Choosing Gentleness Over Violence

Scripture: 2 Timothy 2.24-25
The Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth.

Reflection: Choosing Gentleness Over Violence
By John Tillman

When we discuss differences online, the overheated rhetoric of partisan headlines becomes a part of our own speech. We share articles or videos that describe our opponents—not their arguments or political positions—as being destroyed, ripped, blasted, shredded. The more violent and dehumanizing the verb, the better.

This isn’t just verbal hyperbole. It is being borne out in actions as more and more people are physically assaulted following online opinion, that leads to opposition, that leads to violence or threats of violence. These types of actions can be extreme and political, such as the attempted assassinations of Representative Gabrielle Giffords in 2011 or of Republican Congressional members in 2017. They can also be smaller in spectacle, and fly below the news radar.

Gamergate was the name given to attacks on women critiquing the portrayal of female characters in video games. Though it started years ago, many of these attacks—threats, vandalism, hacking, and doxxing attacks—are still going on today. Women are also often attacked using these methods after reporting sexual abuse by powerful men.

We should resist the urge to shrug off these events with denial. Christians believe that God’s Word became flesh, yet somehow we are reluctant to admit the power of our own words to become physicalized into actions. What we say and how we say it matters because, as Jesus taught, the words of our mouths come from our hearts and reveal our inward sinfulness. Sticks and stones start as words and words start in our sinful hearts. This is true not only of the words we speak or type ourselves, but the words we lend our digital voices to. By posting, liking, and retweeting articles about our ideological rivals being “destroyed” we are revealing not our ideological righteousness, but our theological sinfulness.

In Paul’s exhortation to Timothy he encourages faithfulness to the Gospel, and fidelity to right teaching, but Paul specifically instructs Timothy not to be resentful or quarrelsome and to instruct opponents with gentleness. This was no low-stakes conflict that Paul was advising Timothy in. The very heart of what it meant to be a Christian and the definition of salvation through Christ was at stake. It was much, much more important than who misinterpreted whose tweet this week. Yet, still Paul’s charge was to teach gently.

We cannot continue posting and liking things that are resentful, quarrelsome, and the opposite of gentle, yet expect to represent Christ and the Gospel in the world. If we refuse to choose one or the other, we risk showing the world a resentful, quarrelsome, violent Christ.

The Request for Presence
O Lord, watch over us and save us from this generation for ever. — Psalm 12.7

– From 
The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
2 Kings 11-12 (Listen – 7:38)
2 Timothy 2 (Listen – 3:17)

A Call to Worship from Zambia :: Worldwide Prayer

As we prepare for worship this weekend, may our hearts return to this challenging prayer from Zambia. Despite differences in liturgy, in setting, in size, in culture, in language, in privilege, and in wealth, let us be united in worship by our awe and wonder at the beauty of our Creator’s work of creation, at the horrifying toil of our Savior’s work of salvation, and at the empowering call of His Spirit for us to join Him in his work on behalf of our cities. — John

Scripture: 2 Timothy 1.8-10
So do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner. Rather, join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God. He has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.

Exodus 15:2
He is my god and I will praise Him.

Reflection: A Call to Worship from Zambia :: Worldwide Prayer

Almighty God, our Father,

Through your great love and mercy you have redeemed us and forgiven our sins.

Father, our worship has degenerated into empty ritualism. Every week, millions and millions of your people meet on the Lord’s day to worship you as creator and redeemer. We want this worship to declare your worth and to offer you praise. Some believers worship you formally, liturgically, some free and spontaneously but we all want to worship in “Spirit and in truth.”

Lord, fill us with wonder and with gratitude for your love and for our salvation. Help us to worship you joyfully and to give you the praise you deserve. Enable us to remain faithful to you.

In Jesus’ name we pray.

The Call the Prayer
Proclaim the greatness of the Lord our God and worship him upon his holy hill; for the Lord our God is the Holy One. — Psalm 99.9

– From 
The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
2 Kings 8 (Listen – 5:18)
1 Timothy 5 (Listen – 3:22)

Today’s Readings
2 Kings 9 (Listen – 6:32) 1 Timothy 6 (Listen – 3:16)
2 Kings 10 (Listen – 6:30) 2 Timothy 1 (Listen – 2:37)

To Direct Our Christian Effort :: Throwback Thursday

By Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1834-1892)

For the word of the king is supreme… Whoever keeps a command will know no evil thing, and the wise heart will know the proper time and the just way. — Ecclesiastes 8.4-5

God alone is rightfully sovereign without limit. He is King in the most absolute sense; and so it should be; for He is supremely good, wise, just, and holy. We must look nowhere else for power. We must rely upon the Word of our King as the instrument of power whenever we seek to do works in His name.

  • Preach it: for nothing else will break hard hearts, comfort the despairing, encourage faith, or produce holiness.
  • Plead it in prayer: for the Lord will surely keep His own promises, and put forth His power to make them good.
  • Practice it: for none can ignore a life which is ordered according to the precepts of the Lord. An obedient life is full of power before which men and devils do homage.
  • Spend much time in the royal Word.
  • Speak more than ever the King’s Word, which is the gospel of peace.
  • Believe in the Word of King Jesus, and be bold to defend it.
  • Bow before it, and be patient and happy.

