“The men I’ve known in my life that I most respect have been marked in many ways, but this they have in common: strong gentleness. They are strong men. They are not cowards. They are not weaklings. They are men of conviction who are covered with gentleness, and I feel welcome in their presence.” – Ray Ortlund
Sam Allberry and Ray Ortlund address gentleness as a necessary characteristic of gospel culture.
In this episode:
- Introduction—favorite sitcoms (0:00)
- Let your gentleness be known to everyone (1:29)
- Gentle people believe that Jesus is real (3:58)
- Gentleness, sin, and politics (6:16)
- Church as a shock absorber (12:24)
- Gentleness when someone is wrong (16:31)
- It matters for pastors, too (18:47)
- It’s our superpower . . . (21:23)
- . . . and it’s not an option (22:50)
- Recommended resource: The Death of Porn by Ray Ortlund (26:32)
Explore more from TGC the topics of gentleness.
The following is an uncorrected transcript generated by a transcription service. Before quoting in print, please check the corresponding audio for accuracy.
Sam Allberry: Well, welcome back to You’re Not Crazy, a podcast for young pastors. We’re glad to be part of the Gospel Coalition and my name is Sam Allberry. I’m here as always with the Reverend Dr. Ray Ortlund.
Ray Ortlund: Hi, Sam.
Sam Allberry: I want to ask you a question, what sitcom do you … can you watch any number of times and still be howling your head off, laughing at?
Ray Ortlund: Fawlty Towers.
Sam Allberry: Of course.
Ray Ortlund: Yeah, Basil Fawlty and yeah, the whole crew are hilarious. One episode after another is just wacky and delightful. What about you, Sam?
Sam Allberry: Well, that’s one of my favorites too. I grew up watching that show. It’s a British comedy for those of you who aren’t familiar with it. I love The Office, the U.S. version of The Office, for a similar reason. I can have watched it through for the fifth then just immediately start back at the beginning and do it a sixth time.
Ray Ortlund: Was that the program that you and I … No, you showed me an episode of the West Wing.
Sam Allberry: Yeah, that’s very different to The Office.
Ray Ortlund: Yeah. The Christmas episode. It was so powerful.
Sam Allberry: Yes. There were some people from China who were seeking asylum in America.
Ray Ortlund: Oh, yeah. That was a powerful episode. That, actually helped my Christmas to be better, watching that episode of the West Wing.
Sam Allberry: Wow.
Ray Ortlund: Yeah. Thank you.
Sam Allberry: So today I think we’re going to be talking about gentleness. Why do we need to talk about gentleness, Ray?
Ray Ortlund: Well, for starters it’s in the Bible.
Sam Allberry: That’s a good reason.
Ray Ortlund: Yeah. Philippians 4:5, it says, “Let your reasonableness be known to everyone.” The word reasonableness has a footnote to it. The alternative translation is gentleness. So, “Let your reasonableness be known to everyone,” or, it could be translated, “Let your gentleness be known to everyone.” And then it says, “The Lord is at hand.”
Ray Ortlund: Now I’m struck by two things there. We’ll talk about gentleness in just a moment but, “Let your gentleness or reasonableness be known to everyone”. In other words, this should be a publicly obvious reality in a Gospel-centered healthy church. It should be publicly obvious, this church is the most reasonable and the most gentle group of people in the city.
Ray Ortlund: Other people might be angry. They might be inflammatory. They might be easily detonated. These people don’t do that. These people receive all kinds of crazy people from a crazy culture and they’re not explosive. They’re not trigger happy. These are the most gentle, reasonable people in the entire city.
Sam Allberry: You talk about welcoming crazy people and all the rest of it. I remember being at a church once that I was working at and I think I had some family coming or some friends coming for the first time just to visit. I remember looking around and seeing there’s that slightly odd person, there’s that socially difficult person. There’s that other person who’s got some issues.
Sam Allberry: Thinking, “Oh man, this is really …” A little bit embarrassed at the sorts of crazy people that were at my church and then I remember thinking, “No, actually this is a badge of honor for our church. This is the place where they can come and they know they can be at home. They can belong. They can feel accepted and welcomed and loved.”
Ray Ortlund: How non-crazy does somebody have to be to come to your church and start living again? The answer had better be, they don’t have to be non-crazy at all. They can come and be received, hear the Gospel, believe and start to live all over again.
