Tag Archives: Gentleness

“Jesus’ first act of love in commanding love is to correct a false interpretation of Scripture” by John Piper

“If someone had said to Jesus the words, ‘Love unites; doctrine divides,’ I think Jesus would have looked deep into that person’s soul and said, ‘True doctrine is the root of love. Therefore, whoever opposes it, destroys the root of unity.’

Jesus never opposed truth to love. He did the opposite. He said that He Himself is the embodiment and sum of truth: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). Referring to Himself He said, “The one who seeks the glory of Him who sent Him is true, and in Him there is no falsehood” (John 7:18).

At the end of His life, what prompted Pilate’s cynical question, “What is truth?” (John 18:38) was Jesus’ comprehensive assertion about why He had come into the world: “For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth” (John 18:37).

Even His adversaries saw how indifferent Jesus was to people’s opinions and how devoted He seemed to be to truth. “Teacher, we know that you are true and do not care about anyone’s opinion” (Mark 12:14).

And when Jesus leaves the world and returns to the Father in heaven, the Spirit He would send in His place would be called “the Spirit of truth.” “But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, He will bear witness about Me” (John 15:26).

Therefore, unlike so many who compromise the truth to win a following, Jesus did the opposite. Unbelief in His hearers confirmed that a deep change was needed in them, not in the truth. “Everyone who is of the truth listens to My voice” (John 18:38).

“Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God” (John 8:47). “Because I tell the truth, you do not believe Me” (John 8:45).

In other words, when the truth does not produce the response you want—when it does not “work”—you don’t abandon the truth. Jesus is not a pragmatist when it comes to loving people with the truth.

You speak it, and if it does not win belief, you do not consider changing the truth. You pray that your hearers will be awakened and changed by the truth. “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free (John 8:32). “Sanctify them in the truth,” Jesus prayed; “Your word is truth” (John 17:17).

When Jesus prays that people be “sanctified in the truth,” He reveals the roots of love. Sanctification, or holiness, as Jesus understands it, includes being a loving person. He is praying that we would become loving people and would be merciful and peaceable and forgiving.

That is all included in the prayer, “Sanctify them.” And all this happens in and by the truth, not separate from the truth. The effort to pit love against truth is like pitting fruit against root.

Or like pitting kindling against fire. Or like pitting the foundation of a house against the second-floor bedroom. The house will fall down, and the marriage bed with it, if the foundation crumbles.

Love lives by truth and burns by truth and stands on truth. This is why Jesus’ first act of love in commanding love is to correct a false interpretation of Scripture.

Of course, it is possible to use truth unlovingly. For example, when a village of Samaria would not receive Jesus “because His face was set toward Jerusalem” (Luke 9:53), James and John knew this was a truth-insulting response. It was an assault on the truth of Jesus.

So they said to Jesus, in defense of the truth, “Lord, do you want us to tell fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” (Luke 9:54). The answer was swift and blunt: “He turned and rebuked them” (Luke 9:55).

But the solution to that unloving response was not to stay in the village and alter the truth to get a better response. He did not say to the Samaritans, “Doctrine divides, love unites, so let’s put our doctrinal differences aside and have relational unity.”

No, the solution was, “And they went on to another village” (Luke 9:56). There are many people yet to be loved with our truth. We will keep offering the saving truth in love wherever we can, and we will not be violent with those who reject us.

But the truth will not be changed. It is the root of love’s life, and the kindling of love’s fire, and the foundation of love’s strength.

When Jesus demanded that we love our enemies by contrasting this with the interpretation that said, “Love your neighbor and hate your enemy,” (Matt. 5:43) he was lovingly showing us that correcting false interpretations of the Bible is one crucial way to love our enemy.

The next obvious implication of Jesus’ words for the meaning of love is that it is not unloving to call someone an enemy. We live in an emotionally fragile age. People are easily offended and describe their response to being criticized as being hurt.

In fact, we live in a time when emotional offense, or woundedness, often becomes a criterion for deciding if love has been shown. If a person can claim to have been hurt by what you say, it is assumed by many that you did not act in love.

In other words, love is not defined by the quality of the act and its motives, but by the subjective response of others. In this way of relating, the wounded one has absolute authority.

If he says you hurt him, then you cannot have acted lovingly. You are guilty. Jesus will not allow this way of relating to go unchallenged.

Love is not defined by the response of the loved. A person can be genuinely loved and feel hurt or offended or angered or retaliatory or numb without in any way diminishing the beauty and value of the act of love that hurt him.

