Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. 2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. (Read the rest of the chapter, here.)
Dr. Li Wenlaing, 34-year old doctor in Wuhan, China, died last week after contracting the corona virus. Back in December, he had warned colleagues about it, after which he was forced by Wuhan officials to sign an official statement renouncing his warnings as lies and rumor-spreading.
The Wall Street Journal reports Dr. Li as wanting to continue to help, no matter what. “The outbreak is still spreading,” the article reports him writing on his verified account on Tencent News. “I don’t want to be a deserter.” His mother confirmed his commitment to his patients and public health in this NY Post article, both seeing it as his duty as a doctor.
I think Paul would agree with me that Dr. Li filled all of the obligations which Paul puts forth in this chapter. You see, this bit of Paul’s writing is, according to all the sources I’ve read, a very politically radical statement. Caesar declared himself head of the state, so in saying that Christ is the head of the church (with all belonging making up the body), puts Christ forth as a rival to Caesar. Add in that little sentence about “do not conform to the world” and this becomes a very subversive message in the eyes of Roman authority.
But accusations of political subversion didn’t deter Paul, the message of Jesus Christ was too important. Accusations of rumor-spreading didn’t deter Dr. Li, trying to save people from the corona virus by spreading the message was also too important. And, just as Paul urges us to do, Dr. Li used his own specific gifts – in his case, healing – to keep serving his community for as long as he could. Yes, I believe that Dr. Li will be one of God’s special saints.
I don’t believe God calls us all to martyrdom. A large minority of early Christians actually sought out dying in Jesus’ name in order to cement their place in heaven (remember the Crusades?), perhaps rising with the saints, who Paul says will be raised sooner than the rest of us hoi polloi believers. Saint Francis, now remembered as basically the friar version of Snow White, set his sights on converting a Sultan or dying in the process. He was so fervent the Sultan basically was like, “no thanks, but if you believe in your god that strongly here’s safe passage through my land just get this crazy out of my court.” But I digress.
We don’t need to die for God, but we should devote ourselves readily to service. That is, I believe, what Paul means by a living sacrifice, and why he goes on at length about using our gifts in service to the world. As an aside, I wrote two posts last year about the wonderful gifts God has given us (and how to use them) and also assessing your spiritual gifts, if you are at a loss to how you might play a role in serving the world. Please don’t let martyrdom scare you off from service, or make you think that what you are doing isn’t good enough. The important part of the equation is service. Death of a generous spirit, when it happens, is a tragedy. Dr. Li is a shining example of this. I pray that we open our ears and our hearts to the message of the whistle-blowers, who call our attention to impending crises and ongoing injustices. I pray especially that those in power may not be hard of heart towards those messages. Let us remember Dr. Li with the saints, and may his death not be in vain.
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