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9. GENTLENESS: What Does it Mean to be a Mature Christian Disciple?

GENTLENESS: What Does it Mean to be a Mature Christian Disciple?

By Ted Schroder,
September 3, 2017

The mature Christian disciple is gentle towards others. Jesus said, "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" (Matt 11:29). Gentleness is the quality of thoughtful consideration for others, a sensitivity to their needs. The word can also be translated 'meek' (KJV). "Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth" (Matt 5:8). It does not mean weak. It is strength under the control of the Spirit, like a champion horse that is guided by the bit in its soft mouth. Gentleness is power harnessed to the purpose of helping others.

Jesus said, "Take my yoke upon you and learn from me..." We are to take his yoke, his harness upon us and be guided in the direction he wants us to go and to be the person he wants for us to become. How do we learn from him how to be gentle?

We see it in his relationship with children. "People were bringing little children to Jesus t have him touch them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this he was indignant. He said to them, 'Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these....And he took the children in his arms, put his hands on them and blessed them" (Mark 10:13-16). It is the most natural and loving thing to pick up a baby or little child. Yet in the ancient world, and up to relatively recently children were of no account. Before Dr. Spock they were expected not to intrude. They were not the center of attention. They became valuable only when they began to be productive and handle adult jobs. Jesus gave them special attention and commended their childlike trustfulness as necessary for entering the kingdom of God.

It is most natural for us to be gentle with our children because we are aware of their fragility, their ignorance, and our need to protect them and care for them. When the rate of infant mortality was high the expectation of a child surviving to adulthood was low. Parents knew they had to be gentle and protective with them if they wanted them to mature. This gentle attitude towards children is also applied to adults.

St. Paul, describes his ministry in similar terms. "We were gentle among you, like a mother caring for her little children. We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God, but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us" (1 Thess 2:7-8). The role of the pastor and teacher is like that of a mother caring for little children: feeding them, correcting them, loving them, clothing them, and protecting them. "Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth" (2 Tim 2:25). Parenting requires gentleness not harshness. "Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord" (Eph. 6:4).

Jesus responded to the needs of those who came to him for healing with gentleness. When Jairus fell at his feet and pleaded with him to come to his little daughter, who was dying, so that she might be healed and live, Jesus went with him. They were slowed down by the large crowd and the needs of another woman who sought to be healed. Despite the urgent condition of the little daughter he took time to minister to the woman who had suffered for twelve years. While this was going on some men came from Jairus's house and told him that his daughter was dead and not to bother Jesus any more. Ignoring what they said, Jesus told Jairus, "Don't be afraid, just believe." Despite the commotion of the mourners crying and wailing loudly Jesus went ahead into the house. They laughed at him when he asserted that she was not dead but asleep. He put them all out and took Jairus and his wife and the disciples and went in where the child was. He gently took her hand and said to her, "Little girl, I say to you, get up!" "Immediately the girl stood up and walked around (she was twelve years old). ...He gave strict orders not to let anyone know about this, and told them to give her something to eat." (Mark 5:22-43). He was gentle with her and his gentleness extended to making sure that she received physical nourishment. He was like a mother caring for her little children. He was practical in protecting her from all the commotion outside so that she might have quiet and have time to recover from her illness.

Jesus responded to the needs of those who were bereaved and those who died with gentleness. He gently ministered to Martha and Mary when their brother Lazarus died. "When Jesus saw Mary weeping, and the others who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. 'Where have you laid him?' he asked. 'Come and see, Lord,' they replied. Jesus wept. Then they said, 'See how he loved him'" (John 11:33-36). He gently comforted them before he raised Lazarus from the dead.

Gentleness is necessary for those we love during the process of dying and bereavement. Just as gentleness is needed at the beginning of life with babies and little children, so it is also necessary at the end of this life with the terminally ill. Whether it be at the hospital, in a hospice setting or at home, the dying need our gentleness, our thoughtful consideration, our sensitivity to their needs. It is a time when other priorities have to be put aside in order for us to be present for those we love. Just as the fragile baby needs us, or the frail loved one with Alzheimer's or other disabilities, so too the dying need our understanding and gentleness. They take precedence over other concerns.

Robertson McQuilken resigned as president of Columbia Bible College realizing that he needed to focus his attention on caring for his wife, Muriel, who suffered from early onset Alzheimer's disease. He wrote this letter to the college constituency.

Recently it has become apparent that Muriel is contented most of the time she is with me and almost none of the time I am away from her. It is not just "discontent." She is filled with fear -- even terror -- that she has lost me and always goes in search of me when I leave home. So it is clear to me that she needs me now, full-time. The decision was made, in a way, forty-two years ago when I promised to care for Muriel "in sickness and in health...till death do us part." So, as I told the students and faculty, as a man of my word, integrity has something to do with it. But so does fairness. She has cared for me fully and sacrificially all these years; if I cared for her the next forty years I would not be out of her debt.

Duty, however, can be grim and stoic. But there is more: I love Muriel. She is a delight to me -- her childlike dependence and confidence in me, her warm love, occasional flashed of that wit I used to relish so, her happy spirit and tough resilience in the face of her continual distressing frustration. I don't have to care for her, I get to! It is a high honor to care for so wonderful a person.

Gentleness is the fruit of the Spirit of Christ, learned from him. It is the quality that manifests itself when we care for those we love, whatever their condition. There can be no indifference, neither callousness nor cruelty, when we come under the yoke of Christ and learn from him how to care for those we love, those who need our care. When someone becomes dear to us we want to be gentle to them. Their need in a harsh and selfish world, draws out of us our capacity for gentleness.

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