Gentleness is underrated and undervalued in the world and in the church. We prize power and authority and charisma. We want leaders who sound like TED talk speakers and who can capture our attention and hold it, leaders who are magnetic and whom we want to follow, who will impress our friends and family. Leaders who could do any number of jobs well and be recognised as leaders in their field. We also want to be that. We want all that because we have a Corinthian complex.
The problem for the church in Corinth is that there is too much of Corinth in the Church. Sin, petty squabbles, celebrity status, sexual immorality, fighting to be heard and seen, are rampant. That’s our problem in so many ways. We want to be wise. We want to be able to dazzle the world. To be as proficient as they are, as professional, as polished in our performance – something I thinking online church has fuelled. I’m not saying we should be amateurish and incompetent. But here’s my concern, I see it in myself, I see it in others and I see it in the western church. The desire to want to do things well leads us to use power to achieve those ends, it puts pressure on others because they don’t want to let the side down.
I was really struck yesterday in reading Shai Linne’s The New Reformation with his description of gentleness as “strength under control.” I read that and then carried on preparing next terms sermon series in 1 Timothy and in chapter 3 we see Paul insist to Timothy that elders must not be “a bully but gentle” Leaders in God’s church exercise strength under control, not to crush or burden or manipulate but to shepherd. It did get me thinking though that gentleness can be much harder to spot that worldly leadership.
Gentleness is not weakness, it’s not being a doormat – something which Christians seem overly concerned they are called to be and have a strong aversion to. But we follow a Saviour who was gentle. Who used his considerable strength not for his own ends, but who curbed it in service of others. Who could have made the stones cry out but didn’t. Who could have commanded the angels to take him down from the cross but didn’t. Who did use his strength – to calm the waves, to multiply food, to raise the dead, to cast out evil spirits – not in acts of vain self glory but to bring God’s kingdom; to free prisoners, remove shackles, bind wounds, proclaim a kingdom whose king came to serve not be served.
Please be gentle. Be gentle with one another – if Jesus doesn’t snuff out a smouldering wick dare we? If Jesus doesn’t break a bruised reed dare we? Be gentle with your exercise of God given authority be it in the family, the workplace, the community, or the church. Be gentle with the lost, win them by serving them, flex your strength in service of them not in trying to wrestle them into submission with heavy artillery arguments or polished performance, show them the king who restrains his strength in order to win their salvation.