Is there real Gentleness or Self-control?
When I was young, my understanding of gentleness and self-control was to not let my emotions flare up outwardly. It was to keep a level tone no matter the circumstances, not let anything truly get under my skin and not to lash out with great emotion. And in part, there is truth to that understanding. That ties into well into Peace as well. Peace that supersedes all the natural responses to the things we endure on this earth. But gentleness and self-control are not meant to be a cap to the emotions we ought to have in appropriate contexts. Biblically speaking, gentleness is not the gateway to fear and timidness when strength is required. For example, the same Jesus who humbly healed the sick in private to not draw attention, is the same Jesus that flipped tables in the tabernacle. Was this an abandonment of gentleness and self-control? No. Gentleness and self-control are more accurately demonstrated Biblically as “appropriately applied strength”. God, who is all powerful, does not use his power chaotically or irrationally. He exercises restraint to a world of pure evil that is spitting in his face. He is gentle and forgiving. He allows us to continue spitting in his face knowing that some will stop and receive his gift of life through Christ. He demonstrates perfect self-control and gentleness through his love for us.
We, on the other hand, are not perfect. The Christian will often see this perfect demonstration of gentleness/self-control and seek to model their lives after it through their responses to evil and persecution as they should. But there is another context to which gentleness and self-control ought to manifest itself through true believers. In the flesh, there is no soft response to criticism. There is only pride, anger and hate when correction comes its way. There is only rejection and dismissal of constructive criticism. Nothing stops the flesh from continuing to blatantly spit in the face of God. When it wants to do something, it does it no matter what anyone thinks. No matter what advice is given to it by its friends or family or anyone else who has their best interests in mind, the only voice it listens to is their own and those who encourage what it wants. The flesh can be taught what is right and what is wrong, but nothing stops it from doing the wrong they choose to believe is subjectively right for them. When someone is spiritually dead and is purely embracing the flesh, objectivity is also dead. The purpose of self-control is made obsolete. What is there needed to be controlled if there is no standard to be self-disciplined to? But where grace abounds there is life! Life that ushers in the fruit of the Spirit. Life that breathes reason for gentleness and self-control. The reason for them is because our sanctification is still in progress. There is a standard to which we do not and can not match up to. We are not perfect. We require chastisement and constructive correction. Guidance and direction. That is where we see the other beautiful side of gentleness and self-control; to, in meekness and through humility, take criticism where it is appropriately applied, and to have self-control in breaking down the walls of arrogance and pride that stand in the way of conviction.
I remember growing up hearing that King David was a man after God’s own heart. And I remember hearing all the great things he had done, like standing up to Goliath and surviving the many attempts of King Saul to kill him, or the many beautiful Psalms he wrote that we now have in the scriptures. “This is what made him a man after God’s own heart”, I would think. But then as I got older my image of him became fuzzy, as I began to hear stories about how he slept with Bathsheba, a woman married to Uriah, a soldier at war. Then how David preceded to kill him off to cover his mistake, it forces you to think, “This man is the man after God’s own heart?”
I was told a long time ago that great leaders aren’t those who have to always be right, but are those who always keep it real. In other words, in any case that we sink or swim, reality is always spoken of honestly. David sank. But he kept it real when confronted about his sin. In 2 Samuel 12, the Prophet Nathan was sent by God to rebuke King David about the horrible crime he committed with Uriah and Bathsheba. Here is where we see the true man after God’s own heart, who didn’t see his status being King as justification for acting erroneously. Here is a man who modeled gentleness and self-control when confronted with his own sin. In humility he responded, “I have sinned against the Lord.” When faced with correction, he responded with confession. Through the consequences of his error, he sought God for concession. Through the grief of what he feared to lose, he became grateful for what he had. When the repercussions became his reality, redemption was his response as he chose to comfort Bathsheba rather than removing her as a symbol of his remorse. As a result of his redemptive motives, God blessed them with a new child; a child that would one day rule in David’s place. A king who would be known across the world as the wisest man who ever was. Through the gentleness and self-control demonstrated by David in the face and aftermath of criticism came a son, Solomon.
David was a man of appropriately applied strength. Strength to humble himself in the face of correction. Strength to mourn and plead to God, careless of what others thought of him. Strength to stand and lead as God charged him to. Strength to comfort and consolidate when others are broken. This is self-control. Not to abandon emotion and stiff-arm correction, but to apply strength appropriately as it requires. When it requires a soft, gentle response to criticism, let your heart not be hardened. Have control of yourself and allow conviction to change you; that you may walk as a man or woman after God’s own heart.