We know this most clearly from the death of Jesus, the greatest act of love ever performed, because the responses to it covered the range from affection (John 19:27) to fury (Matt. 27:41–42). That people were broken, wounded, angered, enraged, and cynical in response to Jesus’ death did not alter the fact that what He did was a great act of love.

This truth is shown by the way Jesus lived his life. He loved in a way that was often not felt as love. No one I have ever known in person or in history was as blunt as Jesus in the way he dealt with people.

Evidently His love was so authentic it needed few cushions. It is owing to my living with the Jesus of the Gospels for fifty years that makes me so aware of how emotionally fragile and brittle we are today.

If Jesus were to speak to us the way He typically spoke in His own day, we would be continually offended and hurt. This is true of the way He spoke to his disciples and the way He spoke to His adversaries.

People were offended in His day as well. “Do you know,” His disciples asked Him, “that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this saying?” (Matt. 15:12).

His response to that information was brief and pointed: “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be rooted up. Let them alone; they are blind guides” (Matt. 15:13–14).

In other words, “They are plants that do not produce the fruit of faith because God has not planted them. They don’t see my behavior as love because they are blind, not because I am unloving.” These and dozens of other things he said to both friend and foe in ways that would rock us back on our emotional heels and make many of us retreat in self-pity.

The point of this is that the genuineness of an act of love is not determined by the subjective feelings of the one being loved. Jesus uses the word “enemies.” That would be offensive to some, especially since he goes on to unpack his point with words like, “And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others?” (Matt. 5:47).

He does not fret over the possible criticism that He is not being careful enough to distinguish real enemies from annoying brothers. Jesus seems to expect us to handle tough words like “enemy” mingled with tender family words like “brother.”

I do not mean to say that love is oblivious to the words it uses or the effects they may have on others. Love does care about blessing the loved one. It desires to bring the loved one out of pain and sorrow and into a deeper experience of joy in God—now and forever.

But I am stressing another side of the problem that seems unusually prevalent in our psychologized world. I am simply drawing attention to the fact that feeling unloved is not the same as being unloved.

Jesus is modeling for us in his life the objectivity of love. It has real motives and real actions. And when they are loving, the response of the loved one does not change that fact.

This is good news for the lover, because it means that God is God and the loved one is not God. The judgment of the wounded loved one is not absolute: It may be right, or it may be wrong. But it is not absolute. God is absolute.

We give an account to Him. And He alone knows our hearts. The decisive thing about our love when we stand before God is not what others thought of it, but whether it was real.

That some people may not like the way we love is not decisive. Most people did not recognize Jesus’ love in the end—and still do not today.

What matters is not that we are justified before men, but that God knows our hearts as truly (though not perfectly) loving. And He alone can make that final judgment (Luke 16:15).”

–John Piper, What Jesus Demands from the World (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2006), 215–220.

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“Merciful, gracious, and tender” by William Plumer

“A cold, harsh, severe, untender character is no part of the product of Christianity.

Godliness is God-likeness. If we would be God’s children, we must be merciful, gracious, tender, pitiful.

He who is harsh to the unfortunate, and cruel to the needy, who never forgives the wayward, nor seeks to recover the prodigal, is not like God.”

–William Plumer, Studies in the Book of Psalms: A Critical and Expository Commentary With Doctrinal and Practical Remarks (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1867/2016), 986. Plumer is commenting on Psalm 112:4-5.

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“He is Lord of all, yet makes Himself the servant of the weakest” by Charles Spurgeon

“Christ is such a pitiful One that He seeks out those that are cast down: He healeth the broken in heart, and bindeth up their wounds.

He lays Himself out to succour them that are tempted, and therefore He does not hide himself from them, nor pass them by on the other side.

What an example is this for us! He devotes Himself to this divine business of comforting all such as mourn. He is Lord of all, yet makes Himself the servant of the weakest.

Whatever He may do with the strongest, He succours “them that are tempted.” (Heb. 2:18)

He does not throw up the business in disgust.

He does not grow cross or angry with them because they are so foolish as to give way to idle fears.

He does not tell them that it is all their nerves, and that they are stupid and silly, and ought to shake themselves out of such nonsense.

I have often heard people talk in that fashion, and I have half wished that they had felt a little twinge of depression themselves, just to put them into a more tender humour.

The Lord Jesus never overdrives a lame sheep, but He sets the bone, and carries the sheep on His shoulders, so tenderly compassionate is He. Here is His pity.

He has the right to succour them that are tempted, for they are His own, since He has bought them with His blood. The feeble, the weak, the trembling, the desponding, are His care, committed to Him by God.

He said, “Fear not, little flock.” (Luke 12:32) This shows that His flock is little and timid.

