The Spirit of Gentleness

Mike Cunningham
September 1, 2013
“Whatever month of the year you choose, heart-rending calamities fill the news from coast to coast and around the world. And if we had the connections to know about them, we would see that they fill our churches as well. Calamities strike the world of unbelievers and the children of God with mind-numbing pain. Some of these tragedies come directly from natural disasters, and some com from the sinful acts of man against man.”

“Just when you think violent crime in one state is decreasing, you read about a major city where the murder rate is up 50 percent in the last seven years. Just when you hear that drug use is on the decline among teenagers, you read about execution-style murders among our youth. Somewhere in the news miners are trapped deep underground, and family members are huddled in a church hoping against hope. An interstate bridge collapses, and a just married husband doesn’t arrive home for supper-ever. Planes collide, and bodies fall from the sky. Trains explode in flesh-burning balls of flame. The most stable countries suddenly burst into ethnic violence, and headlines venture the term genocide. A father throws his children off a bridge to spite his wife. Little girls are kidnapped and made to serve as sex slaves. Ethnic and religious minorities are systematically starved out of existence. Tsunamis sweep away whole villages and churches. Earthquakes bury thirty thousand people in a night. Suddenly twenty million people are displaced with South Asian flooding. And forty-six million pre-born babies (as of 2008) are killed every year around the world.”

“Does this have anything to do with Jesus Christ-the risen king of the universe who stops the threatening wind and waves with a single word (Luke 11:43-44), who makes the lame walk and the blind see and the deaf hear (Matthew 11:5), who feeds five thousand with a few loaves of bread (Mark 6:41-42), who created the universe and everything in it (John 1:3), and who upholds the universe with the word of his power (Hebrews 1:3) and says, “All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me” (Matthew 28:18)?” Consider the following passages.

Luke 8:22-24 (ESV)
22 One day he got into a boat with his disciples, and he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side of the lake.” So they set out,
23 and as they sailed he fell asleep. And a windstorm came down on the lake, and they were filling with water and were in danger.
24 And they went and woke him, saying, “Master, Master, we are perishing!” And he awoke and rebuked the wind and the raging waves, and they ceased, and there was a calm.

John 11:43-44 (ESV)
43 When he had said these things, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out.”
44 The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”

Matthew 11:5 (ESV)
5 the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them.

Mark 6:41 (ESV)
41 And taking the five loaves and the two fish he looked up to heaven and said a blessing and broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples to set before the people. And he divided the two fish among them all.

John 1:3-5 (ESV)
3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.

Hebrews 1:3 (ESV)
3 He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high,

Matthew 28:18 (ESV)
18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.

“Surely, this Jesus can stop a tsunami, and make the wind blow a jet off its deadly course toward a crowded tower, and loosen the stranglehold of an umbilical cord from around an infants neck, and blind the eyes of torturers, and stop a drought. Surely he can do this and a thousand other acts of restraint and rescue. He has done it before. He could do it now. What is his reason for not doing it more often,” asks John Piper in his book, “Spectacular Sins.”

I have addressed concerns such as these in numerous sermons and have posted them on my blog. I don’t pretend to have all the answers. Nobody does. However, we have been able to derive an enormous amount of comfort, encouragement and hope through the Biblical explanations as we navigate through our own divinely ordained physical and emotional ordeals. So much so, that we wouldn’t hesitate to share our faith whenever we have an opportunity. In his first letter, the Apostle Peter wrote,

1 Peter 3:15 (NIV)
15 But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.

The Lord wants us to share the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ, but He insists that we always do it with gentleness and respect. It’s been my prayerful hope that this message is as helpful to each of you as it has been to me.

In his very insightful book, “The Faith Shaped Life,” Ian Hamilton, the pastor of Cambridge Presbyterian Church in England says that,
“One of the principle marks of a Christian is a bridled tongue that is under control. What we speak, how we speak reveals the measure of sanctification wrought in our hearts. ‘out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks.’ (Matthew 12:34).”

“It is quite remarkable to notice how often the New Testament highlights the significance of the tongue. Nowhere is this more prominent than in the Letter of James. The apostle says, ‘How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire!’; and that the ‘tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell… It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison’ (3:5,6,8).

James 3:1-18 (ESV)
1 Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.
2 For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body.
3 If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well.
4 Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs.
5 So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire!
6 And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell.
7 For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind,
8 but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.
9 With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God.
10 From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so.
11 Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water?
12 Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water.
13 Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom.
14 But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth.
15 This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic.
16 For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice.
17 But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, GENTLE, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere.
18 And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.

“These are shocking and sobering words. It hardly needs me to tell you how many relational animosities and congregational catastrophes have been caused by thoughtless, heartless, self-willed, ill-judged words.”

