Though not everyone is completely happy or on-board with the whole “stay-in-place” and “social-distancing” policies currently advocated by those in the know, it is somewhat heartening to see so many willing to take steps, sometimes hard ones requiring self-sacrifice, to keep others safe. Measures that in other times would seem draconian and authoritarian become sensible and prudent because they are motivated by a concern for the good of others.
We are reminded in this moment that we have a responsibility for the well-being of our fellowman, and that this responsibility is not just one of actively doing good, but also one of refusing to inflict hurt. There is a reason that a portion of the classic Hippocratic Oath is a declaration to never intentionally do harm to others. If we want to be caring, then the very least we can do is refuse t willingly injure. If our normal activities can only be done at the expense of the health and safety of others, then the loving thing is to rethink those activities until such time as they no longer inflict harm.
The Bible teaches us that it was Cain who first asked, “Am I my brother’s keeper? (Genesis 4:9)” Cain was a murderer. His example is not being held forth as one to emulate but rather as indicative of a heart that is departing from the love of God.
God expects us to love one another. Actively engaging in behavior that we know is going to inflict pain, suffering, or in extreme cases, death on others is not very loving. Those who engage in such behavior, trying to justify it, are walking in the footsteps of Cain, who killed his brother. Not very lofty company.
It is easy for us to understand this concept when it comes to inflicting physical pain or suffering on others, but how often do we consider the spiritual impact of our actions upon one another. Physical death, Jesus shows, is not the end of human existence, but sin has eternal consequences. Rather than having an unhealthy fear of that which can kill the body, Jesus taught men to fear God who could cast both body and soul into hell (cf. Matthew 10:28). This is not to say we should not take prudent steps to stay healthy, or do the best we can to limit risks, but rather Jesus wants us to keep things in a proper perspective. The soul has more value than the body. “what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? (Matthew 16:26; ESV)”
With this in mind, consider what the Bible says about doing no harm, spiritually.
Jesus taught, “whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea. Woe to the world for temptations to sin! For it is necessary that temptations come, but woe to the one by whom the temptation comes! (Matthew 18:6-7; ESV)” Some translations use the word “offenses” rather than “temptations,” and some use, “stumbling blocks.” The actual Greek term, “skandalon,” refers to the stick, or trigger of a trap or snare. Jesus is saying that the one who ensnares another into sin has a great deal to answer for.
James, in his epistle writes about those who “save a soul from death,” by turning a sinner from the errors of his ways (cf. James 5:19-20). Contrarily, those who entice others into sin are leading a soul into death, and are answerable for it. We are our brother’s keeper, and this includes a responsibility, not just for the health and welfare of the body, but for the good of their souls.
Yet, when we are making life choices regarding behavior, clothing, words, or activities, too often we do not stop to consider whether or not our choices may be spiritually damaging to others.
Love behaves differently. Love is willing to make sacrifices for the sake of others. “Love does not insist on its own way (1 Corinthians 13:5).” Love also “does not rejoice at wrong-doing (1 Corinthians (1 Corinthians 13:6).” This would include things wrong in others, as well as in self. Rather, “ Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things,… (1 Corinthians 13:7)” all for the sake of others.
Paul said that even if what we eat might cause another to sin, we should be so concerned for one another’s welfare that we don’t eat that which would make them stumble or damage their faith (cf. Romans 14:13-19).
In short, Love does no intentional harm, either physically or spiritually, because Love cares more about others than about self (cf. Philippians 2:3).
Though we may be social-distancing at the moment, when the moment passes, the church of Christ invites you to visit and worship with us at 234 Chapel Drive, Gallipolis, Ohio. Likewise, if you have any questions or comments, we invite you to share them with us at chapelhillchurchofchrist.org.
Jonathan McAnulty is minister of Chapel Hill Church of Christ. Viewpoints expressed in the article are the work of the author.