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The gentleness of Christ

February 1998 | by Edgar Andrews

Paul writing an epistle, by Valentin de Boulogne 1619
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In 2 Corinthians 10:1, Paul speaks of his attitude towards his readers. ‘Now I, Paul, am pleading with you by the meekness and gentleness of Christ,’ he declares. The apostle has been reasoning with them and exhorting them, particularly in connection with gifts they had promised over a year ago for the needy churches in Judaea. He has had to remind them of promises they had not kept, and willing obligations they had not fulfilled. He could have used a tone of censure, and spoken in stern rebuke. After all, they had severely embarrassed Paul. He had boasted of their promise to other churches, who had carried out what the Corinthians themselves had failed to do. Where did that leave the apostle in the estimation of those churches?

But Paul does not condemn them. Instead, he pleads with them in humble and gentle terms. He gently reminds them of their undertaking and proceeds to put in place all that is necessary to assist them to fulfil their promises. He is gentle and patient with these less-than-ideal Christians; so much so, in fact, that he identifies his own attitude with the ‘meekness and gentleness of Christ’.

What we learn about Paul

In using these terms, Paul tells us something about himself; namely, that it is his desire to be a follower of Christ. Not just in the sense of bearing the name of Christ and being known as a Christian, but in the sense of being an imitator of Christ. Ephesians 4:32 says, ‘Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ also forgave you.’ Why should we do that? Why should we have attitudes of kindness and gentleness towards one another, and in particular towards our fellow believers? Because Christ himself exhibited those attributes. Therefore, reasons Paul, we should be ‘followers of God like dear children’ (Ephesians 4:32 – 5:2). Elsewhere he says, ‘Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ’ (1 Corinthians 11:1). Paul is saying that he seeks always to be led by the Spirit of Christ, adopting the attitudes that Christ would exhibit in any situation, and towards any individual or group.

Here is a lesson for us, that in all our dealings we should seek to be imitators of Christ. Because we are sinners we shall never fully reproduce the life of Christ in our own dealings with others. But there should be a constant desire and striving to do so. We should always ask what the Lord Jesus would do or say, or how he would react in a given situation, and seek to do the same. We cannot accomplish this in our own strength, of course. But if we are believers, we can do it in the power of the indwelling Spirit of Christ, who strengthens us ‘with might … in the inner man’ (Ephesians 3:16). It is he who gives us the desires and motivations to imitate Christ and who, in large measure, enables us to do so.

What we learn about Christ

Paul’s statement not only tells us something about himself, it also tells us something about the Lord Jesus Christ. ‘I am doing this’, says the apostle, ‘in the “meekness and gentleness of Christ”.’ He is telling us that Christ is meek and gentle in his dealings with sinners and needy people. This is an aspect of the gospel we need to remember more often. The meekness of Christ can be misunderstood. The old children’s hymn that began ‘Gentle Jesus meek and mild’ is not a fair portrayal of the character of Jesus Christ. Remember, he could also be angry at the hardness of heart of those around him, and furious with the money-changers in the temple who defiled his Father’s house. He could be strong and angry; but towards needy sinners he was gentle and meek.

Think of the invitation he offers in Matthew 11:28-30: ‘Come to me, all you that labour and are heavy laden and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn of me, for I am meek and lowly of heart and you shall find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.’ Why should Jesus Christ, who is Lord of the universe and upholds all things by the word of his power, condescend to sinful creatures like ourselves? Why should he demean himself to be meek and gentle towards us? We need it, of course, but why should he treat us so? An illustration might help us understand. Think of an injured bird lying on the ground: treat it with gentleness, because it is almost dead; rough handling will kill it, delicate, needy, desperate, as it is. So it is with us. We are in a desperate spiritual condition. We are dying. Indeed, we are already dead before God. We need to be handled gently, graciously, kindly. The Lord Jesus does just that.

Bruised reeds and smoking flax

Consider another Scripture, Isaiah 42. One of the foremost Messianic passages, this prophecy speaks of Christ in the following terms: ‘I will give you as a covenant to the people, as a light to the Gentiles; to open blind eyes, to bring out prisoners from prison’ (verses. 6-7). We know that this passage concerns Christ, and when he says ‘Behold my servant’, we know that the Father is speaking of Jesus (42:1). What, then, are the characteristics of the Christ, the servant of the Lord? We are told in the verses which follow. ‘He will not cry out nor raise his voice nor cause his voice to be heard in the street. A bruised reed he will not break and smoking flax he will not quench’ (vv. 2-3). The ‘reed’ referred to probably denotes a writing implement, a reed cut and sharpened to a point so that it could be used as a pen. But being nothing more than a reed, it was easily bent, and what would you do with a broken pen? It is only a reed, and there are plenty more where it came from. There is no value in a bruised reed – so break it and throw it away! Similarly, smoking flax refers to the wick of an oil lamp. It normally burned with a clear flame, but occasionally it would begin to smoke. What do you do with a smoky wick? Pull it out, throw it away, and get a new one. But Jesus will not break the bruised reed or quench the smoking flax. Things that would be discarded by man, the Saviour seeks to repair.

He does not discard us as the sinners that we are. How easy and proper it would be for almighty God to look upon sinners such as you and me and pronounce us useless, beyond redemption, and fit only to be cast away. God could have done that with the entire human race and made a new start, but he did not choose to do so. In the gentleness and kindness of Christ, he has taken bruised reeds and smoking flax and has restored them to their former state. That is simply a picture of the way God in Christ deals with sinners in mercy and grace. He would be utterly justified in discarding us, condemning us to a lost eternity, and excluding us for ever from his presence; but in meekness and gentleness he has not done that.

Indeed, he has gone far beyond the act of preservation pictured by the reed and the flax. He has, instead, performed an act of transformation. He has sent his Son into this world to redeem sinners who were bound for the scrap heap of eternity. How amazing is the gentleness of Christ, and the kindness and humility of God, as he deals with sinners in this gracious way.

Let us, then, accept his invitation, for he says, ‘Come to me, all you that labour and are heavy laden and I will give you rest.’ It is Christ in his gentleness who calls us; Christ in his mercy who invites us. Let us come, therefore, and take upon ourselves that yoke which pictures union with him. It is a yoke that brings rest not labour, peace not conflict, fellowship with Christ and reconciliation with a holy God. And it is also a yoke which constrains us to treat others as Christ has treated us! Such things as anger, bitterness, envy and enmity cannot survive in those who walk and work in fellowship with God.