Courage, Compassion, and Contagion // Devotion
“Do not be afraid.” That instruction and encouragement is found numerous places in the pages of Scripture. It’s a very important part of the Holy Spirit’s gospel message to us as sinners and as Christians: You don’t need to fear death and hell, because Christ your Savior has done everything necessary to remove your sin and make you holy, and when you trust in him for salvation, eternal life and heaven are yours. And because we have such a loving God, we also know that nothing that can happen to us here on earth needs to frighten us — as Paul writes in Romans 8,
… we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor rulers, neither things present nor things to come, nor powerful forces, 39neither height nor depth, nor anything else in creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. 
Not being afraid is one of the great benefits and blessings of being a Christian. It’s not an irrational ignorance or denial of danger — it’s a recognition that while dangers do exist, we have the Almighty God on our side in every situation, and he loves us. We still take precautions and act with wisdom, of course, because he has made us stewards of our lives, health, and property, but we do so without fear motivating our actions and decisions.
But not everyone has this confidence and fearlessness, and not even every Christian has it all the time. And that’s why, as believers, we want to be careful and compassionate even when, as individuals, we feel safe and secure.
Let me start with a more spiritual example. Let’s say “Greg” is a long-time Christian who knows the grace of God in Christ very well, and as a result understands that forgiveness is always there for him when he turns to the Lord in faith-full repentance — he’s not afraid that a single sin will land him forever in hell. Greg then takes that confidence and begins engaging in, shall we say, morally questionable behavior, reasoning that what’s right or wrong will all get sorted out later when he repents.
Now what effect will his “courage” have on an unbeliever, or even a weak believer, who witnesses this? It’s not likely to be good — and so Greg’s “fearlessness” in this case is actually lovelessness, because he’s showing carelessness about sin to someone who doesn’t know Jesus or who needs an example of faith to follow.
But being careful to show compassion is not just about strictly spiritual considerations. We can take an example from our current troubles.
There are lots of Christians who are resisting both encouragements and requirements to wear masks because of the Covid-19 pandemic — and it’s not because they have legitimate health reasons not to wear them. Some are even resisting extra hand-washing and sanitizer use. Granted, in some cases it’s just an ornery objection to being told what to do, especially when it’s something inconvenient or uncomfortable for them. But the Christians we’re talking about see their refusal to wear a mask as a symbolic witness: they are unafraid of the virus, and they are going to live their lives with that courage and confidence. Perhaps, if they think that far, they even consider this to be a good example to inspire others, so they, too, can live without fear.
But the thing is, not everyone else can live without fear of this novel coronavirus. Sure, some people are irrationally afraid — but it’s hardly compassionate to make such people even more afraid by approaching them — let alone breathing on and talking to them — with nothing covering your mouth and nose. It’s cruel.
But many other people are legitimately concerned about — we might even say “afraid” of —this virus because they are in one of the at-risk categories, or live with someone who is. And even if you happen to think that their concerns are overblown, it is hardly compassionate or Christian to behave in a way that makes them feel even more vulnerable, or that keeps them from venturing out to work and shop and such in the way you already feel comfortable doing.
Now I’m not an epidemiologist or a scientist so I’m not going to presume to be an expert on what actually is or is not effective against Covid-19. But it is worth noting that those who are experts have told us that people who have no idea they are infected are still able to spread the virus, and that the most important precaution is not what you do to keep from getting infected but what infected people do to keep from spreading the contagion. So what do we, as children of God, do with the information and opportunities we have at this time?
Love for our neighbors means that we go the extra mile and make the extra effort to help them live without unnecessary fear. So with something like this pandemic, whether we believe that hand-washing or mask-wearing or whatever is important for our own health or not, the fact that the people around us feel that it’s important for them and their health is what ultimately matters to us as Christians. We want the witness we give to be one that says, “I care about you and will do what’s asked of me to keep you safe, or at least help you feel safe”, not one that says, “I only care about myself” — even if we intend that witness to be “There’s nothing to fear!”
As believers, we make sure that even while we rejoice in the gospel instruction, “Do not be afraid,” we still follow Christ’s gospel imperative to love others as he has loved us. Paul says in Philippians 2: “Let each of you look carefully not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.”  So whether we’re talking about how we treat sin, how we deal with contagion, or just how we do the daily things we do, love means we think of our neighbor first.
That’s the way Jesus lived and loved. As his people, we do, too.
God grant us this grace. Amen.
Pastor Jeff Samelson
Christ Lutheran Church (WELS)
Vice-Chairman, Christian Life Resources’ National Board
August 25, 2020
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April 4, 2020