Be Gentle!

29 Aug

Philippians 2:3:  “Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves.”

At the beginning of the great passage in Philippians 2 in which Jesus, in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God, but took upon Himself the form of a servant anyway, we see this verse exhorting us to practice servanthood with each other.

What does servanthood via lowliness of mind look like?  When we introduce a young child to a baby, we often tell the little one “Be gentle” and perhaps guide her little hand to stroke the baby gently several times.  I think the admonition to “be gentle” works pretty well with adults, too.

One example of an area in the Body of Christ where this might be practiced is in the area of our differences.  God spent quite a few chapters of the Scriptures telling us that He purposely built diversity into His Body.  He told us that we all work together as one body, with no one given permission to define their place or their function in the Body as superior to anyone else’s.  When one grieves, we all grieve.  When one celebrates, we all celebrate!  This is even so when the one celebrating got a promotion or an inheritance or something else that we think we need and didn’t get.

There is no more diverse area than that of our giftings.    In this, I don’t just mean the Biblical terms for how we are gifted (the Bible provides at least three lists of different ways God gifts each New Testament believer to serve within the local church).   Every person wants to know, “What is my gifting?”

In conjunction with the question of giftings, there is another question that every human being confronts at some point, “Why was I born?”  Those people who are saved add another question to that one, “What does God mean to uniquely accomplish through me?”

If my informal observations are anywhere near correct, less than half of the adults in any local body of believers know what their gifting is.  That situation can remain for decades or even throughout one’s life and can be for a number of reasons.

We don’t all have the same temperament.  Some people are more indecisive by nature and may take a long time trying all the possible giftings on for size.

Some may have a more timid nature and not dare try giftings on for size at all.

Sometimes people can spin on childhood issues for decades.  Sometimes these are never even resolved until heaven.  While I believe God offers us all complete freedom from such issues, even in this lifetime, we know, being practical, that not all childhood issues are resolved for every Christian while here on this earth.  And such issues can be a tremendous barrier to the freedom required to finding our gifting in Christ.

For Christians who know from a fairly young age what their gifting is, and what God has called them to uniquely accomplish in this life, it is good to understand that others struggle mightily with those same questions.  And since the issues are so basic to the core of who someone is and to the way that person thinks about herself, a cycle of depression can result from such a struggle.  We might find that a precious, blood-bought sister takes literally half a lifetime to find the thing that makes her say “Now I know why God created me.”

It can work the same way with a man, but I don’t want to keep switching genders back and forth, so please just understand that part, as I work through this.

Compassion is one of God’s loveliest gifts—understanding when someone is trying hard but is struggling nonetheless.

And, frankly, I can’t think of a much lovelier picture than that of a struggling believer who doesn’t know what her gifting is but who helps clean when people are cleaning, helps take care of children when children need care, helps cook when meals are needed, and just serves in every possible capacity she can while pursuing the question of where her gifting lies (truthfully, this person might find the gift of “helps” that Paul described is the one that applies to her in the end!).

After all, we all need to provide practical assistance to others as part of the Body of Christ!

In my case, I know that my gifting is in writing.  I have known that since I was in fourth grade and my teacher, a Christian woman in a public school, asked me where I had gotten a fictional story I turned in.  I told her I wrote it and was told that I really needed to tell her the truth about where I had gotten the story.  When I finally convinced her that it really was my work, she became my greatest fan as a writer.  She told me that she knew she would see my name on a book someday!  She has repeated that statement across the years.  Any guesses where my first copy of that book is going to go when it is finally published?

Dovetailing with my writing, I have the Biblical gift of teaching.  I have been aware of that for about the last twenty years.  I love to study God’s Word, write about God’s Word, and teach it in person.

So, that is how it has worked out for me.  I knew at a very young age what I was born to do and haven’t changed my mind since then.  But I don’t get a free pass either.  I don’t get to write, teach, and go home, leaving everyone else to clean up after baby showers and bring meals to new mothers.

Now how should all believers, regardless of gifting (or not knowing one’s gifting) treat each other?  If lowliness of mind is present, then a grace-filled relationship between a person who knows her gifting and one who does not should be filled with a holy awe of what the Lord is doing in the other person’s life.

If one person struggles with not knowing her gifting, and thereby not feeling she has a place and worth in the Body of Christ, we reassure her.  We can even, in a non-pushy way, encourage her in her search to find out where she fits in and what God created her to do.  Remember, though, even if she spends an entire lifetime and doesn’t discover her gifting while on this planet, she is still to be esteemed as a blood-bought sister in Christ.

And on the other hand, the person who knows his gifting within the Body and works faithfully within it is never to be treated by others as though he were cocky or prideful.  His joy in having discovered the purpose for which God created him might occasionally spill over so enthusiastically that people are tempted to roll their eyes or call him conceited but, especially if he is young, he is still growing too, and will make mistakes learning to walk faithfully on the path to which God has called him.

I imagine if I had said to people in my church when I was back in the fourth grade, “God created me to write,” there might have been more than a few mixed reactions!  But there really shouldn’t be.  Just as I was chronologically young when I realized God created me to write, so some of our precious blood-bought brothers and sisters are young, or young in the faith, when they discover their giftings.  They may not know how to talk about them with all the correct terminology at the outset.  But we can model grace-filled living for them by encouraging them in their journey, too.

We can do this without being judgmental of the enthusiasm with which they approach their area of giftedness.  We can do this without constantly calling their mistakes to their attention as they learn.  We can do this without thinking that that person has to be more like us or our circle of friends.

There is room for diversity in the Body of Christ, particularly in the area of our giftings.

Let us be gentle with each other, brothers and sisters.

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