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“Neither Do I Condemn Thee. . .”

There are some people, are there not, with whom it’s just plain difficult to get along. Others there are whose engaging personality makes it a plea­sure to associate with them. To the latter, one is easily and quickly drawn. Such people have a way of putting others at ease in their presence. For whatever the reason, they are friendly in their dealing with others.

Sometimes it may become appar­ent at length that the graciousness which was so winsome was not in fact genuine. It springs, sometimes, not from a sweet temper, but from a fear of displeasing anyone, or from a desire to win the favor of others for selfish advantage. It smacks therefore either of cowardice or of insincerity, and what was thought to be courtesy is seen to be hollow and the politeness, false.

But, whatever the case, mere (i.e., unsanctified) amiability (whether more genuine or less) is not the “gentle­ness” of which Paul speaks in Gala­tians 5. No matter how attractive it may be, humanly speaking, it is not, in itself, the fruit of the Spirit as that becomes evident in the life of the child of God.

What exactly is real gentleness? How must it show itself in the lives of the people of God? Calvin says concerning this particular manifestation of the fruit of the Spirit that the definition is clear, “for the quality of mind becomes open from its fruit.” To a large extent that’s true, I suppose; but there are nevertheless some ques­tions which might arise in connection with a consideration of gentleness. There is, for example, this: Is gentle­ness an attribute consistent with candor? We must be honest with others, must we not? Well, can a person be forthright in his dealings with others, and at the same time be gentle? There are those in the church of Christ who in the interest of honesty are quick to “tell it like it is,” willing, so to speak, to let the chips fall where they may. They pride themselves in having the courage of their convictions. That kind of bluntness, in fact, is sometimes seen to be a virtue; but is it consistent with gentleness?

Then how about this: Is gentleness a trait which is appropriate for those who are in positions of authority (parents, teachers, elders in the church, employers, or whoever)? It would seem that the only way to get the job done is to be forceful, to rule with a firm hand within a rather inflexible framework of black-and-white rules. To be mild in dealing with offences committed (so one might be inclined to think) is to be ineffective; to be sensitive to the feelings of others is to run the risk of being inconsistent in discipline.

Gentleness belongs to the fruit of the Spirit. And not to be gentle is sin. That sounds simple enough. But the question remains, how do we show it? How does one demonstrate gentleness in his everyday, ordinary dealings with others? Further, when it becomes necessary to reprove a brother, and disciplinary measures must be taken, how does one do that gently? Must one perhaps choose between gentleness and strict adherence to truth and justice?

We do well to bear in mind that God is gentle. The prophet Isaiah says of the sovereign God Who rules by His arm (40:10) and before Whom the nations are as nothing (40:17) that He “shall feed his flock like a shepherd: he shall gather the lambs with his arm, and carry them in his bosom, and shall gently lead those that are with young’’ (40:11). Christ too was noted for His gentleness (see I Cor. 10:1). And we are exhorted to pursue it (Titus 3:1, 2). It becomes us therefore (as George Bethune put it 150 years ago in his book The Fruit of the Spirit) “to meditate upon a quality which bears the impress of divine beauty, as it shines in the face of Jesus Christ, and proves him who possesses it to have been born of the Spirit, taught by the Father, and transformed into the image of his dear Son.”

Jesus was kind and considerate. We can say without fear of contradic­tion that Pharisee Sanhedrists like Nicodemus and publicans like Zacchaeus found Him eminently approachable — whether they came to Him in the dead of night or tried only to get close by climbing a tree. For hypocrites, it’s true, Jesus had little patience. He was scathing in His denunciation of those who for pretense made long prayers; who made broad their phylacteries; who, like whited sepulchers, were beautiful to outward appearances but within were full of dead men’s bones.  But, for the rest, no one, whether high or low, rich or poor, ever came to Jesus and found Him anything other than humble in His demeanor and kind in His speech. He had compassion for sinners and was a companion of publicans.