“What James is particularly concerned to impress on us is the incongruity of praising God and cursing men, who have been made in God’s likeness, with the same tongue. ‘My brothers, these things ought not to be so’ (verse 10). Indeed, James goes further, ‘Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water’ (verse 11). The answer is an emphatic ‘No!’ To gossip about a fellow Christian, to malign his or her character, to seek to belittle them in public, to bring attention to their sins (‘love covers a multitude of sins’!), is to behave like a pagan, not a Christian.”

“It is deeply challenging to read in Proverbs that one of the distinguishing marks of the righteous is the conscientious way they use their tongues. ‘The mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life (10-11)…The lips of the righteous know what is acceptable (or fitting)’ (10:32).”

“This last characteristic of the righteous tongue is especially important for believers to take to heart. It tells us that our speech as children of God should be ‘measured.’ It is only too easy to stray into verbal excess to go over the top, to exaggerate. Christian speech is measured speech. It is thoughtful, not hasty. Once the word is out, it is like toothpaste out of the tube, impossible to recall.”

“But there is something more: Christian speech is ‘appropriate’ speech. Many things are best not said. Circumstances, people’s personal or family situations, may well shout to us to hold our tongue. Some people embarrass easily and we need always to be asking ourselves, ‘is this necessary?’ Will it be kind? Will it be helpful? Silence is golden sometimes (see Eccles. 3:7). However, when we must speak, it is absolutely imperative that we learn the grace of appropriate speech.”

“Appropriate speech is at heart, speech that seeks to build up, not tare down. It is in the context of a warning against the potential destructive capacities of the tongue that James draws attention to ‘the wisdom that comes from above,’ (James 3:17).”

“That wisdom, in contrast with the wisdom of the flesh, is ‘first pure, then peaceable, GENTLE, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere,’ (verse 17). These are the spiritual graces that are to style and shape the content that flows from our lips. This is not an apologia for insipid or anodyne speech. Christians are called to reprove and rebuke one another. But it is an imbedded fact of nature, as well as a gospel grace, that reproofs and rebukes, are best received when they have been preceded by warm generous encouragements.” “Quantity is never a substitute for quality. Measured, thoughtful, appropriate speech is a sweet grace.” “Perhaps a few who read this might be thinking, Paul’s words in Galatians 1:6-10 were not very measured!”

“It was appropriate speech in the context! There were men in the church who were denying the sole-saving sufficiency of the Lord Jesus Christ, who were denying that we are justified by grace alone, in and through Christ alone. To all such the church has always said ‘Anathema.’ That is what the Bible calls “fitting speech.” Pgs. 121-124.

In his terrific book, “The Practice of Godliness,” Jerry Bridges says that, “Gentleness is an active trait, describing the manner in which we should treat others. Meekness is a passive trait, describing the proper Christian response when others mistreat us.”

“Both gentleness and meekness are born of power, not weakness. There is a pseudo-gentleness that is effeminate, and there is a pseudo-meekness that is cowardly. But a Christian is to be gentle and meek because these are Godlike virtues. Isaiah 40 is a chapter that describes both the power and the tenderness of God:

Isaiah 40:10 (NIV)
10 See, the Sovereign LORD comes with power….

Isaiah 40:15 (NIV)
15 Surely the nations are like a drop in a bucket; they are regarded as dust on the scales; he weighs the islands as though they were fine dust.

Isaiah 40:25-26 (NIV)
25 “To whom will you compare me? Or who is my equal?” says the Holy One.
26 Lift your eyes and look to the heavens: Who created all these? He who brings out the starry host one by one, and calls them each by name. Because of his great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing.”

“Tucked in the middle of this description of God’s power are these words:

Isaiah 40:11 (NIV)
11 He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young.

“The same passage that stresses the infiniteness of God’s power also beautifully portrays his gentleness. What better illustrates gentleness than a shepherd carrying his lambs close to his heart? Yet the Holy Spirit uses this word picture, framed with illustrations of sovereign power, to describe God. We should never be afraid, therefore, that the gentleness of the Spirit means weakness of character. It takes strength, God’s strength, to be truly gentle.” Pgs. 220,221.

“Paul appealed to the Corinthian Christians “By the meekness and gentleness of Christ,” (2 CORINTHIANS 10:1). “How does the New Testament describe the gentleness of Christ? A very familiar passage in Matthew provides a picture of Christ’s gentleness:

Matthew 11:28-29 (NIV)
28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.
29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.

“A profile of gentleness as it should appear in our lives will first include actively seeking to make others feel “at ease,” or “restful” in our presence. We should not be so strongly opinionated or dogmatic that others are afraid to express their opinions in our presence. Instead, we should be sensitive to others’ opinions and ideas.” Pg. 223

1 Peter 3:15 (NIV)
15 But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.jesus_the_good_shepherd

The Lord wants His followers to share the Gospel at every divinely ordained opportunity. However, as we have seen in today’s message, it’s imperative that we have cultivated “The Spirit of Gentleness.”

Lord willing, next week….

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September 1, 2013 Posted by Categories: Uncategorized 3 comments

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