The troubles of life can make us cranky and out of sorts, but we should never excuse these bouts of bad behavior, for they can wither the hearts of those we love and spread misery all around us. We have not fulfilled our duty to others until we have learned to be pleasant.
The New Testament has a word for the virtue that corrects our unpleasantness—gentleness, a term that suggests a kind and gracious soul. Ephesians 4:2 reminds us, “Be completely humble and gentle.”
Gentleness is a willingness to accept limitations and ailments without taking out our aggravation on others. It shows gratitude for the smallest service rendered and tolerance for those who do not serve us well. It puts up with bothersome people—especially noisy, boisterous little people, for kindness to children is a crowning mark of a good and gentle person. It speaks softly in the face of provocation. It can be silent, for calm, unruffled silence is often the most eloquent response to unkind words.
Jesus is “gentle and humble in heart” (Matt. 11:29). If we ask Him, He will, in time, recreate us in His image. Scottish author George MacDonald says, “[God] would not hear from [us] a tone to jar the heart of another, a word to make it ache . . . . From such, as from all other sins, Jesus was born to deliver us.”
As one of the most celebrated orchestral conductors of the twentieth century, Arturo Toscanini is remembered for his desire to give credit to whom credit is due. In David Ewen’s Dictators of the Baton, the author describes how members of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra rose to their feet and cheered Toscanini at the end of a rehearsal of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. When there was a lull in the ovation, and with tears in his eyes, Arturo’s broken voice could be heard exclaiming as he spoke: “It isn’t me . . . it’s Beethoven! . . . Toscanini is nothing.”
In the apostle Paul’s New Testament letters, he also refused to take credit for his spiritual insight and influence. He knew he was like a spiritual father and mother to many who had put their faith in Christ. He admitted he had worked hard and suffered much to encourage the faith, hope, and love of so many (1 Cor. 15:10). But he could not, in good conscience, accept the applause of those who were inspired by his faith, love, and insight.
So for his readers’ sake, and for us, Paul said, in effect, “It isn’t me, brothers and sisters. It’s Christ . . . Paul is nothing.” We are only messengers of the One who deserves our cheers.
When asked to define his role in a community sometimes uncooperative with law enforcement, a sheriff didn’t flash his badge or respond with the rank of his office. Rather he offered, “We are human beings who work with human beings in crisis.”
His humility—his stated equality with his fellow human beings—reminds me of Peter’s words when writing to first century Christians suffering under Roman persecution. Peter directs: “All of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble.” Perhaps Peter was saying that the best response to humans in crisis is to be human, to be aware that we are all the same. After all, isn’t that what God Himself did when He sent His Son—He became human in order to help us? (Philippians 2:7).
Gazing only at the dark core of our fallen hearts, it’s tempting to disdain our human status. But what if we consider our humanness to be part of our offering in our world? Jesus teaches us how to live fully human, as servants recognizing we are all the same. “Human” is how God made us, created in His image and redeemed by His unconditional love.
Today we’re sure to encounter folks in various struggles. Imagine the difference we might make when we respond humbly—as fellow humans who work together with other humans in crisis?
We have an ancient cherry tree in our backyard that had seen better days and looked like it was dying so I called in an arborist. He checked it out and declared that it was “unduly stressed” and needed immediate attention. “Take a number,” my wife, Carolyn, muttered to the tree as she walked away. It had been one of those weeks.
Indeed, we all have anxious weeks—filled with worries over the direction our culture is drifting or concerns for our children, our marriages, our businesses, our finances, our personal health and well-being. Nevertheless, Jesus has assured us that despite disturbing circumstances we can be at peace. He said, “My peace I give to you" (John 14:27).
Jesus’s days were filled with distress and disorder: He was beleaguered by His enemies and misunderstood by His family and friends. He often had no place to lay His head. Yet there was no trace of anxiety or fretfulness in His manner. He possessed an inner calm, a quiet tranquility. This is the peace He has given us—freedom from anxiety concerning the past, present, and future. The peace He exhibited; His peace.
In any circumstances, no matter how dire or trivial, we can turn to Jesus in prayer. There in His presence we can make our worries and fears known to Him. Then, Paul assures us, the peace of God will come to “guard [our] hearts and [our] minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:7). Even if we’ve had “one of those weeks,” we can have His peace.
