My couch does not feel like a mission field. It is lumpy and has a slipcover that keeps falling off. Its red throw pillows have seen better days, and so have I. Never have I ventured so many times from the bedroom to the living room to the kitchen, then back along the circuit. Never have I been in our little townhouse so many hours a day. Never have I so missed the sometimes off-key singing voices of my brothers and sisters worshiping around me. We have seen better days than these. And yet, we shall see an even better day when we will worship together not just as a local congregation, but as a united, holy people. We hope for that day as we stay at home. But while we are at home, we are still called to proclaim Christ and him crucified until he returns to finally unify us. As our churches use creative means to continue our fellowship and worship while observing social distancing regulations, we also must use creative means to continue the Great Commission. How can we continue to spread the gospel while we are quarantined? Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians provides us not only comfort, but also guidance in how to continue spreading the gospel during this coronavirus crisis.
In 2 Corinthians 4:7–18, Paul reminds believers that our earthly struggles manifest the life of Jesus; our mortality and physical weakness point to God’s surpassing power. Quoting Psalm 116 in 2 Cor. 4:13, Paul continues the psalm’s tone with the declaration of God’s salvation and thanksgiving. In Ps. 116:17–19, the psalmist offers thanks to God and makes a public vow in the presence of God’s people. With the same spirit as the psalmist, Paul believes in the Lord’s salvation in the midst of affliction, and, through his faith, publicly proclaims Jesus’s resurrection. Having been entrusted with gospel ministry, Paul recognizes not only his hardship but also his triumph: his public suffering spreads the good news. Through Paul’s affliction comes an extension of God’s grace to more and more people, so that they, with Paul, give thanks to the glory of God.
In hardship, Paul holds to the promise of glorification. Earthly things decay, so they offer us no future hope. However, alongside these temporary seen things, there are eternal, unseen things. Paul’s hope—and ours—lies in the unseen. We do not lose heart because we are being daily renewed for glory. With eyes only on what is seen, we cannot behold anything that could compare to the coming glory. The irony of this is that earthly affliction is what prepares us for the eternal weight of glory; suffering transforms believers to prepare us for glory beyond our imagination.
Now what has this to do with evangelism during COVID-19 quarantining? The suffering, sanctification, and glorification Paul describes offer us guidance for this season not found in any government regulation. They open our eyes to the reality of the resurrection we proclaim.
As believers we suffer, but as a redeemed people; we are to suffer as holy people. Our physical bodies’ corruption and decay make us groan in longing for resurrected bodies (see 2 Cor. 5:4). Like the rest of the world, Christians can catch and potentially die from, the coronavirus; we are not granted an escape from physical afflictions. However, unlike the rest of the world, we recognize that our suffering is a means of showing the death of Christ, since our weaknesses display his strength. We proclaim his death by enduring suffering and hardship well, which is what it means to live in a manner worthy of the gospel of Jesus Christ. In recognition of God’s authority, we honor the policies our government implements. With an attitude of humble love, we respect the wishes of our neighbors and fellow grocery shoppers by keeping physical distance. Because we are a reverent, covenantal people, we forego in-person corporate worship and large gatherings to minimize contagion and protect our communities.
Such measures hardly seem comparable to Paul’s being beaten, stoned, imprisoned, and killed for proclaiming the gospel. But as our lives are upset, our jobs and worldly comforts removed, we do everything without complaining. Because we believe in the Lord’s salvation and know we are eternally secure, we share this reality with whomever we encounter. In these less-than-desirable circumstances, how we speak of our present suffering ought to demonstrate the death of Christ and point to his resurrection. We can reach out to unbelieving friends and neighbors, recognize our common concerns and difficulties, and allow them to see our physical weaknesses in the context of our eternal confidence in the resurrection, which proves the Lord’s power far surpasses the reach of COVID-19.
