“Be Gentle Unto All Men”
“The servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient; in meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth; and that they may recover themselves out of the snare of the Devil, who are taken captive by him at his will.”
However great the confidence reposed in any man, whatever the authority given him by his position, let him not think that he can therefore indulge in surmisings, in suspicions, in evil-thinking, and evil-speaking, because he is too cowardly or too indolent to speak plainly to his brethren and sisters according to Christ’s rule, and faithfully to correct existing errors. His position and authority depend upon his connection with God, upon the discernment and wisdom he receives from above. Let us be careful that we do not pass sentence of condemnation upon one who we do not feel is congenial to us, because he does not meet our ideas and praise and exalt us. Christ would have his church strong in unity. Let us all praise God that we are not to be judged according to man’s finite discernment, which is very liable to be perverted.
Jesus said: “Again I say unto you, That if two of you shall agree on earth as touching anything that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” Remember, there is a witness in every assembly, one who knows whether your thoughts are holy, kind, tender, and Christlike, or whether they are hard, unkind, and Satanic. A record of your words, the manner of your spirit, and the result of your action is borne up to heaven, and you cannot afford to be inattentive in this matter. The apostle says: “Wherefore laying aside all malice, and all guile, and hypocrisies, and envies, and all evil speakings, as new-born babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby; if so be ye have tasted that the Lord is gracious.” “Grudge not one against another, brethren, lest ye be condemned; behold, the judge standeth before the door.”
Man cannot read the heart of man. His judgment is formed from appearances, and these are often deceptive. God reads the intent and purposes of the heart. Do nothing in an underhanded manner; be open as the day, true to your brethren and sisters, dealing with them as you wish Christ to deal with you. If you had the Spirit of Christ, you would not notice slights and make much of fancied injuries. Your mind would be occupied in contemplating the love of Jesus, and devising methods by which souls might be won to Jesus. Ordained elders and ministers need spiritual discernment, in order that they may not be the sport of Satan’s temptations. They would not then be continually seeing things of which to complain. If the instruction which Christ has given were followed out in a true Christian spirit, if each one, when aggrieved, would go to the offending member as Christ has enjoined him to do, and seek in kindness to correct the wrong, many a grievous trial would be averted, and souls that are lost to the cause would be saved. But how many resort to every other expedient rather than fall on the Rock Christ Jesus and be broken. All such expedients must fail.
Christ says, “Learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart; and ye shall find rest unto your souls.” “Take my yoke upon you.” Shall we do this? Shall we wear the yoke of Christ? Shall we be renewed in the spirit of our mind, and daily cultivate humility and childlike simplicity, and be willing to be the least of all and the servant of all? Without this spirit our life is not hid with Christ in God. The self-importance which many manifest is exactly opposite to the meekness and lowliness of Christ. Those who think least of self and most of Jesus will be greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
It becomes all who expect to see Jesus as he is, to follow him daily, in order that their characters may be molded after the divine image. When our hearts reflect his likeness, we shall not judge unrighteously; we shall honor those whom God honors; and we shall be very circumspect in spirit, in word, in action, lest we grieve one of God’s little ones. He who loves God because his own sins have been forgiven, will manifest a forgiving spirit toward others, and will show an earnest love for their souls.
In dealing with the erring, harsh measures should not be resorted to; milder means will effect far more. Make use of the milder means most perseveringly, and even if they do not succeed, wait patiently; never hurry the matter of cutting off a member from the church. Pray for him, and see if God will not move upon the heart of the erring. Discipline has been largely perverted. Those who have had very defective characters themselves have been very forward in disciplining others, and thus all discipline has been brought into contempt. Passion, prejudice, and partiality, I am sorry to say, have had abundant room for exhibition, and proper discipline has been strangely neglected. If those who deal with the erring had hearts full of the milk of human kindness, what a different spirit would prevail in our churches. May the Lord open the eyes and soften the hearts of those who have a harsh, unforgiving, unrelenting spirit toward those whom they think in error. Such men dishonor their office and dishonor God. They grieve the hearts of his children, and compel them to cry unto God in their distress. The Lord will surely hear their cry, and will judge for these things.
Those who are unfeeling and hard-hearted do greater harm to themselves than they do to others, for they deceive themselves by their own spirit and course. Selfishness leads the one who exaggerates every little offense, and attaches great importance to that which is said of himself, which leads him to attribute guilt to one who is ignorant of having done wrong. Selfishness works in the unsanctified heart, and leads men to depreciate those who do not highly esteem them and show them the honor which they think is their due. The lessons which Christ has given us are to be studied and incorporated into our religious life every day. He says: “If ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” “When ye stand praying, forgive, if ye have aught against any.” “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.”
Through the acceptance of hearsay evidence the enemy obtains great advantage in council and committee meetings. Those who would stand for the right if they knew what it was, are led astray by the evil surmisings of others in whom they have confidence. Their prayers are thus hindered, their faith is paralyzed and unkind thoughts, unholy suspicions, alienate them from their brethren. Thus God is dishonored, and souls are imperiled.
When an effort is made to ascertain the truth in regard to those who have been represented as in the wrong, their accusers are frequently unwilling to grant them the benefit of a doubt as to the reliability of the evil reports. They seem determined that their accusations shall stand just as they have stated them, and they treat the accused as guilty without giving them a chance to explain. But when accusers manifest so fierce a determination to make a brother or a sister an offender, and cannot be made to see or feel that their own course has been wrong, it is evident that the transforming power of the enemy has been upon them, and that he has caused them to reflect his attributes.
Satan well knows that the combined strength of Satanic agencies with that of evil men is but weakness when opposed to a band of faithful, united servants of the great King, though in number they may be few. In order to overcome the people of God, Satan will work upon the elements in the character which have not been transformed by the grace of Christ, and through these unsanctified characteristics, he will seek to bring about disunion among the people of God. Unless these persons who become agents of Satan are converted, their own souls will be lost, and the souls of those who have looked up to them as men led of God will be destroyed with them, because they are partakers with them of their sins. Satan endeavors to create suspicion, envy, and jealousy, and thus lead men to question those things that it would be for their soul’s interest to believe. The suspicious ones will misconstrue everything. They will call an atom a world, and a world an atom. And if this spirit is allowed to prevail, it will demoralize our churches and institutions.
When an evil report comes to our ears, before giving it credence, let us go to the one accused, and ask, with all the tenderness of a Christian, if he is guilty. A few words spoken in brotherly kindness may make manifest the fact that the reports were either wholly without foundation, or that the evil was greatly magnified. Before passing unfavorable judgment upon another, we should go to the one who we think has erred and tell him our fears, having our own souls subdued by the pitying love of Jesus. It may be that some explanation can be made that will remove our unfavorable impressions.
Christ prayed that his disciples might be one, even as he is one with the Father. Every one who claims to be a child of God should labor for this oneness. When the union exists for which Christ prayed, his followers will be a holy and powerful people. But if they let love die out of their souls, and accept the accusations of Satan’s agents against the children of God, they will become servants of sin and allies of the adversary of God and of man. Let them heed the instruction of the apostle and cultivate the love of which he speaks. He says: “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. . . Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. Charity never faileth.”
— E.G. White, Review and Herald, May 14, 1895