Pray for a heart made supple by mercy, and a tongue baptized with peace
Published on: 09-29-2021
“Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near” (Phil. 4:5, NRSV).
The vitriol arrives in brown manila envelopes, or seeps out through the pixels of the emails on my laptop screen.
“If only you knew the horrible things that _____ is doing,” the author thunders, “you would be embarrassed to be an Adventist. Where is your editorial about the sins of ______? Cry aloud, and spare not!”
“Dr. _______ may seem the picture of propriety, but underneath he is a roaring dragon,” another letter writer claims, summoning images of beastly powers with which to indict a teacher he reviles. There is no softening the blow. Sin must be pointed out: the sinner must be shamed.
In an age of rage and brokenness—when those with power frequently misuse it, and those without it cry in helplessness—it should be no surprise that even in the remnant church the decibels are rising. The thoughtful, pointed disagreements of yesteryear have given way to the “gotcha” sound bites that skewer an opponent’s plans, or views, or character. We watch, half in terror, half in glee, as titans hurl words designed, not to persuade, but to belittle or malign. And all this in the name of “gentle Jesus, meek and mild.”¹
But if the apostle Paul is right—and for the record, I believe he is— there’s a deep connection between the gentleness of Jesus’ faithful followers and the nearness of His coming. In Paul’s cryptic formulation, the gentle behavior of believers is both a sign of the presence of the Lord in His church and an urgent requirement in light of His second coming. The bond between our treatment of each other (believers and unbelievers) and the church’s effective witness was unequivocally announced by Jesus Himself: “By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).
So we should grow concerned, as individuals and as a movement, when the discourse between us and the ways we treat each other no longer show the tenderness of Jesus, for we may be actively undermining the church’s witness and postponing the kingdom we say we seek. Those who love to cite the example of Jesus denouncing the hypocrisy of the Pharisees as justification for their own churlish behavior haven’t read far enough. Ellen White provides the crucial nuance about Jesus: “He was never rude, never needlessly spoke a severe word, never gave needless pain to a sensitive soul. He did not censure human weakness. He fearlessly denounced hypocrisy, unbelief, and iniquity, but tears were in His voice as He uttered His scathing rebukes.”²
As you read this special collection of articles that both celebrate and underline the gentleness of Jesus, pray for a heart made supple by mercy, and a tongue baptized with peace.
“For not with swords, loud clashing, Nor roll of stirring drums, With deeds of love and mercy, The heavenly kingdom comes.”³
¹ Charles Wesley, “Gentle Jesus, Meek and Mild,” The Seventh-day Adventist Hymnal (Hagerstown, Md.: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1985), no. 540. ² Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacifi c Press Pub. Assn., 1898, 1940), p. 353. ³ Ernest W. Shurtleff , “Lead On, O King Eternal,” The Seventh-day Adventist Hymnal, no. 619.