And Jesus said, “‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’” (Matthew 4:7) Are we putting God to the test when we come together and assemble on the first day of the week? Are we testing whether or not He will protect us; whether or not He will save us from the “present distress” of the SARS-CoV-2?
These are serious questions that need to be considered. There are some who have thought that to be the case; which, if it is the case, would mean those who are assembling are sinning. Let’s consider the topic more in depth.
First, the text. In Matthew 4:7 Jesus is responding to Satan’s challenge. It was a challenge not just to Jesus to prove He was the son of God, but a challenge to the Holy Spirit who inspired the passage the devil quoted AND a challenge to God the Father as to whether He would “honor His word”. Jesus has no need to accept the challenge of the Devil. Jesus proves He is the Son of God through many prophetic and miraculous means. (John 20:30-31) Accepting/Taking the Devil’s tests are not Jesus’ obligation/duty. Honoring the Father is. Putting God to the test here is challenging the faithfulness of God to His word. That’s not what we are doing when we assemble.
When we assemble on the first day of the week, we are honoring/obeying God… not challenging Him. (Hebrews 10:25; Matthew 28:19-20; Acts 20:7; I Corinthians 4:17; 16:1-2; 11:17-19; II Timothy 3:16; II Peter 1:20-21) Brethren have met since the beginning of the church under various threats. There is no indication from scripture that those were ever a challenge to God or His faithfulness; but rather, was out of love for God and His faithfulness. (Hebrews 10:23; Acts 5:42; 8:3; 12:1-17)
When we assemble on the first day of the week, with faith in the midst of fear, we are not challenging God to protect us from getting a virus… those who assemble know it is a possible risk, and it is a risk that those who assemble are willing to take. (Luke 14:28) We may often go to bodies of water that have signs posted “Swim at Your Own Risk”. Those who choose to go in are not challenging God or anyone else to protect them. They themselves are determining the risk level and their willingness to act or not. As long as one is alive they are at risk of death. On any other Sunday we are not challenging God to protect us when we take a shower (many people die every year from slips and falls in the shower), we are not challenging God to protect us when we get in a motor vehicle to travel (many people die every year from auto accidents), and we are not challenging God to protect us from evil just by being at the assembly (where several people a year are shot and killed). Those who choose to assemble know the risk, have considered it, and are acting in good faith. (Romans 14:22-23) Contagious viral disease has been, and will always be, a clear and present danger of living. If assembling during this pandemic is “putting God to the test”, then that would make every assembly putting God to the test, because many ever present lethal diseases are unseen and communicable. It’s a threat that never ends.
When we assemble on the first day of the week in the midst of a new global pandemic we are not challenging God to save us… He has already done that. (Mark 16:15-16; Romans 1:16; 6:23; Colossians 2:9-14; I Corinthians 1:18; II Timothy 1:8-12; I Peter 3:18-22; Revelation 1:4-6) We are not like the “snake-handlers” that are knowingly passing around a live threat with the expectation that God will save us if we are bitten. Our presence is not to test God’s promises, but is out of faith and appreciation for what God has done for us (in giving us Jesus and the gospel - Jn 3:16) and what He will do for us after this life is finished (in raising us up with Jesus in the resurrection - I Thessalonians 4:13-18). When we assemble, it is to praise, honor, and glorify God!
When we assemble, the assembly itself is not a test of foolishness. In wisdom, many extraordinary measures have been implemented to try to minimize risk as much as possible. We do not foolishly flaunt the assembling as a challenge to God to protect and save us; we strive to meet in wisdom in a way that honors Him and edifies all those who choose to gather and participate. (I Corinthians 14:2, 33, 40)