One thing the coronavirus pandemic has brought to the forefront is the issue of social distancing. The CDC recommends staying at least six feet from others, avoiding crowded places, and wearing a mask in public settings, such as grocery stores.
The goal is to reduce the spread of COVID-19. But is there a spiritual aspect to all of this? Could social distancing be a spiritual discipline, a way to serve Jesus and others? I believe so.
When we think of spiritual disciplines, the obvious practices come quickly to mind. Prayer and fasting are likely at the top of the list, along with Bible reading and perhaps evangelism. But at the heart of spiritual discipline is growth, and there are many ways to grow in faith and become more like Jesus in the midst of this pandemic.
Paul explained in Romans 12:2 that rather than conforming to the pattern of the world, we need to allow God to transform us through the renewing of our mind. How do we do this? The same passage says true and proper worship involves offering one’s body as a living sacrifice that is holy and pleasing to God (verse 1).
In the context of the rest of Paul’s letter to the Roman church, it is obvious that this is more than just a metaphor. Paul is committed to a faith in Christ that changes how one behaves. In Romans 1, he talks about the destructive nature of sinful, self-centered choices.
And in Romans 6:13, Paul writes, “Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness.” What we do matters.
Romans 12 further elaborates on the kind of life that pleases God — and it’s all about our attitudes and actions. First, Paul warns, “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought” (verse 3). Instead, we are to focus on God and others: “Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.” (verses 10-11).
Selfless living means thinking of the most vulnerable first.
At the heart of social distancing is selflessness. During a pandemic, it’s reasonable to focus on your own health and safety. And social distancing does have the benefit of reducing your risk of exposure to the virus. However, the bigger issue is often protecting others in case you are contagious.
According to the CDC, a person with COVID-19 can be a carrier for up to 14 days without symptoms, and some may never develop symptoms. If you are walking around without taking precautions and you happen to be a carrier, you are putting other lives at risk.
You may be healthy and have a high chance of recovering fully, but think of the people you minister to who are elderly or have compromised immune systems. Selfless living means thinking of the most vulnerable first. Social distancing is one way to do that.
We should do for others what we would want them to do for us if we or our loved ones were in a high-risk category. That’s the Golden Rule in action (Matthew 7:12).
Jesus said the greatest commandments are to love God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength and to love your neighbors as yourself (Mark 12:30-31). He also said that whatever we do for “one of the least of these,” we do for Him (Matthew 25:45).
When we as Christians — and especially church leaders — practice social distancing, we are showing our love for God and others. We are also honoring those God has placed in authority.
Scripture teaches that we are to submit to authority, as long as such submission doesn’t violate God’s commands (Acts 4:19, 5:29).
In Romans 13:1-2, Paul says this: “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves”
Social distancing may be inconvenient. It may even hinder the types of ministry we are most used to doing. But in this difficult time, let’s focus on the positives. We are protecting lives, including our own. We are helping to unburden the health care system. We are also living out our faith, setting an example, and growing as Christ followers.
When we consider social distancing to be a spiritual discipline, we will grow closer to our Lord in one of our greatest times of need.