IMPRESSED, CONVICTED, AND CHALLENGED

A couple of weeks ago I read an introduction to the writings of the 16th century Catholic Francois Fenelon and a few of his writings. While I appreciated the samples I read, I was impressed, convicted, and challenged by the observation made by Robert J. Edmonson that “Fenelon won the hearts of the Protestants with his gentleness and moderation.”

I don’t know of too many leaders, writers, politicians, and other public figures in our day who would be described by the words gentle and moderate. But shouldn’t all Christians be noted for showing moderation and gentleness in their discourse?

As I thought about the idea of gentleness a couple of Bible references came to mind. I looked the word up on BibleGateway.com and think these three are especially pertinent:

Proverbs 15:1, “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”

Matthew 11:29, Jesus said, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart.”

Ephesians 4:2, “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.”

The basic idea of moderation is prevalent in the Bible for followers of Jesus. An explanation of moderation is the avoidance of excess or extremes, especially in one’s behavior or political opinions and in a way that is reasonable and not excessive. It may not be exactly the same thing as self-control, but it is close. I find it interesting that the final two fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22 and 23 are gentleness and self-control.

Impressed by how Edmonson said Fenelon won the hearts of Protestants, I was also convicted. Edmonson’s characterization of how Fenelon won people’s hearts “with his gentleness and moderation” reminded me that those two words would probably not be used to describe me by those who have heard me discuss and debate a variety of issues.

I was not just impressed and convicted by Edmonson’s insight, I was also challenged to be more gentle and moderate in my teaching, discussions, and disagreements. Reflecting on both Jesus’ self-description in Matthew 11:29, and the Apostle Paul’s instruction in Ephesians 4:2, I’m thinking a key to being gentler and more moderate is cultivating humility. My sense is that pride is the engine that drives a lot of us to be lacking in gentleness and moderation in our conversations.

Having written what I have so far, I want to be clear that I’m not suggesting being gentle and moderate requires people to compromise their convictions. I think it means we do what Paul urges in Ephesians 4:15 in terms of “speaking the truth in love.”

One more observation from Edmonson sheds light on the risk of showing gentleness and moderation. Defining gentleness and moderation with a new word, he notes “Fenelon’s restraint did not pass unnoticed among more extreme Catholic factions, who blocked his nomination as bishop.” Does that mean that those who are gentle and moderate and show restraint will pay a price from those are contentious? Possibly.

Again, I am impressed, convicted, and challenged. And I hope you are as well.

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DO YOU HAVE THIS QUALITY?

An observation I read last week by Lance Witt really got my attention: “One of the most underrated and underestimated qualities of a spiritual leader is the quality of gentleness.” I certainly agree that gentleness is underrated and underestimated when it comes to spiritual leaders, but more than that, gentleness is a quality that is neglected by many Christians whether they are leaders or not.

The New Testament includes several calls for all followers of Jesus to cultivate and practice gentleness.

Colossians 3:12, “Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.” Note the company gentleness keeps in this exhortation to Christians.

Philippians 4:5, “Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.” Note the reminder that follows the instruction perhaps telling us both why we should and how we can be gentle.

Ephesians 4:2, “Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love.” Note the specific example for being humble, gentle, and patient: making allowance for other’s faults. That same emphasis is made in Galatians 6:1, “. . . if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the
spirit should restore that person gently.”

In tune with Witt’s observation, in a list of qualifications for church leaders in I Timothy 3:3 the Apostle Paul says a leader “is to be not violent but gentle.” Towards the end of the letter in 6:11 he calls Timothy a man of God and tells him to “pursue righteousness, godliness, faith love, endurance and gentleness. And again in II Timothy 2:25, “Opponents must be gently instructed.”

I think part of the reason we don’t stress more the Bible’s call to be gentle is a misperception of the quality. Some wrongly think of gentleness as weakness and unbecoming. It might be helpful for us to be reminded that the Bible tells us Jesus was gentle.  In Matthew 11:29 Jesus Himself declares: “I am gentle and humble in heart.” And in II Corinthians 10:1 the Apostle Paul refers to “the humility and gentleness of Christ.”

In classical Greek gentleness is associated with being friendly and mild. When used of animals it means they are tame and with people it suggests they are considerate and benevolent.  Being gentle is the opposite of being harsh or overly stern or expressing unbridled anger. Gentleness is in contrast to demanding one’s rights or insisting upon one’s way. But it is more than just not being harsh, quick tempered, and rude. Positively gentleness is about being patient, magnanimous, and kind.

I don’t know about you, but I’m convicted. Too often I’m grumpy and irritable–not as gentle as I want and need to be. I want to more gracious; I want to be more like Jesus. How do I do that? Galatians 5:22 and 23 includes gentleness as a part of the fruit of the Spirit. I guess I need to open myself more, submit more, and cooperate more with Him.

What do you think?

Reply with comments below and share these thoughts with others on social media. (Also feel free to email me.)

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