Our suffering is preparing us for glory by sanctifying us. This, too, is helpful in considering how we witness during this time. Perhaps our greatest witness will be in our homes. Children are home and watching their parents, spouses are in each other’s space more, and siblings share the kitchen table to do homework. This time belongs to the Lord as his Spirit sanctifies us and our families to prepare us for glory. What witness do we have before our families? Do we look toward the resurrection and encourage our spouses, children, siblings, and housemates to do the same? Do our daily habits show love and care for others, so that they give God thanks for his mighty work of salvation? Are we encouraging our children to use their remaining—and likely constant—contact with friends or teammates to offer this salvation? Are we doing that ourselves?
A plethora of gospel opportunities lie at our fingertips—literally. Do we take every advantage that a “How are you?” text to a coworker provides? Our phones are not merely a means of entertainment. Now, as always, they form a connection with those we cannot reach in person. Our care does more than express our concern for others’ earthly health. It is a means to draw others to Christ as we care most of all for their spiritual health. Our efforts ought to demonstrate the love and power of Christ because our care for those whom we contact directs them to the Person who is greater than our circumstances. By our example, it should also lead our families in spreading the gospel through the means available to us, whether those means are social media, phone calls or texts, emails, hand-written notes, or a conversation with a neighbor on the other side of the fence. As uncomfortable as such contact may make us feel now, the work of spreading the gospel is shaping us for eternal glory.
Finally, we can spread the gospel by remembering eternity. At a time when a shelf full of toilet paper looks like a sign of eschatological glory, hearts are yearning for more. Electronics provide only temporary entertainment, that is, for however long the batteries last. We humans were made for interaction; we were designed to be in others’ presence, and ultimately, the Lord’s presence. This period of quarantine is momentary, but the isolation provides a glimpse of unbelievers’ eternity. God has revealed to us what eternity will be: for believers, glory in his presence, and for unbelievers, punishment with no fruition of fellowship with him. Heaven is unseen but real, and so is hell. As Paul says in 2 Cor. 4:18, keeping our sights on the unseen things directs us in our sanctification while suffering. As stay-at-home orders limit our access to people and places outside of our homes, may they also make us compassionate for those whom isolation will be eternal.
Our confidence in these things unseen should stir us to speak of the resurrection so that the grace of God extends to more and more people with increasing thanksgiving. Our God’s salvation for us can never be threatened by a seen thing—or a thing too small to be seen. It can be threatened by nothing. Our salvation is not of ourselves, so we cannot boast. It is from the One whose strength is made perfect in our weakness, and so is our glory from him for whom we die, and with whom we will be raised again on the Last Day when all will bow to his name and witness his surpassing power. As we look to the coming glory, the coming of our King, we proclaim the death and resurrection of Christ until he brings us into his presence.
My couch does not feel like a mission field, but with the means in my hands to reach a neighbor separated from me by a plaster wall, or a coworker who is one text away, my couch is now where I witness. Yet, my greatest means of evangelism is not my conversation with another human, but with the Man whose death and resurrection are my salvation and hope. In prayer, I am participating in evangelism by remembering before the throne of grace my brothers and sisters in Christ who are able, or perhaps even obligated through work, to leave their homes. As we petition for relief from the coronavirus, let us also cry for Christ’s life-giving Spirit to turn desperate people to him now and use COVID-19 to soften hearts, so that, when we may gather again as churches, our sanctuaries are full of faces we have never seen there before.
May we long to see our families, housemates, neighbors, classmates, and coworkers in the great multitude at the throne of heaven singing, “Holy, Holy, Holy.” That multitude is ripe for the picking now. No distance can match God’s surpassing power. No heart can withstand his irresistible grace. In the end, no tongue will deny Jesus is Lord. Let us suffer well to proclaim our God’s salvation, so that grace would extend to more and more people who come to know God and give him thanks for his salvation. Then, as his united, holy people, glorified in Christ, we will praise him to whom be all blessing, honor, glory, and might.