The Case for Gentle Words

High-pressure dialogues don’t naturally lend themselves to gentle speech, not even when the persons involved are normally soft-spoken.

Apparently even the apostles weren’t immune to the challenge of steamy retorts. So Paul approached this topic in counsel to his young protégé, Timothy, in 2 Timothy 2. Paul focused on interaction. His wise words will hold Christians today in good stead as well:

  • Don’t get into foolish arguments.
  • Avoid inflammatory chatter.
  • Properly represent God.
  • Be instructive rather than defensive or destructive.
  • Protect the brash and foolhardy from themselves.

Paul’s counsel also raises questions that are the stuff of meetings involving Sabbath School council members and class facilitators. After all, Sabbath School members will inevitably want to get a handle on questions that reflect the reality of their daily interactions. Questions include these:

  • With a verifiable opponent, how do we rightly divide the word of truth without arguing about the truth? (2 Tim. 2:15)
  • What are “profane” babblings?
  • Why must Christians always be the ones who rise above the norm?
  • What are some negative cloaks, some ungodly uses of kind words and a soothing tone that I must avoid?

Some lament, “I’m just naturally fiery. It’s in my blood.” For them, sometimes it takes following an external procedure until the internal (new-birth) experience takes hold. Here are some suggestions:

  • Accept opponents for who they are.
  • Look for common ground on which to build a bridge across divisive points.
  • Be assertive rather than aggressive.
  • Look for ways for both of you to get something out of the exchange.
  • Be open to the possibility that you are not all right, that there may be a flaw in your process, although not in your principle.

In 2 Timothy 4 Paul addresses preparation, and many insights also can be inferred:

  • Be ready. Be prepared.
  • Know the Word from many angles.
  • Know how to put on the “kid gloves” as well as to practice tough love.
  • Be patient.
  • Be able to identify the opposition.
  • Know your opponents’ attitude and modus operandi, their methods.

The apostle Peter throws into the mix an attribute of gentleness that many find especially tough to engage while in the heat of spiritual warfare: R-e-s-p-e-c-t: “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15, NIV).

The first part of this verse provides the how-to: “But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord” (NIV). Gentleness is an attribute of Christlikeness: “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matt. 11:29, NKJV). Here Christ models, “I am gentle.” He also instructs, gives the key ingredient of gentleness, being “lowly in heart,” meaning “humble.” So gentleness is more than a technique; it is a gift from God, a fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:23).

Gentleness requires spending time with the epitome of gentleness, feeling the beating of His heart, watching how He handles things. Gentleness requires developing a mind like His (Phil. 2:5).

© 2014 General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists