A More Gentle Way

Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, “The teachers of religious law and the Pharisees are the official interpreters of the law of Moses. So practice and obey whatever they tell you, but don’t follow their example. For they don’t practice what they teach. They crush people with unbearable religious demands and never lift a finger to ease the burden.

“Everything they do is for show. On their arms they wear extra wide prayer boxes with Scripture verses inside, and they wear robes with extra long tassels. And they love to sit at the head table at banquets and in the seats of honor in the synagogues. They love to receive respectful greetings as they walk in the marketplaces, and to be called ‘Rabbi.’

“Don’t let anyone call you ‘Rabbi,’ for you have only one teacher, and all of you are equal as brothers and sisters. And don’t address anyone here on earth as ‘Father,’ for only God in heaven is your Father. And don’t let anyone call you ‘Teacher,’ for you have only one teacher, the Messiah. The greatest among you must be a servant. But those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Matthew 23:1–12 NLT)

Some years ago, when I was volunteering in the youth ministry at my local church, we held an event at the home of a church member. I don’t recall any of the details of the event – it might have been a youth worker appreciation dinner, a holiday party for the youth group, or something else entirely different. There is only one part of the evening I remember clearly: The youth leader wanted to get everyone’s attention, but since we were a somewhat rowdy group in a moderately small space, he had no easy task ahead of him. Rather than simply raising his voice to be louder than the din of conversation, he quietly got the three or four people near him to huddle together like they were about to pray. It took a minute for everyone else to start noticing, but once we did, those of us outside the huddle got really quiet and started silencing those around us. Once everyone had more or less stopped talking, the youth leader stood up, told us they weren’t actually praying, and thanked us for giving him our attention.

In addition to it being a small bit of good-natured subterfuge, the reason this moment has stuck with me when everything else from that night has faded away is the manner in which this youth leader operated. Contrary to what most of us would do in his situation, he gently invited us to quiet ourselves so there was space for him to share what he needed to say. He could have forced everyone’s attention on himself, but he chose a more gentle way instead.

Based on what I read in Scripture, I am confident that if we are eager to find where God is at work in the world, we must look for the people with gentle spirits and quiet voices, for God is rarely bombastic. Certainly there are times when he presents himself as a pillar of fire, but most of the time, God chooses to make himself known through “a gentle whisper” (1 Kings 19:12).

The dichotomy between the bombastic and the gentle is similar to that of the religious teachers and Pharisees in the first century and Jesus, the Son of God. The former – the bombastic, the Pharisaic – are all about exerting power over, projecting their way onto situations and people; the latter – the gentle, the Christlike – are servants who strive to build the Kingdom of God by loving all people, by being with the downtrodden and the oppressed, by striving to be humble pilgrims on a journey, by working, softly and consistently, for justice and mercy, by promoting peace – the shalom found in Christ alone.

In The Allure of Gentleness, Dallas Willard writes, “If we are not gentle in how we present the good news, how will people encounter the gentle and loving Messiah we want to point to?” To be people who follow after Jesus and try to live in his example is to be people of peace, people who choose a more gentle way, even in the midst of a loud and bombastic world.
Michael Benson is the NAB communications director.