I try my best to stay out of online controversies. There was a day when I got all wrapped up in that hullabaloo but I mostly stay out of that stuff these days. But I’d be lying if I didn’t confess to occasionally getting myself involved in the occasional kerfuffle. I am a writer for SBC Voices, after all. So a bit of controversy is bound to follow me around on occasion.
You know what I’ve found? I can count on a fist how many times I’ve been spiritually enriched by a contentious debate. Don’t get me wrong, there are times when a man needs to stand on the truth of God and boldly proclaim. But there is another way in which we can be defenders of truth to the peril of our own souls. If we find our hearts getting even an ounce of joy out of controversy then we would do well to heed the words of Proverbs 17:19, “Whoever loves transgression loves strife…”
I had a conversation with a group of bloggers awhile back about the old days of blogging when almost everything was motivated by controversy. One person noted how many of those former stalwarts in the blogging wars were now out of church altogether. Some have mellowed, others stopped writing, and some even abandoned the faith. But rarely is one able to keep up with battle blogging for a lengthy period of time. It just kills the soul.
I wonder if any of that has to do with what happened to the church at Ephesus that we read about in Revelation 2. They might have been the first discernment bloggers. They worked their tails off and they had the truth market cornered. These were to be commended by Jesus. Not mocked. Not held in derision. Not made to mock and dismiss and say, “ah, let’s forget theology and deeds and focus on love.” Their problem wasn’t theology or works it was that they lost their first love.
I think we might be given a clue as to why they lost their first love in how Jesus describes himself to them. “him who holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks among the seven golden lampstands”. He holds them and he walks with them. I think the church at Ephesus had forgotten this and it withered their soul. Somewhere along the way they started battling for Christ instead of battling in Christ.
Did the church get so bogged down in controversy that she forgot her first love? Was she so busy defending theology that she forgot about the importance of doxology?
I think they got so busy doing stuff and defending theology that they neglected the Christ who was right in their midst. To use the words of Spurgeon they labored hard to defend the lion when they really should have just let him out of the cage. Spurgeon says it better:
A great many learned men are defending the gospel; no doubt it is a very proper and right thing to do, yet I always notice that, when there are most books of that kind, it is because the gospel itself is not being preached. Suppose a number of persons were to take it into their heads that they had to defend a lion, a full-grown king of beasts! There he is in the cage, and here come all the soldiers of the army to fight for him. Well, I should suggest to them, if they would not object, and feel that it was humbling to them, that they should kindly stand back, and open the door, and let the lion out! I believe that would be the best way of defending him, for he would take care of himself; and the best “apology” for the gospel is to let the gospel out. Never mind about defending Deuteronomy or the whole of the Pentateuch; preach Jesus Christ and him crucified. Let the Lion out, and see who will dare to approach him. The Lion of the tribe of Judah will soon drive away all his adversaries.
If I really believe that Christ will defend his truth, and that he holds up his church, then I can rest a bit more. I don’t have to fight battles that aren’t mine to fight. I can humbly and lovingly present the truth as I see it in Christ and allow the Spirit to work and move and mold us all to look more like Jesus. It’s when I start trying to “defend the truth” that I get myself in trouble. Truth defends me, not the other way around. When I forget this my soul starts to whither.
2016 was filled with outrage and battles and shouting and controversies and long-ago established friendships burned under the bridge of politics. And I wonder if many of us are wounded and ravaged because of the toll that strife takes upon a person. If this is you, perhaps the words to the church at Ephesus will bring healing and repentance for 2017. Remember your first love, repent, and start doing what you did before you got all worked up and distracted trying to defend this tiny little god you created who couldn’t defend himself.
Christ holds you and walks with you.