Most Christians are familiar with the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. And we know that these traits should be evident in the lives of people who follow Jesus.
But have you ever stopped to consider when this fruit shines brightest? They become most apparent in our darkest moments. When things are going well, it’s not too difficult for everyone to see themselves as generally joyful or patient. But when the going gets tough, the truth is exposed, and that’s precisely when the fruit of the Spirit becomes the most obvious—and the most necessary.
What sets us apart?
As the coronavirus outbreak began to unfold at the beginning of 2020, the direction it would take wasn’t entirely clear. Would it fizzle out? Would it stay contained? Or would it spread from continent to continent as it infected more people?
As people in the United States watched countries take unprecedented action to slow the number of infections, concern began to rise. By the time it hit North America and we had the first reported deaths in Washington state, people were on high alert. As people realized that quarantines might be necessary, we started to see the panicked buying and stockpiling of cleaning supplies and personal hygiene products.
While this fear is completely understandable and natural, Christians must take a step back and evaluate our own response. As the children of God, we demonstrate the character of God to the world. And since we know that Jesus is always with us and will never leave or forsake us, we need to ask ourselves some tough questions:
How should Christians respond in times of distress? What do we want to demonstrate to a world in crisis about what trust and faith look like? And how can we be salt and light to a world that is frightened and confused?
These questions should drive our response.
Practicing wisdom and self-control
Throughout the Old Testament, we see unambiguous instructions about how to handle disease. God gave the Israelites instructions about avoiding certain animals, handling carcasses, and even destroying porous clay pots that had been infected (Leviticus 11).
The Bible created procedures for quarantining infectious diseases that even included guidelines for ensuring that people didn’t come into contact with personal items that could transmit germs (Leviticus 13:47–59). For centuries, many cultures looked to the Jewish Scriptures as a roadmap for maintaining public health.
The law instructed God’s people on how to handle human waste (Deuteronomy 23:12–14), how to deal with bodily fluids that could carry disease (Leviticus 15). The amount of space dedicated to keeping God’s people healthy in extremely practical ways is critical.
As Christians, we can look at God’s Word and recognize the importance God placed on behaviors that would stop the spreading of illness and disease. This means that we don’t want to exercise faith in a way that dismisses or ignores legitimate, common-sense steps to protect the most vulnerable in our communities.
Demonstrating faith and love
On the flip side, we don’t want to fall into the temptation of putting our own needs above everyone else’s. In a season of confusion and panic, there’s a strong pull to hunker down and focus on protecting yourself and your loved ones above everyone else. But this should bring to mind Jesus’s pointed question:
“If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that” (Luke 6:32–33).
One of the defining characteristics of committed followers of Jesus is that we don’t put ourselves before others. We consider ways that can demonstrate God’s love to others in difficult times.
In the middle of the third century, a plague swept through the Roman Empire. Known as the Plague of Cyprian, some reports suggest that upwards of 5,000 people were dying every day. Panic ensued, and healthy people were fleeing from the cities to wait out the plague in the country.
But Christians stayed to care for the sick.
In “Church History,” the fourth-century account of the church’s beginnings, Eusebius explains:
All day long some of them [Christians] tended to the dying and to their burial, countless numbers with no one to care for them. Others gathered together from all parts of the city a multitude of those withered from famine and distributed bread to them all.
What was the response of the Romans around them? Eusebius elaborates that the believers’ “deeds were on everyone’s lips, and they glorified the God of the Christians. Such actions convinced them that they alone were pious and truly reverent to God.”
Thankfully, we don’t live in a time when the sick are abandoned to die alone, but there are still ways that we can demonstrate love for our neighbors. One of the main ways we care for others is to ensure we’re not putting at-risk and immunocompromised people at risk. But we can also come up with creative ways to care for others:
Watch children for parents who have to work even though schools have been canceled.
Send cards or gift baskets to nurses and care workers.
Make donations to your local food bank.
Set up Google Hangouts with lonely immunocompromised or elderly loved ones.
Drop meals off for older couples who are feeling scared and vulnerable.
The Great Commission in practice
No matter what happens, the Christian mandate is still the same, and it’s summed up in the Great Commission:
Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age (Matthew 28:19–20).
One of the simplest ways we fulfill this responsibility is living lives that demonstrate what it means to love God and love our neighbors. It’s in the most stressful and taxing times that the goodness of God shines through His people. And when people witness Christians responding to emergencies with patience, poise, and peace, it puts the beauty and awesomeness of God on display—and the Spirit uses that to draw people.