The church is family. As every earthly family and its members experience joys and sorrows, so the church and its members experience joys and sorrows. Previously, we considered what our attitude ought to be towards these joys and sorrows. Our hearts must have the attitude of love towards one another, expressed in the way of rejoicing and weeping with one another.
How are we to rejoice and weep with one another?
The points that follow are more of suggestions than imperatives for us to consider and discuss in our fellowship.
The first two suggestions consider what our initial responses towards our joyful brother or grieving sister should be.
- Explicit Joy
Towards our brethren who rejoice: respond to their joy with joy! Do not give a dull response to a brother or sister that exuberates with joy. It may be hard for us to imagine what such a response looks like; but the LORD gives us illustrations of a joyful response, starting with himself. Recall that the LORD calls our attention to His face, that it shines upon us in grace and is lifted up as the expression of peace (Num. 6:25-26). Simply by the look of God’s face, we know His thoughts of love, joy, and peace towards us. So also, by a warm smile or a gentle gaze, we express the same thoughts to our brethren.
Not only facially, but also verbally, we can rejoice with our brother. Think now of John, the apostle of love, who wrote that he had “no greater joy than to hear that [his] children walk in the truth” (3 John 4). A colloquial way to read the verse is: “I am extremely happy to hear that all of you believe in the gospel of Jesus Christ and live in thankfulness for that gospel.” Simple phrases such as, “That’s good to hear” and “Thank God!” go a long way to tell our brethren that we rejoice with them in the joys the LORD has given them.
If the LORD’s own countenance and the apostles’ words are insufficient illustrations, then consider the covenant mother that smiles to her infant; or to the covenant father that exclaims “That’s wonderful!” when his child rambles along about his Sunday in church. The infant that sees his mother’s cheer and the child that hears his father’s enthusiasm knows immediately that his mother and father are happy with them.
- Don’t Be Quick to Criticise
Towards the grieving sister (or brother), there is one thing we can consider. Don’t criticise first. That is, when our fellow saint approaches us with a certain sorrow or trouble, do not be quick to criticise that the person is spiritually weak, carnal, impatient, doubtful, etc., so that he or she is merely murmuring about what the LORD has given them. If the first thing we always say is, “Brother/Sister, you are wrong…” more often than not, we turn the brother or sister away from the help and comfort we may bring to them. They will think, “All he ever does is criticise!” Of course, criticism is not our only intent, but it is the impression given.
While there may be a particular weakness involved that affects our brethren spiritually, we must not be so quick to focus in on that weakness. The circumstances our brethren face—the stresses of work, the financial strains of the home, the sicknesses of the body— are often the trigger to their sorrows. Patiently listen for the details of those circumstances. Ask questions to draw out the troubles of the heart. Knowing these circumstances, we can shape our advice to address both the weakness and the proper way to respond to those circumstances that affect our brethren.
- Maintaining Confidentiality
The third suggestion considers a specific yet common situation. The brother tells you of a financial crisis he is facing; or a sister tells you of a conflict with another person in the church. You do not know what to say; however, only you know about it. The brother (sister) has told no one else. What may you do?
Confidentiality must be maintained. Solomon’s counsel is the principle to follow: “He that is of a faithful spirit concealeth the matter” (Pro. 11:13b). The aggrieved person has told you only. He or she (probably) does not want others to know. In other words, the person trusts that you will keep it a secret. Even if the brother or sister has not explicitly told you to keep it a secret, we fall on the safer side to assume that it is not meant to be told.
Furthermore, the nature of our tongue is poisonous; it is full of deadly poison (James. 3:8). If anything, the Bible’s diagnosis of our tongues should have us think twice of breaking a secret.
There are serious consequences when confidentiality is broken. The brother who has confided with us will not trust us. The sister will not share anything else about the matter, even when the matter becomes spiritually harmful to her. The brother or sister, though sinking into spiritual destruction, will not tell you anything.
Especially when the trouble causes great spiritual hurt to our brethren, we must be wary of these consequences. The growing trouble of spousal abuse is a real example, of which Prof. Engelsma writes:
Lack of confidentiality is a grave weakness of consistories in the matter of abuse as in other serious, sensitive matters. That elders or the pastor divulge[s] consistorial matters, especially those of a sensitive nature involving sin and suffering of members of the congregation, to other members of the church, including their wives, is destructive of the pastoral work of Christ by means of the consistory and harmful to the abused woman. The abused woman will not turn to the minister or to the elders for the help she needs. The gossip of the consistory hinders the work of Christ.1
Though other matters may not bear a severity equal to spousal abuse, dealing with these matters uses the same principle: Keep it confidential. Between office-bearers and their wives, as Prof. Engelsma implies, there must be a mutual understanding that certain matters may not be disclosed; likewise for husbands who do not hold office and their wives; and likewise for friends who hold a closer bond. For the sake of the weeping saint, do not have the secret broken.
Is there room to ask others for advice for secret matters? Yes; but we need not share the details with others from whom we ask for counsel. And if the matter deems it necessary for details to be shared, they ought to be shared with the person’s consent. Scripture’s principle does not change.
But if the person would not have us utter a word about the matter, even for advice, what then?
Make it a point to call upon the LORD for what our brethren need. As we pray, the LORD will grant to us wisdom to counsel and advice the grieving saint according to his Word. As Solomon received wisdom through prayer (2 Chron. 1:11), so we will receive wisdom by the same means.
Prayer towards our brethren that rejoice should not be neglected either. Our example is Paul, who always thanked the Lord when the New Testament saints experienced the spiritual joys of salvation (Eph. 1:16; 1 Thess. 1:3). By such prayers, the LORD will enable us to rejoice with our brethren to a greater extent.
“Practice makes perfect”, by God’s grace. Conscious effort must be placed into practising the proper way of rejoicing and sorrowing with others. As sinful creatures, we habitually practise indifference, over-criticism, gossiping, and worldly-wisdom; but, graciously, God has given us Christ’s Spirit to sympathise, bridle the tongue, and speak wisely according to the Word.
At the same time, if practice makes perfect, practice needs to start from the home. If we want to practice it in the MPH on Sunday mornings, we have to first practice it in the living room of our flats. We cannot expect ourselves to be sympathetic, faithful secret-bearers, and wise, if we behave coldly, unfaithfully, and foolishly at home towards our spouse (or parents) and children (or siblings).
More on the home next time, DV.
1 “Questions and Answers Regard- ing the Speech on Spousal (Wife) Abuse” by Prof. David J. Engelsma (https://www.drop- box.com/s/9q7q3na0p1p08yd/abuse%20-%20 questions%20and%20answers%20-%202017. docx?dl=0). Accessed 24 January 2018
Written by: Lim Yang Zhi | Issue 48