This was a source of irritation to the Pharisees, whose attitude over against sinners was that “this people who knoweth not the law are cursed” (John 7:49). They tried, in fact, on one occasion, to use what they knew to be Jesus’ attitude toward sinners as a means to bring Him down. Christ was in Jerusalem at the time, for the celebration of the Feast of Tabernacles. Early in the morning He had come to the temple and sat down to teach the people (John 8:2). Apparently, His enemies on this occasion made a point of waiting until He had quite an audience before they themselves come on the scene. Then, when the moment seemed propitious, they stepped for­ward with a question. Pointing toward a woman they had brought with them, they said, “Master, this woman was taken in adultery, in the very act. Now Moses in the law commanded us, that such should be stoned: but what sayest thou?”

Adultery — a terrible sin, right? Indeed, it is. How serious it is in the eyes of the Holy God is clear from the fact that God, as the Pharisees were careful to point out to Jesus, had made it a crime punishable by death. And there was no question either, in this instance, about the guilt of the accused party. There were eye-witnesses. A clear-cut case if ever there was one!

Now, what was the attitude of the Pharisees toward such a sinner as this? Were they concerned about her well­being? Did they desire her repentance, her salvation? These Pharisees were they who “shut up the kingdom of heaven against men” — who neither entered themselves nor suffered those who were entering to go in (Matt. 23:13). These were they who uttered long prayers. . .and devoured widow’s houses (Matt. 23:14), who were careful to tithe mint and anise and cummin, but “omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith” (Matt. 23:23). The letter of the law, that’s what interested them. Ordinar­ily, therefore, in a case like this, they were intent only on gaining a conviction and passing a sentence in accord with the law. Yes, make justice swift and sure. . .that’s what must be done! Make an example of the guilty one; let the rabble know what happens to those who transgress the law! That’ll teach them to toe the line! Tender compas­sion for sinners was foreign to them. Yet, these blind leaders no doubt prided themselves in being scrupulous caretakers of the law. The Lord should be pleased with their carefulness!

On this occasion, however, they were not even interested in that. If they were, they would have brought her, not to Jesus, but to the judges. They were shamelessly using this woman, and her sin and guilt, in an attempt to maneuver Jesus into what they hoped would-be for Him a no-win situation. They would force Him to make a choice which could only be unpopular (if He answered one way) or improper (if He answered the other). “Here’s a woman taken in adultery,” they said. “The law says such and such. What do you say, Jesus?”

If He answered, “Moses was right; stone her,” then what would the people think? Many of the common people were attracted to Jesus exactly because in Him there seemed to be hope of salvation for sinners. His was a ministry of mercy. Were Jesus now to recommend that this particular sinner be stoned, the people would conclude that there was no more hope in Him than there was in the Pharisees, with their doctrine of salvation by the works of the law. An unpopular answer that would be, therefore, and one which would serve the Pharisees’ long-held purpose of discrediting Jesus before the multitude. On the other hand, Jesus could choose to say, in one way or another, “Let her go free.” But then He would be standing in clear opposi­tion to Moses and the law. And it could be argued compellingly that He had come out openly in favor of relaxing public morals.

A dilemma, it would seem. Let’s see how Jesus handled it. At first. He didn’t say a word, but stooped down instead and wrote with His finger on the ground. What it was that He wrote we have no idea. But we can imagine that He was wrestling in His soul with the whole matter of the relationship of Christ to the law. For that was the fundamental issue involved here — one which, when faced by Christ, brought Him front to front with the cross. The Pharisees, however, perceiving none of this, and probably viewing the delay as fen indication that their plan was working out well, began to press Jesus for an answer (see 8:7). So, He arose, and said simply, “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.”

The implication is clear: the woman deserves to die. It is not in vain that the law proclaims death to adulteresses. However (and this impli­cation is equally clear), the Pharisees are in no way fit to serve as judges of this woman. Why not? Note, first of all, that it isn’t true that they were disqualified by Jesus because they were sinners. If that were the case, then all discipline in church, home, and school would be out of place, for no one is without sin. That, therefore, could hardly be what Christ meant to teach. We must understand Jesus’ answer in the light of the circumstances. The woman’s accusers in this instance were hard, self-righteous Pharisees, who refused to acknowledge the same sins in themselves which they condemned in others. What Jesus is saying is that one cannot presume to remove the mote from his brother’s eye while he regards not the beam in his own. Willfully blind to their own sins (specifically, here, with respect to the seventh command­ment), the Pharisees were in no way able to deal properly with sin in the life of this woman. Compassion for a fallen sinner, concern for that sinner’s repen­tance and restoration to the favor of God — the Pharisees knew none of this. Not ready therefore to deal sensitively, gently, with this poor, lost sheep, they were disqualified as jud­ges.

