We do not normally associate ‘fighting’ with ‘gentleness’ but surprisingly Scripture does just this. The association can be found in 1 Timothy 6:11-12: ‘pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, gentleness. Fight the good fight of faith…’
The conjunction of gentleness with fighting is even more arresting when we remember that Paul’s original manuscript would have contained no punctuation!
Another place where the concepts of gentleness and warfare are linked is 2 Corinthians 10:1-8. Paul entreats his readers ‘by the meekness and gentleness of Christ’ and yet declares (in relation to his critics):
‘For the weapons of our warfare are … mighty through God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ’.
Is it possible?
But is it possible to ‘fight gently’? The very idea seems self-contradictory. Some may question my exegesis, pointing out that Paul is dealing here both with the generality of believers at Corinth and with a faction that denied his apostolic authority. Perhaps he is being gentle towards the former but warlike and punitive towards the latter.
There is some truth in this, but it oversimplifies the passage. For Paul warns the whole church when he counsels (v. 2): ‘I beg you that when [I come] … I may not [have to] be bold’, meaning combative and censorious.
As he seeks to reflect the character of Christ, the apostle desires to be gentle with all these erring believers, even though he must fight their carnality and error and, if necessary, punish them with words. This is true whether their fault lies in neglecting their responsibilities, reneging on their promise to collect money for the Judean churches, or opposing his own authority.
Elsewhere, he exhorts: ‘Let your gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand [near]’ (Philippians 4:5). Concerning those who fall, he tells us to ‘restore such a person in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted’ (Galatians 6:1).
This has applications today. Hardly a week passes without reports of some conflict or other between or among professing Christians. In some cases, of course, the battle is with those who ‘preach another gospel’ and deny the truth of biblical Christianity.
But in others, sadly, disputes arise between true believers, whether over doctrine, moral issues, or personalities, actions or words. Sometimes confrontation occurs legitimately in the area of church discipline.
Such conflicts are inevitable as long as we are ‘in the flesh’ and have to contend with the wiles of the devil, who delights to sow discord among God’s people. But how shall we deal with these situations?
Boldly but gently, replies the apostle – by using spiritual weapons rather than those found in the armoury of human nature. ‘For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds…’ (v. 4).
Here lies the secret of ‘fighting gently’. But what are these spiritual weapons?
We could turn to the obvious passage in Ephesians 6:10-20 which delineates the ‘whole armour of God’. But other Scriptures also describe spiritual weaponry, including Galatians 5:22-23. We read there of spiritual fruit rather than spiritual armaments, but in reality they are the same thing.
For love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control are powerful resources for our spiritual warfare. Notice how each fruit of the Spirit concerns not so much our inner experience, but rather the way we interact with others.
Thus in any conflict, carnal aggression is replaced by spiritual love; discouragement by joy; threats by a peaceable spirit; rashness by patience; cruelty by kindness; evil intent by goodness; treachery by faithfulness; harshness by gentleness; and anger by self-control.
Invective is replaced by prayer, pride is abased by humility, and arguments are won not by shouting matches but as we reason from the Scriptures (v. 5). Above all, the Saviour himself is so central to our argumentation that ‘every thought [is brought] into captivity to the obedience of Christ’.
That is how Christians ought to fight, for the battle is the Lord’s.