Sermon: Prospering In The Pandemic (3 John 1-2)
1 The Elder,
To the beloved Gaius, whom I love in truth:
2 Beloved, I pray that you may prosper in all things and be in health, just as your soul prospers. (3 John 1-2, NKJV)
We’re living in the midst of a crisis that we’ve never seen in our lives. I’m 35, and I’d have to say that 2020 has proven to be the scariest year for me so far. If there were ever a time that my mortality, or the reminder that my life is fragile, ever stared me in the face, this is it.
I know, some of y’all out there are calling me “Chicken Little.” And I’ll gladly bear the title if I must. For, I have a confession to make, church: I am scared. I am really fearful of what the coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, can do and is doing in not only the United States but also the world. I am frightened over it. It is killing people left and right. It is non-discriminatory, an “equal opportunity killer” these days. And I am afraid that I could get infected.
I know what some of you are thinking out there: “Pastor D.M. calls herself a preacher, yet she’s afraid of the coronavirus. Doesn’t she know that God hasn’t given her the spirit of fear, but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind?” Yes. God has given us power and love and sound thinking. When we fear at times, we don’t think as we should. Fear motivates at times and overtakes sound thinking.
That’s true. And I am afraid. And yet, when the Lord visited Joseph in a dream and told him to take Mary and Jesus and flee to Egypt because King Herod was trying to kill Jesus, Joseph didn’t just lay back down in his bed and pretend it was no big deal. No, he got up, got everyone together, and fled the country. He didn’t have a spirit of fear either, but he acted in accordance with sound thinking. No one in their right mind (and yes, I say this without hesitation) stays in a place and lets their child die when they could escape and save their child’s life.
Even though Joseph fled from Herod, he wasn’t acting out of a spirit of fear. His whole life wasn’t lived in fear. He didn’t go to Egypt and fear that Herod would catch him there. He didn’t live his life, looking over his shoulder, saying to Mary, “Well, thank God we lived another day. Herod’s men could come looking for us.” No, he escaped and that was that. And even after Herod died and the Lord told Joseph to return to Israel, Joseph settled in Nazareth instead of Bethlehem because he feared what Herod’s son could and would do. He acted out of common sense and sound thinking, not fear.
The “spirit of fear” the Bible warns against doesn’t mean we throw common sense and sound logic to the wind. It means that we don’t live every moment in fear of the worst, that we don’t live every moment wondering if our spouse is cheating on us. We shouldn’t live every moment worried that our job is going bust. We shouldn’t live every moment fearing our government could be taken over by a hostile power. Even though North Korea is still launching missiles, we shouldn’t fear every moment that we’re just one second away from being bombed and going up in smoke. We shouldn’t fear every moment that we’re one second away from tragedy and disaster.
But we should fear the coronavirus. I’ll get into why in this sermon today. God has given us common sense, and it is part of how we can prosper in this pandemic, as this disease continues to take person after person, soul after soul, and ravage body after body and limb after limb. It’s only akin to the Bubonic Plague of centuries gone by. And it’s nothing to scoff at.
In today’s text, we find the apostle John writing one of his students or “children” by the name of Gaius. There are a few mentions of Gaius in the New Testament as a companion of Paul and a host of Paul when he was in a particular city. And yet, we don’t know if these are references to the Gaius of Third John. There’s simply no way to tell.
What we can know is that the apostle John is writing one of his students or mentees in the faith, and he wishes him well. In verse 1, John says, “The Elder, to the beloved Gaius, whom I love in truth.” He calls himself “the Elder,” in reference to perhaps both his age and his title in the early church. At this point, John is likely advanced in age. Since this epistle was written before his exile to the isle of Patmos in the Book of Revelation, we can assume that John was of some age at this point. Third John was written at least 30-35 years after the ascension of the Lord Jesus Christ back to Heaven, so John would’ve been near what we would think of today as retirement age by the time he writes 3rd John.
And while there seems to be little special about this small excerpt of Scripture, there is a nugget of joy we find in it when we read the words of 3 John verse 2: “Beloved, I pray that you may prosper in all things and be in health, just as your soul prospers.” This is John’s prayer for Gaius. That is, that Gaius prosper physically (in body) and spiritually (in spiritual nourishment).
This is a point that is often lost on believers. There are many who believe that one must put the physical before the spiritual. Others believe that believers must put the spiritual above the physical. John, in this case, prays that Gaius would prosper in both areas. He doesn’t prioritize one over the other but prays that Gaius’s physical health would prosper as his soul is prospering.
And John’s prayer is what God desires not only for Gaius and the churches then, but for us believers today. No matter where you are, around the world, God desires that you, as a believer, prosper physically and spiritually. In spite of the coronavirus pandemic, you can prosper in both areas. In a time of decline, you can still prosper. We can pray that we prosper, and we can (and will prosper).
So how do we prosper in the pandemic?