Apparently, God so worked in the consciences of these Pharisees that the secret sins of each one were brought forcefully to his mind, causing him to feel his own guilt and condemnation before God. The result was that, without another word from Christ, the accusers slunk away, one by one, from the oldest to the youngest, till none remained.

To the onlookers it might appear as if the case against the woman were dismissed at this point. But that was hardly so. Now it is Christ alone before Whom the woman stands. And into His hands God has committed all judgment- so that He has power not only to kill the body but to cast into hell. For the woman, therefore, the situation has taken a turn for the more serious. What will be the judgment of Christ — that was the all-important question.

Yes, what will Jesus do? There’s only one thing to do, isn’t there? Justice will not be served if the judge does not “lay the law down.’’ An opportunity will be missed to provide an object lesson for others who would be inclined to slip into the same sins, if this guilty party is allowed to escape the penalty prescribed by the law. But what did Jesus say? Having a genuine concern for the spiritual well-being of this lost sheep, and sensitive to her immediate need not for a tongue-lash­ing but for the assurance of being forgiven, He said, “Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more’’ (vs. 11).

Had Jesus set aside the law? Hardly. His first response to the Pharisees, remember, made it clear that He understood well that the stones must be thrown. Oh how well He knew that! But Jesus had not come in order to throw them. By His verdict in this case He is saying to God, in effect, “Let all the stones of Moses’ law which should fall on elect adulterers and adulteresses, fall instead on Me. I will suffer the death they deserve.’’ It was, in other words, the cross alone which made it possible for Jesus to render that gracious verdict, “Neither do I condemn thee.’’ The woman was justified. And Jesus adds the word of power, “Go, and sin no more.’’ The grace of sanctification never fails to follow upon justification.

That’s gentleness. And it’s born, obviously, not of weakness but of power.

According to Young’s Analytical Concordance, the Greek word trans­lated “moderation” in Philippians 4:5 is the same as that which is translated “gentleness” in II Corinthians 10:1. Paul’s admonition to the saints in Philippi therefore can be read as well “Let your gentleness be known unto all men.” And he adds this: “The Lord is at hand.” I rather like the way one writer paraphrased this verse: “The Lord is standing at my shoulder, waiting to see how I will handle the various relationships I have with people today. Will I be rigid and exacting in my demands of them? Or will I be gentle and considerate, seeking to understand the pressures and insecur­ities they face and making allowances accordingly?”

Not being myself a parent I do not know this from experience, but I’ve heard it said many times that parents who know their children, understand that the same offense can be dealt with in one by a stern look, and in another requires a good lickin’ in order to accomplish the same thing. That’s dealing gently — and, we might add, effectively. Sometimes it does indeed become necessary to wound with words, or with a rod. But the gentle person is careful also, by words of comfort and encouragement, to bind up those wounds. A gentle person, wrote George Bethune, “takes care that he adds nothing by his own manner likely to offend, but, on the contrary, endeavors to present the truth or administer the rebuke in such a way as to recommend the one, and sweeten the other.” It has been said that “there is a charm in gentleness, which a man must be a savage to resist.” Perhaps it would be better to end on this note: “The wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy” (James 3:17).

“The resurrection of Christ, as it was, in itself, the most glorious event that ever came to pass, was also productive of the utmost advantage to us. It serves to confirm and strengthen our faith in Him, as the true Messiah and Saviour of sinners. He was buried in a cavern hewn within a rock, which had but one way for entrance, and that blocked up with a stone of prodigious size and weight. The stone was likewise sealed for the greater security, and a watch, or company, consisting of sixty soldiers, was set to guard the sepulcher, night and day; notwithstanding all which obstructions. He raised again the temple of His body, which the Jews thought they had destroyed; and every precaution they took, in hope to prevent His rising, only added to the glory of His triumph, and as the Apostle’s words are, “declared Him to be the Son of God with power.”

His resurrection is also a matter of endless consolation to believers, as it was proof that the sacrifice of Himself, which He offered to God, and the atonement He made for our offenses, was accepted in the court of heaven.”     A. Toplady