Sermon for Sunday, May 14th, 2023 at First Presbyterian Church at Unionville, NY (BPC)
Old Testament reading:
[2Sa 22:32-51 ESV] 32 “For who is God, but the LORD? And who is a rock, except our God? 33 This God is my strong refuge and has made my way blameless. 34 He made my feet like the feet of a deer and set me secure on the heights. 35 He trains my hands for war, so that my arms can bend a bow of bronze. 36 You have given me the shield of your salvation, and your gentleness made me great. 37 You gave a wide place for my steps under me, and my feet did not slip; 38 I pursued my enemies and destroyed them, and did not turn back until they were consumed. 39 I consumed them; I thrust them through, so that they did not rise; they fell under my feet. 40 For you equipped me with strength for the battle; you made those who rise against me sink under me. 41 You made my enemies turn their backs to me, those who hated me, and I destroyed them. 42 They looked, but there was none to save; they cried to the LORD, but he did not answer them. 43 I beat them fine as the dust of the earth; I crushed them and stamped them down like the mire of the streets. 44 “You delivered me from strife with my people; you kept me as the head of the nations; people whom I had not known served me. 45 Foreigners came cringing to me; as soon as they heard of me, they obeyed me. 46 Foreigners lost heart and came trembling out of their fortresses. 47 “The LORD lives, and blessed be my rock, and exalted be my God, the rock of my salvation, 48 the God who gave me vengeance and brought down peoples under me, 49 who brought me out from my enemies; you exalted me above those who rose against me; you delivered me from men of violence. 50 “For this I will praise you, O LORD, among the nations, and sing praises to your name. 51 Great salvation he brings to his king, and shows steadfast love to his anointed, to David and his offspring forever.”
New Testament reading:
[2Ti 2:22-26 ESV] 22 So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart. 23 Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. 24 And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, 25 correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, 26 and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.
[Mat 5:1-12 ESV] 1 Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him. 2 And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying: 3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. 5 “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. 6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. 7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. 8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. 9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. 10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
I’ve been preaching on virtues of the Christian faith and life. And we come now to “the virtue of gentleness.”
It is mother’s day today. (And Happy Mother’s day to all. Well, to all the mothers) And some have perhaps thought gentleness is a feminine trait. But it is truly a virtue both for women and for men, indeed for all Christians to seek after.
The virtue of gentleness is included, of course, in the Fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, GENTLENESS, and self-control.
So it IS a virtue. But what does it mean? What is gentleness?
Today our goal, in part, is to answer that question. We want look at “gentleness;” its meaning, and how we might apply the biblical admonition to have this virtue.
Now when our modern Bibles translate the Greek New Testament into English, they use the words gentle and gentleness. The King James Version however in the same places uses “meek” and “meekness.” These are the same. So just as it is said “blessed are the meek” one might also say “blessed are the gentle.”
But the way our world today defines and uses these terms is usually at odds with the Biblical idea. The world, and many dictionaries, says gentleness and meekness is akin to weakness or timidness. But this certainly is not the Biblical idea. Gentleness is definitely not weakness. So what is it?
Well, the word “gentleness” is used in the Scripture in three different contexts. Noting these may help us understand it better.
I. Defining Gentleness
First there is
A. God’s gentleness
which is found in a number of places (2 Samuel 22:36, Psalm 18:35, 2 Corinthians 10:1)
In one of these cases, David says:
[Psa 18:35 ESV] 35 You have given me the shield of your salvation, and your right hand supported me, and your gentleness made me great.
Gentleness is an attribute of God.
So that is one context for gentleness. The gentleness of God.
Then there is the command that WE should have gentleness. We might think, just as it is said “be holy as I am holy,” we could rightly say we are to be gentle as He is gentle.
B. We should have gentleness: Galatians 5:23, Ephesians 4:2, 1 Timothy 6:11
Gentleness is one of the Fruit of the Spirit within us, and Paul also includes it among that which we must seek as we “fight the good fight of the faith.”
