When Gentleness is Tough

June 8, 2021

A servant of the Lord must not quarrel but must be kind to everyone, be able to teach, and be patient with difficult people. Gently instruct those who oppose the truth. Perhaps God will change those people’s hearts, and they will learn the truth. 2 Timothy 2:24-25 NLT

I started being part of a church long before I was born. What a blessing! Now, as a church leader for almost fifty years (my dad believed in starting us young!), on church staff for more than twenty years, and lead pastor for twenty-five years, I can testify that the blessing is not without challenges and difficulties. Just as doing life with your biological family presents opportunities for conflict and struggle, living with a church family does as well. We can easily lose sight of the effective Jesus way of living in these situations.

Boundaries are essential. Jesus Himself told us that when people will not receive the message or cooperate with truth, we need to “shake the dust off our feet” and move to a responsive person (Matthew 10:14). Paul instructed church leaders, “Warn a divisive person once, and then warn them a second time. After that, have nothing to do with them. You may be sure that such people are warped and sinful; they are self-condemned” (Titus 3:10-11). That’s a hard directive, but essential. Church conflict and division ruins the witness of the gospel to the world.

However, nothing removes the requirement of the fruit of the Spirit, gentleness. Gentleness/meekness is not weakness. It is the epitome of strength under control. Following the instructions of Jesus and Paul can and must be done with a gentle, firm spirit. The guidelines are clear:

  • A true servant of Christ is kind to everyone. Quarreling is not part of the equation.
  • This person uses every opportunity to teach.
  • Another fruit of the Spirit is evident in conversations, teachings, and correction: patience, especially with difficult people.
  • Gently instruct and share truth with those who oppose you, as they will allow.
  • Keep the goal always in mind. You want to keep praying and believing that God will reach their hearts, even if it is not through you.

I have been part of this process many times over the years. I have watched other leaders follow these guidelines as well. One thing I can guarantee—you will never regret kindness. One day I walked in on my dad near the end of his 96 years as he was in a very reflective mood. I asked him what he was thinking about. He said he had been remembering difficult times with difficult people throughout his ministry. When I said I was so sorry, he said with a little smile, “I’m all right, sweetie. I was just thanking Jesus that my memories aren’t marred by my own unkindness.” This is the path of no regrets.

  • Pray for that difficult person who comes to mind. Ask God to help you be gentle as you stand for truth.