Week Three: Gentleness and Patience
We are in the final week of a short series called, FOOL PROOF, using the wisdom of PROVERBS as our guide. With 31 chapters in Proverbs, it makes a great tool for gaining spiritual wisdom each day of the month!
Too often we make decisions in life or jump into actions without asking ourselves an all-important question: IS IT WISE? In light of your past experiences, in light of your present circumstances, and in light of your future hopes and dreams, “IS IT WISE?” Listen again to this strong caution from the Apostle Paul:
15Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, 16making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. 17Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.
Again, with insights from John David Walt of Seedbed, we are going to look at two characteristics of the wise in an effort for us to be “fool proof.” I’ve chosen these two attributes because they are not only two of my weakest aspects of my character, but because I think if we excelled in these two areas, many of our relational problems would take care of themselves.
The first characteristic is patience. Let’s look to Proverbs 14:29 for insight:
Whoever is patient has great understanding, but one who is quick-tempered displays folly.
The bible contrasts patience with quick-temperedness. Are you are a patient person, or do things easily ruffle your feathers? Guess which one I tend to be? Let me give you an example from my past. I could tell you a more recent story but then you may think I haven’t changed a lick, which actually is not true. I’m sharing this story because it is dramatic and underscores the depth, danger, and foolishness of quick-temperedness.
About 20 years ago when I was still practicing real estate in our family business, I was in the middle of a major deal involving about four transactions. Each sale hinged on the successful closing of the one before it. To complete the transaction would have meant eight families would have happily relocated and I would have profited by about $12,000.
The deal was starting to unravel because the buyer of the first sale was having trouble getting financing. I was calling every broker in town trying to find a lender willing to give this couple a chance, but hope was fleeting. A final phone call came one morning saying there was no way to make the deal work.
My blood boiled. I slammed the phone receiver down. Then I picked it up and slammed it again, and again, and again, and again…until the phone broke into about 20 pieces. I then ripped the cord loose and threw it out of my office, narrowly missing my assistant. And if that weren’t enough, I stormed down the hall to the file room, threw the folders into the cabinet, slammed the cabinet, and began punching the file drawer until it literally would not open again.
How many of you would say I had overheated just a bit? How many of you would say that was excessive anger? Rage? How many of you would say that was downright foolishness? Right on all counts. There have been other cases where I have let my temper get the best of me, and I am embarrassed about every one of them. To say that I am never prone to be quick-tempered would be a lie; but I can say that I am NOT the man I was back then. I am a work in progress and God continues to mold me into the man he wants me to be.
It’s interesting how we use the metaphor of a thermometer and temperature to talk about anger. Here’s a myth about the so-called “quick tempered” folks among us. Temperature doesn’t typically quickly fluctuate instantaneously. In the same way, a quick-tempered person does not explode in anger all of a sudden. Truth is, folks we think of as “quick-tempered” already had a fever. We were already mad. A quick temper looks like a spike in a person’s temperature who was already about to boil over.
That’s what anger is like, a low-grade fever. People who have a “quick temper” typically carry the low grade fever of anger around with them all the time. Their temper can spike at the slightest thing. It often looks very irrational and even foolish (i.e. folly). It’s because quick tempered people usually aren’t mad about what they are mad at.
So, for those of us with a quick temper, the real question is, “What am I mad about? Because I’m probably not mad about what I’m currently mad about.” I’m not really upset with the slow clerk at the Walmart checkout line. I’m not really ticked off at the guy who cut me off in traffic. I’m especially NOT mad about Cassie overcooking the pizza (that never happened by the way).
It often takes either a good friend or a professional counselor to help uncover the deeper issue(s). The source of our anger may go all the way back to our childhood, and we can literally carry it for a lifetime. Such was the case for me and it took the counsel of a godly professional as well as some dear friends to help me recognize and address the situation.
Could it be that the low-grade fever of anger underlies much of what we call depression and anxiety? It literally makes us sick. And the antidote to anger is usually some form of forgiveness. Depression and anxiety may require medication, but anger can only be cured by forgiveness.
We’ve talked about forgiveness quite often. Maybe it’s because forgiveness is the key to salvation. Was it not for the forgiveness of our sins that Jesus came to die and rise from the dead? Didn’t Jesus teach us in the disciple’s prayer, “Forgive our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us”?
Last week we did an exercise of forgiveness. I asked you to think about a sin that you continually come back to as a dog returns to its vomit. We asked God to forgive us by the blood of Jesus and then we talked about being laser focused on Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, so that we might not fall back into the same sin. We talked about being all in for Christ, rather than being “some in”. The wisdom of God says, “Trust in the Lord with ALL your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In ALL your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.”
It all begins with forgiveness. (1) Being forgiven by God through Christ when we re-align ourselves with His life and purposes; (2) Forgiving ourselves just as Jesus forgives us; and (3) Forgiving others who have wronged us.
Let’s look at the other side of this same proverbial coin. While the quick-tempered person displays folly, “Whoever has patience has great understanding.” Wisdom looks and feels like patience. Whoever is patient has great understanding. Patience isn’t just a common human trait. In fact, it’s not a human trait at all; it’s a divine virtue. Think about was the Apostle Paul said in 1 Corinthians 13 about divine love: “Love is patient. Love is kind.” An attribute of love is patience because the source of patience is deep wisdom…godly wisdom. Why? Because true wisdom IS of God and God is LOVE.
