BY REV GOH YONG KUANG
The COVID-19 outbreak took much of the world by surprise - resulting in many countries scrambling to contain the spread and to find a vaccine for it. Whilst every effort is taken to prevent contraction and infection of this latest virus, there is one virus, which is far more subtle, more insidious and viral than any other disease - one that has infected humanity since the great fall.
I’m referring to the spiritual virus that spares no one and has an unlimited incubation period. It may take months, years or a lifetime before it is exposed and recognized for what it is by the host.
Like everyone else, Christians are at risk from this virus – which often takes the form of hypocrisy, discontentment, bitterness, critical and unforgiving spirit, and many others. This virus can infect the person and spread to others within the Body of Christ. It does not take very long to feel the destructive impact on one’s life and soul!
Just as the COVID-19 produces flu-like symptoms, a person infected by the spiritual virus displays certain symptoms. We need to watch out for these symptoms! What are they?
SYMPTOM 1: The recent virus outbreak has caused people to react with fear and anxiety. This was noted by the Prime Minister in his message to the people:
"But fear can do more harm than the virus itself. It can make us panic, or do things which make matters worse, like circulating rumours online, hoarding face masks or food, or blaming particular groups for the outbreak."*
Long ago, God gave these words to His people:
“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”
Joshua 1:9 (NIV)
“So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”
Isaiah 41:10 (NIV)
Fear and anxiety is a subtle form of distrust in God and a lack of faith in God’s sovereignty and in His promise to deal with the situations. During this period of crisis, let us (with God’s help) not allow fear and anxiety to paralyze us or to control our lives!
SYMPTOM 2: Those in authority not only have to battle the virus outbreak but also have to deal with the endless complaints and criticisms. While it is perfectly normal to express one’s view or even question the decisions of others – it becomes a concern if is caused by a critical spirit.
A critical spirit is a negative attitude of the heart that only seeks to condemn, tear down rather than build up. It is often passed off as a constructive feedback. But the outcome shows otherwise – a total opposite of speaking the truth in love with the purpose of building up or edifying the person for God’s glory.
Just as we take proper precautions to protect ourselves from the virus – we must also protect ourselves from the destructive power of a complaining heart and a critical spirit that often masquerades itself as a concerned individual.
SYMPTOM 3: It often takes a crisis to reveal one’s character. The virus outbreak exposes the ugliness of the sinful nature in people – one such example is the sin of selfishness.
We read about the selflessness of those working in the frontline – risking their lives to help others. We also read about the selfishness of those who hoard – sparing no thought for others, or the scammers who take advantage of the virus scare to swindle people of their hard-earned money.
An English puritan pastor and writer, Richard Baxter (1615-1691) called selfishness "the radical sin of the soul…the cause of all sin in the positive and privative, and is virtually the breach of every one of God’s commandments".** Indeed, all sin is selfish at the core. The sinful nature is basically self-serving and self-seeking – putting one’s own interest above God’s and others’, living only for oneself and pursuing self-importance.
But our Lord has a word for those who are His:
“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.
Luke 9:23 (ESV)
“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.”
Philippians 2:3 (ESV)
Fear, critical spirit and selfishness - these are some of the symptoms of sin that we must watch out for and guard against. As God’s people we must stay vigilant by drawing close to God and constantly abiding in His Word!
During this trying time, may God protect and preserve us for Himself and cause us to overflow with His love and grace as we follow in the footstep of our Lord as light of the world and as salt of the earth!
** Richard Baxter, “Christian Directory” (Chapter 26, pp.868-869)