Why is it difficult to cultivate gentleness? Gentleness does not thrive in the kingdoms of this world. There are too many aggressive plants and pests that choke out the growth of the fruit of the Spirit that is gentleness.
Our culture encourages aggression, ambition, and survival. The dominant culture of our age exalts strength and power. Our heroes have always been cowboys even the ones that are gun-wielding cyborgs or razor-clawed super-heroes. Toby Keith sings that the American way has something to do with a boot. This is not new: one of our nations earliest flags was an image of a rattlesnake with the words Dont Tread On Me written beneath.
We breathe in the air of this culture. For all the Christians that oppose Evolution I am amazed at how many still accept Darwins theory of survival of the fittest. Not in biological terms, but in social terms. We accept that this is a dog eat dog society and the early bird gets the worm and we accept that we need to have a competitive edge and get the advantage. We overlook poverty and oppression by claiming that everyone has equal opportunity. But thats not Jesus; thats Darwin.
We may even resort to ridicule and verbal attack to overcome those we perceive as threats. And even in subtle ways we may use sarcasm and gossip to undermine those we do not trust. We may even hold out violence as an option. And we may justify it by calling it self-protection. This is not gentleness. This isnt the upside-down kingdom. But, like me, you find the alternative to self-protection unsettling because it seems like weakness and that is difficult because ...
Our culture disdains weakness. Jesus said that if anyone strikes you on the right side of your face, let him hit you on the left side too. If someone sues you and takes your coat, give her your sweater too. If they force you to carry a load one mile, give them two. I so want this teaching to be exaggeration. I try to find ways to say Well Jesus didnt mean . . . Yet, given what I see in the upside-down kingdom, I think Jesus did mean what he said. What I have come to realize is that this is a hard saying for people who consider power, influence, and ambition as virtues. Weakness and humility are virtues for wimps in our culture. I dont want to be a wimp. But if we are all honest we are weak in some way if not many ways. And gentleness is not wimpy-ness in the upside-down kingdom . . . God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are. (1 Corinthians 1:28-29).
Ways to Cultivate Gentleness. God chose us. He called us to live in ways that show the world what God intends for all of us. It may seem like foolishness, but Gods foolishness is wiser than the wisdom of this age. Gods foolishness in the cross is the power of God to save the world. So let us be resolved to cultivate gentleness not only in our personal character, but in our life together and so become a light to the nations.
The fruit of the Spirit are manifestations of love. It is the same with gentleness. Gentleness is not a character flaw, rather it is a quality of love being actively directed toward others. Think of God in all of his infinite power yet he cares for the little birds that are so humble and common. Think of Jesus who stood resolved before the mob that wanted to stone the adulterous woman, and how he graciously forgave her yet seriously urged her to sin no more. Jesus had no concern for himself but only for the woman and the misled mob. As you will see in these ways of cultivating gentleness, they are directed outward in love toward others and they call on us to be gentle.
Lets Learn to yield graciously. Have you ever won a fight with someone who wont fight back? How can you? As Christians we are going to have conflicts with others and even with one another. Having a conflict is neither bad nor good, but how we handle them can be. Our culture motivates us to win the conflict and be competitive. Now gentleness is not the same thing as letting everyone else win. In fact, gentleness doesnt even consider winning and losing in the equation. Rather gentleness leaves all things to God. In the upside-down kingdom, we have the strength to be wrong and the privilege of deferring to others.
Life in the upside-down kingdom also calls on us to Reverse our notions of power and control. It is ingrained in us to go to the authorities in order to get our way. If we cannot be in power then we want people who listen to us to be in power. Even in church life we create hierarchies of power and control. But elders, deacons, and ministers are not in charge in the church not the way the world understands in charge. The church is a monarchy there is a living king who rules. He share his power with all of us and those who are in charge are those who have a charge to keep. They are servants. The greatest in the upside-down kingdom is the least. The weak and the ill, the needy and the poor are those who are most exalted and served in the upside down kingdom. When Jesus washed the feet of his disciples he asked them, Do you understand what I am doing? In the upside down kingdom we do not lord it over one another we serve one another.
Finally, the best way to cultivate gentleness is to humble ourselves before God. Let us Bend our knees, bow our heads and pray. Let us pray for our enemies. Jesus called us to do this not just for their sake, but for our sake. We may pray for our enemies for their whole lives and they dont change at all in fact they get worse. But think of how this discipline of gentleness transforms us!
And let us pray for ourselves and when we do lets remember our place before God. Read Luke 18:9-14.
Be gentle and let God lift you up! All who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted. Thats the way it is in the upside-down kingdom!
Link to next sermon
Link to other sermons of Chris Benjamin