Marilyn had been ill for many weeks, and many people had encouraged her through this difficult time. How will I ever repay all their kindnesses? she worried. Then one day she read the words of a written prayer: “Pray that [others] will develop humility, allowing them not only to serve, but also to be served.” Marilyn suddenly realized there was no need to balance any scale, but just to be thankful and allow others to experience the joy of serving.
In Philippians 4, the apostle Paul expressed his gratitude for all those who shared “in [his] troubles” (v. 14). He depended on people to support him as he preached and taught the gospel. He understood that the gifts provided for him when he was in need were simply an extension of people’s love for God: “[Your gifts] are a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God” (v. 18).
It may not be easy to be the one on the receiving end—especially if you’ve usually been the first one to help other people. But with humility, we can allow God to gently care for us by a variety of means when we need help.
Paul wrote, “My God will meet all your needs” (v. 19). It was something He had learned during a life of trials. God is faithful and His provision for us has no limits.
My well-worn and often-read copy of Jane Yolen’s essay “Working Up to Anon” (Anonymous) was clipped from The Writer magazine many years ago. “The best writers,” she says, “are the ones who really, in their heart of hearts, aspire to the byline Anon. The story told is important, not the storyteller.”
The story we tell is about Jesus, the Savior, who gave…
While removing the price tag from an item of winter clothing I had purchased, I smiled at these words on the back: “WARNING: This innovative product will make you want to go outdoors and stay there.” When properly clothed for the climate, a person can survive and even thrive in harsh and changing weather conditions.
The same principle is true in our spiritual lives. As followers of Jesus, our all-weather spiritual wardrobe has been prescribed by the Lord in His Word, the Bible. “As God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. . . . Forgive as the Lord forgave you” (Col. 3:12-13 emphasis added).
These garments that God provides—such as kindness, humility, and longsuffering—allow us to meet hostility and criticism with patience, forgiveness, and love. They give us staying power in the storms of life.
When we face adverse conditions at home, school, or work, the “clothing” God tells us to wear protects us and enables us to make a positive difference. “And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity” (v. 14).
Dressing according to God’s guidelines doesn’t change the weather—it equips the wearer.
During the spring and summer, I admire the fruit growing in our neighbor’s yard. Their cultivated vines climb a shared fence to produce large bunches of grapes. Branches dotted with purple plums and plump oranges dangle just within our reach.
Although we don’t till the soil, plant the seeds, or water and weed the garden, the couple next door shares their bounty with us. They take responsibility for nurturing their crops and allow us to delight in a portion of their harvest.
The produce from the trees and vines on the other side of our fence reminds me of another harvest that benefits me and the people God places in my life. That harvest is the fruit of the Spirit.
Christ-followers are commissioned to claim the benefits of living by the power of the Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:16–21). As God’s seeds of truth flourish in our hearts, the Spirit produces an increase in our ability to express “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (vv. 22–23).
Once we surrender our lives to Jesus, we no longer have to be controlled by our self-centered inclinations (v. 24). Over time, the Holy Spirit can change our thinking, our attitudes, and our actions. As we grow and mature in Christ, we can have the added joy of sharing with our neighbors the benefits of His generous harvest.
My friend Jaime works for a huge international corporation. In his early days with the company, a man came by his desk, struck up a conversation, and asked Jaime what he did there. After telling the man about his work, Jaime asked the man his name. “My name is Rich,” he replied.
“Nice to meet you,” Jaime answered. “And what do you do around here?”
“Oh, I am the owner.”
Jaime suddenly realized that this casual, humble conversation was his introduction to one of the richest men in the world.
In this day of self-glorification and the celebration of “me,” this little story can serve as a reminder of Paul’s important words in the book of Philippians: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit” (2:3). People who turn their attention to others and not on themselves have the characteristics Paul mentions.
When we “value others above [ourselves],” we demonstrate Christlike humility (v. 3). We mirror Jesus, who came not “to be served, but to serve” (Mark 10:45). When we take “the very nature of a servant” (Phil. 2:7), we have the mindset of Jesus (v. 5).
As we interact with others today, let’s not look on our own interests alone but also “to the interests of the others” (v. 4).