Have you ever asked yourself the question: ‘I’ve read that portion a hundred times. How is it I’ve never seen that before?’ This may regularly happen with parts of Scripture we aren’t very familiar with, but recently it happened to me while reading one of my favorite parts of Scripture. The way the verse jumped out at me and practically bit me on the nose was partly due to reading it in a different translation. It was this:
NASB: Let your forbearing spirit be known to all men.
NIV: Let your gentleness be evident to all. Phil 4:5
Forbearance is not an everyday word like gentleness is. I’d like to focus on that quality of gentleness in the believer’s life for it is the ‘gentle that will inherit the earth.’ Matthew 5:5
As Christians we really are up against a hostile world and we need to be tough. We need to have thick skins. But sometimes we spend so much time in developing those skins that out heart too becomes hard. Or perhaps we leave the gentleness to those who are naturally so, and the toughness to those who aren’t gentle naturally. We just stay in our natural personality grooves rather than developing those qualities that our faith requires of all of us.
This is addressing those of us who are naturally tough.
‘Our gentleness should be evident to all.’ We say, ‘My close friends know how soft my heart is. When someone gets to know me they will find it out.’ Well, that is not the point here. It says it should be evident, i.e. obvious, and plain as a pike staff. To whom should it be obvious? Our close friends? Relatives? No. This quality should be evident to all.
Now if you claim that the gentleness is really there, just deep down, I would ask you to take a look to see if it is still there. The Word says ‘For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks.’ (Matthew 12:34) If the gentleness is there, it will come out.
Perhaps it would be good to define gentleness. Some dictionary definitions: “amiably kind, mild, quiet, not rough, or severe, courteous, tender.” Another well-known verse enjoins us to be tenderhearted to each other. ‘Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.’ Ephesians 4:32
Because qualities are so hard to describe in the abstract, it will help to think of how we see gentleness in normal life. We have all seen it (been it) with newborns. Some of us may even be afraid to touch a newborn because we think we are not gentle enough. Or we remember how our mother tenderly took care of us when we were ill. So, on the emotional, spiritual and mental planes we can look after each other tenderly. Gentleness can also be a refreshing attitude to encounter. As a gentle breeze is so refreshing on a hot day so we can bring such relief to each other when we meet.
To look at it now from the reverse side, when is gentleness often noticeably lacking in our lives? When are we not kind, or courteous? As this will be read mostly by folks in democratic lands, think of your love and attachment to your rights. Even a small thing like someone cutting ahead of you in line brings on ‘I’ll give him a piece of my mind.’ That piece is not very gentle on the whole. Really does it matter that much? What I find I do is think of all sorts of witty remarks which of course I’d never say. Unfortunately, God looks at the heart.
We all love to champion justice, especially our own. But sometimes we are fighting real evil in the heavenlies made manifest on earth. Perhaps in fighting to stop the murder of our unborn we can get pretty stroppy. We fight the feminist as if she is our enemy. Remember, they are but pawns of the enemy to work his evil. The Lord loves them too, not just their babies.
There is always the need for balance; to love the sinner and hate the sin. If we look at God’s attitude toward sin (deserving of eternal death) and then look at the price he paid to redeem the sinner, we can begin to get a glimmer of His perspective.
Another occasion for Christians to be gentle and often fail is when they encounter sin in the life of a fellow believer. If the sin is in our own life, we are more apt to be gentle to a fault. There may be times when we are required to be tough on a straying brother or sister in our attempts to bring them back, but our heart must always be gentle towards them and that heart attitude should be evident.
Then there are those nice friendly theological debates we get into that can often deteriorate quickly into attacks on the other person’s ability to think, read, use their grey matter, etc. Such debates are good, refreshing and healthy if done in the spirit of gentleness and humility. However, sometimes the temptation to be witty at the other person’s expense is pretty hard to resist. Look for the way of escape.
As always, it is good to look at Jesus as our example. Paul in 2 Cor. 10:1 urges the Corinthians by the meekness and gentleness of Christ. In Him we see the perfect blend of toughness toward sin (cleansing the temple) and gentleness toward the sinner.
When Jesus was dealing with the woman caught in adultery he was gentle with her. But then again he told her in no uncertain terms to leave such a way of life. He was always gentle with those who knew they were sinners and were responding to him. He is portrayed as the Good Shepherd who goes after the one lost sheep. The rich young ruler, who did not respond to Jesus’ call to follow him, filled Jesus’ heart with love. Any account of Jesus with sinners that sense of gentle strength comes through. When dealing with those set up in their own self-esteem, he was harder in manner. But his heart was still soft towards them as we see on the cross. “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” Luke 23:34
In Ephesians 4:1 and 2 we are told to walk in a manner worthy of our calling, which is to be ‘completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.’
Once again let it be stressed that gentleness is not only for those who are so naturally; not a quality just necessary for mothers or people who work with children or the sick and aged. It is a requirement for all of us if we are to live a life worthy of our Lord.
As our Lord was gentle, so must we be.