When we are in the midst of controversy, there are two temptations that can easily encroach on our souls: pride and self-righteousness. When we are convinced of the truth and see clearly the errors of another, it is very easy to be tempted to look down on that person (or group of people) and feel good about our ‘discernment’ or ‘clear-mindedness.’ But Martyn Lloyd Jones helps us to avoid these two temptations and approach controversy in a way that honors Christ and is good for our soul.
May He enable us together to stand as a rock in the raging seas all around us. We must, of course, never pride ourselves on our stand, or become self-righteous or small minded persons. But in humility and obedience, let us follow the apostolic exhortations, always coming to know more deeply our glorious God, remembering that He has redeemed us, and aware of what a glorious faith it is to which He has called us to bear witness (Knowing the Times, 60).
Is this easy? No. Some of us are too easily attracted to controversy and debating and arguing—often times for the wrong reasons. But Lloyd Jones helps us fix our gaze on the right object: the ‘glorious faith to which we have been called to bear witness.’ In this way, we enter into debate with others—not for the sake of controversy, but to clarify and defend truth for God’s glory and the good of others.
Another vital component in our approach to controversy that will keep our hearts soft and our mind focused is communion with God. Not merely communion with God in prayer for help (e.g. ‘Lord help me to remain steadfast as I defend your truth,’ etc.) but also in the truth itself that we are currently contending for. Owen writes,
When the heart is cast indeed into the mould of the doctrine that the mind embraceth,–when the evidence and necessity of the truth abides in us–when not the sense of the words only is in our heads, but the sense of the thing abides in our hearts–when we have communion with God in the doctrine we contend for–then shall we be garrisoned by the grace of God against all the assaults of men (John Owen, The Glory of Christ; quoted in Beyond the Bounds, ed. Piper Taylor and Helseth).
The very truth that we are battling for should become a means of fellowship with God! Usually, when we are fighting for some particular doctrine, we find that our minds become more sharp and certain of the truth itself-controversy has a way of purifying our conception and understanding of the truth. This clarity, therefore, according to Owen, must not remain in our heads alone, but rather create deep fellowship with God. This fellowship will keep us near to the Lord and thus far from the dangers of pride and self-reliance; it will also tend to soften our hearts toward our opponents.