Saturday, January 31, 2009

Gentleness

Avoid foolish and ignorant disputes, knowing they generate strife. And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all.
2 Timothy 2.23-24 (NKJV)

Forcing the Situation
I write this from my parents’ home, where I’ve spent the past few days. Last evening, I cooked dinner for the family: Mom, Dad, my brother and his two sons. My sister-in-law, true to form, had gone to stand by a friend in crisis. Had she been with us, perhaps this story would have ended differently. I laid out beef tenderloin and all kinds of fancy fixings. The kids looked at it and asked their grandmother for reheated chicken fingers and hash browns instead. While she rallied to meet their requests, I followed her into the kitchen and (not so subtly, I admit) implied she would have knocked us halfway into next week had my brother or I ever come to the table—especially as guests—and asked for something other than what we saw. “I get your point,” Mom said. “Now here’s mine: they’re kids—grand kids.” (Two words.)

This morning, I realize I pressed my case longer, harder than I should have. Truth be told, they are grand kids: smart, loving, and tender toward godly things. They’ve grown up with a gay uncle who’s spoiled them rotten. Why wouldn’t they assume they get what they want when I’m around? Did it cross my mind they’d prefer hamburgers? Yes. Did I think it crazy to imagine they’d get all excited about a roast? Yes. Did I anticipate a “foolish and ignorant dispute”? Yes. Were they wrong? Probably. Was I wrong? Definitely. I tried to force a situation, knowing it would likely generate strife. I got so wrapped up in proving a point I ignored what I already knew.

Knowing Your Audience
Knowing your audience is the crucial factor in successfully bearing gentleness, the second “useful” fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5.22-23). As Paul teaches Timothy, when we get entangled in foolish arguments and situations—in some cases, even going so far as to create them—we kill opportunities for gentleness to thrive. The suggestion is that merely entering into quarrels thwarts gentleness. “A servant of the Lord must be gentle to all,” Paul says. In today’s vernacular: “Everyone gets the kid-glove treatment.” And here’s why: as well as we know our audience, we can never fully know it. What’s tolerable to us may be insufferable them, and vice versa. Presumption never works to anyone’s advantage. “The brutal truth” may be true, but its brutality defuses its power; the truth gets lost in the pain. An argument that can’t be won gently can’t be won, regardless how much more correct one side is than the other.

Not on the List

Paul’s list of the Spirit’s fruits is interesting for what’s not on the list. To refresh, he itemizes the fruits of the Spirit as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Hmmm. Truth is not on the list. Righteousness is not on the list. Holiness is not on the list. Knowledge is not on the list. In other words, the Spirit doesn’t bear fruit that encourages us to exert authority over one another. They’re the fruits of our flesh—our personalities’ drive to prove we’re better, stronger, more correct, etc., etc., etc. That’s why Paul tells Timothy to avoid foolish and ignorant disputes that generate strife. That’s why gentleness is essential in all we do—a useful fruit that spreads the seeds of God’s Spirit. Proving we’re right usually ends in proving we lack wisdom and character. Gentleness sets aside proving we’re right so we can prove who we are—followers of Jesus, people who love God and our neighbors without condition, people who accept and forgive without the asking.


We'd do well to follow this fellow around, just to keep Peter's wisdom before us...

(Tomorrow: Self-Control)

6 comments:

Sherry Peyton said...

The perfect message at the perfect time. I am astounded how often the message is wasted because the messenger has such a terrible way of presentation. Anger, arrogance, self-righteousness all kill the message I find, yet so many are determined to speak in this manner. You have hit the nail on the perverbial head as they say. Lesson learned.

Mariah and Byron Edgington said...

Great perspective Tim. Thanks for your insights.

Kedda said...

You write: "An argument that can’t be won gently can’t be won, regardless how much more correct one side is than the other". I really agree with this. I also appreciate the list of what's NOT on the list of fruits of the Spirt. Thanks!

Tim said...

I couldn't agree more, Sherry. How many genuine messages of mercy, love, and kindness have been killed by arrogant, coarse delivery? I tend to think the manner belies the meaning--that a lot of these speakers reveal more of themselves than they intend...

Mariah/Byron, as always, such a great joy to hear from you!

Kedda, great to see you again, too. Yeah, as I was working on this post I had one of those "why isn't truth (etc.) a fruit?" moments. Sometimes, we can find more meaning in what the writers omit than what they say, and this sure seems to be the case here.

Thanks to all of you for commenting. I'm so eager to scoot back home (back to the cold Chicago clime and out of this Florida tepid warmth)--just so I can sit down in my own den with my own thoughts and spend lots of time with all of you at your places!

Blessings of joy, love, and all the other fruits!

Tim

Leonardo Ricardo said...

Wow. Fascinating ideas, nice balanced thinking but WOW!

I spent almost a lifetime dancing around, tip-toeing around, manipulating around sensitive issues...spiritual or not, ready or not, that´s what I thought was being ¨in the other persons shoes¨...trouble was that I wasn´t the other person...I didn´t know what they thought or didn´t think or acted upon or not...I assumed too much...I pretended too much...I sugared too much...and now, I suppose I spice too much but I can tell you that I´ve never been more at peace with myself as when I express myself from the front row of my life...I no longer lurk, I speak out, I have my say...my codependent behavior has fallen away...I´m the real thing and it´s clear often to others, and sometimes even to me when the REAL part of me, my truthful, deepdown personal REAL character needs work (repair work, often aided/done by God)...it´s my personal responsibility to be fully accountable to you, me and God.

Tim said...

"I've never been more at peace with myself as when I express myself from the front row of my life..."

Leonardo, WOW. Gentleness can't blossom without integrity, I think. We often confuse "tiptoeing" for gentleness, when in fact, it's timidity--and we just as often confuse denial as "discretion" or "tact," when in fact, we're just lying to ourselves and others around us.

You've struck a vital note here: none of the fruits of the Spirit will thrive without our remaining true and clear to ourselves. It's in working on the REAL us that we bear fruit. Otherwise, it's all cosmetic--window-dressing, feigned perfection, and wax fruit!

Gentleness shouldn't be hard on anyone--including ourselves. If we have to put up false fronts to be gentle, we're NOT being gentle; we're being foolish. A lot of times, the pointless disputes Paul warns against are internal--me arguing with me--and it's just as important that I be gentle with myself as with others, in service to God, others, and me.

But I can still be SPICY! That's certainly a gift God's given you, my beloved brother (and many others of us here are spicy, too). Gentleness with a nip is far more effective than gnawing doubt and denial!

Thanks, Leonardo, for adding so much candor and vivid life to this discussion! And, PS, even from the front row, y6ou are among the most gentle people I know. Blessings in all things to you.

Tim