A Present Distress
“I think that in view of the present distress it is good for a person to remain as he is” (1 Cor 7:26).
Christians faced struggles and persecutions peculiar to their profession as Christians. Paul was dealing with a situation in which there was a “present distress.” We don’t know exactly what this crisis was. It could have been some kind of tribulation, persecution, or perhaps a famine or something else. Whatever it was exactly, Paul advised that it would be better under those circumstances not to marry.
A “distress” here is something that creates a great hardship or “severe pressure” (Thiselton). There certainly can be distresses in time that can cause us temporarily to alter our normal habits. We are in such a time now. It is not exactly the circumstances Paul was dealing with, but surely we can see some application. While this virus is not peculiar to Christians, it does affect Christians because our practices involve close personal and social interaction. Christians are going to want to be together. Yet here we are in our own present distress that causes us to change some habits.
This is not altogether unknown to us. We tell people that if they are sick, they should stay home. If they are “shut in,” we do not expect them to meet like normal. If they are in the hospital, no one thinks they are sinning if they cannot meet. We don’t tell the sick that they need to come to services and, if they don’t, they aren’t trusting God enough. These are personal distresses, and people need to use their judgment about what to do. This is not like altering services because I have a ball game to attend.
A present distress requires that judgments be made based upon that particular crisis. Paul advised against marriage, but said it was his judgment and there was no sin involved if someone married anyway. For us, judgments are being made about how much and how often our contact should be. Some will disagree, but here is a critical point: these judgment calls under a present distress are not about changing God’s plans, overturning Scripture, disobeying the Lord’s command to assemble, showing a lack of faith, and so on. Godly people are trying to navigate their way through a storm for which they have little to no precedent. This is temporary. It will pass. The last thing brethren need to be doing right now is calling their brethren’s faith into question because they are making judgments based upon a present distress. Even if you personally don’t think this is a bid deal, others do, and we need to help alleviate fear and stress by showing mercy.
Paul advised against marriage because of a present distress. Imagine brethren telling Paul that he was explicitly denying the Lord’s plans for marriage. Imagine Paul being charged with trying to change God’s will or calling into question his faith over this. Paul should have just ignored that present distress and told them not to make any adjustments whatsoever. Who will tell Paul?
It may be that we find ourselves having to adjust to a new normal. It will take a little time to figure it out and make the needed adjustments. Elders and churches have difficult decisions ahead of them. While these decisions and adjustments are being made, we need to avoid vilifying one another (as at all times). Love is patient and kind.
“Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.” (Col 3:12-15)
Many of these matters in our present distress are going to center around how we treat one another. How will we treat our elderly? How will we show love to one another when we ourselves may get sick? How will we serve the needs of those who are ill? How can we build up one another during a time when we cannot be together the way we normally are? How will we show mercy and compassion if we will feel “just fine” but might put others at risk if we are not careful? How will we respect the way others feel, regardless of how we might feel?
If ever there is a time to show love, respect, and mercy, now is it. Pray for each other. Build up one another. Perhaps we may find that a time like this can help us to refocus, to draw closer both to God and each other. Use the time well.