“But we proved to be gentle among you, as a nursing mother tenderly cares for her children.”
– 1 Thessalonians 2:7 (NASB)
When I think of a strong man, a tough man, a passionate man, a bold and courageous man, I most often think of the Apostle Paul. Very few men throughout history have ever suffered or endured as much physical and emotional pain and hardship as this man. Few men have been as bold and courageous for Jesus Christ. Few men have incurred so much hatred, persecution, ridicule, and betrayal as often as this devout man of God.
With that in mind then, I cannot quite explain to you the impact that this passage of Scripture in 1 Thess. 2:7 has had on my life, my ministry, my marriage, and my parenting. It is quite frankly a stunning portrayal of a man, the Apostle Paul. To describe him and his behavior among God’s people as gentle and then to deliberately use the picture of a nursing mother and her tremendous gentleness and tenderness with her tiny, nursing newborn baby is extraordinary, but that is exactly what the Apostle Paul does. This picture, which I witnessed countless times as my wife tenderly nursed our 4 children, hits me smack in the face and deep in my heart. I have wept more tears over my need to grow in this area than anything else in my life.
Why? Because I am not gentle by nature. I am not tender by nature. My particular human nature is fiery, harsh, loud, forceful, full of passion, and it was not easy for me to come to terms with God on the profound ways He wanted to change me, to grow me, and make me more like Jesus Christ in this area of my life. I have been fully aware that the Bible tells me that a fruit of the Holy Spirit, Christ’s spirit in me, is gentleness. God is gentle. Of course, He is many more things in addition to that, but He is gentle.
Have we not each been touched deeply by these words of Jesus Christ in Matt. 11:28-29, “Come to me all of you who are weary and heavy burdened and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble of heart!” Is this not the very invitation of God as a reason to come to Him? Is this not what we all found so moving and so attractive about our Savior Jesus Christ and why we came to embrace Him? Are we not all so weary and tired of the world’s harshness, the world’s bullying ways, and the oppressive way people have treated us? Have we not been moved by David’s words in Psalm 18:35 as He speaks of God, “Your gentleness makes me great.”
I cannot begin to express the impact of God’s gentleness with me. Time and time again, God could have smacked me down, or destroyed my life. He could have shamed me, or rebuked me so severely I never would have tried again. The gentleness and tender love of Jesus Christ, with all my frailties, weaknesses, immaturity, defiance, mistakes, slow to learn spirit, self will, I could go on and on. How I thank God with overwhelming gratitude that He has been gentle with me like a mother gently and tenderly nursing her children. I can’t tell you how many times I have been rebuked in spirit by the gentle, tender way my wife spoke to our children, the tender way she dealt with our children. Her gentle spirit, O dear Lord, what a gift it has been to me and to our children. I have stood rebuked so many times as I have pondered her gentleness, my Savior’s great gentleness with me, and the gentleness of the Apostle Paul with those dear believers in his care.
Over the years, I have known many harsh men, I have known many an abrasive man, I have known many Christian men who did not begin to grasp the meaning of the word gentleness. At times, I have been that man. It has only been by God’s grace that I have learned little by little to put that old man Mark to death and to walk in the gentle ways of Jesus, in the way of a tender nursing mother as I deal with other people, as I deal with my wife, as I deal with my children.
Brothers, the impact of your gentleness with your children and wife cannot be overstated. It is extremely powerful, it helps them feel closer to you, it helps them feel and experience your real love, it helps them respond to you, it helps them picture God in a much more accurate and compelling way, and it nurtures their heart and growth. Gentleness and tenderness especially nurture the growth of children and a marriage. I have been so blessed by this truth!
JESUS IS NOT A BULLY! JESUS DID NOT CONQUER MEN’S HEARTS WITH FEAR, BUT WITH GENTLE, TENDER LOVE.
I am reminded of the story of Elijah in 1 Kings 19:11-13. Elijah fled out into the desert, overwhelmed with discouragement, afraid for his life, feeling completely alone, weary and heavy burdened, actually wanting to die. God meets him there and tells him to go stand outside before Him on the mountain. The Lord passes by and a mighty windstorm hits the mountain with such a blast the rocks were torn loose, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake was a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire! After the fire, there was the sound of a gentle whisper. God was there!!
I end with this story. When my oldest daughter and son were little, about 5 and 6, I bought them each matching blue bikes. I could not wait to bring them home and watch their little faces light up and teach them to ride the bikes. I was so excited. Maybe more than they were. When I got home, they squealed with delight. They were overjoyed. In a few hours, my daughter was riding the bike. I was thrilled. I was now going to help my son learn to ride. He got on the bike and I was pushing him around the back yard on the grass. He seemed to enjoy it. Then I briefly let go, and the bike fell over, and the peddle scratched his calf a little. Nothing bad, just a little. He began to cry. I did my usual thing to comfort him briefly, then began to coax him and persuade him to get back on the bike. He was very hesitant. I could tell he was afraid. I began my daddy motivational speech, I pointed to his sister, “Look at her, she is riding already, you can do this.” Finally, he tried again, but as I let go, he fell again. This time he didn’t want to get back on. Now, I was frustrated. Why? Because no son of mine is going to quit!! You can do this! The forceful Mark was beginning to come over me. Then something happened, God took hold of me, it was a strange experience for me. I thought of Jesus and His gentleness, I thought of Elijah, and God’s gentleness with his fear, his discouragement, and the gentle whisper of God to Elijah. I gently said, “Son, I love you very much. Would you like to wait till some other time to try to ride the bike?” He perked up immediately and said, “Yes dad, I would”. I said, “Son, that is just fine. I will put the bike away in the garage and when you feel like you want to try to ride it, you just tell me, okay?” He was so relieved, so encouraged, so happy and he trusted me more as a result.
About a year later, he came to me and was ready to try again. Within a short hour, he was riding the bike all by himself. Gentleness won the day, and God used that greatly in my life.
My fervent prayer is that as we live in the time of Connor McGregor and the UFC, we would not think of this as the ideal picture of true manhood, but would emulate the manhood of the Apostle Paul and of our gentle, tender Savior, Jesus Christ. Fully masculine, full of strength, yet divinely gentle, like a mother nursing her little child.