Reflections on Life
By Melvin Arrington
As Christians, we are called to evangelize. Clearly, that’s our primary responsibility. But how do we go about doing it in a world in which things of the spirit are regularly given short shrift? Specifically, when people question our faith, how are we to answer them?
Fortunately, the Scriptures offer sufficient guidance on this question. I Peter 3:15-16 says we should always be ready to respond when our beliefs are challenged, but we must do it “with gentleness and reverence.” No one ever leads souls to Christ by beating them over the head with the truth because, as Proverbs 15:1 tells us, “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”
Not surprisingly, we ought also to exhibit gentleness in our dealings with fellow believers (Ephesians 4:1-2). In II Timothy 2:24 we find essentially the same teaching: Christians “should not quarrel, but should be gentle with everyone.”
As I look back, I can recall, with sadness, more than one occasion when my conduct did not exemplify the qualities embodied in the eighth Fruit of the Spirit. I’m sure if we reflect long enough, we can all remember times in our lives when our behavior merited punishment, but instead of giving us what we deserved, God was lenient with us. He has certainly gone easy on me. So, if He treats me tenderly and with compassion, I should, therefore, do likewise in my relations with others.
My grandmother was someone who, to paraphrase Philippians 4:5, made her gentleness known to everyone. Some of my happiest childhood memories revolve around my grandparents, who often took care of me when my parents were working. My grandfather was strong, outspoken, and quite a jokester. But my sweet grandmother was, in many ways, the total opposite with regard to her personality. Low key and reserved, she nevertheless always enjoyed a good laugh. She was calm, patient, and kind, and her faith was strong. In short, she was the epitome of gentleness. I never heard her raise her voice or speak a harsh word. The way my grandmother lived her life had a deep and lasting impact on me. If you were to ask me what authentic gentleness looks like, I would say it looks like my grandmother.
But the best model for all of us to imitate is always Jesus. He not only preached kindness, meekness, and humility; He also practiced these qualities. I’m reminded of some of the old hymns that speak of Jesus in these terms, hymns such as “Pass me not o gentle Savior,” “Softly and tenderly Jesus is calling,” and especially the second verse of “In the Garden:” “He speaks and the sound of His voice is so sweet the birds hush their singing.”
Consider how our Lord dealt with the woman caught in adultery. Unlike her accusers, who were ready to stone her, Jesus employed milder tactics. He could have condemned her, but instead He was merciful, telling her to go on her way and not to sin again. Also notice how He treated His oppressors. Rather than striking them down, He forgave them, even from the cross. If we want to be more like Jesus, we need to follow his advice in Matthew 11:29: “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.”
Now, where and when do we see these Christ-like characteristics on display nowadays in our modern, materialistic society? Well, frankly, we don’t, at least not very often. Examples abound for sure, but they’re typically found in those places where works of charity and kindness are performed quietly, without fanfare, and without recognition or reward. People who do good works for the right reasons don’t seek headlines.
As a consequence, the soft approach is just not that visible these days, at least not on our TV screens. Instead, we see images that are shocking and disturbing to us. For some reason, the actions of the meanest, loudest, and harshest, those behaviors that expose our baser instincts, seem to garner the majority of the airtime. Think of all the violent street confrontations that have plagued our land over the past year – physical assaults, rioting, looting, shouting matches, taunting, not to mention the armed mob storming the Capitol building. Are the ones who engage in these kinds of activities happy? Do they have love in their hearts for others? If they do, I don’t see any signs of it.
As Christians, we have been trained to clothe ourselves with gentleness in our relations with others (Colossians 3:12) and “to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show every courtesy to everyone.” (Titus 3:2) Many today would find this laughable, but in reality it’s the only worthwhile formula for anyone who wants to lead a happy life and find inner peace.
In the Beatitudes Jesus taught, “blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the land.” (Matthew 5:5) Whenever I read this verse, I hark back to a former colleague who used to attach various cartoons and humorous sayings to his office door. One of his postings was a little card that simply read: “the meek don’t want it.” That’s a truthful statement because the meek and humble, those who try to pattern their lives after Christ, have no real interest in earthly possessions. They “don’t want it” because their eyes are focused on their heavenly reward.
Since we all want to gain the Heavenly Kingdom, here are some questions worth pondering: How do I conduct my life? Am I doing my part to heal wounds and promote unity? Do others view me as meek, humble, and gentle? If not, how can I possibly be effective in the work of evangelization? It all boils down to this: Do others see Christ in me as I go about my daily life? If they don’t, please have mercy, o Lord, and grant me the grace that I might at least be a little more like you every day.
(Melvin Arrington is a Professor Emeritus of Modern Languages for the University of Mississippi and a member of St. John Oxford.)