Well it’s that time of year. This Friday we will graduate another class of seminary students at RTS Charlotte, sending them off to serve the Lord in a variety of ways. And during each of these graduations, I have an opportunity to give a final “charge” as the president of the campus.
This year, I have been reflecting on RTS’s motto: “A mind for truth, and a heart for God.” At RTS, we care very much about the mind—we value rigorous scholarship combined with a commitment to the historic truths of Reformed theology. But that is not all that matters to us. We also care about our students’ hearts; what kind of person they are, and where their affections lie.
In other words, preparation for ministry involves more than intellectual-doctrinal development. It also involves the development of one’s character.
Now, there’s lots that can be said about what should mark a person’s heart, but I think we can all agree that the heart of Jesus should be our model. It should be our pattern. We should want our heart to look like his.
As Dane Ortlund has pointed out in his book Gentle and Lowly, there’s only one place in all the Gospel were Jesus specifically describes his heart. It’s a brief, but stunningly profound statement: “I am gentle and lowly in heart” (Matt 11:29)
The essence of Jesus’ heart is one of gentleness. Kindness. Tenderness. Humility.
So, why does gentleness matter so much? Why should we strive to be men and women who are gentle and lowly? Here are a few quick thoughts.
One reason gentleness matters is because of how rare it is. You don’t need me to tell you this. Everyone knows this. Just five minutes on social media, just a short amount of time on twitter, and you quickly realize that gentleness is in short supply.
Instead, people are harsh, aggressive, judgmental, combative, and even mean. But very few are gentle.
And I wish we could say that Christians were always different. I wish I could say that most Christians on social media exhibit gentleness. But I think we know that sadly that is not true. Gentleness is not just rare among non-Christians; sometimes it is even rare among Christians.
Perhaps this should come as no surprise. Gentleness is just not a trait our world values. If you go to the self-help section of your local bookstore, you’d be hard pressed to find books on how you can become more gentle. If a church announced that they hired a new senior pastor that was “gentle,” I doubt many would flock to hear him.
But, here’s the thing. When people see gentleness—because it’s so rare—they take notice. When they see gentleness, they realize what’s been missing in the world today. When they see gentleness, they see someone who is like Jesus.
A second reason gentleness matters is because it is a qualification for ministry. It mattered so much to Paul that he is lists it as a requirement for the pastoral qualifications in 1 Timothy 3:2: An elder must be “not violent, but gentle.”
While the term “violent” (plektes) seems to speak of only physical violence, the Greek term is more all-encompassing. The HCSB translates the phrase: “not a bully, but gentle.”
Later in the book of Titus, Paul says something very similar: “An overseer must not be arrogant or . . . violent (plektes)” (Titus 1:7). In other words, an elder must be “lowly” (not arrogant) and “gentle” (not violent). It almost seems like Paul is basing ministry qualifications right off of the heart of Jesus.
And that’s what people need from their shepherds today. Not harshness. Not heavy handedness. But gentleness and kindness.
Of course, this is not suggest that Christian leaders are only gentle. They are many other things too—bold, courageous, and willing to stand for truth. But that’s precisely the point. When we stand boldly for truth, we need to do so in such a way that it speaks also to Christ’s gentleness. We “speak the truth in love” (Eph 4:15).
But, the ultimate reason why we should be gentle is that it embodies the heart of the Gospel. In short, God has been gentle with us. He is been kind to us. He has been longsuffering and patient with us.
Not to be sure, Christ is not like that with everyone. Remember, Christ is like that to those who come to him in repentance. Remember the rest of the verse: “Come to me all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gently and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls”
This is what makes the gospel so amazing. As sinners, we think Christ would be sour towards us. Harsh with us. Short with us. But the amazing thing is that Christ is gentle towards the sinner that comes to him for mercy.
And this embodies my hope for this year’s graduating class. My prayers is that they would go out and be different. That they would be radical and unworldly precisely by being gentle. And when they do, the Gospel will shine through them because they will be more like Jesus.