Vaccine supply is starting to surpass demand for it. Sources say that the white, evangelical Christian community is the largest holdback in America’s efforts to get beyond and over this pandemic, to return to some sense of normalcy. To combat this evangelical Christian opposition to the vaccine and the government mandate, some Pastors are posting pictures of their vaccinations on social media (with their sleeve rolled up to show their vaccine band-aid, no doubt). It’s a matter of the fallacy of “appeal to authority”: “If the Pastor is doing it, maybe I should do it too,” or so the idea goes.
But I think that part of the problem with the current vaccine effort and the hesitancy in opposition to it is that some are interpreting the words of Jesus without regard to the entire statement and its total meaning. They are guilty of taking part of the statement without considering all of it.
What’s the problem? Instead of taking the full statement Jesus says in Matthew 19:19, Matthew 22:39, and Mark 12:31, the Christian vaccination campaign is taking Jesus’ words out of context.
To find out how they’re taking Jesus out of context, let’s take a look at the words of Jesus.
“Love Your Neighbor” in proper context
“Love your neighbor” has a context. When we examine Jesus’ words in Matthew 19:19, Matthew 22:39, and Mark 12:31, we find that Jesus says “love your neighbor as yourself.” In proper context, Jesus is quoting the words of the Law. Though there are the Five Books of Moses (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, comprising the Law of Moses), the Law can be summed up in two commandments: First, to love the Lord with all of your being and 2) love your neighbor as yourself. These two commandments are what all the Law hangs on or depends on.
And so, the Law says “love your neighbor as yourself.” Not just “love your neighbor.” Jesus also doesn’t say, “love your neighbor above yourself” or “love your neighbor better than yourself.” Rather, He tells us to “love your neighbor as yourself.” However, “love your neighbor as yourself” and “love your neighbor” are two different statements.
what’s the difference between “love your neighbor” and “love your neighbor as yourself”?
There’s a big difference between loving your neighbor and loving your neighbor as yourself. What’s the difference? Loving your neighbor is about doing good to your neighbor. Scripture tells us to not withhold good when it is in our power to do good for others (Galatians 6:10). But you cannot love your neighbor “as yourself” without first, loving yourself.
The first duty that we have as believers is to love ourselves. Paul mentions this when he goes into his discussion of husbands loving their wives in Ephesians 5. Paul uses the idea of husbands loving their own bodies to bridge their understanding to loving their spouse. “So husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies; he who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as the Lord does the church. For we are members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones. “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church” (Ephesians 5:28-32, NKJV).
In these five verses, we find that loving a wife is tantamount to a husband loving himself. In the same way he wouldn’t beat himself, for example, he shouldn’t beat his wife. Why? because, with the word of the Lord saying that husband and wife become “one flesh,” the wife is to be treated by the husband “as though” she is the same person (though she isn’t). Since husband and wife are one, what they do to each other is tantamount to what they do to themselves. If they verbally abuse one another, they are verbally abusing themselves. If they deprive each other of love, they are depriving themselves of love and are loveless.
A husband wouldn’t want to harm himself. Anyone with sound intellect and judgment would not want to self-harm. Scripture shows some examples of those who wanted to harm themselves, such as the Gerasene Demoniac in Mark 5 and other demon-possessed persons, but these individuals were not of themselves but were controlled by demonic spirits. Notice, too, that Jesus casts out these demons. The Lord wills that we be of sound mind and judgment, not controlled by evil spirits to self-harm. The Lord has not given us the spirit of fear, but of power, love, and a sound mind (2 Timothy 1:7).
Even in the New Testament, the Apostle John prays that believers “be in good health and prosper, even as their souls prosper.” This is great advice, even in the midst of an uncertain pandemic.
So husbands are to love their wives as they love themselves. The wife can be seen in this situation as the husband’s “neighbor.” By loving his wife, the husband is loving his neighbor as himself, a fulfillment of Jesus’ words from the Law.
Loving yourself first: an exercise in wisdom
To approach the idea of loving yourself first, let’s look at the five wise and five foolish virgins in Jesus’ parable in Matthew 25:1-13.
