After every tragic shooting that has taken place in a high school recently we have heard the same testimony played again and again. The assailant(s) were children who had been bullied and ridiculed by the others in their school and community. They had been tormented to the point that they decided to strike back and chose to do so with a vengeance.
Most of us have been on the receiving end of unkind comments at one time or another. We looked different, we weren’t as talented, attractive, intelligent as those around us and were ridiculed. Some were ridiculed for their weight, their appearance, their intelligence, their awkwardness, and even (maybe even especially) their burdens. Some had physical problems, others came from difficult home situations but they were picked on none the less. If you have ever felt that pain, if you ever knew what it was like to not want to go to school (or work) because of the rejection and hatred you would experience, then you understand how devastating such things are.
And maybe you have been the abuser. I’ve told you that I look back on my days in 8th grade and am ashamed. We had someone’s precious daughter in our class. She had a deformity that left one leg shorter than the other. She also had a weight problem and didn’t talk as well as others. Rather than befriend her the class tormented her. I don’t know that I ever said anything directly to her but I’m sure I laughed at the jokes (which weren’t funny) and I certainly did nothing to make her feel that she had a friend. And to this day, I can remember what we called her but I can’t remember her name. I wish I could beg her forgiveness for the hurt.
The more in tune we become with the realities of the world, the more we will marvel at the wisdom of God’s Word. In the midst of Paul’s discussion on joy he drops in verse 5. It is almost as if Paul realized that one of the greatest hindrances to joy is the scars that have come from the bullies of life. So he writes, “Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.”
In a mean, abusive, insensitive culture, Paul gives us practical counsel, he tells us to be gentle. In these words we are reminded that our Christianity is not primarily about theology exams or Bible knowledge . . . it is about the change that comes about when God’s Spirit takes up residence in our lives. That change is practical. It is a change that should effect every area of our life, and especially our dealings with others.
Verse five is a difficult verse to translate because the word translated “gentleness” has a number of different shades of meaning.
5 Let everyone see that you are considerate in all you (NLT)
5 Let your moderation be known unto all men. (KJV)
5 Let your forbearance be known unto all men. (NASB)
Make it as clear as you can to all you meet that you’re on their side, working with them and not against them. (The Message)
From these various meanings I think we can draw some lessons on how to bring joy by our words and actions.
WE SHOULD RESPECT THOSE AROUND US
I read a book this weekend in preparation for this message that I want to recommend to all of you. The book is written by popular Christian novelist Frank Peretti and the name of the book is THE WOUNDED SPIRIT. In this book Peretti tells the true story of his life and the pain he endured because of his physical deformities. He then goes on to draw some powerful lessons from his own experiences. You can’t read this book and be the same ever again.
In this book Peretti writes,
bullying and abuse betray a lack or loss of respect for other human beings, there is a deeper issue: the devaluing of human life; and that in turn indicates a lack or loss of respect for the Giver of human life and dignity, God Himself. The message a bully sends is a mockery of God’s handiwork, a lie that slanders God’s nature and negates His love for us. [p. 84]
We show a lack of respect when we treat other people like objects rather than as people. And when we do this we not only show a lack of respect toward others, we show that we do not respect God who created the others and declared them valuable. People who do not respect others think only of themselves.
Showing consideration and respect for others begins in very little things,
- like picking up after yourself so someone else doesn’t have to
- letting another go in front of you in a line
- putting the seat down when you’re done
- refusing to ridicule another
- being friendly to someone who is tired or alone
- respecting the time of another by being on time for appointments
- only taking up one parking spot
- replacing the roll when it is empty
- listening when another person is talking.
Learning to be considerate in the little things will maybe help us in the big things. The little things are just little things but they are important. If we are not faithful in the little things, Jesus said, we will not be faithful in bigger things.
We should be considerate for several reasons,
- it’s the way of Christ
- we know the pain of being on the other side of the ridicule
- it is the human thing to do
- it is the way you would want others to treat you
- it’s right
Why are we the way we are? Why is it so easy to start ridiculing another? Why do we laugh at another’s expense? Why do we join in the taunting when everyone is being unkind to another person whether they are present or not? Where is that evidence of the Spirit of God in us at these times? I wonder if these are the times when God’s Spirit grieves.
Peretti suggests that part of the problem is our current worldview. If there is no God then there is no truth, if there is no truth, there is no standard of right and wrong. If there is no standard of right and wrong decency gives way to barbarity. Christians must take the lead in bringing values back into our society.
