As my wife were on our way home from our “drive-in” church service this morning, we passed a newly opened attraction in a nearby town—a summer toboggan run. The parking lot was overflowing and a long line of people had formed to go on the ride. There was no social distancing, and no one we saw was wearing a mask. We knew this was coming.
We live in midst of the Appalachian Mountains and it is a popular tourist and second-home destination. At present, our COVID-19 positive tests have been less than 15. But we know with the rancor growing about the country being shut down, the desire for more freedom growing by the day, and watching how many people in other states are conducting themselves basically as they would do in normal times (no masks or social distancing), those numbers are likely to increase rapidly.
As we continued on our way home, this verse came to mind: “‘I have the right to do anything,’ you say—but not everything is beneficial. ‘I have the right to do anything’—but not everything is constructive.” (I Corinthians 10:23) I wrote last week about how we as Americans value our rights. That was in regard to our freedom of religion and assembly according the Constitution. I wrote that while we may have that right, it is not essential to our faith, as has been proven by the vitality of the Church for over two millennia in the face of continued persecution. But when we do have rights, any rights, according to the Scriptures, we are to exercise them only if they are beneficial to others. In the context of the Scripture verse above, Paul is addressing the freedom of a believer to eat anything. He already had told them that no food was unclean. Now, he is telling them not to be caviler in how they use that freedom.
The question he is wanting them to ask of themselves is this: Who other than myself will exercising my freedom benefit? Sure, I have the right to eat anything I want, even food sacrificed to idols, but will it be beneficial or constructive to the faith of others?
Many years ago, I learned a student leader in the ministry I direct was at a party with the co-leader of her small group, who was two years younger. At the party, the younger student became drunk, while the older one was drinking and paying no attention to her co-leader’s deteriorating condition. When both were confronted, the younger one sobbed and asked forgiveness; the older one, however, remained stone-faced and responded in her own defense that she was of legal drinking age, and she wasn’t the other student’s mother. In other words, she believed she had the right to do what she did that night. I tried to explain to her what Paul reminded the Corinthian believers: exercising a right is not always beneficial to others or constructive. She would have none of it, and abruptly left our ministry.
My concern in the midst of this pandemic is that many of us are more concerned about exercising our rights than about benefitting others. This weekend is a prime example. People have the freedom to travel and they are going to. And when they reach their destination, they are going to conduct themselves in a legal manner, but that’s it. Otherwise, they don’t have to social distance, so they won’t. They don’t have to wear a mask, so they won’t. Who is that benefitting besides themselves? Is it benefitting the local residents in any way? If you say, well, they are bringing their money along with them, that is true; however, a mask and social distancing do not interfere with money changing hands. Rather, it is likely putting many at risk of contracting the virus. And, like my wife and I, discouraging others from spending any money at local businesses this weekend because of the crowds of people who will not follow the guidelines that have been recommended.
As I wrote last week, many believers are clamoring to gather once again in their churches. It is, they say, their right to do so. Yet, is it beneficial, particularly to the vulnerable, if these same people are unwilling to sit apart from one another and wear masks?
I know there are different views on the values of these measures, but it appears that the Scriptures always place the burden of submission onto the ones with the stronger faith. If you believe this pandemic is overblown and the virus is really not that big of deal, you still are expected to respect those brothers and sisters who are more concerned about it and accede to their desires, even if it is a little inconvenient to you. It’s called sacrifice and the one in whose steps we are told to follow, did plenty of it.
© Jim Musser 2020 All Scripture references are from the New International Version, 2011