No language ever stirs the deeps of my nature like the Word of God; and none produces such a profound calm within my spirit. As no other voice can, it melts me to tears, it humbles me in the dust, it fires me with enthusiasm, it fills me with happiness, it elevates me to holiness. Every faculty of my being owns the power of the sacred Word: it sweetens my memory, it brightens my hope, it stimulates my imagination, it directs my judgment, it commands my will, and it cheers my heart.

The word of man charms me for the time; but I outlive and outgrow its power; it is altogether the reverse with the Word of the King of kings: it rules me more sovereignly, more practically, more habitually, more completely every day. Its power is for all seasons: for sickness and for health, for solitude and for company, for personal emergencies and for public assemblies.

I had sooner have the Word of God at my back than all the armies and navies of all the great powers; ay, than all the forces of nature; for the Word of the Lord is the source of all the power in the universe, and within it there is an infinite supply in reserve.

* Excerpt from Charles Haddon Spurgeon’s God Our King in The Attributes of God.

Today’s Reading
Ecclesiastes 8 (Listen – 2:41)
2 Timothy 4 (Listen – 2:48)

 

Purpose in Suffering

Nearly a century before Rome would fall the tremors of discontent were already eroding the empire. Antioch, which is situated just 12 miles from the Syrian border, was one of the first cities to fall into violence as Rome attempted to crush a government protest. In his anthology on the collapse of the empire, historian Edward Gibbon observes:

That proud capital was degraded from the rank of a city… stripped of its lands, its privileges, and its revenues, was subjected… The baths, the circus, and the theaters were shut and, that every source of plenty and pleasure might at the same time be intercepted, the distribution of corn was abolished.

The noblest and most wealthy of the citizens of Antioch appeared before them in chains; [their houses] were exposed to sale, their wives and children were suddenly reduced from affluence and luxury to the most abject distress.

“Let us not then grieve, beloved, let us not despond on account of the present tribulation, but let us admire the well-devised plan of God’s wisdom,” counseled Antioch’s Priest, John Chrysostom. The dust had hardly settled—and the city’s fate was generations from being known—but the saint turned to Ecclesiastes to shepherd his city:

[Why] does he say? “It is better to go to the house of mourning than to the house of laughter.” Because, at the former place, insolence is bred, at the latter, sobriety. And when a person goes to the banquet of one more opulent, he will no longer behold his own house with the same pleasure, but he comes back to his wife in a discontented mood; and in discontent he partakes of his own table.

All this Solomon perceived when he said, “It is better to go to the house of mourning than to the house of drinking.” From the one grows listlessness, from the other an earnest anxiety. From the one, contempt; from the other, fear; a fear which conducts us to the practice of every virtue.

Chrysostom’s calling to be humbly shaped by God—in the midst of suffering—transcended the causes and events of suffering. Though he spoke against injustice, the saint was nearly consumed with the ways in which God would use his city’s suffering for good.

Humanity was not created to experience the weight of suffering—it is an effect of evil running rampant in our world. But even in our pain we are met by a God who knows the sting of suffering and will be faithful to bring his justice and peace to our world.

Today’s Reading
Ecclesiastes 7 (Listen – 3:37)
2 Timothy 3 (Listen – 2:21)

Sinking Sand

All of man’s labor is for nothing more than to fill his stomach—yet his appetite is never satisfied! — Ecclesiastes 6.7

Though he had been without food for 40 days, Jesus refused to turn stones to bread. “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” The offer had been made: quench your material longings by your own ability. Jesus’ reply? In the end, that wouldn’t satisfy my deepest longings. 

We spend our days, the writer of Ecclesiastes says, trying to satisfy our appetites for more. Money, power, control, sex, food, status—every longing promises to be satisfied by the next acquisition—every longing proves insatiable.

The Divine Comedy chronicles penalties for each earthly sin as acts of contrapasso—to suffer the opposite. Rather than divine retribution, every circle of Dante’s Inferno is “the fulfillment of a destiny freely chosen by each soul during his or her life,” explains scholar Peter Brand.

The gluttons, Dante writes, writhe in a cesspool of waste from their endless consumption. As Virgil guides Dante he explains the gluttons’ damnation; “What these shades could not satisfy in life, in death, they shall be denied for eternity.”

Where Dante imagined the result of chasing earthly appetites to their end, modern writers like David Foster Wallace chronicled its present cultural symptoms. Upon his death in 2008 the New York Times celebrated Wallace’s writings as “a series of strobe-lit portraits of a millennial America overdosing on the drugs of entertainment and self-gratification.”

A recently republished interview reveals Wallace’s candid reflections on one of his most successful books:

A lot of the impetus for writing “Infinite Jest” was just the fact that I was about 30 and I had a lot of friends who were about 30, and we’d all, you know, been grotesquely over-educated and privileged our whole lives and had better healthcare and more money than our parents did. And we were all extraordinarily sad.

I think it has something to do with being raised in an era when really the ultimate value seems to be… a life where you basically experience as much pleasure as possible, which ends up being sort of empty and low-calorie.

Greed is timeless, our appetites limitless. Yet we are not left alone. Jesus was strong enough to defeat broken appetites in the desert and loving enough to forgive us for the times we have fallen in the wilderness of our own desires. “On Christ the solid rock I stand,” penned Edward Mote in 1834, “All other ground is sinking sand.”

Today’s Reading
Ecclesiastes 6 (Listen – 1:44)
2 Timothy 2 (Listen – 3:17)

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