Gospel Culture: Part 3By Scott Hamilton
April 30, 2021
In many ways our exploration of Gospel culture might encourage us to consider our church in somewhat sensory categories.
What does it look like? Surrender.
What does it sound like? Humility.
Our third aspect of Gospel Culture invites us to consider what our churches feel like. Maybe you belong to a church family which is wary of the notion of feelings or anything that gives the hint of being touchy-feely or hyped emotionalism. Aside from saying that we need to be watchful that the equal and opposite isn’t also true—that our affections are in some way disconnected due to our caution about feelings—this is less about how church makes you feel and more what church feels like to someone coming in. It is less about emotion and more about environment.
Ephesians 4: 1-3 has a word that sits in relative anonymity between characteristics which more typically draw the attention of the Christian: gentleness. It is that gentleness (as is perhaps in keeping with how we imagine its nature) sits uncomplainingly between those attention grabbers of humility and patience. It is an obscurity that is perhaps borne from the assumption that humility and patience are real problems for the Christian whereby gentleness is less of an issue. But is that really true?
Again, you may have spent time at some point working through the fruit of the Spirit, either in a sermon series or in your time in God’s Word, and omitted gentleness from the checklist of what you need God’s grace for most urgently. Could it be that gentleness is amongst the most overlooked and least prayed for characteristics that the Gospel calls us to?
Gentleness: he has not crushed me
We have every reason to seek to be gentle. Consider just some of the ways that an infinite God, of absolute holiness, existing in eternal majesty and power speaks through His Word about how He deals with us:
- He will tend his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms; he will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young. (Isaiah 40: 11)
- He will not cry aloud or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street; a bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice. (Isaiah 42:2-3)
- Because the poor are plundered, because the needy groan, I will now arise,” says the Lord; “I will place him in the safety for which he longs. (Psalm 12:5)
- …for you have been my help, and in the shadow of your wings I will sing for joy. (Psalm 63:7)
Alternatively, just camp out in Psalm 23 for a few days.
The One who could crush us cares for us and carries us and the picture so often is of Him cradling us. He has not crushed me even though disobedience and my sin dependence say that is what I deserve. Yet the Gospel says that instead I am loved. I am helped. I am made free. I am given purpose. How tenderly God has dealt with me.
Is that gentleness what people feel in the church. Do they feel tenderly dealt with? If we are honest when we are planting churches, we are often thinking about getting after it rather than gentleness or taking the hill more than how to be tenderhearted towards one another. Gentleness is slow and soft when what is needed is momentum and clear minds. Yet that misrepresents what gentleness is.
Gentleness is power restrained. You could damage, but you won’t. You could create carnage, but you choose not to. You could bruise, but you seek to bless.
Gentleness is not just strength controlled but strength that is full of care. It is the active tenderness that God shows towards us and that some time in the Gospels shows Jesus repeatedly modelling to us. It is the feeling you get when you hold something fragile. Gospel culture is a culture of gentleness that carries but doesn’t crush. That is what we get to do together as church family. It is what we are called to by God who cradles us in His grace. It is what people should feel when they spend time in our churches.
The Gospel clearly shows us the gentleness of God towards us; it speaks of the meekness of Jesus. It is that where God could rightly have crushed us, he chose to send his Son to become incarnate and be crucified for us. Even on the cross, Jesus chose to be crushed rather than to crush. That is the model of Gospel gentleness. Does any of that sound weak or wishy-washy to you?