[1Ti 6:11-12 ESV] 11 But as for you, O man of God, flee these things. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness. 12 Fight the good fight of the faith.
So, there is (1) God’s gentleness, and the fact that (2) we should have gentleness.
Then, and most prominently, the third context of gentleness is that the Christian is to “correct with gentleness.”
C. We should correct with gentleness: 1 Corinthians 4:21, 2 Corinthians 10:1, Galatians 6:1, 2 Timothy 2:25, 1 Peter 3:15.
It is this third way – correcting with gentleness – that gives us more understanding of what the term means. Saying merely that God has gentleness and that we should have gentleness doesn’t tell us much about what it is. But in a number of places in the Scriptures it is said that we should correct with gentleness. And that helps us to better understand the idea in general.
Let’s look at a few of these verses about correcting with gentleness:
[2Ti 2:24-25 ESV] 24 And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, 25 correcting his opponents with gentleness.
[Gal 6:1 ESV] 1 Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness.
[1Pe 3:15 ESV] 15 but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect,
So gentleness has particular application in those situations where we correct another person seeking to lead them to the truth. But in these situations – sinful as we are – there is the temptation to come down hard on the person being corrected. Such harshness however is sinful and counterproductive. Instead of harshness we are to correct others with gentleness; to speak truth in love.
So the sin of harshness is the opposite of the virtue of gentleness. This point is actually many is the most recent issue of Tabletalk magazine. The May 2023 issue is on “commonly tolerated sins” and it has 20 short articles on these sins, including one on harshness. And it says “Harshness is a hammer, gentleness is a mallet.” [REPEAT: Harshness is a hammer, gentleness is a mallet.”] A mallet doesn’t damage the surface like a hammer does. And I would add, the mallet still gets the job done.
A gentle person still speaks truth, sometimes even painful truth, but in doing so guards his tone so the truth can be well received. The gentle person cares for others while correcting them. You should perhaps ask yourself, “how would I want to be corrected if I were on the other end of this situation.”
Being gentle, we are to restore a brother. Gentleness has that great result. Anger, retaliation, has the opposite result, embittering both parties. So we are called to be gentle, not to continue the pattern of sin, but to end it. It is the responsibility of Christians to not sin in response to others, but to be gentle. The buck stops here; we don’t retaliate with anger and escalation, but with gentleness in correction.
So the gentle man is not quick to retaliate. And the gentle mother and the gentle father guide their children with strength and wisdom, not being overly harsh but being encouraging in their discipline.
The key part of our scripture reading from 1 Timothy says that the Lord’s servant corrects with gentleness. But let’s read the whole verse:
And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, 25 correcting his opponents with gentleness.
There are two pieces to this verse that help explain what “correcting an opponent with gentleness” looks like. It is “being kind to everyone.” And it is “patiently enduring evil.” You endure the bad and produce the good.
Like electronic devices, we must receive harmful radiation but not put off harmful radiation ourselves.
Or in mathematical physics terms, we are to be a “sink” for evil and a source for good.
When I was younger I thought this was so unfair. And our natural self wants to receive only good things and be free to do whatever we want, which includes, at times, producing evil. But we must not do so.
We are to return evil with good, responding with gentleness even when provoked.
II. The Quiet Man
For a while now I’ve been thinking about an idea I call “The Quiet Minister.” It is in contradistinction to the brash young minister, the attitude I see especially from some men online. The Quiet Minister is patient and gentle. He knows from experience and from the Bible that quick reactions and harsh responses will not win the day or win his brother to the Lord. The Quiet Minister yet disciplines his flock, and does so with care, being greatly respected by his people. Proverbs 25:15 even says of this approach “with patience a ruler may be persuaded, and a soft tongue will break a bone.”
The quiet minister is the circuit rider of old, or the long-time pastor who has preached more funerals that he can count, whose mere presence comforts the grieving.
