Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The Gentleness of Wisdom

by Bruce Mills

Perhaps the most difficult book in the Bible to read and apply to one's life is the book of James. I say that, not because its language is difficult to understand or the issues it deals with are obscure and unfamiliar, but rather because it is a book which takes a verbal baseball bat and hits you right between the eyes with truth about matters that deal with daily life. In its brief five chapters, it deals with suffering and trials, discrimination and partiality, controlling our speech, interpersonal relationships, misuse of wealth, and the relationship of righteous behavior to our faith.

There are many verses in James which hit me very hard, but I don't know that any hit me any harder than James 3:13--"Who among you is wise and understanding? Let him show by his good behavior his deeds in the gentleness of wisdom." That last term, "the gentleness of wisdom," really jumps out at me. I admit that my greatest struggle in my Christian walk is with a lack of gentleness in how I approach others who are in need of correction or rebuke. In my effort to explain to them what they need to do to correct their situation, I am often harsh and insensitive. So James 3:13 just rips me apart.

Most people don't think of gentleness (or meekness, as the ESV translates it) as being connected to wisdom. Most people associate wisdom with the accumulation of a vast amount of information about a particular subject, but there is far more to wisdom than simply knowledge of facts and ideas.

The person who is truly wise has both expert, professional knowledge and practical moral insight based on an understanding of God's character and will. And one of the attributes of God's character which was so visibly demonstrated in the person of Christ is gentleness.

Today people tend to associate the word “gentleness” with being a jellyfish—something spineless and spiritless. In James’ day, however, quite the opposite was true. Back then, gentleness meant bringing a high-spirited horse under control. The spirit and strength of the horse weren’t lost, simply harnessed. So gentleness referred to strength under control.

Gentleness also referred to a brilliant teacher who could debate others without getting angry, or a soothing medicine that brought comfort to a painful wound.

So then, the qualifications for being wise have nothing to do with one's IQ or ability to pack away facts or one's impressive eloquence. The test of wisdom is a life that is patterned after the truth and is under control.

Gentleness and wisdom are linked together by genuine salvation. Only a believer can display this kind of gentleness, as he or she becomes more and more like Christ. This means that the wisdom James is encouraging us to seek is available ONLY to believers. We cannot expect our unbelieving friends and family members to have the kind of wisdom James is talking about.

Gentleness is a God-honored character trait which is never bitter, malicious, self-seeking, self-promoting, arrogant, or vengeful. The gentle person does not feel the need to contend for the recognition of his rights or acceptance of his personal views. Rather, his life will be characterized by modesty and unobtrusiveness.

The apostle Paul described how this balance between wisdom and gentleness works out in our evangelism in his instruction to Timothy where he said that, "The Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth" (2 Timothy 2:24-25).

Gentleness is a key component, then, in refuting the error of others and leading them to the truth of the Gospel. That does not mean we avoid such issues as the holy justice of God, the awfulness of their sin, and the need for repentance. But it does mean that the wise believer presents the truth of the Gospel in a way which challenges the thinking of his listener but does not offend with harsh words or angry tones.

And gentleness also needs to be a characteristic of how we deal with fellow believers who are in need of our counsel and advice on a day-to-day basis. If we wish to be truly wise and God-honoring in how we deal with others, we need to make sure that gentleness pervades all we say and do. Even when our message is hard to receive, it must be communicated with an attitude of gentleness and compassion for the other person. I admit that I am struggling with this, but I plan to keep on working at becoming more obedient to James' instruction in this verse. I pray that God will convict you of this truth as He has and is convicting me.

1 comment:

Blessed said...

These comments affirm the one I left on your post "I Will Build My Church. If we expect our fellow believers to listen to us, much less nonbelievers, we must learn gentleness, compassion, and patience. It is vital to our Christian walk, and may be the only real "Jesus" that some people ever get to see. Otherwise, our words are a mere "noisy gong, or a clanging cymbal." I Cor. 13:1 Love is more than spreading the message of salvation; it is living out that love in our daily lives in all of our relationships, to both believers and unbelievers as a way of showing our obedience to God and our love for His Sacrifice. People will not respone to mere words; they need to see compassion and gentleness in order to believe there in genuine meaning behind those words.