Updated: Jan 5, 2022
I’ve noticed that Christians fight a lot more than we used to. We fight with each other, fight the world, fight the government. Christian Nationalism is on the rise.
There are many definitions of Christian Nationalism, but I like the way Christianity Today puts it: “the belief that the American nation is defined by Christianity, and that the government should take active steps to keep it that way.”
We like to use verses like, “Fight the good fight of faith,” yet we don’t realize the believer is called to be GENTLE in literally the sentence before it:
But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses.
Maybe we’ve got this fighting metaphor all wrong. In the Bible, gentleness is one of the central attributes of living the Christian life. In the greek (the original language of the new testament) there are two greek words that are both translated as “gentle” – πραΰς (praus) and ἤπιος (épios). Sometimes translated as humility, or mildness, the term was a needed reminder in the context of a violent and aggressive culture that the believer didn’t need to act like the world. The Christian way of gentleness was the polar opposite of force and aggression.
January 6th was worldliness on display – the opposite of Biblical Christianity – yet many who call themselves believers carried crosses, read Bible verses, and claimed Jesus as their savior. January 6th was not just a dark day for democracy, but for Christianity in the United States.
Perhaps this was because gentleness gets a bum rap from the modern evangelical church. It’s a Christian virtue we don’t talk about much. We find it distracting, embarrassing, or at the very least archaic and outdated. Kind of like how a teenager feels about their mom. You’re glad she’s there. You love her and everything, but you're a little worried Mom may cramp your style – “Mom, don’t talk to me in public.”
As a result, we begrudgingly admit gentleness is part of being a Christian, but quickly add a caveat about God‘s strength.
The 21st century Christian is into power, assertiveness, and strength. We Christians are tired of being pushed around by the world. And by gum, it’s time for us to push back in the name of Jesus! Right? I mean, Jesus flipped tables, didn’t he?
Here’s the problem: In order for this philosophy of Christian power to endure, you must ignore the heart of the Bible.
Jesus refers to himself as gentle in his invitation to us to follow him:
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 (Matthew 11:29).
Timothy, a pastor, is told to pursue gentleness (1 Timothy 6:11); We’re told to put on gentleness (Colossians 3:12); Followers of Jesus are to emulate his gentleness, it’s one of the fruits of the spirit listed in Galatians. Fruit of the Spirit is proof or evidence of a life moved and changed by the Holy Spirit of God. In other words, they’re the attributes of a Christian.
Still, gentleness doesn’t match the modern Christian subculture.
Gentleness is also ignored because it doesn’t match society’s value of immediate action and gratification. Restraint, quietness, patience, humility, listening — all of these virtues are essential, but they are largely devalued these days.
This is especially true in our use of social media. Sometimes gentleness requires inaction, waiting, or quietness. As a society, even as a Christian society, we value instant results – movement, response, decision – these are admired by the church today. Even the wrong decision is valued over waiting and thinking.
Gentleness just doesn’t cut it.
David killing Goliath; Samson slaying an army of Philistines with the jawbone of a donkey; Elisha calling for a bear attack on some young men for calling him names – this is the kind of ass-kicking examples from the Bible that evangelicals are drawn to.
If I’m gentle, I might be taken advantage of. Or I might be seen as weak. How can I defend my individual, God-given rights if I’m gentle?
The answer is, you can’t.
If I’m gentle, I might be misunderstood. If I’m gentle, I might lose. Both of these statement are true. What’s more, the Christian is called to be the servant of all.
No, you don’t hear that a lot from Christians today, and maybe that’s why evangelical Christianity is in decline. For all their apologetic and reasonable answers and arguments, they just look like the rest of the world. They’re not willing to be like Jesus. They’re not willing to lose.
Paul calls on the Philippians for their gentleness to be evident to all:
Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. (Philippians 4:4-5)
It’s significant that Paul has this attribute standing alone. It highlights it. Punctuates it. Gentleness is a foundational fruit of the spirit in Galatians, but here Paul wants it to be THE attribute that is a witness to the world.
The Example of Jesus
From that passage and others, it sounds like gentleness is somehow key to exemplify Christ. There seems to be an urgency that the Lord is near. “He’s coming back soon, so quit messing around! Be sure to be gentle! Don’t be like the world,” Paul says.
Jesus’s ultimate example of gentleness is when he died on the cross.
...each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.
He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth (Isaiah 53:6b-7)
A week before his crucifixion, Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey.
“Say to Daughter Zion,
‘See, your king comes to you,
gentle and riding on a donkey,
and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’” (Matthew 21:5)
A donkey was an interesting choice. Jesus didn’t choose to ride in on a warhorse, because he was displaying his gentleness as an already reigning king. He wasn’t coming to conquer anyone or anything because he knew who he was, the King of the Jews, and in a larger sense, the King of Kings.
Because we know who we are -- the children of God -- we can afford to be gentle. We don’t need to react, demand, fear, or coerce in the name of Jesus. We just need to love with gentleness. We already have the power, and thanks to Jesus, the fight is already won.