The gentleness of God enables us to be truly great. Rev. Mantle Nance preaches on Psalm 18:35 in chapel at RTS Charlotte.
Thank you, Dr. Fortson, for the invitation to be here. Our Scripture lesson this morning comes from Psalm 18. And we’ll really just be focusing on one part of one verse in Psalm 18; the verse is Psalm 18:35. This is the psalm wherein David celebrates the deliverance that the Lord had granted him from the hand of Saul, the victory that Almighty God had given him from the man of violence, his enemies. Here in Psalm 18, in verse 35, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, David said this to the Lord: “You have given me the shield of your salvation, and your right hand supported me, and your gentleness made me great.” So far, the reading of God’s holy Word, to his name be praise and glory. Let’s look to him in prayer.
O Lord, our God, you are the true and perfect gentleness. We pray that you by your Spirit would draw near to us in gentleness and make us great in you. Make us to know the power of the cross and the power of the resurrected Christ. Make us to know the presence of the Holy Spirit that gives us the fruit of gentleness whereby we might, as those whom you’ve called to minister to others, demonstrate your gentleness to others that they might be great in you. Each one of us asks: Holy Spirit, show us Christ. Make us more like him. It’s in Christ’s name we pray, Amen.
Growing up in Elkin, North Carolina, the home of the Buckin’ Elks, my favorite sport was tennis. And the reason why tennis was my favorite sport was because of a man named Junior Luffmann. He was the teaching pro at the Cedar Brook Country Club near where I grew up, and I took my first tennis lesson from him when I was six years old. It was a tennis clinic, and several of us took this clinic, and we just fell in love with tennis because Junior made it so fun, and Junior invested in us. He challenged us to be good tennis players. He exposed us to great tennis all over the state of North Carolina and throughout the Southeast. He challenged us; he pushed us to be better and better.
When we were about eight or nine years old, I remember in a tennis clinic Junior saying to us, “When you boys are in high school, you’re going to win a state championship.” Now, Elkin had never won a state championship in anything, and we were actually the smallest school in the state with a tennis team. But sure enough, our junior year and again our senior year, we won state championships in tennis. And I attribute all that to Junior who challenged us. I don’t ever remember him letting me win a single set off of him. I wanted to be just like him. He was an older brother figure to me. One of my favorite nicknames growing up was “Junior Junior” because I wanted to play just like him.
The gentleness of God demonstrated to us enables us to be truly great in him.But looking back on all that, what I remember most about Junior is that he never belittled us. Coaches sometimes can try to intimidate their players to get a prompt response from them, but Junior never did that. He invested in us. He was patient with us. I don’t ever remember him speaking a harsh word to us. Looking back, I would say that it was Junior’s gentleness that made those teams great.
Well, here in Psalm 18, David says to almighty God, a God that he describes throughout this Psalm as being mighty, as subduing his enemies, as exacting vengeance on those who opposed David, but here he describes this God as a gentle God. And he says in verse 35, “your gentleness has made me great.” This morning, I want to consider how God’s gentleness makes us truly great in him and then how God’s gentleness demonstrated through us can make others great in him as well.
The Gentleness of God Enables Us to Be Truly Great
First, the gentleness of God demonstrated to us enables us to be truly great in him. The word gentleness here could be translated as humility or condescension. The word great could be translated as prosperous or victorious or successful or fruitful. Remember that David was the runt of the litter in the household of Jesse. He was overlooked by his parents, he was belittled by his brothers, but he was loved by God. He was mocked by Goliath, he was pursued by Saul, but God’s gentleness encouraged him. It infused courage into him; it enabled him to be victorious; it made him the sweet psalmist of Israel; it exalted him to be king of Israel.
The Gentleness of God the Father
Consider with me for a moment the gentleness of God to us that makes us truly great in him. Consider the gentleness of God the Father towards you. As a father has compassion on his children, so God has compassion, fatherly compassion on those who fear him (Ps. 103:13). God the Father adopts us as his own. He treats us not merely as servants but as sons and daughters. He makes us to be heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, thereby making us great in him.
