Let’s start with an unusual introduction …
The Middle Age Brain
I’m listening to a book on the Middle Age Brain—well, my wife is, and I’m eavesdropping—as we drive across Nevada on I-80.
The author is telling a story about looking for milk in the refrigerator one morning.
"What are you looking for?" her husband asked.
"The milk," she replied. "Did you drink it all."
His response? "It’s over here on the counter; you poured some in your cereal just a minute ago."
Her point is that middle-age people really do have memory lapses, but apparently in most other areas there’s no loss at all. Experience is a great teacher, and middle-age adults tend to be very capable and possess that undefinable quality called "wisdom."
So why am I telling you this?
Where Were We?
I’m 49, and my middle-aged brain has real problems remembering what I’ve already written about.
So I’m going to get back into a series on the appearance of the apostle Paul, and we’ll hope I’m returning to the right spot. I have no internet here in the Nevada desert, so I can’t check.
We’ll also hope there’s actually some wisdom to pass on …
Gentle Among You
The phrase "gentle among you" comes from 1 Thessalonians 2:7 …
We were gentle among you, as a nurse cherishes her own children.
The passage we are talking about concerns building the church, and it takes gentleness.
Paul had two tasks; all apostles did.
Those are two separate gifts, unless you are an apostle. In that case, you must have both. (Proving that is a long study, especially involving the interchangeable Greek words kerusso and euaggelizo.)
When Paul discusses being gentle among the Thessalonians, he’s talking about the shepherding part of the work—making people strong enough to continue together after he has preached the Gospel to them.
So often today, we picture a good shepherd as a good speaker. He’s a preacher, but as I just pointed out in the text box above, "preaching" is for the lost, not the church. You’ll never find an example of the church being preached to. The church is taught.
And the church is nursed.
When Paul compares his gentleness to that of a nurse cherishing her children, he’s not talking about a nurse like Cratchett from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Nothing gentle about her, and she doesn’t have any children in relation to her career as a nurse.
Paul is talking about a nursing mother, or a nursing mother hired by a rich person to nurse their baby.
(Gerber’s Baby Foods was not around in the 1st century, so they actually had to breastfeed their babies then. No plastic bottles with rubber nipples to suck on.)
So, let me ask you a question …
If you’re not a pastor, then the question is this. Do you feel like your pastor gently takes care of you like a nursing mother takes care of her baby?
If you’re a pastor, my question is the opposite. Do you feel that your job is to gently take care of the flock like a nursing mother watches her baby?
Thundering sermons, heaping conviction from on high … is that your picture of a good pastor?
Do you have examples of this in Scripture?
Even in Paul’s most admonishing letters—1 Corinthians and Galatians—he heaps love and care on them along with the conviction. 1 Corinthians 1 is full of praise, not admonishment.
Galatians is a little different because unlike the Corinthians, who were merely giving in to the flesh (possibly to their own condemnation—1 Cor. 6:9-
11), the Galatians had left the Gospel. Paul leaps immediately into the problem because without the Gospel there is no fellowship.
But everywhere his appeal is evidently and clearly from love … and personal.
Notice that Paul saves all his invective for the condemned Judaizers. They are anathema. They need to be cut off. The Galatians, however, get pleading …
Oh, foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you?
You have not injured me at all.
Where is the blessedness you spoke of?
My little children, for whom I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you. I long to be present with you and to change my tone.
I have confidence in you in the Lord … but he that troubles you shall bear his judgment.
There is simply no Scriptural precedent for thundering sermons.
I’m not saying a thundering sermon should never happen. Dear friends who are trying to serve Christ together will need to raise their voice to one another occasionally.
However, thundering sermons week after week from one man to an audience resembles nothing found in Scripture or in the early church.
"Well, my pastor is a prophet," you may say.
First, not all prophets are called to be harsh. Prophets are only harsh when they’re speaking to people who have departed from the way of God.
Second, prophets—plural—are supposed to speak one by one, and everyone can prophesy … at least, according to Scripture.
Ah, but I’ve forgotten. Evangelical Christians believe THE BIBLE, not what the Bible actually says. THE BIBLE is to be honored, praised, and never questioned … unless it says something that requires us to change what we’re doing—like having every member participate in our meetings—in that case, we should never bring that passage up again.
Oops, slipped into a little sarcasm there. In fact, I have a thundering sermon I’d like to give on that BIBLE believers who don’t believe or care what the Bible says …
Gentle Shepherds, the Bible Way
But the point today, my Bible-believing brothers—those who actually love what God says—is that we shouldn’t let tradition get in the way of obeying God, especially in an area as important as this … shepherding the flock.
Sheep will perish—no, sheep are perishing en masse—if we don’t change this.
Sheep need gentle, caring shepherds who know their name (Jn. 10:3).
Do we need thundering sermons, or do we need shepherds (they were plural in the early churches) who will actually notice when 1 sheep is missing from the 100. After all, you can’t leave the 99 to go after the 1 unless you know the 1 is missing!
Gentleness is a fruit of the Spirit. That means that if you don’t do anything to cultivate spiritual fruit, then the fleshly fruits of strife, envy, and jealousy will grow instead.
Gentleness will not just happen, and human gentleness is not what the church needs.
There is always no better example of any spiritual fruit than our Lord Jesus Christ. It is obvious that Jesus was not always gentle by the human definition of gentle.
Nonetheless, note that both children and sinners wanted to be around him.
Is that true of you?
As for his disciples, they were half-terrified of him, but they wanted to be around him. They knew that he had the words of life, and they knew he was to be followed. He was clear and occasionally frustrated with them, but he took the time to teach them to be like him.
This was the gentleness of Jesus Christ.
It is the gentleness we need as well.