Withstanding with Gentleness

I have heard and read Christians make some very harsh, mean, and cruel statements as they strive to defend the truth against error. Sadly, in the heat of a discussion even we Christians can get downright nasty with each other if we’re not careful. We can forget that God told us to restore others with gentleness (Galatians 6:1). We can forget that the servant of God is not to be quarrelsome but rather correct our opponents with gentleness (II Timothy 2:23-25). We can forget that we are to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15). Instead we seem to think we can speak hatefully, cruelly, spitefully, condescendingly, and mockingly but we are still being gentle and loving because our words were the truth. That is just not so. If we are directed to speak the truth in love, that means it is possible to speak truth but not do so in a loving way.

Please do not misunderstand me. I’m not saying sin must not be rebuked. I’m also not saying there is never a place for sternness and firmness. I am saying that no matter what the situation, we are to be gentle and loving.

However, when some are accused of violating these principles, they will often turn to Galatians 2:11-14. “See, Paul withstood Peter to his face. I can do the same.” Yes, Paul withstood Peter to his face, but does this mean Paul was harsh or cruel? Does this mean Paul yelled at Peter, belittled him, called him names, and held his error against him for the rest of his life? It doesn’t mean any of those things and it doesn’t justify any of those things.

Regrettably, I fear we may read our own emotions and actions into Galatians 2:11. The text says Paul withstood or opposed Peter to his face. Too many of us picture this as Paul getting up in Peter’s face with finger wagging and voice raised. We read anger, wrath, and vehemence into this passage. That is what we read into it. It is not what is there. The word translated “withstood” or “opposed” means “resisted.” It doesn’t mean that he yelled. It doesn’t mean he got up in Peter’s face. It simply means he stood against Peter. He didn’t go along with Peter but resisted Peter’s actions. He did that to Peter’s face, not behind his back. He didn’t hide his opposition to Peter. Being opposed to someone or something doesn’t mean being cruel to them.

Further, take a look at how Paul actually withstood or opposed Peter. Did he say, “What’s wrong with you, Peter, you stinking hypocrite?” Did he make all kinds of accusations or call Peter names? Did he even chastise Peter for not holding the proper standard? Actually, he asked Peter a question. He prompted and provoked Peter’s thinking. He asked, “If you though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?” (Galatians 2:14).

But what about the fact that he did it in front of everyone? Doesn’t that show his intent to embarrass and shame Peter publicly? Actually not. In front of whom did Paul demonstrate his opposition? In front of those who were going along with Peter’s error. Paul was addressing the “ringleader” in front of those who were following him. He wasn’t blasting Peter in front of everyone; he was correcting a group by speaking to their leader in their presence.

What does this passage actually authorize about our conduct? It does authorize opposing error. It does authorize opposing error publicly. It does authorize rebuking sin. However, it does not authorize calling people names, shaming them, being mean to them, cruelly treating them, mocking them, abusing them, belittling them, berating them no matter how wrong they are. We must withstand, oppose, resist error and wrong practices, but we must do so with gentleness and love.

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Contentment

Our country is going through the largest financial crisis since the great depression and is engaged in a protracted war in the Middle East.  In addition to these, each has the daily struggles of life.  We are concerned about our families, jobs, school and the testing of each Christian’s resolve to stand firm in their service to God.  There is much to discourage us, and without the comfort of the Scriptures, we cannot know how to confront and conquer each of these situations.  Christ warned us in Matthew 13:22 the cares of this world could very well choke us to death spiritually if we do not prepare to meet these challenges. 

How should I fight the discontentment Satan stirs in my life?  The way I find most helpful is to look to the examples of the Lord and of His apostles.  Before Jesus took on the form of man, He knew exactly what He would face while on earth and came anyway.  He knew our salvation would never happen without His sacrifice.  His resolve to do the will of His Father led Him to quietly accept the constant temptations, trials and tribulations.  He accepted His separation from God, while taking on our sins, and met the torture and death because He knew what lay ahead for Him, assuming His position by God’s side. He knew His sacrifice would bring salvation to mankind.  He was content in His role.

In addition to the example of Christ, I personally look at Paul as a role model for achieving contentment.  He, like Jesus, knew there was something far superior to all this life offers.  In 2 Timothy 4:6-8, he said he was able to keep the faith, knowing a crown of righteousness awaited him.   In 2 Corinthians 11, Paul lists the sufferings he had endured while serving God and spreading the gospel.  This same man who had endured so much for Christ’s sake tells us in Philippians 4:11-13 he was content in whatever circumstance he found himself.  How could anyone be so strong?  Well, he tells us in verse 13 that he was able to accomplish this and every other thing he did through the Lord from whom he received his strength.  The question I have to keep asking myself whenever confronted by the challenges of life is am I going to try to handle this by myself.  The answer is no, I cannot handle it alone.  Unfortunately, I often forget that and try to make a go of it alone.  More often than not, I will make a complete mess of it and ultimately have to go to my Father as I should have done in the beginning.  In Philippians 4, Paul tells us what to do and what the result will be.  With prayer, supplication and thanksgiving, let God know your anxieties.  While our fellow Christians care about us and our problems, only God can grant us the peace that surpasses anything we can imagine.  True contentment and peaceful lives come with our trust in God and by following His will for our lives as found in Philippians 4:8-9: let our minds dwell on truth, righteousness, purity, loveliness, good and studying his Scriptures and practicing them.  Then and only then will we find the peace of God.  Godliness accompanied by contentment is the source of great gain as we are told in 1 Timothy 6:6.  Paul was content in his role.

If you are struggling with anxiety over financial problems, loss of job or worry about loved ones in peril from war, go to God about it.  The sooner we realize we cannot handle these things alone and that only He has the power to help, the sooner we will experience contentment.  Remember 1 Peter 5:6-7: “Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your anxiety upon Him, because He cares for you” (NASB).  Are you content in your role?

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