He says, “Fear not, little flock,” because they have great tendency to fear, and because He does not like to see them thus troubled.

He has bought them, and so He has the right to succour them, and preserve them to the end.”

–Charles H. Spurgeon, “The Suffering Saviour’s Sympathy,” in The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit Sermons, Vol. 33 (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1887), 33: 416-417.

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“He abounds in tenderness” by Charles Spurgeon

“You see God did not choose angels to be made high priests; because, however benevolent they might be in their wishes, they could not be sympathetic. They could not understand the peculiar wants and trials of the men with whom they had to deal.

Ministers who of God are made to be a flame of fire could scarce commune familiarly with those who confess themselves to be as dust and ashes.

But the high priest was one of themselves. However dignified his office, he was still a man. He was one of whom we read that he could lose his wife, that he could lose his sons. He had to eat and to drink, to be sick and to suffer, just as the rest of the people did.

And all this was necessary that he might be able to enter into their feelings and represent those feelings before God, and that he might, when speaking to them for God, not speak as a superior, looking down upon them, but as one who sat by their side, “a brother born for adversity,” (Prov. 17:17) bone of their bone, and flesh of their flesh.

Now this is peculiarly so in the case of our Lord Jesus Christ. He is sympathetic above all. (Heb. 2:18) There is none so tender as He. He has learnt it by His sufferings; but He proves it by His continual condescension towards His suffering people.

My brethren, we that preach the gospel, you that teach it in the Sabbath-school– you will always find your greatest power lies in love. There is more eloquence in love than in all the words that the most clever rhetorician can ever put together.

We win upon men not so much by poetry and by artistic wording of sentences, as by the pouring out of a heart’s love that makes them feel that we would save them, that we would bless them, that we would, because we belong to them, regard them as brethren, and play a brother’s part, and lay ourselves out to benefit them.

Now, as it should be in the under-shepherds, so is it in that Great Shepherd of the sheep.

He abounds in tenderness, and though He has every other quality to make up a perfect high priest, though He is complete, and in nothing lacking, yet if I must mention one thing in which he far outshines us all, but in which we should all try to imitate him, it would be in His tender sympathy to those who are ignorant and out of the way, and to all those who are suffering and sorely distressed.”

–Charles H. Spurgeon, “The Suffering Saviour’s Sympathy,” in The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit Sermons, Vol. 33 (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1887), 33: 409–410.

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“He will then be dearer to you than the nearest friend you have upon earth is to you now” by John Newton

“As to your opponent, I wish, that, before you set pen to paper against him, and during the whole time you are preparing your answer, you may commend him by earnest prayer to the Lord’s teaching and blessing.

This practice will have a direct tendency to conciliate your heart to love and pity him; and such a disposition will have a good influence upon every page you write. If you account him a believer, though greatly mistaken in the subject of debate between you, the words of David to Joab, concerning Absalom, are very applicable: “Deal gently with him for my sake.” (2 Sam. 18:5)

The Lord loves him and bears with him; therefore you must not despise him, or treat him harshly. The Lord bears with you likewise, and expects that you should shew tenderness to others, from a sense of the much forgiveness you need yourself.

In a little while you will meet in heaven; he will then be dearer to you than the nearest friend you have upon earth is to you now. Anticipate that period in your thoughts; and though you may find it necessary to oppose his errors, view him personally as a kindred soul, with whom you are to be happy in Christ forever.

But if you look upon him as an unconverted person, in a state of enmity against God and his grace, (a supposition which, without good evidence, you should be very unwilling to admit,) he is a more proper object of your compassion than of your anger. Alas! “he knows not what he does.”

But you know who has made you to differ. If God, in his sovereign pleasure, had so appointed, you might have been as he is now; and he, instead of you, might have been set for the defence of the Gospel. You were both equally blind by nature. If you attend to this, you will not reproach or hate him, because the Lord has been pleased to open your eyes, and not his.

Of all people who engage in controversy, we, who are called Calvinists, are most expressly bound by our own principles to the exercise of gentleness and moderation. If, indeed, they who differ from us have a power of changing themselves, if they can open their own eyes, and soften their own hearts, then we might with less inconsistence be offended at their obstinacy.

But if we believe the very contrary to this, our part is, not to strive, but in meekness to instruct those who oppose, “if peradventure God will give them repentance to the acknowledgment of the truth.” (2 Tim. 2:25)

If you write with a desire of being an instrument of correcting mistakes, you will of course be cautious of laying stumbling-blocks in the way of the blind, or of using any expressions that may exasperate their passions, confirm them in their prejudices, and thereby make their conviction, humanly speaking, more impracticable.”