First, we can prosper by accepting God’s will for us: that is, we prosper and be in good health, even as our soul prospers. God wants us to be in good health. He wants us to have food to eat, a roof over our head, clothes to wear, a shower and tub by which to take a bath. He wants us to have our medicines that we need so that we don’t lose good health. God wants us to get good rest, because, as Psalm 127:2 says, “He gives His beloved sleep.” He wants us to get good exercise. Yes, Paul tells Timothy in 1 Timothy 4:8 that “bodily exercise profits a little,” but keep in mind that bodily exercise is still profitable. Paul doesn’t say that it doesn’t profit at all, but rather, it doesn’t profit as much as godliness. This reminds us that the physical, exercise, must be accompanied by godliness, the spiritual. The physical and the spiritual together comprise the complete package of blessings God has in store for believers.
Our Lord shows us that He cares for our physical and spiritual health in that, when He preached to the masses, He fed the 5,000 plus women and children with 2 fish and 5 loaves of bread in Matthew 14:13-21, for example. The disciples wanted to send them away, but Jesus required the disciples to provide food for the people. Thankfully, someone in the midst had some small amount of food to use. And God used it to feed the people with food left over.
Our Lord shows His care for our physical nourishment as well as our spiritual nourishment when He chides the Pharisees for their strict interpretation of the Law regarding the Sabbath, such that they believed someone plucking grain to feed their stomach was in violation of the Sabbath. Jesus shows in His dialogue with them in Matthew 12:1-8 that there are exceptions to the Sabbath rule when it concerns man’s hunger and his need to work to feed himself in order to survive.
Jesus wasn’t a Pharisee; He didn’t put the Law above man’s physical needs. He didn’t put the spiritual above the physical, but held them both in balance. Man needs to be whole, physically and spiritually, and Jesus came to bring both physical and spiritual healing to all. The same Lord who gave bread and water is the same Lord who used the eating and drinking analogy to refer to accepting Him as Lord and Savior in John 6:53-58, where Jesus says:
“53 Then Jesus said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. 54 Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. 55 For My flesh is food indeed, and My blood is drink indeed. 56 He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him. 57 As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who feeds on Me will live because of Me. 58 This is the bread which came down from heaven—not as your fathers ate the manna, and are dead. He who eats this bread will live forever.”
Our Lord was concerned with the physical and spiritual nourishment of believers in His day. And today, He’s still concerned about ours. Yes, even twenty-first-century believers still have the love and concern of our Lord and Savior in this current pandemic. His will hasn’t changed. Since the beginning of the world, God has cared about the physical and spiritual nourishment of believers.
Why do you think the first sin in the Garden of Eden occurred around God’s word (“Do not eat”) and food (the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil”)? Obeying God’s Word would have led to both physical and spiritual nourishment: man would have had proper food to eat and would’ve had spiritual nourishment by being obedient to God. Instead, man chose physical nourishment over the spiritual then. Some of us are choosing the exact opposite preference now.
3 John 1:1-2 reminds us today that God still cares about both. His will is unchanging. He wills that we be whole, that we be in a state of shalom, the Hebrew word for peace or wholeness, and that all of man be fulfilled and satisfied. To prosper in the pandemic, we’ve got to accept and remind ourselves of this truth. God desires both. If we’re putting one above the other, and attending to one while neglecting the other, we’re not doing the will of God — no matter how zealous our efforts may be.
Next, to prosper in the pandemic, we must obey the proverb: “Know thine enemy.” We must not be ignorant of what we are up against. What are we up against? COVID-19, what we know as coronavirus. It is a deadly disease, a fatal disease, that can be spread from person to person. It is far more deadly than influenza (or the flu). Over 1.2 million people have been infected worldwide, with 64,710 deaths globally due to the pandemic. A little over 246,000 people have recovered, a mere 1 in 5 people having fought the disease and won. COVID-19 is leaving few victors in its wake.
To know our enemy, we must live in facts, not fear. While we must trust in the Lord and know that He is greater than COVID-19, we must also not live in presumption and assume we’re safe because we’re children of God. Just this week, I heard of a case involving a Pastor in a discussion group I’m in. Last week, he was asking the group about what to do with church meetings in light of one of his deacons having tested positive for coronavirus. He died a few days ago, his wife reported on Facebook. The other elders in the church have also tested positive, and their chances aren’t good at the moment.
We’ve mentioned a few facts. First, that coronavirus is deadly. Second, it’s infected over a million people and killed 64,000. The disease is also referred to as COVID-19. Why is coronavirus referred to as COVID-19? Because COVID-19 is the strain that causes the virus. It is the 19th strain of COVID. This means that there are least 18 other non-lethal COVID strains out there. Everyone has some form of the COVID strains, but not everyone has COVID-19. Think about that: this COVID-19 is everyman’s assassin, the killer strain, the one that takes you out. And the worst part of all is that people can carry the disease and pass it on before displaying any symptoms. Many are first asymptomatic (that is, showing few to no symptoms) before they become symptomatic (that is, they start showing symptoms).