Ray Ortlund: That’s one thing, the publicly obvious nature of it. “Let your gentleness, your reasonableness be known to all.” Not because we parade this around but it’s just obvious. It’s just how we roll on issue after issue, a whole … a clearly evident pattern of reasonable responses, gentle responses to political and cultural crazy all around us. We don’t join the crazy. We don’t baptize the crazy. We’re not the chaplains to the crazy. We’re the alternative to the crazy. That’s the first thing.
Ray Ortlund: Second thing I’m struck by here, I believe the greatest thing that could ever be said about any church is Jesus is real to them. They treat him as real. The risen Christ, the living Christ. He’s not a hypothesis. He’s not an abstraction. He’s not remote and distant. He’s not merely a doctrine. “The Lord is at hand.”
Ray Ortlund: And when we dare to believe that the Lord is at hand he has all authority in Heaven and on Earth. Everything is going his way. When we know in our hearts that the Lord is at hand and he’s got this, then we can be gentle and reasonable. If he is sovereign, we don’t have to be. If he is patient, so can we be.
Sam Allberry: And if he’s in control, we don’t have to be controlling.
Ray Ortlund: No. We don’t have to be. So I looked up this word a few minutes ago. I hadn’t done this in a long time. I looked it up in Bauer-Arndt-Gingrich, the Standard New Testament Lexicon, and this word translated gentleness or reasonableness is in the semantic domain of non-insistence, yielding, gentle, kind, courteous, tolerant. It has to do with making allowances for people on disputed issues, clemency, gentleness, graciousness, courtesy, indulgence, tolerance.
Ray Ortlund: Now we don’t tolerate sin. The Bible is clear. You and I are men of theological conscience. We are men of conviction. We’re men of principle. When we’re talking about gentleness we’re not talking about making … we’re not redefining righteousness and drawing the lines in the wrong place. We call sin, sin because we’re Biblical men but coming right out of honesty, coming right out of a culture of honor, the Gospel culture of gentleness, means that people who are troubled, people who are thinking, rethinking their lives at a deep level, people who for example, at Immanuel Church some people are Republicans, others are Democrats.
Ray Ortlund: That’s not a sin issue because both Republican politics and Democrat politics come to us as package deals with some good and some bad. It’s complicated. It’s mixed. Who of us could say one side or the other politically is all good and the other side is all bad? We all see that if we could take the best of both and mush them together into a third option that’d be great but we don’t have that yet. So at Immanuel some are Republican, others are Democrats.
Ray Ortlund: I’m not going to say where I line up on that question. I do have political convictions that I’ve arrived at by trying to think about these things Christianly. But my friends who are on the other side of the political divide have come to their convictions by the very same route. They’re doing the best the can with the insights the Lord has given, the way I am. Gentleness means we make generous allowance for one another.
Ray Ortlund: In fact, Sam and I explain this in new member seminars, not only do we not import our politics into the church and complicate our joy and our fellowship together in the Lord. A church is not a debate society where we take tertiary issues from the world and crowd the place that only Jesus deserves, the glory that is his by right and crowd that and complicate that by dragging in non-issues as far as worship is concerned, non-issues as far as fellowship is concerned, and trouble everyone. For what? For what? We park it at the door. We don’t even talk about it.
Ray Ortlund: I say to our officers, I did it through all of those years. I only have one life to live. I am not willing to labor and suffer and pray to build a social platform called a church where y’all can fight over non-issues. I will not give my life to that but I am willing to labor and suffer and pray to build a social platform called a church where people can come together, all kinds of people, make allowance for each other for Jesus’ sake, come together and just lock arms together for his sake because we’ve got something greater than all this world put together.
Ray Ortlund: All the politics, put it all together into one gigantic pile. Jesus is greater and so when we understand that the Lord is at hand, it calms our crazy and it opens us up to make generous allowance for all kinds of people in our church.
Sam Allberry: I wonder if part of that reasonableness you talked about how some people can have different political conclusions to you but because they have sought to think it through Christianly with a good conscious and all the rest of it and just wound up with differing conclusions to what you might have? So I wonder if part of the reasonableness isn’t simply looking at where someone is and saying, “I think you’re wrong on that,” but actually saying, “I can see how you’ve got there-
Ray Ortlund: Oh, that’s good.
Sam Allberry: … and I can honor how you’ve got there, even if where you’ve got to is not where I’ve got to. I can honor the process by which you’ve arrived at your conclusions.” That’s the case over all sorts of issues the Bible calls disputable. That’d be the case with someone’s understanding of baptism or the Lord’s return or that kind of thing. I’m less interested in what they think. I’m more interested in how they got there.
