WHILE IN THE KUMAN TRIBE OF PAPUA NEW GUINEA, I HAD LOTS OF TIME TO REFLECT ON MISSIONS AND THE CHRISTIAN LIFE. HERE’S A LOOK BACK AT SOME OF MY THOUGHTS DURING THIS YEAR:
Among a secular culture that lives outrage to outrage, gentleness towards others through the power of the Gospel would be absolutely head-spinning.
Lately, as I’ve been reading through some works by Jonathan Edwards and reflecting on the two cultures I know best, the Chimbu culture and American culture, I’ve come to this conclusion: The Christian, no-strings-attached, lay-yourself-down-for-others love manifesting itself through gentleness could absolutely transform the outrage-addicted, pot-stirring, destruction-bent America.
“I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all gentleness…” (Eph. 4:1–2).
Paul named gentleness first here when describing to the Ephesian church what it looks like to walk worthy of the Gospel among a depraved city that had given itself to the horrifically pagan sex god, Artemis (Acts 19). Why didn’t he tell them to “Act Like Men,” and pick some fights out in the market place of ideas?
Weren’t some Christians just created to be brash, tempermental, mildly-offensive, Twitter trolls?
“Let your gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand.” (Phil. 4:5).
I guess not.
Jonathan Edwards knew why,
The eminently humble Christian is as it were clothed with lowliness, mildness, meekness, gentleness of spirit and behavior, and with a soft, sweet, condescending, winning air and deportment; these things are just like garments to him; he is clothed all over with them.
Martin Luther writes to Duke John Frederick, “God has promised great mercy to those who seek peace and endure guile when he says: ‘Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.’ War does not gain much, but loses much and risks everything. Gentleness, however, loses nothing, risks little, and gains everything.”
Here’s where, I believe, Christians are currently situated in America: we’re constantly at war for a country we’re not citizens of, and setting ourselves up as enemies of the very people we’re called to lay our lives down for. So, we’re losing everything: our testimony, our focus, eternal rewards, our churches — for the sake of a war we were never meant to wage in the first place. By not walking in an attitude of lowliness, we’ve declared ourselves, before the world, self-justified and self-made.
Our lack of gentleness on the web, the workplace, and time alone with family has made much of professing Christianity fruitless.
“But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy. (James 3:17)”
But how do we become truly gentle, lowly, kind, people? And why am I brash, often leaving people feeling deeply offended and uncared for?
“Nothing,” said Jonathan Edwards, “has a greater tendency to promote those amiable dispositions of mercy, forbearance, long- suffering, gentleness and forgiveness, than a sense of our own extreme unworthiness and misery, and the infinite need we have of the divine pity, forbearance and forgiveness.”
“He (the High Priest) can have compassion on those who are ignorant and going astray, since he himself is also subject to weakness. (Heb. 5:2)”
One “fruit” of a lack of understanding of our sin debt and depravity is a harsh tone rooted in self-deception. We berate because we haven’t seen for ourselves our own need for a berating. We don’t temper our zeal with love because we’ve taken our eyes off of perfect love which was so gloriously demonstrated on the cross. We fight back so furiously because we’ve forgotten that the war is over.
Francis Schaeffer, noted by Dick Keyes in Chameleon Christianity: Moving beyond Safety and Conformity, observed that it is relatively easy to show either one or the other of these two poles— either toughness or gentleness. But only in the power of the Holy Spirit can we be both at the same time.
The same man who wrote Galatians 3:1 (‘O foolish Galatians!’) and the searing tone of 2 Corinthians 10–13 also told the young pastor Timothy to engage his opponents ‘with gentleness’ (2 Tim. 2:24). Paul said, ‘Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men’ (1 Cor. 16:13), and he said repeatedly to do all things with gentleness (Gal. 5:23; Eph. 4:2).
“Gentleness is not summoned from time to time; it is what we are,” wrote Dane Ortlund. Jesus says he is “gentle and lowly in heart” (Matt. 11:29). When we talk about gentleness in the Christian life, we’re talking about embodying who Jesus is.
To be Christlike is to be, if nothing else, gentle.
F.T. McGill wrote this of B.B. Warfield,
“But if Dr Warfield was great in intellectuality, he was just as great in goodness. Over a long period of years this man stands out in my mind as the most Christ- like man that I have ever known. In spite of his brilliance of mind, there was no spirit of superciliousness, no purpose to offend the dullest pupil, no haughtiness of heart. . . . Rather there was always the spirit of humility and meekness and the spirit of kindness and gentleness toward others.”
Perhaps my favorite reflection from Dane Ortlund regarding gentleness and manliness comes from his work John Edwards on Christian Life:
If anyone was ever a man, a true man, he was. And yet while he could drive the money changers from the temple, he also delighted to gather up into his arms the little children whom his disciples tried to send away (Matt. 19:13–15). He dealt gently with outsiders. He wept over the death of a friend (John 11:35). He welcomed healthy, manly physical affection with his dear disciples. The apostle John, for example, was (to translate the text literally) ‘reclining . . . at Jesus’s bosom’ (John 13:23— the very relationship said to exist between Jesus and the Father earlier in John, at 1:18). The supreme display of Jesus’s manhood, however, was in his sacrificial laying down of his life on behalf of his bride, the church. When the apostle Paul defines what it means to be a husband, he can speak simultaneously of the husband’s headship and the husband’s sacrificial, Christ-imitating laying down of his life on behalf of his bride (Eph. 5:25–33). Such sacrifice is not unmanly: it is the supreme display of masculinity. Any immature man can be a forceful, unheeding, unloving ‘leader.’ Only a true man can be gentle.
When it comes to the reputation we seek in support of our witness, our gentleness toward others should stand out. Passion and zeal can just as easily be from Satan as from the Holy Spirit (cf. Rom. 10:2).
What is undoubtedly a fruit of the Holy Spirit, though, is gentleness. You just won’t find it anywhere else.
Trust me. The secular world will find brash, loud, and domineering people among their own ranks — they don’t need more of those. Let’s pray that during this unbelievably dark time in America, with the defaming of marriage and the killing of babies, they’ll find zeal for truth as well as gentleness when they rub shoulders with those “seated in the Heavenly places with Christ.” Let’s hope they find people resting in the providence and faithfulness of their loving Father, not panicking whiners.
Bring to light the evils committed by a world condemned and walking in darkness, but let your gentleness in doing so be shocking to their systems. Then give them the Gospel.