The Gentleness of God the Son
Consider the gentleness of the Son of God. Consider his condescension to us, consider him who is gentle and lowly of heart. Consider his ministry on our behalf.
J. L. Girardeau said, “It is a striking fact that the Lord Jesus, in his sojourn on earth, did not occupy the seat of the ruler . . . . But, as the great Deacon of Israel, he declared that he came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life as a ransom for many. It is affecting to contemplate him, entitled, as he was, to the submission and homage of a prostrate universe, bearing a towel and a basin, the symbols of a servant; him, before whom every knee shall bow in heaven and on earth and in hell, bending his knee and washing his disciples’ feet.”
Consider the death of Jesus, his shed blood for us that makes us kings and priests unto God our Father.
The Gentleness of God the Holy Spirit
And consider the gentleness, the humility of the Holy Spirit, the one that the early church fathers called the modesty of God, the one who takes the things of Christ and shows them to us. Consider how he gently dwells within us, how he is remaking us into Christ’s image without destroying us, how he patiently bears with us, how he speaks to our spirits that we are the adopted children of God.
C. H. Spurgeon said this, “It is God’s making himself little, which is the cause of our being made great. We are so little, that if God should manifest his greatness without condescension, we should be trampled under his feet; but God, who must stoop to view the skies, and bow to see what angels do, bends his eyes yet lower, and looks to the lowly and contrite, and makes them truly great”
The Gentleness of God Demonstrated in Us Allows Others to be Great
First, the gentleness of God demonstrated to us enables us to be great in him. But secondly, the gentleness of God demonstrated through us enables others to be great in him, and this is the real ministry application, I believe, from this passage this morning. I trust that we are here at RTS because we love the Word of God. We have an appreciation for the Reformed faith. We love to study the Word of God, but we must remember that we are called to minister to people. People that like ourselves are but dust. People who are frail, people who are hurting, people who are struggling.
A friend of mine who’s also an RTS graduate and is now a minister in Mississippi, sometimes we joke that one of the questions that a candidate for ministry should be asked on the floor of presbytery is this: do you love or at least like people? It really should be a prerequisite for ministry. We minister to people. [00:10:09]Our great desire for other people should be that they be great in Jesus. [5.3s] That they be more than conquerors through him who loved them and gave himself for them, that they know the victory of Jesus Christ over sin and the evil one and death and hell, that they come to be able to say with Paul, I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. If that is our desire for them, we must treat them with the same gentleness with which Jesus treats us.
The Gentleness of Benjamin Morgan Palmer
On Sunday, the 10th of May, 1857, Benjamin Morgan Palmer, who was in his first year of ministry at First Presbyterian Church of New Orleans, wrote in his diary after the church service, “The hall filled completely today with large attendance of Unitarians.” Anybody here ever written anything like that in their journal after church? “Many Unitarians,” now what was that about?
Well, one of the early pastors of the First Presbyterian Church of New Orleans, while he was pastoring the flock there, became a Unitarian. In the 19th century, Harvard started sending Unitarians into the South, and people were becoming Unitarians. This man became a Unitarian. It took about 10 years for the presbytery to finally have a trial and depose him from office, but by that time, the vast majority of his congregation had become Unitarian. They told the presbytery, “We want to keep our pastor.” So the First Presbyterian Church of New Orleans became the First Unitarian Church of New Orleans. Twenty-three beleaguered Presbyterians left and started the second First Presbyterian Church of New Orleans. Four years later, Palmer became the pastor of that church. Palmer is a great preacher, he’s an eloquent man, but he took the long view and one of his prayers was that these Unitarians would come to faith in the true and triune God, and so he preached faithfully the triune grace of God.