Ray Ortlund: And how much less urgency do political questions have within the context of the Christian church? And we really need to talk about this. I’m glad we’re devoting an episode of this podcast to this matter because too many of our churches, we saw in the political year last year, the presidential election.
Ray Ortlund: There were Christians in churches that seemed to be marked by a trigger happy or demanding or coercive, censorious, pushy, harsh political anger that were very clearly communicating, “If you’re not of a certain political party, you are the enemy.” Who, in their right mind would, however desperately in need of savior would move toward a church like that? I would not. I would run the opposite direction.
Ray Ortlund: So this verse, Philippians 4:5: “Let your publicly obvious gentleness, making allowance for people, reasonableness, fair-mindedness …” We’re not here to show people how wrong they are. We’re here to show everyone how gracious Jesus is and to win people to that Jesus. And so gentleness communicates a culture of gentleness and reasonableness and fair-mindedness. And non-explosive absorbency in a church communicates Jesus is the only issue here and he really is the Prince of Peace.
Sam Allberry: I’ve got that picture in my mind of the church being like a giant shock absorber. If there’s someone who comes along who is perhaps particularly feisty the idea that they can be absorbed and welcomed and listened and not fought against but actually encouraged into a calmer way of life is a trait of …
Sam Allberry: I was thinking actually of 1 Corinthians 14 and how you mentioned the Lord is near, that sense of spiritual reality, Paul has this idea that actually what should be happening is that if an outsider stumbles into your church service they should be able to say, 1 Corinthians 14:25, “That God is really among you.” Which is amazing isn’t it. That there should be something about the way we speak to each other, the way we conduct ourselves, our posture, our words, that gives even people who aren’t Christians a sense of spiritual reality. There is something that marks us out that cannot be accounted for merely in human terms.
Ray Ortlund: Yes.
Sam Allberry: As you said in an earlier episode we’re not just a new community, we’re a new kind of community.
Ray Ortlund: And if God is willing to be among us, well, who am I not to be willing to hang out with people that see things differently in some ways? So if you’re a young pastor and you’ve got highly political people in your parish or in your church, you love them dearly, their convictions are sincere but too obvious and the gentleness is not the publicly obvious thing but the political explosiveness is conspicuous and you grieve over that, I just … Sam and I just want to say, “You’re not crazy.”
Ray Ortlund: If you’re longing for a calmer, more legitimately inclusive, politically inclusive church you’re not crazy. And Philippians 4:5 has some Gospel sanity for you. So here’s how this works for me, Sam, at a practical level. So I’m in conversation with a friend at Immanuel Church and I kind of know where they’re coming from politically because I follow them on Twitter or Instagram or whatever. I compartmentalize in my mind. I compartmentalize.
Ray Ortlund: One compartment in my mind says, “This precious, blood-bought, spirit indwelled, glorious human being, I really hope they lose in the voting booth. I hope that America doesn’t turn its future over to their convictions. This precious person is, I think, I think politically wrong. Okay, that’s one compartment.
Ray Ortlund: The other compartment is, “Christ in this person, the hope of glory and it is … actually it’s all the more perfect that this person and I are friends and we are one in Christ here in this place because the devil is going to have to cope with our love for one another and our joy for one another. We are going to confound the world by being politically different and intensely loving toward one another. Respectful toward one another. Making allowance for … rejoicing over one another. Not tolerating one another, rejoicing over one another.
Ray Ortlund: I feel victorious. I feel spiritually victorious by compartmentalizing and submerging the political and exalting the spiritual, making an allowance, indeed, Sam, for myself and my political convictions because I might be a little bit crazy too. All right. And then lifting up the Lord and honoring this precious Christian believer with whom I am one in Christ and treating this person like royalty because that’s who they are.
Sam Allberry: Well, something you said there is very significant because you refer to this person who you might be very apart from politically as a precious person, a blood-bought, precious man or woman, and too easily we slide into this mentality that says, “If I disagree with you on something it means you must be morally inferior to me and therefore I can look down on you.”
Sam Allberry: What this verse in Philippians seems to be encouraging and we see this throughout the Bible is, actually, no, someone might be wrong on an issue. They might be objectively really demonstrably wrong on some aspect of politics, some aspect of the Christian life, whatever it is. It doesn’t mean I get to look down on them.
Ray Ortlund: That’s right.
