What is there on earth that is worth fretting for, even for five minutes? If one could an imperial crown by a day of care, it would be too great an expense for a thing which would bring more care with it. Therefore, let us be thankful, let us be joyful in the Lord. I count it one of the wisest things that, by rejoicing in the Lord, we commence our Heaven here below. It is possible to do so–it is profitable to do so–and we are commanded to do so!Charles H. Spurgeon, sermon no. 2405: Joy, a Duty
The other day I started a Twitter poll to help decide which of two sermons to do for the next Spurgeon Audio, either “The Spirit of Bondage and of Adoption” or “The Upper Hand.” But while I was waiting for that to close out, I came across this one after Philippians 4 was brought to mind, and I decided…well, I’m just gonna do this one. I’ll do the others as well, but this was fresh in my mind and on my heart.
It has been on my mind because it seems like the church, at least insofar as it is represented on the Internet, seems to find itself in a great deal of turmoil. Of course, this isn’t new. And this isn’t to say that there are never reasons for there to be concern, but the turmoil I’m speaking of is similar to that which Paul is speaking against in this chapter: namely, a disagreement between two parties that threatens to cause division.
The prescription given to the church by God through His Word for how to handle division is a simple one on its face, but one which we must pursue actively: joy. I think immediately of the opening of John Piper’s book “Desiring God,” where he edits the opening of the Westminster Catechism in a way intended to reveal a deeper meaning: that the “chief end of man” is that we might “glorify God by enjoying Him forever.” The joy a Christian carries with him in life derives from a profound work of the Holy Spirit: to produce the “peace that passes understanding,” that we might hope in the work of Christ. And we do hope–not in a “Gosh, I sure hope so” sense, but in a sense of trusting to the truth of what Paul says in 1 Timothy 1:15:
This saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners”—and I am the worst of them.1 Timothy 1:15 CSB
So when fear creeps in, when division between two people or two groups of believers begins to grow, when we start to believe in one way or another that the work of Christ is not sufficient whether to save or to produce unity in the body, the answer is to look to this truth, and to rejoice. And rejoice again!
So often lately I see Christians online who seem more interested in fighting with one another than in loving one another. A small disagreement grows up into a fierce thorny bush of antagonism. Brothers who once could minister side by side turn their guns on one another, and view any opposition, whether it’s overt atheistic disagreement to minor doctrinal difference, in a way that guarantees that no one not already within the camp will listen to what they have to say.
The apostle Peter writes:
Who then will harm you if you are devoted to what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness, you are blessed. Do not fear them or be intimidated, but in your hearts regard Christ the Lord as holy, ready at any time to give a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you. Yet do this with gentleness and reverence, keeping a clear conscience, so that when you are accused, those who disparage your good conduct in Christ will be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil.1 Peter 3:13-17 CSB
This passage is not just about apologetics. It’s about being ready to display that joy in a way that reflects its eternal foundation. We don’t hope in beating others in arguments. We don’t hope in perfect unity of opinion. We hope in a living God who can take the heart of our most vicious, arrogant opponent and transform him into a passionate disciple. And because of that, we rejoice, and we answer division, fear, anxiety, and yes even persecution, with joy, peace, and love.
The rest we have in Christ should shine through in how we deal with those we disagree with, especially when it’s another Christian. If you’re too busy showing what you’re against, and trying to build up barriers against those from outside who might invade your space, you are going to struggle to make the gospel clear to anyone who doesn’t already speak your language. But the language of loving others and walking in hope that makes itself known through joy is clear and universal. My good Father has saved me, and that hope is available and urgently needed for everyone. Don’t hide it, but lift up Christ and rejoice in His name!