–John Newton, “Letter XIX: On Controversy,” The Works of John NewtonVolume 1 (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 2015), 1: 268-270.

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“We set forth a most tender Father, a bleeding Saviour, and a faithful Comforter” by Charles Bridges

“Love is the grand distinctive mark of our office. It exhibits salvation flowing from the bosom of Divine mercy.

We set forth a most tender Father, a bleeding Saviour, and a faithful Comforter. The spirit of every discourse should be: ‘God is love.’ (1 John 4:8)

Therefore, we should so cast ourselves into the mould of our commission, that we may infuse its very life and character throughout our ministry.

‘Speaking the truth in love’ (Eph. 4:15) is perhaps, in a few words, the most complete description of our office. Love should pervade the whole tone of our Ministry.

Tender seriousness commends our office as Ambassadors of a God of love. A scolding Minister only proves he does not understand his errand. No man was ever yet scolded out of his sins.

The Apostles were used to address their people with language expressive of earnest endearment. The extant epistles of the primitive Fathers, the most earnest discourses of Cyprian and Augustine, and the homilies of Chrysostom, are strongly imbued with this character.

The amiable Fenelon observes: ‘I would have every Minister of the Gospel address his hearers with the zeal of a friend, with the generous energy of a father, and with the exuberant affection of a mother.’

This spirit of love must deeply imbue even the language of reproof. We must ‘exhort,’ but ‘with all long-suffering.’ (2 Tim. 4:2)

Meekness, gentleness, and patience must stamp our instruction of the opponents of the Gospel. (2 Tim. 2:24-25) We must wound their consciences as sinners, not their feelings as men.

Trembling, faltering, lips– the index of a heart touched with the melting sympathies of Christ– best become us, as guilty sinners speaking to our fellow-men, not more guilty than ourselves.

We are not arguing, however, for that sensitive delicacy, which refrains to wound, when the patient shrinks. The compulsion of love is the mighty lever of operation.

Love is the life, power, soul, and spirit of pulpit eloquence. Entreating rather than denouncing is the character of our office.

And it is the delivery of our Master’s message with the looks and language of His own manifested tenderness that attracts and triumphs over the hearts of a willing people.

We wonder not at the Apostle’s success, when we read, that at Ephesus he ‘ceased not for three years to warn everyone of them night and day with tears.’ (Acts 20:31)

The Christian pastor, of all men in the world, should have an affectionate heart.

When he preaches, it is the shepherd in search of the strayed sheep, and the father in pursuit of its lost child.

‘The love of Christ will constrain us’ (2 Cor. 5:14) all to some clear evidence of our tender love to His flock.

Love, continual, universal, ardent love is the soul of all the labour of a Minister.”

–Charles Bridges, The Christian Ministry, with an Inquiry into the Causes of Its Inefficiency (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1830/2020), 356, 357, 358, 359-362.

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“Self-righteousness can feed upon doctrines, as well as upon works” by John Newton

“There is a principle of self, which disposes us to despise those who differ from us; and we are often under its influence, when we think we are only shewing a becoming zeal in the cause of God.

I readily believe that the leading points of Arminianism spring from, and are nourished by, the pride of the human heart; but I should be glad if the reverse was always true; and that to embrace what are called the Calvinistic doctrines was an infallible token of a humble mind.

I think I have known some Arminians—that is, persons who, for want of clearer light, have been afraid of receiving the doctrines of free grace—who yet have given evidence that their hearts were in a degree humbled before the Lord.

And I am afraid there are Calvinists, who, while they account it a proof of their humility that they are willing in words to debase the creature, and to give all the glory of salvation to the Lord, yet know not what manner of spirit they are of.

Whatever it be that makes us trust in ourselves that we are comparatively wise or good, so as to treat those with contempt who do not subscribe to our doctrines, or follow our party, is a proof and fruit of a self-righteous spirit.

Self-righteousness can feed upon doctrines, as well as upon works; and a man may have the heart of a Pharisee, while his head is stored with orthodox notions of the unworthiness of the creature and the riches of free grace.

Yea, I would add, the best of men are not wholly free from this leaven; and therefore are too apt to be pleased with such representations as hold up our adversaries to ridicule, and by consequence flatter our own superior judgments.

Controversies, for the most part, are so managed as to indulge rather than to repress this wrong disposition; and therefore, generally speaking, they are productive of little good. They provoke those whom they should convince, and puff up those whom they should edify.

I hope your performance will savour of a spirit of true humility, and be a means of promoting it in others.”

–John Newton, “Letter XIX: On Controversy,” The Works of John NewtonVolume 1 (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 2015), 1: 272-273.

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