We will never know what it is like to live in a society where someone can seem to act wrongly and not have it become lifted out of context and made a matter of public knowledge and scrutiny almost immediately. As I type much is being made regarding a confrontation in D. C. between teenagers and a Native American. Many will be the theories about what did and did not happen. It is not here the facts of the event that concern me, but the response given to it.
The whole matter makes me think that it is worthwhile to post a mildly edited portion of a sermon I preached in December on Philippians 4:4-9.
Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. (Philippians 4:5)
Something about Christians, is to be so well known to everyone that it is second nature to think of them in this way. Christians are to be known as ‘reasonable’ ones.
This does not mean ‘rational’ or ‘given to deep logical arguments.’ Rather, to be known as reasonable in this way is to be known as the one who is gentle and who shows mercy in verbal interactions. To be reasonable is to give others the benefit of the doubt. It is to not insist on our own rights or even our own rightness, but tempering our self-interest and our own causes for the sake of others. Paul is concerned with how we are known, for how WE are known will be how JESUS is known.
However, in this American moment, it is too often not our reasonableness that is known to all but our anger and our intolerance. And that should grieve us.
Paul, no stranger to controversy, instructed his protege Timothy to be reasonable. He, and we, are to be known as those who are
…kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting…opponents with gentleness. (2 Timothy 2:23-25)
Such may appear to some as a wimpy Christianity. If it is, so be it. It is this to which we are called: to patiently endure evil, and when necessary, correct it – but always with gentleness, with reasonableness.
As Christians we give up our right to win an argument with the hope of winning a person. We embrace what appears to be weakness because that is the way of the cross. We temper that zealous, argumentative streak in us with gentleness, that all might see we serve a reasonable, merciful savior.
Be zealous, yes. Be deeply committed to Jesus. As Peter reminds us,
…in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you;
But how you manage that zeal matters:
…yet do it with gentleness and respect. (2 Peter 3:15)
From whom are we taking our cues? Every time I’m tempted to call someone in idiot or worse, I wonder about that. Are we taking our cues from our movies? From our sports figures? Perhaps from our President? It is well known that in response to some issue, he is prone to attack the person and not the issue, to call someone stupid or weak, or dumb as a rock.
He will be what he is. But Christian, be what you are. You are a follower of Jesus Christ.
Our interactions must be tempered by the stunning truth that the Lord who is near is coming to take us to be with him, we who were his enemies, who were perhaps zealous against him. He has loved us and given himself for us nonetheless. He looked upon us as people worthy of kindness. How can we do less for others?
If we are to reflect him, as we must, then we must let others see him in our reasonableness. We are not to let our cleverness be known to all, or our rhetorical wizardry, but our reasonableness.
Consider therefore before you speak, before you post, before you send,
- Does this build up?
- Does this need to be said?
- Does this communicate a proper reasonableness? Gentleness?
- Am I speaking what is aimed to help others, or to simply exalt my own standing in my tribe or in my heart?
The Lord’s nearness gives us hearts that are tolerant, hearts willing to let gentleness temper our zeal, for the sake of Christ and his kingdom.
Lest any think that by this I am positioning myself to throw stones, I should say that I intended this to be edited and posted long before current events hit our devices. I post it because I see the tendency of my own heart to demand my rights and argue my cases and exercise my zeal and to do so with innocent restaurant servers and unsuspecting grocery store clerks. If stones are being thrown, I am feeling their sting. May we all.
I don’t know about your opening line” “We will never know . . .” —Hasn’t that been the case in the past, especially prior to social media? But be that as it may. . . .
I love your expressed sentiments . . . AND . . . I wonder how and when and where the gentleness and kindness must, eventually, “even with tears,” give way to hard (difficult . . . but, also, often perceived-as, let’s say, harsh) judgment/discernment/decision: “No! That is WRONG! Yes! I WILL oppose you!”?
And I ask the question WITHOUT REFERENCE to the issue you happened to use by way of illustration in your post. I refer, instead, to such things as, say,
* the massive, socially-accepted abuse of blacks throughout American society that, only FINALLY resulted in the kinds of civil disobedience that came to town in the 1950s and ‘60s (but that led my grandmother—not a hint of racism in her mind, of which I could discern—who was distressed by MLK’s “pushing” for change and upsetting society); or
* the theological liberalism that, only FINALLY led—not to the censure of those who were abandoning the historic teachings of the church, but, instead, to the censure of those who sought to uphold those teachings (I think of the history well-summarized in Gary North’s Crossed Fingers: How the Liberals Captured the Presbyterian Church—available for free at http://www.garynorth.com/freebooks/docs/243a_47e.htm); or
* the sexual depredations that only FINALLY resulted in #MeToo (or, more recently, #OutThem; https://www.scarymommy.com/kristina-kuzmic-outthem/). . . .
Notice, in each of the three cases I have “happened” to reference, the persons who are “calling out” the evil often, themselves, are censured for their “lack of kindness.” . . .
As to the first line, I mean literally that we will never experience that. We will never go back to a time to experience a reality in which viral videos and such do not exist. And yes, you are right. Our best attempts at civility will be often misunderstood. So be it. Be civil anyway. I’m grateful for you counterbalancing my post with the reality that there are times to speak regardless of how our speech is taken. Hard words, I think, can and ought to be spoken with such respect that honors the humanity of those on the other side. The call to reasonableness is not a call to silence. It is a call to temper zeal with gentleness.
Well put. THANKS! 🙂