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Four years later, do we love Christ more?

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Recently a picture of the 2020 AWANA Grand Prix displayed on my TV screensaver. As I looked at the image and saw many familiar faces of people sitting close together and kids smiling and playing, I reflected on how this event was the last major event we had as a church before the world shut down in response to the COVID-19 virus. Little did we know during the Grand Prix how quickly and drastically everything was about to change.

In what seemed like an instant in March 2020, the entire world changed. Curfews were enacted. Many stores and restaurants were closed. All sporting events were canceled. Schools were shut down and eventually went online. Travel was halted. Gloves were initially recommended for grocery shopping to help slow the spread of the virus. Then those recommendations were eventually replaced with mask mandates. And, most shocking of all, countless churches closed their doors and sat nearly empty on Sunday mornings. Typically, only the preacher and the support staff needed to livestream a service were present, as worship went virtual for the majority of congregants.

Debates quickly began to swirl about whether the church should be open or closed due to the COVID-19 virus. Was the church essential, or could the functions of the church go virtual without losing the essence of what the church is all about? When mask mandates were imposed, the debate intensified: should churches require their congregations to mask to attend worship? Did church leaders even have the biblical authority to make such a requirement of God’s people? Churches divided sharply over these and other issues throughout the year, with the result that many people today attend a different church than the one they attended on February 29, 2020. Tragically, many people who went virtual with worship have never returned to church even four years later.

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Throughout this tumultuous time, American Christians had the opportunity to reflect on the significance of the local church. The freedom to wake up on a Sunday morning and attend worship without government regulations affecting our gatherings was something we took for granted pre-COVID-19. In light of COVID-19 and the government mandates, we came to terms with the reality that this freedom is not guaranteed and is something that we should cherish.

Yet there are signs that the lessons learned during 2020 are starting to grow dim in our memories. With life returning mostly to normal, masks becoming less commonplace, and society running at full steam, we quickly forget how essential and precious the gathering of the saints is. We once again can begin to take for granted the centrality of worship. We easily skip a Sunday because we had a long week at work and feel tired, or we allow other obligations to crowd out the central priority of corporate worship. Perhaps what we are looking for in worship has changed as well as the pressures of the lockdowns have given way to the returning pressures of everyday life.

As we reflect on the changes that occurred four years ago, and how most of those restrictions have abated, we would do well to reflect on what made the gathering of the saints so precious to us so that we do not lose the lessons we learned. Why did we deem the church so essential and the gathering of the saints so central to our lives during the COVID-19 era in 2020? Various factors contributed to it, including our need for fellowship and community, our desire to obey God even if it meant disobeying the government, and our love for singing God’s praise and hearing His Word. But the root reason why these things matter so much should be because we love Christ.

The Church is nothing less than the body of Christ on earth. Scripture tells us that as believers we “are Christ’s body” (1 Corinthians 12:27). When we gather together for worship on Sundays or meet in small groups throughout the week, we are not merely a collection of people who believe the same truth, but we are a manifestation of Christ on earth, members of His body. When we fellowship with each other around God’s Word, the Spirit of Christ joins in that fellowship.

Our fellowship with one another also involves closeness with the risen Savior since we are the body of Christ, and He is the head. The Church meeting is not only, then, the saints having communion with one another but with their head, the Lord Jesus Christ. To think of the body gathering without its head is as grotesque a picture as we might imagine. Ultimately, therefore, our love for gathering with the saints is due to our love for our Lord. Our desire to have community with each other is motivated by our desire to fellowship with Christ.

Furthermore, the desire to obey God in the face of potential suffering at the hands of an unlawful government should be motivated by a genuine love for Christ. We know that, as Christians, we must obey God rather than men; therefore, times will inevitably come when we are forced to choose between obeying the government or obeying Christ. As believers, our heart motivation for disobeying the government in such times must not be rooted in disdain for the powers that be, but in genuine affection for our all-powerful God. We take no inherent pleasure in disobeying divinely ordained authorities when those authorities themselves have rebelled against God; instead, we ultimately find our chief delight in obeying Christ because we love Him. Jesus said, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments” (John 14:15).

Our submission to God over men is driven by a supreme love for Christ.

Likewise, all true worship is meant to be an expression of love for Christ. We delight in singing God’s praise, not primarily because we enjoy music itself, although many of us do find great pleasure in excellent music. But what drives us to such heights of worship in song is the excellence of the object of our worship, the Lord Jesus Christ. The reason we eagerly long to hear the Word preached is because when the Word is accurately preached in the power of the Spirit, we hear the voice of our beloved Savior speaking to our hearts. Hearing God’s Word and singing His praise is the overflow of hearts that are filled with the love of Christ.

If we have learned anything through the last four years, we ought to have learned how worthy Christ is of our love. We have seen so much more clearly the necessity of His body, the beauty of holiness, and the majesty of worship. Moreover, we have seen His unyielding faithfulness to us, sustaining us through an unprecedented period in our lives.

It’s been four years since our lives were upended by COVID-19 and the government’s response to it. While our lives have in many ways returned to normal, has our love for Christ continued to grow? I hope that we will never forget the lessons the Lord has taught us through these years, and that, no matter what God’s providence brings us next, our love for our Savior will never return to the status quo.

Dr. Robb Brunansky is the Pastor-Teacher of Desert Hills Bible Church in Glendale, Arizona. Follow him on Twitter at @RobbBrunansky.

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