Every now and then, I have fun reflecting on personality types and tendencies. There's something about understanding myself and others that brings clarity to my experiences. Usually it's entertaining...but sometimes it gives me pause for some serious reflection. I remember first becoming acutely aware of my melancholic, conscientious, detail-oriented tendencies when they started showing up in my oldest child. (Crazy how kids can walk around like little mirrors showing you all sorts of things about yourself!) As the big sister, she often took it upon herself to correct her baby brother back when there was only one of them around. Sometimes it was about pronunciation of words, other times what toys were hers and not his. But more often than not, that conscientious value for correctness would tip toward condemnation and eventually tears...both hers and his. Now that our once-baby brother has his own baby brother, I've seen that corrective pattern pop up again and again.
It starts with a value for what's right, but it quickly goes all wrong.
How many times have you experienced that? Whatever your personality type, I think we've all observed or experienced for ourselves an interpersonal dynamic where someone's stance for the right eventually went wrong. It happens the minute we prioritize our being right and correct over and above our value for quality relationship. It happens when we become so zealous about our convictions that we become conscience for other people. It happens when we bully those around us into thinking just like we do. "I see this to be right and true, and you must too."
Could it be that when we think we're the most right is when we can do the most wrong?
KNOWN FOR GENTLENESS
In his epistle to the church in Philippi, Paul exhorts believers to be known for something more than being right.
Let your gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand. Philippians 4:5, NKJV
The specific context of this call to gentleness actually has to do with an appeal to resolve an interpersonal tension. Two Philippian church members who were at odds (v. 2). Everyone knew about their beef, not just people in the church but likely those outside the community of faith as well. Grudges, in-fighting, and divisions are the last things the body of Christ should be known for! Instead, the keynote of the church's interpersonal dynamics should be "gentleness."
It's an interesting term. Used only a couple other times by Paul as he lists hallmark qualities of spiritual leaders (1 Tim. 3:3) and of all believers in general (Titus 3:2), the word is synonymous with non-violence, humility, being peaceable. But the word itself in Greek is a conjunction of the prefix epi (meaning "on, upon, above") and the root word eikos (meaning "equitable, fair.") In this light, "gentleness" can literally be translated as "on or beyond fairness." When Paul calls for gentleness, he's calling not for mere justice but for beyond-justice. Like the mercy seat that covers the Ten Commandment law in the ark of the covenant, gentleness seeks the right for the right reasons and from a right heart.
SPEAKING FROM EXPERIENCE
Remember Paul's former life? He use to be perfect...but at the same time a persecutor. He use to be blameless...but at the same time a bigot. It was when he was the most "right" that he did the most wrong. And the violent offense of spiritual coercion is something genuine followers of Jesus should never be known for, especially as we near the return of Jesus (cf. v. 5, "the Lord is at hand.") The anticipation of Jesus' coming is not an excuse to deal harshly with others who may be standing in the wrong. While some faith traditions use the threat of fire and brimstone to urge life change, I know of others that seem to ignite the flames of heaven to do the same. "Jesus is coming soon, so you better..." Both approaches play on fear, something that perfect love is supposed to cast out (1 Jn. 4:18). May we never be known for that kind of harshness and spiritual manipulation!
Instead, we should let our gentleness be evident to all, standing in the right while gently leading those in the wrong to a restored relationship with Jesus. This beyond-fairness doesn't sweep wrongs under the rug. Instead, it values rightness while valuing relationship even more. It stands for what's true and just while sustaining the relational influence to lead others to what's right. Let's be known for that. May our gentleness, our beyond-justice, be known to all -- to our spouses, our children, our classmates and co-workers, our neighbors, our communities.