We’re called to proclaim the truth with all boldness, but recall to apply that truth with gentleness to the people around us.Well, 45 years later, just after the death of Palmer, in the Daily Picayune, the major newspaper in New Orleans, which devoted three full pages to the life of Palmer, it said this, “The greater number of the members of the Unitarian Church returned to the fold of Presbyterianism through Dr. Palmer’s exposition of the real principles of Presbyterianism.” Then it said, “All this had been due to the wonderful influence and power exercised by Dr. Palmer, for his great powers of mind and his gentle heart, in those terrible days of doubt and upheaval in the church when he first began to work in New Orleans. Quietly, yet surely, he drew the wandering back to the fold of their childhood.” He preached with boldness, but he he ministered with a gentle heart, and the Lord used that to sweetly draw even these Unitarians back to the triune grace of God.
Paul tells us in 2 Timothy 2:24–25, “The Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.” That’s what Palmer did in New Orleans, and that’s what each of us are called to do. We’re called to represent the Lord’s truth with all fidelity. We’re called to proclaim the truth with all boldness, but recall to apply that truth with gentleness to the people around us.
The Gentleness of Crisis Pregnancy Workers
A couple of weeks ago, I had the privilege of giving the devotional at the Pregnancy Resource Center here in in Charlotte, for the staff and the volunteers there. Then the director of advancement, Ron Coleman, who was an early graduate of RTS Charlotte, showed me his diploma. He was in the first graduating class of RTS and his last name begins with “C,”, so he was the first one in line to get his diploma. So he said, “I’m the first graduate of RTS Charlotte.”
He showed me around the Pregnancy Resource Center, and then he took me out to the abortion clinic here in Charlotte, where the most abortions in North Carolina are performed. So here you have the abortion clinic, and we were standing off the side of the road. The abortion clinic is here, and then over here you have the PRC mobile units where they provide ultrasounds and counsel women and try to encourage them toward choosing life.
Their first job, though, is to step out into the edge of the street and to try to flag down people who are driving on their way to the abortion clinic. When we got there, both mobile units were were occupied, which was a great thing. As we stood there, we saw one lady come out of the mobile unit and get in her car. Ron said, “I think you’re about to see a miracle. I think you’re about to see a divine U-turn,” and that’s exactly what happened. She did a U-turn and went away from the abortion clinic. A few minutes later, another one came out of the other mobile unit, got in her car and he said, “I think you’re about to see another one.” And sure enough, another divine U-turn. Two lives saved that day. It was an amazing moment. He said, “I’ve brought pastors out here for four and a half years and only one other guy has got to see two divine U-turns in one morning. The snow was falling, and it was just a beautiful picture of God’s redeeming love.
The Holy Spirit grants the fruit of gentleness, and so we must ask the Father, claiming the promise of the Son.Those women, those wonderful women who step out to those cars, that takes boldness. They are on the frontline of battle. They are doing battle with evil every day. But how is that battle won? How are those women in crisis opened up to receive God’s truth? How are those lives saved? It is the gentleness of God flowing through those women that makes those moms and those children great in him.
How can we have this combination of boldness, of uncompromising fidelity to the truth and yet gentleness that makes others great? It can only come by the ministry of the Blessed Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit grants the fruit of gentleness, and so we must ask the Father, claiming the promise of the Son from Luke 11:13, when Jesus says, “If you who are evil know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the Heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask?” May we be a people that look to the Father in the name of the Son for the gift of the Holy Spirit, for the filling and sanctifying grace of the gentle Holy Spirit, that we might deal with others with the same gentleness with which the triune God deals with us, such that they might know the gentleness of God that can make them great in him. Let’s look to the Lord in prayer.
O Lord, our God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, we thank you for your perfect gentleness to us. We thank you that you do not deal with us as our sins deserve. We thank you that you do not consume us or crush us with your holy presence, but you draw near to us in grace. Through the blood of Jesus, you set us apart as your own, and by the grace of your Holy Spirit, you make us to know greatness, true greatness in Christ. We thank you that a bruised reed you do not break and a smoldering flax you do not quench. Lord God, help us to treat others with the same gentleness with which you treat us that others might know that gentleness and be truly great in you, through Christ we pray, Amen.