “went ashore He saw a great crowd and He had compassion on them and healed their sick.” Notice, this was after some time alone – not that Jesus was not still saddened by the loss of His cousin, but He remained compassionate toward others and served them despite His own grief. This exemplifies the truth found in Ecclesiastes 3:1, that “for everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven”. After some time alone, Jesus pressed on in His ministry.
This leads us to the next lesson, but again, ask yourself “During this time of social distancing, is there any unresolved pain, hurt, unforgiveness, or anger in my heart that I can bring before the Lord?”
3. Re-evaluate your purpose and mission
Luke documents for us in chapter 4 that after Jesus was baptized, He spent forty days alone with the Spirit, being tempted by the devil (vs. 1-2), before He began His life’s ministry (vs. 14). Though of course, Jesus was perfectly obedient, this was no small task as Jesus, being fully man, felt the physical pangs of hunger and the very real temptations that struck to the core of who He is. There are two important lessons to be taken from this – well, much more than two, but two that we are going to look at here.
The first lesson is that, as Jesus, we are not sent into solitude or isolation alone. That might be a direct contradiction to the definition of solitude, but bear with us. Notice 4:1 and 4:14; Jesus left and returned with the Spirit. For us believers, we are never truly alone because Jesus’ work on the cross has given us a “Helper, to be with [us] forever… [we] know Him, for He dwells with [us] and will be [in] us (John 14:16-17). It is this same Spirit that was with Jesus during his 40 days of temptations, that we have today! We are never truly alone; whether in a house full of kids running around, or a small apartment for one, our souls have a forever Helper and His name is the Holy Spirit of God!
Secondly, as was the case for Jesus’ time away, our time in solitude has a purpose. When Jesus returned, He began His teaching ministry, preaching the very truths He came to fulfill. Jesus’ time alone served the purpose of clinging to the Father during His preparation for ministry. What purpose will your time in solitude serve? Perhaps this is a good opportunity to re-evaluate where you are at in your life’s mission – is your life marked by transformation in Jesus? Is it compassionate and serving toward others? Are you contributing to the Kingdom work of spreading the Gospel to those around you? These answers will look different to many of you but the question to ask yourself is the same – “How am I using this time of social distancing to evaluate and reset my life’s mission for the Lord?”
4. Take time to rest Biblically
Ministry leaders of any and all kinds – this one is for you! In Mark 6, Jesus both sends the disciples out on mission (vs. 7) and welcomes them back (vs. 30). Upon their return, they tell Jesus all they had done and taught in His name and Jesus gives them the interesting command to go off by themselves and rest (vs. 31) before they continue their mission just a few verses later (vs. 34-35). Jesus led His disciples by example in taking time with them to rest, teaching us that rest is important and necessary for the continuation of work. While it’s absolutely a gift that the Lord enables those He calls to use, ministry leadership can be overwhelming and burdensome – we are surrounded by broken people who need Jesus and though “the harvest is plentiful, the laborers are few” (Luke 10:2).
Regardless the type of your role, we’re sure your ministry looks different these days. Whether it’s preaching to a camera lens instead of a congregation, having Zoom meetings instead of coffee meetings, sending food to the marginalized of your community instead of sitting down with them for a meal, or any other way your work has changed – there is a gift for you in the midst of all this.
Some of you cringed just now, because amidst all the changes, life feels more busy for you. And that may be so; but things will settle into their new norms and once they do, we hope you accept the gift of time. There is always work to be done, that won’t change – so rest in the knowledge that God is doing that work and remember that as His co-laborers, the Lord calls you to rest as well. Put the planning and strategizing aside for a bit, don’t worry about smoothing out every bump in the road – slow down and allow the Lord to refresh and restore your soul during a time when you aren’t being pulled in numerous directions or have a calendar full of meetings to attend.
Practically, though this might not look like the ideal sabbatical you’ve been waiting to take, perhaps this can serve as a short reprieve from the typical responsibilities that fill your days – holy as they may be! We’re not sure what rest may look like for each of you, and perhaps even that is something to ask of the Lord, but with society as a whole slowing down we encourage you to delight in the passion that drives what you do and allow Him to capture your heart in new ways.
In this time, ask the Lord, “How can I take the rest You have said I need and find refreshment in You?”
5. Serve and make meaningful connections
In Matthew 8, we are told about several miracles Jesus performed, one of which is the story of Him healing the leper. In many of His other healings, Jesus speaks and it is done (the centurion’s servant in Matthew 8:13, the paralytic in Matthew 9:6-7, and others), but in this case Jesus does something different. He reaches out and touches the man. This may seem counterintuitive when it comes to social distancing, but this story gives us great insight into how we should approach it.
On one hand, Jesus healed the sick. Practicing social distancing is fundamentally about minimizing and ending a disease. On the other hand, despite being against the cultural norm of the day and the potential danger it caused, Jesus reached out and touched a man who was alone in the world, forced into social distancing by a disease of his own.
We cannot disregard the call to protect and heal the world in this time by distancing ourselves from others, but we also cannot allow social distancing to remove meaningful connection with and kindness to the world around us. Connecting with others during this time looks different to each of us, but technology has undeniably taken an integral part in many of our lives during this time. Though there are many downsides to it, one of its blessings is the ease with which it allows us to connect with, love, and serve one other and the lost.
Ask yourself this – “How am I using this time of social distancing to engage with the world and show the love of Jesus, both by remaining indoors and in the ways I choose to connect with, love, and serve the world around me?”
Bonus: A deeper challenge
In Matthew 7:24-27, we are told the story of two builders. If you grew up in Sunday school you probably know the song that goes along with this story, but if not, this passage tells of a man who built his house upon a rock and another who built his house upon sand. In this story, a storm begins, a flood rises, and winds bellow. The house built upon the rock – a firm foundation – withstood the storm, but the house built on sand was washed away and destroyed.
One of the most challenging aspects of COVID-19 is the imminent uncertainty it adds to our lives. More than ever, we are acutely aware of the fragility of the things we build our lives upon in this world. Our economy, employment, finances, health, and the lives of our friends and families are being threatened and it has forced us to ask hard questions like “what do I do if I lose my job?”, “what if I get sick?”, “what if I run out of toilet paper?” (sorry, we had to). Everyone is reacting to these questions in different ways – some through social distancing, stock-piling rolls of Charmin (if that’s you, please send us some, we’re running low) and groceries in order to avoid going outside and risking getting sick. As hard as this reality is, it can also be a fruitful opportunity to test our hearts and answer the question Jesus asked Peter in John 21:15 “Do you love me more than these?” The best way to answer this question is to ask yourself another one: “Am I fearful?”
We may be tempted to rely on our own efforts, our own knowledge, preparedness, and projections about how this will all go down; to grasp at what little sense of control that gives us. But as believers we are called to put our trust in the Lord – are we trusting His provision even and especially in the little things? Or are we allowing anxiety, worry, and fear to run our lives? Don’t get us wrong here, there are definitely smart steps we can take to protect our health and that of those around us, to steward well the things the Lord has provided us with, but the heart check here is to what degree is the control of those things taking a hold of our trust? Worrying won’t keep us healthy (some may even argue the opposite) or living longer (Luke 12:25) so “[cast] all your anxieties on Him, because He cares for you. (1 Peter 5:7).
One last question for your quarantine-induced-forced-self-reflection-time: What are you building your faith on? Are you building it on what you can store away and protect, or are you stewarding what the Lord has provided you with and continuing to trust that He will continue to do so?