The five wise virgins packed extra oil to go along with the oil in their lamps. They were getting ready to meet the bridegroom and they didn’t want the oil in their lamps to go out. Both the five wise and five foolish virgins went to sleep. At some time thereafter, the bridegroom came and announced, “Behold, the bridegroom is coming, go out to meet him!” (Matthew 25:6) The five foolish virgins told the wise, “Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.” The oil in their lamps was dying by the second, and they knew they wouldn’t have enough oil to sustain them on their journey. The wise virgins respond with the words, “No, lest there should not be enough for us and you; but go rather to those who sell, and buy for yourselves” (Matthew 25:9). So the five foolish virgins went and bought oil, but by the time they got the oil, the Bridegroom had come and the five wise virgins had gone into the marriage chamber. The door was shut. Though the five foolish virgins knocked on the door and begged the Lord to open it, He would not.
Some ask how the five wise virgins exercised wisdom in refusing to give oil to the five foolish virgins. How did the five wise virgins exercise wisdom? They refused to give oil to the five foolish, oil that they themselves needed to make the same journey.
How do the five wise and five foolish virgins relate to the COVID-19 Vaccine?
How do the five wise and five foolish virgins tie in to the COVID-19 vaccine and whether or not one should take it?
It all boils down to wisdom. What is wisdom? who is wise?
The COVID-19 vaccination campaign/agenda, as said above, is telling people to “love your neighbor,” but they’re leaving off the words “as yourself.” We should all love our neighbor, but Jesus says that loving yourself is the context and direction for how you and I should love our neighbor. Don’t you get hungry? Well then, feed your neighbor when he or she is hungry. Don’t you want clothes to wear? Then give your neighbor clothes when he or she is naked and needs some. Don’t you want something to drink? Give a good drink to your neighbor when he or she is thirsty. Do you cherish a place to stay, and a bed to sleep in? Well then, if you have a bed or a chair for your neighbor to sleep in, offer him or her a place to lay his or her head at night. It goes back to The Golden Rule, where Jesus says that we are to do to others as we would want them to do to us (Matthew 7:12; Luke 6:31). If we would want someone to show kindness to us, we must first show kindness to others. If we want others to forgive us, we must forgive others (Matthew 6:15; 18:34-35).
When it comes to the COVID-19 vaccine, the situation is more complex than just “loving your neighbor.” First, we are to love ourselves. We cannot “love our neighbor as ourselves” if we don’t first love ourselves. What this means is that, before we can show love to our neighbor, we have to show love to ourselves. We have to take care of ourselves first so that, once in a good place, we can reach out to and help our neighbor.
Think about this example: you cannot rescue someone from drowning if you’re drowning alongside them. You must first make it to shore and out of the water before you can help someone else get to shore and get out the water.
When it comes to the COVID-19 vaccine, we have to first attend to ourselves and our own health: that is, we must consider the effects of the vaccines and what impact they could have on us. Some individuals who take the COVID-19 vaccine don’t display any side effects; some have very mild ones; others have side effects that put them around the house for a few days, while others have more intense or severe side effects. In some cases, some vaccine patients have died due to blood clots (whether in the brain, abdomen, liver, or leg). Some get blood clots that travel to the lungs and heart as well. Scientific and medical authorities continue to say that “the benefits outweigh the risks” of the vaccine, that COVID-19 poses a greater risk than the vaccine, but to the family that’s lost loved ones behind the vaccines (and even behind COVID), there is no “greater risk”; all loss feels like loss because death is death, and grief is grief. Whether someone loses a loved one to a car accident or cancer, both are tragedies and both leave families devoid of their loved one’s presence and light.
Vaccines contain medicines, and those medicines can have an effect on your immune system. Even in good medicines, there are potential side effects. Most of us take medicines because 1) medical authorities tell us to. But in the event that we experience bad side effects (or harmful ones), we can say “no,” tell our doctors we don’t want to take them, and doctors will remove them from our list of medications. Vaccines aren’t like that: when you receive the injection, the impact it will have on you is out of your hands. You have no control over what you experience, once the vaccine enters into your body. So with that said, you don’t get to have “patient remorse” after the vaccine, and say, “I no longer want to receive it.” You must make up your mind before agreeing to the vaccine.
