Humans are creatures built for relationship. We normally don’t thrive isolated from one another. That’s one of the reasons why many of us find the social distancing restrictions difficult. So, during these times, how can we care for one another at a distance?
My sister-in-law recently had a fascinating insight into the Apostle Paul’s ministry, much of which was at a distance. Paul spent a lot of time in prison for proclaiming the gospel. The letters to the Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon were all written from prison. Whilst he would have preferred being with the churches in person, life was not put on hold. Paul said his time in prison had even served to advance the gospel, as it was clear to the palace guard that he was in chains for Christ (Phil 1: 12-14).
Paul’s letter to the Ephesians teaches us three things how we can care for each other.
First, Paul prays for them. He gives thanks for God’s work of grace in their lives and prays that they would grow in their love and knowledge of Jesus. He also asks that they pray for him in his ministry, that he would continue to proclaim Christ fearlessly and faithfully (6:19). Paul’s prayers for his churches are a model for how we should pray for one another.
Second, Paul encourages them to work out their faith. Following Jesus is about leaving your former way of life and being made new, pursuing holiness and righteousness (4:22-24). Paul speaks with them specifically about their speech, anger, sexual morality, family and work life. He shows us that we shouldn’t be passive about living a transformed life. We need to think deliberately about the gospel affects everything.
Third, Paul urges them to care for one another. He underscores that the work of ministry is not just the job of the professionals – every Christian is involved, as the ‘whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds up itself in love, as each part does its work’ (4:16). Paul gets specific about how this can be done, saying to them, ‘Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs’ (4:29).
The coronavirus and the social distancing restrictions do not need to put our lives on hold. They should certainly not put our ministry to one another on hold. Let’s always think about how we can use the time and opportunities given to us. Think about who you can text, call, zoom, or meet up with to build one another up in Jesus.