Turn to Titus 2 and John 8. Our journey through the Believe series is almost finished. Today, next Sunday and I’ll wrap it up with a review and summary on July 7. Please email me what you’ve learned, how you’ve grown since we started.
This morning, our topic is gentleness. The word gentleness probably conjures up various definitions and images – some accurate; some not so much. Just to clarify, Biblical gentleness is not necessarily about being touchy-feely or never offending someone or passivity. Gentleness is a characteristic of God. For instance,
When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son. The more they were called, the more they went away; they kept sacrificing to the Baals and burning offerings to idols. Yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk; I took them up by their arms, but they did not know that I healed them. I led them with cords of kindness, with the bands of love, and I became to them as one who eases the yoke on their jaws, and I bent down to them and fed them.
How can I give you up, O Ephraim? How can I hand you over, O Israel? How can I make you like Admah? How can I treat you like Zeboiim? My heart recoils within me; my compassion grows warm and tender.
Our God is gentle, and so is His Son.
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.
God’s people are called to be gentle, as well.
But as for you, O man of God, flee these things. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness.
Or course, Gal. 5 - gentleness is a fruit of the Spirt.
But what is gentleness? We Westerners often like precise definitions – so I looked for a precise definition of gentleness. Here’s what I found.
The meaning of gentleness in Scripture is ambiguous, deep and wide, and has both negative and positive characteristics.
Being overly gentle or overly strict is frowned upon in Scripture and sometimes is just ungodly.
There are several Hebrew and Greek words used for gentleness, compared to our one English word. The various biblical words help create the big picture of gentleness.
Gentleness can be portrayed as meekness (strength or power or anger under control), being considerate or reasonable, being courteous, yielding and sometimes mild.
Gentleness is often infused with the quality of not being consumed with one’s self-imposed importance.
Overall, gentleness is flexible - it knows when to strictly follow the letter of the Law and when to deviate.
In other words, a person of Biblical gentleness knows when to enforce coloring within the lines, and when to allow coloring outside the lines.
How’s that for a definition?
For people who live in a black and white, right and wrong world – gentleness will be a struggle. Coloring outside the lines is never permissible. For people who live in a grey, maybe it’s wrong, maybe it’s right world – gentleness will also be a struggle. Coloring outside the lines is always permissible. Regardless of where we’re at on that spectrum,
God is gentle; therefore, gentleness is not optional.
We need to pursue gentleness and perfect gentleness (progressive side of sanctification).
Randy Frazee (creator and editor of Believe) sums up gentleness in this week’s
Key Idea: I am thoughtful, considerate and calm in my dealings with others.
Gentleness is not necessarily the absence of anger.
We can be angry, firm, steadfast in truth, yet thoughtful, considerate and calm.
Gentleness is not weakness.
Gentleness is strength and power under control.
Let’s look at Titus. This is a letter from Paul to his compadre, Titus. He’s like the District Superintendent over the churches of Crete. Cretans were a bad lot. Lying, deception, rudeness was the norm - their way of life. Politicians can trace their roots to Crete. Anyway, Paul reminded Titus that the grace of God has appeared and teaches us to say no to ungodliness and worldly passions. In verse, he wrote,
Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people. For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.
Remember, gentleness is ambiguous, deep and wide. God had every right to discard rebellious, immoral humanity. But God chose grace, mercy and truth. He provided a way, not around the law, but a way to fulfill the requirements of the law through the death of His Son – and through His Son offer forgiveness (Jesus came in grace and truth). This I believe is
The essence of gentleness is founded upon truth and makes a way for grace.
You’re supposed to color within the lines, but if you go outside, let’s talk about grace.
Let’s continue …
He saved us, not because of us … but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.
God was gentle toward us - not because we deserved it, but because we needed it.
How might that apply to how you and I deal with others?
What is the intent or goal of gentleness? To provide space for God to work in the lives of others.
Turn to John 8 starting in verse 2 and pay close attention to how Jesus dealt with people caught in sin. There is a ton of context and mystery in this narrative. Unfortunately, we have to skip most of it this morning. Verse 2 -
Early in the morning he came again to the temple. All the people came to him, and he sat down and taught them. The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, and placing her in the midst they said to him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. Now in the Law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?” This they said to test him, that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground.
