A friend posted earlier in the week as we got our first real cold front of the fall: Texas will be closed today. We’re all looking for our jackets.
I would add, and our fuzzy socks.
There’s nothing funnier that watching Houstonians bundle up against 60-degree temps. We know we’re being a little ridiculous, but really, we don’t care. We don’t get a leaf change here, so we’re doing the best we can with whatever constitutes autumn. (And by the time I post this, pretty sure the temps will be back in the 70s or 80s.)
Perfect excuse, then, for my kind of autumn contentment: steep some hot tea and light a fire in the fireplace. Pure bliss.
I’ve been thinking about fire in general lately. Such a strong, important force. Contained, it brings warm, toasty goodness in my den, but let loose, it can bring destruction. Kind of like anger—it can be an indicator that something is wrong, a motivator for change, and a jumpstart for justice, all really good things. But good grief, anger can spread like a wildfire given half a chance. What, then, keeps anger in bounds?
God’s answer is gentleness—but not the kind you’re probably thinking about. In fact, if your definition of gentleness evokes a roll of Charmin toilet paper, then I’d say we need to get a new definition. Face it, in a society where every news cycle makes us want to lose our minds in outrage, flimsy, two-ply gentleness just isn’t going to cut it. But did you know that God’s kind of gentleness is not weak nor checked out of reality? God’s kind of gentleness gives us strength to turn away wrathful anger in ourselves and others and gives us staying power to see real change happen.
Colossians 3:12 says that because we are “God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, [we can] clothe ourselves in compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.” That list, and gentleness in particular, can seem like an awfully anemic response to a world gone mad. It helps, however, to understand that these aren’t merely human responses but are Holy Spirit-empowered responses that are part of Christ’s own character.
The Greek word that Paul and other New Testament writers use for the attribute we translate gentleness or meekness is quite different from our English equivalents, which tend to equate gentle with delicate or weak. According to AMG’s New Testament Dictionary the Greek term prautes was understood by the first-century audience as the middle ground between unchecked rage at one extreme and ambivalence at the other. It is the choice of a strong person to reign in “reactions out of submission to God. It is a balance born in strength of character, stemming from confident trust in God, not from weakness or fear.”
That is Christ’s kind of gentleness, the quiet strength that allowed him to stand resolved and silent during his trial leading to the crucifixion, even though he had the power to obliterate his enemies. That’s the kind of gentleness he makes accessible to you and me through the Holy Spirit. We even see this in the Old Testament with the oft-quoted Proverbs 15:1, “A gentle answer turns away wrath; but a harsh word stirs up anger.” Note that gentleness does not acquiesce to the fury but stands in strength and confidence to turn it away.
It’s worth noting again, though, that not all anger is out of bounds. Can the strong emotion of anger be good and useful? Yes! Anger is an emotion created by God for a reason: it is the response that signals there’s been out-of-bounds behavior. Jesus had His anger stirred up when He saw people making a fast buck at the expense of pilgrims visiting the temple to make sacrifices. He ran those unscrupulous folks out of the temple! (See John 2)
But there is always a potential for danger when it comes to human anger: in our flawed human condition, anger is capable of burning like a wildfire out of control with very little provocation. That’s why understanding godly gentleness is so important: remember, it’s not ambivalence, fear, or weakness, but rather a Spirit-enabled choice to react to anger in a God-honoring way. It keeps the fire in check and is the difference between toasty warm and too hot to handle. We’ll dig into what those reactions look like and more ins and outs of anger in the next post. Until then, look for me in my parka and tall boots pretending it’s cold.
Houston-area parents, wondering how in the world to launch teens into adulthood when they won’t even pick up their socks? It’s not too late to sign up for my workshop for parents of junior high and senior high students at Faithbridge Church in north Houston on October 21st. Register HERE!
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