September 18, 2021 • Life for Leaders
Scripture—Romans 2:4 (NIV)
Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?
Kindness and gentleness, though countercultural, are virtues God desires to build in us. God calls us to put on these virtues like clothing (Colossians 3:12). In doing so, not only do we reflect God’s kingdom here on earth, and glorify Christ by being like him, but God can also use our kindness and gentleness (more even than our arguing!) to lead others to repentance and knowledge of the truth.
In yesterday’s devotion, I addressed the related virtues of gentleness and kindness. I pointed out that these traits are part of the character that God desires to build within his followers, and part of the fruit that the Holy Spirit does bear in us when we abide in Him. Today I want to both share my own struggles with practicing gentleness, and address why gentleness and kindness—though countercultural—are worthwhile and important.
A little over a year ago, my father moved in with my wife and me so that we could take care of him. He suffers from Alzheimer’s, and over the time he has been with us we have seen his disease steadily progress. Not only has he lost countless memories, but ironically in his confusion he now also “remembers” events that never happened. This loss of cognitive function often makes it impossible to reason with him.
Over the past couple weeks (while I was working on this devotion) my wife shared with me some training she received for caregivers of people with dementia. One important idea is that a caregiver should not be looking to correct wrong ideas in the dementia patient, but rather looking to help the patient feel loved. It’s a simple idea and in some ways should be relatively easy to do. At the core of this practice are virtues of gentleness and kindness. Yet I confess that even a year into this caregiving role, I still struggle; my first impulse when my father says something untrue or unreasonable is to quickly (and perhaps harshly) correct his mistake. Of course, doing so doesn’t help him as he isn’t capable of remembering what he’s told. Yet those corrections are likely to make him feel badly—and to start him arguing.
Thankfully, I am slowly seeing God develop a greater gentleness in me. I am also realizing that this lesson is one that can and should carry over from care for my father into many interactions at work, home, and church. Why does this matter? It’s not that being gentle helps us “get ahead”—though in some cases, as with my father, it can lead to a more peaceful household. But there are many important reasons. One I addressed yesterday: God calls us to put on these virtues like clothing (Colossians 3:12). In doing so, we reflect God’s kingdom here on earth, and we glorify Christ by being like him.
Another more specific reason is that kindness—a trait which manifests gentleness—can lead others to repentance. This is what Paul suggests in Romans 2:4. “Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?” Although Paul does not explicitly reference “gentleness” here with the same word he uses in Colossians, he does mention “kindness” twice, tying it to patience in a way that suggests the sort of gentleness he writes of in many other places—and which scripture also tells us is a trait of Jesus (2 Corinthians 10:1).
Ponder that! Paul tells us that it is not harshness, arrogance, clever memes, or even great intellectual knowledge and ability to argue that leads one to repentance. Instead, it is patient forbearing kindness that leads one to repentance. And repentance is central in the Christian faith. It is the starting point of a saving relationship with Christ: repenting and believing the good news. It is also an important ongoing aspect of our walk with Christ. Thus we ought to be practicing kindness and gentleness in our interactions both within our church families and with those outside the church. Do you want to see others come to repentance? Then be kind to them.
Now in case one thinks that only the kindness of God matters in leading people to repentance, consider the instructions Paul gives in 2 Timothy 2:24-26. In telling Timothy how to respond to his opponents, he urges him to practice kindness with everyone. He then specifically encourages gentleness as a characteristic of Timothy’s teaching. Timothy should still be concerned with good instruction, and with “a knowledge of the truth.” Paul has just finished warning Timothy—and later will return to more such warnings—that false teaching within the church is harmful. Yet the response must still be one characterized not by quarrelsomeness or harshness, but by kindness and gentleness. Ultimately, Paul points out, Timothy’s arguments aren’t going to bring somebody to repentance; the “hope” is that “God will grant them repentance.”
As I noted, this approach is countercultural. (Consider the number of memes that fly around social media with the point of ridiculing another group or belief. The prevalence of such memes is a poignant example of harshness rather than kindness or gentleness.) I’ve witnessed times when these virtues are lacking even in the church: when church leaders are more concerned with exercising power over those within the church, and ridiculing or treating harshly those outside the church, than with practicing gentleness. What I have not seen is harshness or condemnation leading anybody to repentance.
Thankfully, I’ve also seen many wonderful models of kindness and gentleness being practiced by believers both in their interactions within the church and in interactions with those who don’t share the Christian faith—even with others who are hostile and very ungentle. And those are the examples I have most often seen bear the fruit of repentance. Indeed, gentleness may have the most profound witness when it is a response to hostility and harshness. So put off harshness, and put on gentleness and kindness like clothing. It may help point others toward the kindness of Christ, and in doing so help lead them to repentance.
In what sorts of situations do you find it most difficult to act or respond with gentleness and kindness? Why? What would a gentle response look like?
How do people respond when you are kind and gentle? How do they respond when you are harsh or condemning?
Repeating and rephrasing one of yesterday’s reflection questions: What are some areas or persons at work, home, or church where or with whom you need to practice more gentleness?
Pray for somebody with whom you have significant disagreements. Consider how you might practice kindness or gentleness toward that person over the next few days. Then carry out that practice with the help of the Holy Spirit.
Lord, I thank you for your kindness toward me. I thank you that you have brought me to repentance. I know that my salvation does not come from anything I have done, but only from your wonderful and boundless grace. For that goodness and love, I praise you. Give me, I pray, by the power of your Spirit, the courage to show grace toward others through the practice of kindness and gentleness—even toward others who do not return that kindness. I know I can only do that with your strength. Amen.
Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the Theology of Work Project. Commentary on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: All Have Sinned (Romans 2–3)
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Matthew Dickerson’s books include works of spiritual theology and Christian apologetics as well as historical fiction, fantasy literature, explorations of the writings of C.S.Lewis and J.R.R.Tolkien, and books about trout fishing, fly fishing, rivers, and ecology. His recent books include: Disciple Making in a Culture of Power, Comfort, and Fear and The Voices of Rivers: Reflections on Places Wild and Almost Wild. He was a 2017 artist-in-residence at Glacier National Park. He lives in Vermont with his wife, dog, and cat, not far from three married sons, and is an active member of Memorial Baptist Church. Matthew is also a professor of computer science at Middlebury College in Vermont.