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In Philippians 2:1-4 we read, "If there be therefore any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any bowels and mercies, Fulfil ye my joy, that ye be like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves. Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others."

This was my text this past Sunday morning for perhaps the touchiest message of my pastoral career. The title of the message was "Jabbering and the Jab." At the somewhat bemused looks on the faces of my members, I explained that the definition of jabbering is "talking excitedly while making little to no sense." At that, everyone seemed to know what I was thinking and where I was heading.

Paul gave a set of instructions to all believers in Christ through his letter to the church at Philippi. And those instructions in the above verses can be summarized as, "If you truly love each other as Christ has taught you to, then be unified. And even when you disagree on something, do so without strife or vainglory. Don't just think of things from your perspective; consider the perspective of others as well."

If there has ever been an issue where this guidance is needed, it is the issue of all things COVID, especially the vaccine. And as I told my church, I will now tell you, buckle up. I am likely to say some things you do not like. But if I do, be patient because I will also say some things the "other side" does not like. And what I say in each case will be based on the realization that whatever position a person holds on this issue, they likely have some very valid reasons to do so.

Those on the pro-vaccine side have likely either nearly died themselves or actually wept at the graveside of some that they love who were lost due to COVID.

Those on the anti-vaccine side remember that President Trump proclaimed the virus likely came out of a lab in Wuhan, China, and was roundly pilloried by many major news outlets, who quoted famed members of the scientific community to debunk his statement. But now that he is out of office, many of those same news outlets are admitting that it could be the case after all. In other words, from the perspective of those on the anti-vaccine side, COVID was created by the scientific community, the scientific community covered for the scientific community and now the scientific community wants everyone to trust the scientific community for the answer.

Those on the pro-vaccine side remember that it was vaccines that eliminated smallpox and polio.

Those on the anti-vaccine side acknowledge that COVID can be deadly, but they also rightly point out that the numbers are often wildly overblown, such as when The Texas Tribune reported that 5,800 children in just a week's time were hospitalized in Texas with COVID. Leftist Twitter erupted over that since Texas is, after all, a "red state." But then the Tribune had to issue a correction since there had actually only been 783 in six weeks, or just over 100 in a week, not 5,800 in one week, nowhere even remotely close. (The 5,800 number reflected the number of children hospitalized since the pandemic began.) I have tallied a great number of instances like that since all of this began. (texastribune.org/corrections/)

The pro-vaccine side believes vaccines will allow life to go back to normal. The anti-vaccine side believes that noted population control advocate Bill Gates is trying to accomplish his own version of the Thanos snap and wipe out half of the population to save us all from climate change.

The pro-vaccine side wants everyone to listen to the doctors. The anti-vaccine side points out that many very highly trained doctors have been completely shut out of the conversation.

And yet, every bit of this misses the point for believers in Christ. For us, the point is that whichever position we hold, we are to do so with grace, not with strife or vainglory. And yet we see so much strife among believers on this, with people going so far as to cut each other out of their lives, battle publicly and vitriolically on social media and accuse each other variously of "literally trying to kill people" or "literally selling our children into slavery." We also see the vainglory of what my daughter calls the "attention seekers" on both sides of the issue, such as one pastor who put up a sign telling people that they would be asked to leave if they wear masks and a pastor on the opposite side who sent out a news release that people without proof of vaccination would not be allowed in to worship.

God help us.

If you were expecting me, a preacher, to tell you whether or not you should wear a mask or get the jab, you are out of luck. My doctorate is in theology, not medicine. My point in all of this is to explain that the commands of Philippians 2:1-4 do not have a pandemic exception. These commands were in force during the Black Plague and the Great Plague of London, and they are still in force for COVID. It is fine to have strong opinions. It is perfectly acceptable to state them publicly. It is even OK to very strongly disagree with others. But it is not acceptable to act like heathens toward each other while supposedly trying to reach the "heathens" with the gospel of Christ.

If we truly believe that heaven and hell are real and eternal and that Christ is the only way of salvation, it would be best for neither preachers nor parishioners to get into "COVID bar brawls" on Saturday before we broadcast our services on Sunday.

Bo Wagner is pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church of Mooresboro, North Carolina, a widely traveled evangelist and the author of several books available on Amazon and at www.wordofhismouth.com. Email him at 2knowhim@cbc-web.org.

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Contributed Photo / Pastor Bo Wagner
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