Sam Allberry: How could I if Christ himself has made himself a servant of me? Who am I to look down on somebody else?
Ray Ortlund: And what we both long for in our ministry together at our local church is for the church to become filled with people with all kinds of crazy.
Sam Allberry: Yeah.
Ray Ortlund: And we have the sacred and joyous privilege of coming together as one in Christ for his sake because the Lord is near. We believe that. We experience that. We feel that and so it gives us strong relational, emotional, psychological wherewithal to make generous allowance for each other, to be gentle and respectful and rejoicing.
Ray Ortlund: So when I see somebody that I know is coming from a different place politically I have in Philippians 4:5, both doctrine at the level of conviction and guidance as to the level of culture to move deliberately toward that person with intentionality, with purpose, with joy and to embrace that person all the more sincerely and cheerfully because of how precious that person … That person ends up more dear to me than ever before.
Sam Allberry: That’s wonderful. I think of Romans 12:3, Paul says, “But by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think but to think with sober judgment.” And it seems to me that actually a wrong view of others often comes from a wrong view of ourself and if we’re thinking about ourselves more highly than we ought it’s probably going to mean that we’re thinking of other people less highly than we ought.
Sam Allberry: This is no less true for pastors, Paul makes a point of saying, “I say this to everyone among you.” Being more theologically educated or more theologically sophisticated doesn’t mean you’re a better person than other people. It doesn’t mean that they matter less than you do.
Ray Ortlund: And if I, as a pastor, am looking at the congregation and down deep in my heart there’s a feeling that says, “These people are really lucky I’m here. They really need my opinions.” That’s not a good indicator.
Sam Allberry: Yes. A friend of mine back in the U.K. who’s a pastor, he told me that when he was going through seminary and he was visiting his parents one day and the pastor referenced the word eschatology and my friend who, with all his seminary knowledge oozing out of him, said to his dad, “Do you know what eschatology means?” in a slightly snooty way. And his wonderful Christian father just turned around and said to him, “Is it when you love Jesus very much?” Which just completely put my friend back in his place and he said, “You might know what the long words are but actually loving Jesus is what really matters.”
Ray Ortlund: And loving one another, with the heart of Jesus. I mean, Sam, what if thousands of our churches across the country are … what if over the next year by God’s grace, for his glory, we pastors shepherd our people toward gentleness, not as a last resort we just finally accept, but as a mark of honor and as indeed our superpower. It’s not a concession. It’s not compromise.
Ray Ortlund: It’s a power because the Lord is in it. The Lord is at hand. What if a year from now if thousands of our churches are, however these things are measured, 10% more gentle than they are today. That might be the beginning of the next great awakening.
Sam Allberry: It’s interesting isn’t it, the newsfeed in Heaven is very different to the newsfeed on Earth. We think politics is where the real action happens. That’s where the real difference is made. People are saying, “I’m going into politics because I want to change the world. I want to make a difference.” And verses like that one in Philippians 4, show us actually, you be a non-crazy person in our culture today for the glory of Jesus, that’s actually going to make a difference. That’s the kind of thing that pops up on the newsfeed of Heaven.
Ray Ortlund: Wow. Wow. Yeah. Oh my goodness, Sam, I never thought of it that way before. Let your gentleness be known to everyone, including Christ himself.
Sam Allberry: Yeah.
Ray Ortlund: What if our risen Lord above looks at us in our various churches, pastored by young pastors and is enthusing over the gentleness, his own gentleness that he sees rising in our churches.
Sam Allberry: You can see, I don’t think this irreverent but you imagine Jesus with all the assembled angels going, “Hey, hey, hey, look at that guy. Look at that guy. Look at his gentleness. Look at his forbearance with people who are probably driving him crazy but he’s actually continuing to love them and give himself out for them.”
Ray Ortlund: That’s our superpower. Okay, a culture of, we’ve talked about a culture of honesty. We’ve talked about a culture of honor. We’ve talked about a culture of gentleness. Now what we’re seeing I think and what we’re trying to … we’re making the case, Sam, that these are not optional overlays.
Ray Ortlund: These are not nice add-ons that you might get around to if you have the time and the bandwidth and the personal predilection. We’re seeing this is the outworking of the Gospel itself and we are not faithful to the Gospel if we’re not cultivating this culture and by God’s grace, if we are … we’re teaching the doctrine and cultivating the culture we are solid pastors and any pastor daring to do this is not crazy.
