We were in the “debate” portion of Speech & Debate during my senior year when I made a classmate cry.
We had each volunteered to debate on Foreign Policy (as if we high school kids had the ability for that), and during our speech I adamantly argued against her, dismantling her ideas with more aggression than real, informed, logic. Eventually, she got up from where we were sitting in front of the class and left with her hands covering her face.
I followed her into the hall, but my memory fades after that.
That memory has been fresh in my mind as I’ve wrestled with how to write about gentleness. It stands out to me as a time in my life in which I didn’t have hate, anger, or malice anywhere in me, and yet I still deeply hurt someone.
It also stands out to me as not very unlike what I see around me today, perhaps most especially in Christian circles.
I think writing about gentleness is so hard because gentleness isn’t complicated; there’s really nothing to explain. You don’t need an understanding of the Bible in its original language in order to understand gentleness. I don’t need to berate you with examples to demonstrate “true” gentleness, nor do I need to supply you with examples of a lack of gentleness (you have your own experiences with it, I’m sure).
In fact, I’d wager that anyone who overcomplicates the topic is really just trying to create an excuse for their lack of gentleness. “Well,” they may say, “Jesus did toss the tables in the temple, so…” and then insert an explanation about how that means they can continue being a jerk.
I’ve done that, by the way.
Instead, I’ll just tell you about the reasons I lack gentleness sometimes and see if the Lord chooses to use that to speak to you.
But I'm right
If my wife reads this blog, she’s going to be nodding her head emphatically in a moment.
Perhaps the number one reason I have struggled with being gentle with others is that I believe I can be gruff or rude or overly blunt with a person if I know I’m right in my end goal.
For example, if I love someone and see they are about to make a foolish decision with a huge chunk of money, I want to say something. I may begin soft and kind, but when they become defensive I feel I have a license to be more aggressive and forward.
I am, after all, trying to help them. Moreover, I’m right, and I know it.
If I can be transparent, I once felt angry at the Lord because I knew He’d given me wisdom beyond my years, but I also knew I lacked any level of compassion and love needed to impart that wisdom to others in a way that glorified Him.
I was, for years, the walking definition of truth without love.
A pastor once told me, “Phil, you’re so right you’re wrong”. I promptly told him that “right is right” and that “being a bit mean didn’t make me wrong.”
Lord, forgive me.
Read 2 Timothy with me, “And the Lord's servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will,” (ch. 2, v. 24-26).
Paul is writing to Timothy in this letter, and I think it’s interesting that when describing how a servant of the Lord should be (that’s me and you!) he said a servant should correct his opponent with gentleness. Why? Because then perhaps God will “grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will”.
Brothers and sisters, if we use our “rightness” as an excuse to lack gentleness, then we stand in opposition to how the Lord wants His servants to act. Moreover, that isn’t even the way the Lord desires to draw people into repentance or into truth!
I should be doing something else
Ugh, I don’t want to talk about this one. Ok, here it goes.
Growing up, my parents would sometimes watch reruns of shows they loved. The Waltons was a favorite, and one quick scene from an episode has stuck with me for nearly 20 years.
Ruth, a girl made recently blind by an accident, is in the middle of meeting the Walton family, and she is making observations about each when she holds their hands. When she gets to Grandpa Walton, she holds one hand and carefully feels the callouses of his palm and comments that he must be a hard worker. Then, feeling the smoothness of the back of his hand, she said he must be a gentle and kind man.
A hard worker and a kind man.
Spiritually speaking, I think this paints a decent picture of how the life of a Christian should be: men and women who work hard in whatever they are called to do, and are gentle and loving to all those around them.
And yet, I wonder how true that is for many of us. I mean, speaking for myself, I spent the last two years during this pandemic doing far more complaining and criticizing than I did engaging in the work of the faith (things such as intercessory prayer, feeding the needy, spending time with the sick, bringing encouragement to the depressed, etc.)
My spiritual hands would look the opposite of Grandpa Walton’s, I fear. I think my palms would be callous-free from a lack of spiritual work, while the back of my hands would be blistered and scarred from the hate and scorn I’ve stored up in my heart.
None of that scorn or hateful speech was public, of course. It was all private, mostly in my heart and mind. But I would be a fool to think I wasn’t being formed by those thoughts, and I’d be an even bigger fool to think God didn’t know each and every evil thing my heart thought up.
My point here is this: would we find ourselves so prone to criticism and rudeness if we had our hands on the plow? If we were working hard to build up our brothers and sisters, share our possessions, meet the needs of our community, and see the lost come to a saving relationship in Christ… would we even find a moment for our hearts to harden and for harshness to come from our lips?
"They" are too sensitive
Ok, if I’m honest, I don’t struggle with this excuse for a lack of gentleness. However, I hear a growing number of believers using this as an excuse for ungodly behavior, so I’d like to address it.
The reasoning for being harsh in speech or thought is usually something like: the world is so sensitive and easily offended that now I can’t say or do some particular thing. Therefore, the world needs to toughen up and grow a thicker skin like me. I’m not lacking gentleness, they just lack a thick skin.
It’s them, not me.
Jesus threw tables in the temple, after all.
Let me first say that I do think that some in society are becoming more sensitive to various issues and I do agree there are times people show an unhealthy inability to receive criticism or feedback.
And yet… there is simply nothing in the Bible that would indicate I should act in any way but love, kindness, and gentleness toward all people.
Remember, the healthy don’t need a doctor but the sick do!
If the world, or a particular group of people, is “too sensitive” then our response as believers shouldn’t be to mumble and groan about how it affects us, but instead should be looking for ways to love and build up those around us.
We must still act as the Lord’s servants, “correcting [our] opponents with gentleness” instead of using their own sin/problems as an excuse not to display the fruit of the Spirit.
It saddens me that any of us need to be convinced to be gentle.
It saddens me that I’m often not gentle to those I love most.
Gentleness is both a command from the Lord and a sign that we are becoming more like Christ. Paul, writing to the Galatians, clearly describes the fruit of the Spirit (what I see as evidence of a life led by the Spirit) is “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control,” and I would exhort you that there is not ever a reason to excuse us from producing this fruit.
When you notice a lack of gentleness in yourself, even if in your flesh you think it is called for, repent.
Lord, forgive us children for our ignorance and our disobedience. Make us gentle, God, just as the author and perfecter of our faith is gentle.
In Christ’s name, Amen.
Phillip Snyder is a Learning & Leadership Development Consultant at Christian Care Ministry. He acquired his master’s in educational leadership while serving as an English Teacher in public education, prior to moving into his current role at the ministry. He loves spending time with his wife and three boys, building furniture, and drinking good coffee.