All throughout the last several weeks, we have seen some global leaders downplay its deadliness, only to see their facial expressions change from briefing to briefing as they finally admit its lethal nature and the inability of citizens to avoid it apart from social distancing. In our current state, without a global vaccine, social distancing is all we can do to ensure we stay alive. There is no current cure for coronavirus.
And God desires that we live. He died so that we would live, both physically and spiritually. He wants us to live. He did breathe the breath of life into Adam and made him a living soul, did He not? He wants us to live and experience the best of what He can give us in this life. And we can only do that, in light of this deadly disease, by taking precautions to stay alive. Some of the recommendations are to first, wash our hands. Washing our hands eliminates germs that can make one sick.
Next, we should avoid touching our faces as much as possible. If your hands have COVID-19 germs, you can pass them on to your face and in your bloodstream. Other advice pertains to face masks. The CDC has taken its time, but the Center for Disease Control is finally recommending that citizens wear face masks when going out in public. The reason pertains to water droplets in the air that come from the mouths of those who talk in public. Those droplets can land on one’s lips, in one’s mouth, and on your face. Though the CDC isn’t recommending it, doctors say that COVID-19 water droplets can also land on one’s eyes, as some saliva hits your eyes when people talk; thus, a good pair of protective goggles would also be a wise purchase.
Then there are the warnings to avoid large crowds and practice social distancing. Avoiding large crowds involves going out to places like concerts, church gatherings, sports games, and even family reunions. Anywhere that has more than 5 people is a place you shouldn’t be. As I mentioned above, a pastor associate of mine passed away a few days ago because of a large church gathering with a deacon who had COVID-19 and didn’t know it. At the time, the deacon was showing no symptoms (he was asymptomatic).
This week, I was stunned to read a Bloomberg article that showed churches down near the Gulf Coast were still meeting for worship despite orders to desist for the sake of social distancing. And then, one of the pastors said that he wouldn’t follow the mandate because he believed the virus was “politically motivated.” His worship service had 550 people in it. 550, a perfect number for another hotbed spread. When the mandate of the day is social distancing, and “Caesar” (global leaders) say do it, it must be done to protect life. Anyone still meeting despite the warnings against doing so should be charged with first and second-degree murder when lives are lost.
I’ve given you fact, not fear, to think about. “Fact” has the word “act,” A-C-T, in it, for a reason. After you receive the facts, you must “act” on what you know. Without action, facts are just trivia. Now, you must act on this information to save your life, your family’s lives, and those around you. Every life matters in this coronavirus crisis.
Last but not least, we must pray for ourselves and others. The apostle John prayed that Gaius would be in good physical and spiritual health, and we must pray that for others. We must assist in whatever way we can to protect others as well as ourselves. Social distancing, avoiding large crowds, can protect others, alongside wearing goggles and face masks. Calling and checking in on church members, family, friends, coworkers, and other associates is a great way to do that as well. Even as we do these things, we must pray to God on their behalf. The only cure for this disease is the Lord, and only He can bring a vaccine that will slow its spread. Some of us think that miracles are so “Bible days,” but the truth is that we need a miracle now. This disease is so deadly that only a miracle can stop it. Only a miracle.
But we must never give up. As believers, we have the Blessed Hope, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Whether this disease leaves quickly or gradually, we must never stop proclaiming the Good News of the gospel to a lost and dying world. Some are, like the Pharisaical dichotomy, only worried about their physical health and avoiding death by coronavirus; we must be concerned with not only the body but also the soul. Our Lord and Savior told us to preach the gospel to every creature, and we can still do that — even online. That is the mission of the church: to preach the gospel to all.
Continue to pray for one another. Pray for the world. Continue to do what you can to protect yourself and others. And share this sermon with others who may not know just how deadly COVID-19 really is. Sharing this sermon is an example of doing your part to bring knowledge to those who may not know. And, as is always the case, knowledge is power.
Finally, brothers and sisters in Christ, I pray for you, that you would know the peace of God that surpasses all understanding during this time. I pray your bodies and souls be blessed. I pray that this disease passes. I pray that, as we wait for things to change, that God would change us from the inside out. I pray that we would prosper during the pandemic because we seek the will of God, know the will of God, pray according to the will of God, and live in the will of God.
Note: While we believe in being led by the Spirit in our worship, we’ve provided a selection of songs below for your edification.
Opening Selection: Hezekiah Walker, “Wonderful Is Your Name”
Second Selection: James Moore and The Mississippi Mass Choir, “Jesus Paid It All”
Pre-Sermon Selection: Carla Taylor, There Is A Balm In Gilead
Final Selection: Yolanda Adams, “Be Blessed”