The minister is indeed called to be a quiet minister, to have gentleness, to have meekness in correcting others.
But so also is every Christian called to that duty.
So we have not only “the Quiet Minister” but “the Quiet Man.”
In our text Paul says:
24 And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, 25 correcting his opponents with gentleness.
Here, “the Lord’s servant” is every one of us. Though Paul in his 1st letter to Timothy gives the qualifications for elders and deacons, here is speaking more broadly about all Christians, all who are servants of God. And indeed, it is not just those who are employed by a church who are His servants. We are all called to serve the Lord, and to do so with gentleness.
We are all called to be “the Quiet Man” or “the Quiet Woman.”
To provide an example of “the Quiet Man” or “the Quiet Woman”, he is that teacher that is approachable. He is that person you know will not be overly critical, but will gently bring you the truth and care for you.
III. The Gentleness of Christ
So I’ve been trying to think of other examples of the “the quiet minister” or the “quiet man.” Who is the ideal when it comes to gentleness?
Fortunately, we have that ideal in Scripture. It is Christ himself.
Though Christ is omnipotent, he is gentle. He is not only strong, he is omnipotent, and yet he is gentle.
Just as gentleness is an attribute of God, it is also an attribute of Christ.
In fact, Matthew Henry says, that Christ is “the great example of meekness and gentleness.”
We see the gentleness of Christ in his approachability. The little children came to him. If he was harsh in his teachings, the children would be scared away. But he was welcoming. In Matthew’s Gospel the reason the little children were brought to him was so that he could lay his hands upon them and pray for them. In Mark’s Gospel it even says “And he took them in his arms and blessed them.”
Oh the gentleness of Christ. We who are sinners are taken into the arms of Christ.
As Psalm 103 says of the Lord “he does not deal with us according to our sins nor repay us according to our iniquities.” We deserve His wrath; His punishment, but we get His mercy and grace. God is gentle with us, forgiving our sins and calling us through the Holy Spirit to correct our evil ways and obey God’s commandments, seeking His will in all that we do.
Praise the Lord that He is gentle with us.
And just as Christ is approachable and welcoming of children, he says to all of us “come to me all who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest.”
Then there is another great example of Jesus’s gentleness … in Gethsemane. When the mob came with Judas the betrayer to arrest Jesus, the response of one Peter was to draw his sword and fight. Jesus, will far greater power at his disposal, even the ability to call for angels to assist, yet did not respond with violence but with gentleness. For with gentleness, he knew he needed to go to the cross for the salvation of all who believe.
But Christ was not weak. With great power he conquered death and rose again from the grave.
Meekness is not weakness. And gentleness is not opposed to strength. In fact, if anything, it seems one must be strong to be gentle.
We see this gentleness and power together side-by-side in Isaiah 40:10-11
“Behold, the Lord God comes with MIGHT, and his arm rules for him; behold his reward is with him, and his recompense before him. He will tend his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms, he will carry them in his bosom and GENTLY lead those that are with young.”
The Lord does this. He does it yet today. Gently guiding us all, and gathering us in his arms. Gently and with strength, providing us the comfort that only an all-powerful and yet gentle and loving God can give.
Praise be to God.
We are encouraged: Let your gentleness be known to all men. Let that fruit of the Spirit be seen. Respond not in haste and in anger but in patience and gentleness as is your calling in the Lord. For He, so gentle with us, calls us to be gentle with one another. Let this be our way, let us indeed by gentle and he is gentle.
Our gentleness then, when we are indeed gentle, is a reflection of God’s gentleness, and truly a work of the spirit. And when it is said a “fruit of the Spirit” it is indeed OF THE SPIRIT. It is not your fruit, but His. So we give God the glory when He works gentleness in us, for it is no longer we who love, but Christ who lives in us. And even more, we give God glory for his gentleness with us in not dealing with us according to our sins but removing our transgressions from us as far as the East is from the West.
Indeed, Praise be to God. Let us pray.