Sam Allberry: Well, gentleness and self-control are part of the fruit of the spirit. So if they’re not the fruit of our theology that must mean our theology is not from the spirit.
Ray Ortlund: Whoa, whoa oh. Whoa. I hadn’t thought of it that way. That’s a direct hit.
Sam Allberry: So this is why it’s not optional. It’s actually saying the sign that we genuinely know the truth of Christ actually is that we want to become more like him. We cherish and esteem the virtues we see in him.
Ray Ortlund: And a culture is when a whole body of people together commit to that priority and they share that together. They guard that together. They cultivate, develop, enrich that together. And as we are going up against an entire culture that is not favorable to Christ the only answer to one culture is another culture. We can’t be piecemeal in our response to our historic emergency.
Sam Allberry: And we can’t just be anti the culture that we see around us as if that actually does any good. This verse I’m sure will come up at various points and it’s obviously been the inspiration for your son’s Dane … your son Dane’s book. That if Jesus describes his own heart as gentle and lowly we have no place to demean those qualities. We have no place to say, “Well, that’s nice in theory but in the real world we’ve got to just be a bit more punchy than that.”
Ray Ortlund: That’s right.
Sam Allberry: They’re not pushover qualities are they?
Ray Ortlund: The men I’ve known in my life that I most respect have been marked in many ways but this they have in common, strong gentleness. They are strong men. They are not cowards. They are not weaklings. They are men of conviction who are covered with gentleness and I feel welcome in their presence. I feel respected and understood in their presence.
Ray Ortlund: And the men, frankly Sam, that I don’t really want to hang out with, they’ve been the staunch, rock-ribbed, doctrinaire guys who if I don’t toe the line and agree with every detail, they will unload on me. Yeah. And tell me what a lousy Christian I am. I’m just not interested. That is not of Christ and I don’t care how pure the doctrinal statement is, that is not a faithful ministry.
Sam Allberry: Well, lots of ways to say on these things and we’ll get into more of these things I’m sure in the episodes to come. We remain grateful to Crossway for sponsoring this podcast. We love their books. We love their ministry. Ray, you have a book coming out with Crossway soon called, The Death of Porn.
Ray Ortlund: Yes. Subtitle, Men of Integrity Building a World of Nobility.
Sam Allberry: There have a few books over the years that have tried to confront this epidemic of men who are giving themselves away to pornography. What’s your approach in the book?
Ray Ortlund: Well, that it’s we can stop playing defense. We can play offense. We can marginalize, stigmatize, limit and diminish and disempower the whole industry creating the porn. But this book really is a field manual for men to get together in small groups and start talking about what’s hard in life, how life is not going well, how they’re not doing well and sharing that transparency, that vulnerability, that honesty and taking it to the Lord together in prayer and finding fresh strength to run the race and to fight for what’s right.
Ray Ortlund: There can be a new civil rights movement. The porn industry is oppression. There is not a single woman in the porn industry who wants to be there and who got there because she was dignified into it. She was degraded into it. We’re not okay with that. Porn is a justice issue. So we as men want to come together in real honesty and talk about this and pray together and hold each other up and then we also want to do everything we can and I have practical suggestions in the book about how we can fight for justice in this whole area of very personal human sexuality.
Sam Allberry: So let’s assume there’s a young pastor listening to this who is ensnared in pornography and even the fact that we’ve raised this issue right now, they’re feeling terrified. Terrified that one day they’ll be found out. Terrified that they can’t get themselves out of this. What’s your message to them?
Ray Ortlund: It is terrifying isn’t it? There are things about me, Sam I’m not looking at porn but there are things about me that terrify me. That is true of every man, which is why coming back to our previous episode about honesty, every man listening to this podcast must have one or two other faithful, trustworthy men he respects to whom he frequently confesses his sins and they pray together and they confess their sins to him.
Ray Ortlund: So that guy who’s terrified, he is actually perfectly positioned to enter into a profound experience of brotherhood with other guys and he will be able to bear their burdens with them and for them because he really understands. So what holds us back from that? Let every reason for delay fall away and let’s … That pastor you’re talking about needs to pick up his phone after this podcast and call that brother in Christ in his city who he trusts and respects and make an appointment this week to practice James 5:16 and confess their sins and pray and be healed this week.
Sam Allberry: We’re so grateful for you listening to this podcast. We don’t take that for granted. Do visit tgc.org/podcasts for more episodes and information and we’d love it if you could subscribe to our show on Apple podcasts or Spotify or wherever you go for your podcasts. Thank you.