The other day, as I was studying in the book of Acts, I noticed something that I hadn't noticed before and made a note to write an article on that point. Just now, as I was reading 1 John 1-3, I noticed a similar point, and so today, I'd like to blend both of these thoughts, and I hope that this brief article will be of some encouragement to you.
In Acts 15:1-2, we find the familiar story of Paul's confrontation with the Judaizing teachers in Antioch. A lot of positive things had been happing at the church of Christ in Antioch, and so Paul and Barnabas must have been discouraged when the church was suddenly at the center of some heated controversy. The text says that Paul and Barnabas "had no small dissension and dispute with them." And the church was so bothered and perplexed by this debate that they decided to pursue an answer from the church in Jerusalem, which was the source of the false doctrine (vs. 24).
And yet as Paul and Barnabas set out on their journey from Antioch to Jerusalem, despite all that had just transpired in Antioch, the "negativity" didn't consume them...
"So, being sent on their way by the church, they passed through Phoenicia and Samaria, describing the conversion of the Gentiles; and they caused great joy to all the brethren" (Acts 15:3).
In the midst of confrontation and controversy, Paul and Barnabas were able to remain positive, and thus were able to bring joy to these other Christians along the way. After all, God had truly blessed them with a wonderful work in Antioch - so many doors had been opened and the church was strong. It's not as if this sudden conflict had erased all of their positive experiences. Instead of slumping their shoulders and hanging their heads, Paul and Barnabas chose to have a cheerful disposition.
There is a similar lesson for us in the book of 1 John. This is a book that contains many points that folks today might call "negative." John writes about worldliness (2:15-16), antichrists (3:18-23), deceivers (2:26), pretenders (2:19; 3:7-10), and unrighteous sinners (5:16-18). John admonished them to "test the spirits" (4:1) and to bear in mind the fact that "the whole world lies under the sway of the wicked one" (5:19). And yet why did John write this book?
"And these things we write to you that your joy may be full" (1 John 1:4).
Controversies will occasionally break the pattern of peace and progress. Brethren will say and do things that cause trouble within the Lord's body. Error will be denounced from the pulpit and there will be what many call "negative preaching" (preaching against sin and false doctrine). And yet through all of this, we can and we must maintain joy. In fact, as 1 John teaches us, sometimes, we have to honestly and boldly confront sin and error in order to maintain joy.
As we move forward in the work of the Lord - and yes, our spiritual work can be challenging and strenuous at times - we need to whistle while we work. Stay positive. Let's keep our chins up.
No matter what!