Now, if this narrative belongs right here in John, and if it is sequential in time – then chapter 7 gives us the context. In chapter 7, Jesus was at the Temple teaching and He accused the Jews of knowing the Law, yet not obeying it. So, here in chapter 8, they’re trying to school Jesus on the Law - to prove they know it and obey it. Furthermore, Jesus was being set up. They wanted to find something to use against Him so they had legal grounds to kill him.
This whole thing was a sham and that’s kind of sinful. They were using a woman as a tool for their own gain - that’s kind of sinful, too. They law says to stone both the man and woman, but for some reason they forgot to bring the man - that’s kind of sinful. Of course, she was guilty of sin - which is kind of sinful. This is why I said, let’s see how Jesus dealt with sinful people. And in the bigger context, how did Jesus deal with sinners inside the church and outside.
There is a lot of tension in this story. The scribes and Pharisees were consumed self-importance and moral superiority. But they also had the legal right to pass judgment on a sinful person. There is tension with Jesus, as well. Would Jesus uphold the Law and agree that she deserved to be stoned to death, or would He ignore the Law? Would He condemn her actions and condone theirs? Would He condemn their actions and condone hers? Would He rescue a damsel in distress, or would He say, “Lady, you colored outside the lines?”
Tension. Is this grey; is this black and white? How would one be gentle in a situation like this that clearly calls for truth, that stirs up anger on both sides …? How does Jesus respond?
This they said to test him, that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.”
Do you see the gentleness of God in action? Do you see the intent? Jesus didn’t flip His lid or go in with guns a blazing. He was meek (strength under control); He was firm, reasonable, even courteous, truthful and flexible. Godly gentleness provides space for God to work. Jesus said, “You guys can’t color outside the lines, can you? Here’s an opportunity for grace.”
And once more he bent down and wrote on the ground.
Know this: Godly gentleness can be risky and requires we trust God.
Think about what Jesus said and did. “Go ahead,” and He went back to drawing in the dirt. Someone could have easily said, “Forget this,” and nailed her with a rock. Being gentle makes space for God to work, but it can be risky and require us to trust God - “Lord, you’re in control of the outcome, not me.”
But when they heard it, they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.”
Do you see the gentleness of God in action? Do you see the intent? He was meek (strength under control); He was firm, reasonable, even courteous, truthful and flexible. Godly gentleness provides space for God to work. Jesus said, “Lady, you can’t color within the lines, can you? Here’s an opportunity to be forgiven.”
Jesus never said anyone was right or wrong. He didn’t condemn or condone. Jesus could have given them a “Go straight to jail” card and made the Pharisees and the woman pay for their sins! But Jesus chose gentleness – strength under control, flexibility to the letter of the law but providing room for grace. He laid out the truth and allowed God to work on their hearts and minds. He provided space for conviction and repentance.
Godly gentleness is designed for people to see and experience the love and truth of God. Godly gentleness is designed to advance the Kingdom of God in a hostile world.
We find ourselves in the tension of John 8 all the time. Any scenario fits - gay marriage / immigration / abortion …. Gentleness helps us separate sin from the person.
All this comes down to a desire to be like Jesus, and to be the best image of Jesus I can be. Therefore, I desire to learn how to be gentle. I’m not smart enough - I need intimacy with Christ to lead me. Once again, we find ourselves at Gal. 5
Allow the Holy Spirit to speak.
A B C
“May I be an enemy to no one and the friend of what abides eternally. May I never quarrel with those nearest me, and be reconciled quickly if I should.
May I never plot evil against others, and if anyone plot evil against me,
may I escape unharmed and without the need to hurt anyone else.
May I love, seek, and attain only what is good.
May I desire happiness for all and harbor envy for none.
May I never find joy in the misfortune of one who has wronged me.
May I reconcile friends who are mad at each other.
May I, insofar as I can, give all necessary help to my friends and to all who
are in need.
May I never fail a friend in trouble.
May I be able to soften the pain of the grief stricken and give them comforting words.
May I respect myself.
May I always maintain control of my emotions.
May I habituate myself to be gentle, and never angry with others because of circumstances.”
Eusebius, Bishop of Caesarea (263–339)
Bjorklund, Kurt. Prayers for Today: A Yearlong Journey of Devotional Prayer (p. 262).