The Priority of Proximity

by Austin Thompson

One of the most challenging aspects of the Coronavirus shelter-in-place is the global limitations it has placed on location. Men and women all over the world who are accustomed to traveling great distances on a daily basis have been largely restricted to their individual homes.

The ease and efficiency that modern technology infused into transportation has created a transient culture that is completely unique in the history of civilization. Unlike today, the difficulty of getting from one place to another has kept the majority of humanity grounded to a central location for almost six thousand years.

What does this have to do with Scripture? The worldwide impact brought on by the current pandemic has brought the biblical doctrine of proximity to the forefront of our everyday lives.

Proverbs provides practical wisdom from God for wise living. Listen to what the Lord says about the priority of proximity: “Don’t abandon your friend or your father’s friend, and don’t go to your brother’s house in your time of calamity; better a neighbor nearby than a brother far away” (Pro 27:10, CSB).

It is safe to say that our current situation is one of calamity. People are frustrated, fearful, and fighting to preserve their health. It is during this time that the Lord would have us narrow our focus and prioritize the stewardship of our resources to those who are closest to us physically.

Our first priority of proximity should be a loving concern for the local expression of Christ’s body. As we have opportunity, we are called to work for the good of all men, and especially for those who belong to the household of faith (Gal 6:10). While it is good to pray and provide for all believers who are in need around the world, we will be most effective in ministry towards the members of CBC that God has sovereignly placed nearby.

Our second priority of proximity should be a Christ-like witness to our neighbors. The ability to leave our places of residence for essential services and needs still allows for brief (and perhaps more frequent) opportunities of interaction with those living immediately above, below, or next door to us. We must prayerfully strive to model joy in the midst of challenging circumstances, appropriate submission to governing authorities, and a genuine concern for their physical and spiritual well-being.

Living in light of one’s proximity may be a challenging task for those who have loved ones that live far away. It is important to note that the wise exhortation of Proverbs 27:10 is one of location and not one of value. Going to your neighbor’s house in a time of calamity does not mean that they hold a more valuable place in your life than your most cherished relationships, but that their location in relation to yours provides them with a greater ability to assist when sudden trouble comes upon you.

Innovation in transportation has given many people the freedom to live all over the world. As a result, many of us have family and loved ones who are not readily accessible—whether there is a shelter in place or not—and we struggle with the emotions their absence brings. In light of that reality, I want to close with one thought from Scripture that will help us think rightly about the doctrine of proximity.

God has sovereignly ordained our location for His purposes

Some of the most miserable people in the world are those who have a consistent longing to be in a location other than where they currently are. Thankfully, believers can find comfort in the truth that God has sovereignly ordained their location for His purposes. Peter wrote to comfort “chosen exiles” who had been scattered throughout Asia Minor by reminding them that God knew exactly where they were (Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, etc.) and that He had saved them according to His foreknowledge for obedience — even in the midst of suffering and trials. Paul echoes this truth in Acts 17:26, stating, “From one man [God] made every nationality to live over the whole earth and has determined their appointed times and the boundaries of where they live.”

The desire to change locations in order to live near family and loved ones can be a good and wholesome desire in God’s sight with many benefits. What believers must caution themselves against is allowing the desire to be in a different location to prevent us from fruitful labor where God has placed us in the present. Whether we are here or there, our primary responsibility before God remains unchanged—diligence as a servant of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God (1 Cor 4:1-2). Therefore, let us all pray during this time that God will reveal to us how we can be most effective with respect to the proximity He has determined for us in His sovereign wisdom.

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