Last year we studied the wisdom of Jesus’s half-brother, James. Let’s turn to him again for truth on how to live this out :
My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires. James 1:19-20
That word, “listen,” is splattered all across the pages of Proverbs. Maybe we should spend some time on that word, “listen,” very soon. Listening is quickly followed by this idea of being “slow to anger”…not being quick-tempered. All that is good, but isn’t it really just managing a fever?
But now listen to the way Eugene Peterson translates the next verse in his translation called, “The Message.” It seems he gets to the deeper, longer term solution : In simple humility, let our gardener, God, landscape you with the Word, making a salvation-garden of your life. James 1:21 (The Message Translation)
Humility—the opposite of pride—is a choice. When we choose humility, we are open to receive instruction and correction from God’s Word and from others. God’s wisdom and understanding then leads to patience. You see, patience doesn’t come from trying to be more patient. “Whoever is patient has great understanding.” An outflow of great understanding—of deep wisdom—is patience. And because of the virtue of patience, our low-grade fever goes away. Sure, we may still become angry from time to time. But we will not live with a life of unforgiveness and bitterness. We will not be simmering in our own poison of regret and resentment. Instead, we will be open to love, to forgive, to learn, to accept one another’s faults, to receive and to give the blessings God has for us.
Let’s “impatiently” (jk) turn to one more characteristic of wisdom in seeking to be “fool-proof”: GENTLENESS. Listen to Proverbs 15:1à “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”
Are you a gentle person? If not, chances are you are a harsh person. Maybe you live with a harsh person while you tend to be more gentle. Can you guess who’s the gentle one in our family? Again, that’s why I decided to bring gentleness as well as patience as two more qualities of one’s life that ensures being “fool proof”—because they are both qualities I need more of in my life.
J.D. Walt quotes a Roman Catholic priest named Father Adrian VanKaam from his book entitled, “Spirituality and the Gentle Life.” Fr. VanKaam writes of gentleness as the foundation of the spiritual life and the necessary attribute for sustained spiritual growth and development. Here’s what VanKaam says:
Gentleness is an attitude of letting be, combined with a patient abiding with myself or with the person, task, or problem God calls me to be involved in. This attitude leads to peace and contentment. The gentle person is more free. He can take himself and the world as they are because he feels free to be himself and to let all things be with the same gentility.
Gentleness is a disposition or way of being. We see it in people who are at home with themselves, and people who are at home with themselves have a way of helping others be more at home with themselves. Angry people tend to carry harshness. Gentle people carry peace. I’m telling my age, but do you remember the 1970s sitcom , “All in the Family?” Archie Bunker was a middle class, retired blue collar worker with a lot low-grade fever of anger always simmering. And his wife, Edith, was usually the recipient of Archie’s harshness, while she tended to show gentleness and temperance. Truth be told, I think we are all capable of being both harsh and gentle, aren’t we?
A little further down in chapter 15:8 we read this: “A hot-tempered person stirs up conflict, but the one who is patient calms a quarrel.” There’s that word “patience” again.
It all relates, doesn’t it? It’s a choice to be gentle or harsh, isn’t it? Edith tended to be far more patient with Archie than most of us would be. And it was her patience and gentleness that often calmed the quarrel.
Gentleness does not mean conflict avoidance. On the contrary, it shows up in the way we engage conflict. A good way to tell if I am a gentle person is not so much to watch how I handle my own conflicts, but to watch me in the midst of conflicts between other people. Do I tend to contribute to a conflict by taking sides and escalating it, or do I tend to look for ways to defuse the conflict?
Finally, we should remember that gentleness is not a personality trait. Like patience, it is a fruit of the Spirit. In Galatians 5 we read a contrast between the acts of the sinful nature and the fruit of the Spirit. Among the sin-nature behaviors includes hatred, discord, and “fits of rage.” While the evidence of the Spirit of God at work in us include: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
So, we can’t let ourselves off the hook by saying gentleness is not our personality type. “I’m not wired to be patient.” In one sense you would be right, because it’s not a wiring issue at all…it’s a “software” issue. We are called to upgrade our old self-centered operating system using God’s Word as the “free upgrade.” In computers, a software upgrade overwrites the old data with new, improved data.
Paul reminds us in 2 Corinthians 5:17 that , “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” It’s actually a part of our calling to be conformed into the image of Jesus Christ. But where there is a calling, there is always a response. That’s the difference between “believers” and FOLLOWERS of Jesus. To believe is to agree with the Bible and church history that Jesus is the Son of God and died to save us from our sins. To follow is to respond to God’s call on our lives to be transformed by changing the way we think and, thus, the way we live our lives.
“Whoever is patient has great understanding, but one who is quick-tempered displays folly.” “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”
These two passages point to the qualities of patience and gentleness as byproducts of wisdom. With the humility to be teachable and the intentionality to be changed more and more into the likeness of Christ through the Spirit-led reading and application of God’s Word, we will find the blessing of patience and gentleness in our lives. We can be more at peace and at home with ourselves and with others. We will be better listeners…better friends…better husbands and wives…better fathers and mothers.
Isn’t that what we want? Don’t we want our lives better than what they are? Isn’t that one of the reasons we seek God, to be a better person? The Bible calls it holiness, without which no one can see God. The book of Proverbs is a great gift of God to us if to help us be FOOL PROOF if we will humbly read and apply its wisdom. AMEN.