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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