Friday, March 16, 2018

A Time for Gentleness

Post by: Thomas Cross

In our discussions of Anxious for Nothing, I ran across a word I had not noticed before. The word is “gentleness,” and it is a word that Paul uses in Philippians 4:5. “Let your gentleness be known to everyone,” Paul says. Paul also lists “gentleness” as one of the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23. As you know, I am fascinated by the Greek words used in the New Testament, so I looked it up and found that the Greek word for “gentleness” is epiekes, which is derived from the word “appropriate.” Epiekes means “gentle, moderate, patient, stable, steady.”

Gentleness doesn’t preclude exuberance, but it does describe a person that is not easily rocked, a person that has a strong center of gravity, a person that doesn’t fly off the handle when things get difficult. The best antonym for epiekes is “erratic.”

In Galatians 5:22-23, the fruit of the Spirit are arranged in three triads, moving from inner character qualities (love, joy, peace), to outward qualities that strengthen our relationships with others (patience, kindness, goodness), to character qualities that allow us to continue growing and following Christ for the long haul. One can see how the emotional constancy of gentleness helps us to keep our balance and composure. Our gentleness flows from our inner character, it is manifested in our relationships, and helps us to finish the race of faith in a way that glorifies God.

The last three fruit of the Spirit are qualities that mark mature believers in Christ who have abided in Christ over a period of years. Our part is to abide closely in Christ, as Jesus says in John 15:4: "Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you, unless you abide in Me." As we abide in Christ, it is the nature of the Holy Spirit's work to begin by changing our inner character, to manifest this transformation in our relationships, and finally to equip us to persevere in our faith by grounding us deeply in Christ's steadfast love.

It is the nature of Christ's character to be constant, unchanging, and enduring in nature, and it is Christ's desire to call forth the same in us, from our human spirits, from the true self, as we let go of our ego attachments that are tied up in what is fleeting and transitory. Paul discusses this transformation in Philippians 3:1-14, in which he lists his "resume" of all the accomplishments he was so proud of as a young man, and then concludes, "More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish in order that I may gain Christ” (vs. 8).

What Paul discovered in Christ was not "a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith" (Philippians 3:9). With our new birth in Christ, this righteousness from God forms the basis of our identity and mission. We become "imitators of God, as beloved children, and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you..." (Ephesians 5:1-2). Our ongoing challenge is to claim this true identity which is ours in Christ, and to keep asking Christ to help us when we find ourselves resisting or rejecting the truth of who we really are. The Lord is always eager to answer this prayer and help us when we need to reaffirm who and whose we are.

I can be gentle because I’m not terribly impressed by my own credentials and accomplishments. What impresses me is that I have a God who loves me, a Savior who helps me, and a Spirit who guides me. I didn’t do anything to earn these gifts, and I receive them humbly and joyfully. My overwhelming response is gratitude to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

In our own time, I believe biblical “gentleness” is a gift worth cultivating. We live in a time of dramatic change. It is said that every 500 years or so, God does a new thing, and we seem to be right on schedule (500 years after the start of the Protestant Reformation). The changes of our time are too numerous for any of us to track or fully understand. In the midst of events we may find unsettling or befuddling, it is important to have a strong center of gravity in Christ so we are not rocked by the events of the day. In a time when many people seem more focused on winning arguments than friends, it is also important to offer the gentle word of encouragement and hope. We can do so because we trust that God is sovereign over history and our lives, that God has good plans for us and our planet.

How do we cultivate such gentleness? Our gentleness springs from our relationship with Christ. As we abide in Christ, depend upon his Spirit, and own our identity as God’s children, his gentleness will become one of the marks of our character. We will become people who are not easily rocked by the vicissitudes of circumstances, but rather people who find deep balance, stability, and composure because our character is built upon the foundation and Chief Cornerstone of the Living Christ. This constant gentleness allows us to treat others as Christ treats us, with love, whether we agree with them or not. As the hymn writer Edward Mote puts it, “On Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand.”

Thomas Cross is one of the pastors at BUMC, starting his ninth year here.  He loves to help people grow in Christ and start new small groups.  He says his passion is ‘to introduce people to the God I know through Jesus Christ, the God who is merciful and compassionate, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.’  He enjoys hiking, reading, cooking, going to movies, working out, collecting art, listening to jazz music, and watching the Broncos for fun.  And he has a blast meeting with the diverse small groups he facilitates! 

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