True Christian love is revealed in the every day events of life. Christian love is not about lyrics in a song . . . it is about the way we treat others. James wrote, “Whoever considers himself to be religious but does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, deceives himself and his religion is empty.” (James 1:26)
WE SHOULD BE PATIENT WITH DIFFICULT PEOPLE AND CIRCUMSTANCES
The word forbearance means to bear up under a burden. It is where the idea of patience comes from. We are to be patient with our circumstances and with people. This is not the only place where Paul makes this assertion,
Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. [Romans 12:12-13]
love is patient, and love is kind [1 Corinthians 13:4]
Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. [Ephesians 4:2]
If you spend much time with people you are well aware of the fact that patience is not something that is in large supply. Someone has suggested that our society has developed a new unit of time called the honko-second. This is the short period of time between when the light changes to green and the person behind you honks their horn. We are all in a hurry. Let’s test your patience,
- Do you ever feel annoyed that the person in front of you is only driving the speed limit?
- Do you ever become perturbed when the person in front of you in the check out line is writing a check and doesn’t start writing until everything is totaled?
- Do get angry if someone isn’t ready to listen the instant you are ready to talk?
- Do you get frustrated if some project doesn’t go well right away?
- Do you find yourself yelling at traffic lights?
- Do you ever pace while waiting for the coffee pot to finish?
- Are you irritated when you have to wait in a waiting room?
My family smiles at this little quiz because they know that I flunk every one of these things. I’m working on this area of life. In order to develop more patience we must think theologically. What I mean is this: we must remind ourselves that circumstances come our way for a purpose. So, every frustrating occurrence is an opportunity for growth. Our time belongs to the Lord and we should use our time in a godly way. When things aren’t going well we need to learn to pray. When we are frustrated we need to stop and take a step back from a situation. When things aren’t working according to our timetable we need to remember that God’s timetable is better than ours. People who learn to be patient with circumstances are more pleasant to be around and certainly enjoy life more.
Second, if we are going to be patient with others we must learn to give people room to grow.
Impatient people have an inflated view of themselves, having lost the capacity to see themselves as sinners in the process of becoming saints. They also have a bad memory. They have forgotten about all the foolish decisions they made, the stupid things they said to others, the petty concerns that occupied their minds. Every so often we need to be reminded of what we once were and how undesirable it was. Many people have been forbearing toward us–our parents, children, teachers, friends, associates. Is it any surprise that God commands us to do the same for others? A sober view of ourselves will make us much quicker to put up with the immaturity of others. [Sittser, Loving Across Our Differences p. 73]
We want others to be patient with us as we mature and grow . . . so we should extend the same courtesy to others. We must constantly remind ourselves of several things,
- sometimes there are factors we don’t know about. We may not realize that the person who is so obnoxious is just looking for someone to accept them. The person who is driving well under the speed limit may just be learning to drive, or maybe they recently had an accident, or maybe they aren’t seeing very well. Or maybe they think a law should be obeyed.
- growth takes time. We may be frustrated with how clumsy someone is in a certain area and forget how long it took us to become proficient in this same area. I have become convinced over the years that the most important character for a Pastor (especially in a small town church) is patience. We learn from watching children that maturity takes years to develop. In fact, in watching adults we can learn that maturation is a lifelong process. We must give each other room to grow.
- impatience never makes things better. If you are running late for something and begin to get impatient with the person running late does it help? No it just complicates the situation more and make the time that much more miserable.
- people who learn to be patient with others will find that they have an easier time being patient with themselves. Impatient people make unrealistic demands not only on others but also on themselves.
WE RELATE TO OTHERS WITH KINDNESS AND SOFTNESS
This text also points us to the need to be kind and soft with our dealings with others. This is true for a number of reasons also. First, we must always remember that we represent Jesus. Matthew applies these words of Isaiah to Jesus, “He will not quarrel or cry out; no one will hear his voice in the streets. A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out, till he leads justice to victory. In his name the nations will put their hope.” (Matthew 12:19-21) The New Living Translation says, ” He will not crush those who are weak, or quench the smallest hope.” Jesus was sensitive to the hurting and tender with them.
We also need to remember that on a practical note, kindness opens people up and harshness shuts them up. I have found that when I attack someone they either back away or fight back. Neither response is productive. The more sarcastic I become (and I can be pretty sarcastic) the more the focus of my sarcasm is going to resist. If you are sarcastic with a waitress there is a good chance they are going to be even slower in responding to you. If you are aggressive with a sales person they will tell you to take your business elsewhere.