You must understand that, should you take it, and it prove harmful to you, you could end up hospitalized or even die from it. Not everyone will die, but you must accept the possibility that you “could” die, or that you “could” end up in the hospital. And, since not even the vaccine is 100% protection against COVID-19, you must also accept that you can still end up getting COVID-19, possibly ending up on a ventilator, and possibly dying from COVID-19 regardless of vaccination. Again, these tragedies are not happening to everyone, but they have happened to some who believed, like so many, that these negative side effects (blood clots, death, liver malfunction, etc.) wouldn’t happen to them.
In order to love your neighbor as yourself, you must first love yourself. We all want to protect ourselves and our loved ones from COVID-19, but keep in mind that there are measures in place that are already helping to protect ourselves and our loved ones: wearing face masks, washing hands, and social distancing. These things are already saving lives. In fact, studies show that wearing face masks reduces sickness and disease. It also reduces cold and flu cases as well, as pharmacies report a drop in cold and flu medication purchases over the past year.
These measures are ways that we are protecting ourselves and our loved ones. But these measures don’t require the use of medicine. They don’t require us to put ourselves at risk for possible harm. When it comes to the vaccine, however, there are consequences that could result from the injection. Those consequences could be mild to none at all, but there are some who could suffer severe consequences. For example, a 39-year-old Utahn mother of 1 suffered complete liver malfunction before dying 4 days after getting the second dose of her Moderna vaccine. She was a plastic surgery technician and encouraged all those around her to get vaccinated. She didn’t know she’d become a victim of such a life-saving measure. The same can be said for a 52-year-old New Jersey man named Francisco Cosme who received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, then started getting COVID symptoms just 5 weeks post-injection. Now he is on a ventilator in the hospital, fighting for his life. Both of these examples show that, despite how “rare” we’re told severe hospitalization and death can be, it is a reality for some patients.
Getting the vaccine is a matter of one’s own moral conscience. Some have chosen to “go with God” and take their chances on COVID. Others want to get the vaccine to protect themselves and their loved ones, but the vaccine doesn’t guarantee immunity and there are cases of fully vaccinated persons, such as a recent congresswoman, who still got COVID-19 though she is fully vaccinated. It could happen to you too, unfortunately.
You have to consider whether you’re willing to risk your life on either 1) COVID-19 or 2) the COVID-19 vaccine. That’s a decision that you have to make for yourself. But you must make that decision and then decide how to best love your neighbor.
If it were me, I know that there are no guarantees, either way. I could die of either. And yet, I wouldn’t want to force someone to get vaccinated and put themselves in harm’s way, just so I could possibly survive. I would want them to look out for themselves and me. Face masks, hand washing, and social distancing are ways my neighbor can protect me and themselves, and ways that I can protect myself and them. I wouldn’t want my neighbor to die just so I could live. Their lives matter to God as much as mine, and vice versa. I would want them to be sensible and reasonable about taking health precautions. Wearing a face mask won’t harm them. Washing their hands won’t harm them. Social distancing won’t harm them. And these same measures won’t harm me, either. And both of us will benefit when we do them.
The Lord told us to love our neighbor “as ourselves.” He didn’t tell us to give up our lives so that they can live. The five wise virgins were wise because they didn’t give up the only oil they had. And we are wise to not throw our lives away so that others can live. Don’t we matter as much to God as our neighbor? Doesn’t the Lord care about your life and mine, not just our neighbor’s?
Remember, He has already laid down His life for us, so that we could live. He doesn’t mandate we give our lives for our neighbor, but rather, we respect them and care about them, and do all we can to protect them and ourselves. And we can protect ourselves without putting ourselves at risk in order to prove to the world we love our neighbor.
There need be no death in sustaining life. No life-sustaining measure should require either you or your neighbor to put yourself/himself/herself at death’s door. And if it does, you should give great thought to it before you say “yes” or “no.”
If the Christian COVID-19 vaccination campaign tells you that loving yourself means that you “must” get the COVID-19 vaccine because, to refuse it is not properly “loving your neighbor,” respond in this manner: “Jesus told us to love our neighbor as ourselves. You’re taking the text out of context.”