Love Thy Neighbor?

I recently attended my county board of education monthly meeting. Parents and community members came to discuss on whether to make masks optional or mandated for children in school. People spoke on each side of the argument. The lively debate sounded familiar to diatribes I’ve heard from some pastors and influential people in Christian circles regarding masks and vaccinations. Now, personally, I do not care whether or not someone wants to wear a mask or get vaccinated. I specifically would like to address here the troubling argument from some in the evangelical world who espouse the idea that getting the vaccine and masking up is “loving your neighbor.” In this article I’d like to examine the implications of that statement. First, we must examine if those who do not mask up or get vaccinated are not loving their neighbor and are in active sin. Second, we must discern if not wearing a mask or being unvaccinated is causing my brother to sin.

This is an area of christian liberty where christians have the right to civilly disobey if we so choose because government is not using their authority in a God-honoring way.

Am I Sinning If I Don’t Wear a Mask?
I think it would be beneficial for us to briefly discuss what the government has the authority to do when it comes to an individuals body according to the Word of God. Professor Owen Strachan has an excellent podcast on the theology of the body and mask mandates that I highly recommend to you. I would like to touch on some of what he discussed here. The government’s role, according to Romans 13, is to punish evildoers and uphold righteousness. The government is meant to be a force for good, not evil. Their purpose is for the restraint of evil and that is where their authority lies. Their job is to make sure that individuals uphold the laws of the land, assuming those laws do not violate the Christians conscience. God has given the government no authority over the individual choices one makes over their own body. Now I know what you’re thinking, “isn’t that the same argument pro-choice advocates make?” Yes, it is a similar argument, however, it is entirely different. It is dissimilar because the fetus, the human being growing in the womb, is a distinct, unique, and completely separate human being from the mother. Therefore, the other human has a right to be alive and not be harmed. That being said, the government is not allowed to tell us how much meat we can or cannot eat. We are free to eat meat or not eat meat. That option is not under their jurisdiction. In the same way mandating people to wear masks is not under their purview. This is an area of Christian liberty where Christians have the right to civilly disobey if we so choose because government is not using their authority in a God-honoring way.

As I have said above, the issue here is the claim that masking up and getting the vaccine are equated with loving one’s neighbor. People claim wearing a mask makes others feel more comfortable and the vaccines saves lives (which very well may be true), therefore, we should acquiesce because this is how we can love our neighbor. I would like to examine this claim and what it means to Biblically love your neighbor. There is no mandate in Scripture to make people feel comfortable; you will not find that principle anywhere in Scripture. Loving thy neighbor means to push people toward God through gospel proclamation, meeting their physical needs, and abstaining from things that would cause them to violate Gods law, not violate their feeling of safety. Loving your neighbor is first and foremost telling them the truth, the truth of the gospel.  It’s easy to take “loving your neighbor” and make it a catch-all for meaning complete acquiescence to every subjective standard created within an individual’s conscience. I don’t think that is what the Scripture means. We should love in the same way in which we want to be treated (Matthew 7:12, Leviticus 19:9-18). I certainly don’t want others putting additional laws on me to follow. I don’t need more burdens, I already don’t fully obey the actual commands in Scripture now! In fact, Jesus has an interaction with the Pharisees that I believe speaks directly to this issue. For full context please see Mark 7: 1-13. In this part of Scripture the Pharisees question Jesus because the disciples did not first wash their hands before they started to eat. Subsequently, Jesus chastises them in verses 7 and 8 quoting Isaiah, “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men. You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.”

There is no mandate in Scripture to make people feel comfortable

Although I do think it wise to wash our hands, Jesus clearly is not concerned about this ceremonial hand washing. He chastises them for their hold to tradition while claiming that it is God’s law.  They did all these extraneous actions in an attempt to appear more holy and achieve righteousness by adherence to the law. When someone says that wearing a mask or getting a vaccine is how we can love our neighbor; they are implying that if you do not comply, you are the one who is not loving thy neighbor and therefore is in sin. As AD Robles has said, this is clearly adding to the law of God. These mandates and recommendations for masking and vaccination is coming from the CDC not the Word of God. Now, it is your free choice to wear a mask and get the vaccine if you so choose. My problem is not with those things in themselves. My problem is that some Christians are making the claim that you are not loving your neighbor if you do not comply. Yes, God’s law is summed up in loving God and loving thy neighbor; however, when people begin to say it’s more loving to do this or that they are more concerned about the appearances of holiness than being obedient to God’s Word. Man does not get to define what sin is and what laws are, God does.

Am I Causing My Brother to Sin?
Furthermore, people often cite Romans 14:13-23 as the reasoning for mask and vaccine mandates. So let’s examine this together. What does it mean to put an obstacle or a stumbling block in a brother’s way? I have heard many argue that wearing the mask would be akin to not eating meat sacrificed to idols. So the question then becomes is deciding to not wear a mask causing my mask-wearing brother to sin and vice versa. The root of the issue here is if the believer has a true spiritual conviction of conscience over wearing a mask, a conviction that is not based on a feeling. Wearing or not wearing a mask has no spiritual implications except to possibly make someone feel safer. Wearing a mask is not sin nor is not wearing a mask. The intention of these Scriptures was not to concede to every Christian’s preference. The purpose is to prevent others from sinning. We, as Christians, don’t want to sin and we don’t want our brother to sin. For instance, take alcohol. Partaking of alcohol is not a sin. Getting drunk and losing control is a sin. If I can have a drink without violating God’s will, that is within the bounds of my Christian liberty. However, if my drinking causes a “weaker” brother to fall into sin because that brother cannot control himself/herself and has a conviction not to drink at all, my Christian liberty ends. My actions have caused him to violate his conscience and thus God’s law. However, I have not yet heard a believer tell me that me not wearing a mask is in any way causing him/her to violate his/her own conscience or to sin. I have heard some say that they feel more comfortable wearing a mask.  In the beginning of Romans 14 Paul says, “One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him. “

A Final Thought
Now, with all that being said, we must always remember the example of Christ. We are not to please ourselves (Romans 15). We are to please our neighbor for his good and edification in the same way Christ did not please himself. A practical way we can do this is to not put additional burdens on brothers and sisters and maximize Christian liberty. By allowing the conscience to dictate areas of morality not specifically called out in Scripture, we obtain the greatest unity. After all, having a clean conscience is often an important part in following Gods will (James 4:17).

Rachel is a wife and mother of four young children. She has a love for listening to expository preaching, theology, and doctrine. She desires to make Christ known through her marriage, parenting, and in every word and deed.