On the flip side of this scenario I have found that softness and kindness can help even the most intense situations. Kindness wins friends, harshness erects walls. Even in the most heated environments a smile and a soft word can do wonders. Solomon is right (of course) “a soft answer does turn away wrath”. A kind word does bring down barriers.
Our goal is to be soft rather than harsh. The soft person is secure in their relationship with Christ and doesn’t have to view every encounter as a contest. The soft person is aware of grace and the undeserved kindness they have received from the Lord. Remember Paul’s sober warning, “You, therefore have no excuse, you who pass judgment on another. For at whatever point you judge the other, you are condemning yourself. For you who pass judgment do the same things.” (Romans 2:1) When we judge a person by their weakness we are inviting God to judge us by our weaknesses!
Do you see anything wrong with the picture the world has of Christians? They often view Christians as harsh and judgmental people. They see us as angry rather than loving. Somewhere we have taken a wrong turn.
WE SHOULD LEAD BALANCED LIVES
One of the words used in translating this text is the word “moderation”. There are a couple ideas here. First moderation has to do with justice. The person who is showing moderation is one who does not always insist on justice but is willing to extend mercy and grace. It would have been justice for Jesus to condemn the woman caught in adultery. But instead He acted in mercy and told her to “go and sin no more.” He didn’t compromise with sin, but He also didn’t apply the harshest penalty either.
Second, this idea of moderation has to do with balance in our lives. We are to be champions of truth yet extenders of mercy. We are to uphold God’s standards while reaching out to those who have turned their backs on God’s values. In other words, we must live in the harsh world by the values of Heaven. That takes balance.
The story is told that Ghandi one day was getting on board a train. As he got on the train (which was already beginning to move) one of his shoes slipped off and landed on the track. He couldn’t retrieve the shoe so, to the amazement of his friends, he took off the other one and threw it back on the track also. When those around him asked why he did that, he replied, “Now the poor man who finds the shoe will have a pair he can use.” Here was a man who wasn’t even a Christian who had balance in his life.
First, it is important that we see two additional things from this text. First, consider the parameters of the instruction. We are told that we are to act this way to ALL people. It’s easy to be nice, kind, patient, gentle and controlled with some people. It’s not so easy with others. But Paul does not leave us a loop-hole. Paul wants us to be this way to everyone. He would most likely say, “especially” with the difficult people. We are to be this way with the false teacher, the person of another faith, the person who has an abrasive personality. We aren’t to compromise truth (we can be kind without giving away truth) but we are to be kind. This is a marvelous way to disarm our enemies.
Second, notice the motivation for the instructions. We realize that the Lord is near. This can mean two things. First, it may mean that we are to act like this because the time is short. Paul may be saying that the second coming of the Lord is near. We don’t have time to waste on the petty things of life. There is too much at stake. We are better off to absorb the stinging arrows of another rather than risk pushing them away with our demeanor.
But the text also could mean that we should act this way because the Lord is ALWAYS near. Paul may simply be reminding us that the Lord is present with us in every circumstance and every relationship. We are to be kind and compassionate and patient because we are in the Lord’s company. Let’s face it, there are times during our life that we do things we would never do in church. Why? We have this sense that God is watching us in church. But Paul wants us to remember that God is watching us everywhere we go!
We live in a world that seems like it is spinning out of control. Bullying and violence are on the rise. People all around us raise their hands in despair. They blame guns, they blame television, they blame the news media. Why is it that no one seems to see the problem clearly? Why do some people feel they have the right to treat others poorly simply because they are bigger, or stronger, or older, or have more power? We have lost our anchor of truth. We have tossed away the idea that we are created in the image of God. We have forgotten that God has called us to respect, honor, and love one another. We have forgotten that Jesus tells us that we show our love for Him by the way we relate to the weakest in our society.
You and I need to lead in the change that needs to take place. Before the world will remember the value of an individual, the church must do so. Before the church can do so, individual Christians must take God’s commands seriously. We must be the ones who defend the weak rather than exploit them. We must be the ones who show love rather than force. We must be the ones who are kind rather than aggressive. We must be the ones who refuse to be party with those who ridicule others. We must adopt the tactics of Jesus rather than the tactics of the world. And when we do this, we must pray that the world sees what we are doing. . . .and then follows our example.