Recently, our senior pastor spoke to the leadership team of the Latino ministry at our church. After giving us several lessons about leadership he has learned in his 20 years as lead pastor, he told us about a couple of verses of Scripture the Lord has been impressing on him over the past year or so.
The first one he mentioned is Philippians 4:5:
Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.
He went on to raise the question as to whether this gentleness is tied to the peace Paul mentions a couple of verses later in 4:7:
And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
I think my pastor is on to something here.
We all too often take these verses simply as texts to memorize and quote as promises or proverbs. But let's take a minute and look at the entire passage to get the context and see how the threads are woven together into a unified piece of cloth.
4 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5 Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
8 Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. 9 Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.
Paul here is writing about the attitude—an entire mindset—that should characterize Christians.
Just look around on social media (or traditional media, for that matter), or spend some time hanging out at the coffee shop. It won't take long to realize that a lot of people don't have peace. And quite often, you'll find that those same people are not very gentle in their words about or actions toward others.
The question arises as to whether the lack of peace causes the lack of gentleness, or the lack of gentleness causes the lack of peace. If we really take a close look, I think we'll see that it's a feedback loop, a self-reinforcing system that grows worse and worse as time goes on.
Someone experiences an inconvenience, a setback, an insult, or a slight. Instead of taking it to God—letting their mind be transformed by focusing on the true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy—and thereby letting God restore peace in their life, they focus on the insult, the injustice, the wrong that they suffered, which increases the lack of peace. Instead of having the same mindset that Christ is described as having in Philippians 2, they become self-focused, thinking only about their own rights and well-being.
If they don't refocus promptly, that lack of peace causes them to lack gentleness in their dealings with others, stirring up strife and contention beyond the initial problem or offense. They may start attacking people instead of addressing ideas, resorting to name-calling and insults. This causes more conflict, which further robs them of peace, which in turn can lead to further conflict. Add in the fact that the algorithms that determine what posts appear in our social media feeds are weighted towards things that stir up emotions, and this quickly grows out of control.
Sadly, I daily see people who identify as Christ-followers falling into this trap. I even see it from pastors and other ministers on social media. And really, the easiest thing in the world is to have a reflex reaction and fight back and spout off when things don't go our way. But that is the opposite of the fruit of the Spirit of gentleness (Gal. 5:22-23).
In his epistle to the Romans, the Apostle Paul gives what I believe to be an example of what this gentleness looks like. Romans 12:14-21 says:
14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. 17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. 20 On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
May we all strive to live at peace, exhibiting the fruit of gentleness, and leave the payback to God.
Note: As I was preparing this blog post, this book review hit my inbox. The subject of the book goes right along with Paul's exhortation in Philippians 4. Check it out.
UPDATE: Since writing this, the following resources on gentleness have come to my attention.
Scott Sauls podcast -- How Gentleness Raises Us Above Cancel Culture
Scott Sauls book -- A Gentle Answer: Our 'Secret Weapon' in an Age of Us Against Them
Dane Ortlund book -- Gentle and Lowly: The Heart of Christ for Sinners and Sufferers