I love this scene from the first Middle Earth movie, The Fellowship of the Ring. In this short clip, Gandalf is telling Bilbo that he needs to leave the one ring behind (to later be taken up by his nephew, Frodo). The lure of the ring – Tolkein’s imagery for sin – is too much for Bilbo and it causes him to respond with greed and selfishness at such a request.
Gandalf’s response is both powerful and endearing.
His initial reaction is stern and booming, powerful and strong. He reminds Bilbo of who he is NOT – someone out to harm him. He follows up this somewhat fearful presentation with gentleness and love, reminding Bilbo of who he IS – someone who is there to help him.
I think Christians can learn a lot from this short scene. I’ve written previously on how in Christ we grow and become more of a complete person. In summary of my last post, what I mean by this is that we are being “rounded out” as Christians; we learn to convey a wide variety of emotions because we are being made whole by Christ. We know when to let our emotions out, and we know when to rope them in. This ability comes through growth and faith in our Savior as he makes us more like him.
An additional reflection of this growth in Christ is learning wisdom and discernment for when we should be stern and strong, or gentle and humble. The truth is, the Bible can sometimes come off as being full of dichotomies. Sometimes we see Christ or the Apostle Paul (and many others) speaking in one way, but then at other times we seem them acting or speaking in a way that seems contrary to their previous behavior.
So how do we reconcile these things?
How do we know whether to make a whip of chords and flip tables (John 2:15-17), or gently speak to others about grace and truth (John 4:1-45)?
How do we know whether to strive for unity and destroy divisions in the church (1 Cor. 1:10-17), or to preach strongly against false teachers and their doctrines (1 Tim. 1, 6)?
How do we know whether to encourage love and peace (2 Cor 13:11-12), or to employ sarcastic rhetoric and defend ourselves (2 Cor 11)?
We can learn something here from that wiry old wizard: we need to know when and how to do both.
Too often in this post-modern culture, our desires for peace and “tolerance” work its way into the church, so we’re content with just saying “as long as you claim the name of Jesus, we’re good.” On the flip side, brothers and sisters who are filled with pride and arrogance hatefully and jealously fight and slander one another in a manner that looks anything but Christian. Are these really the only two sides to the Christian reality?
Part of growth as a Christian is learning discernment and wisdom. And as we become more like Christ, we will know when its appropriate to engage in conversations that sometimes require strong and forceful actions, language, and tone. We will also learn when it is appropriate to be gentle, nurturing and soft.
The root of either end of the spectrum is love. We should always be rooted in love, and our actions should always be winsome. Therefore, it is entirely possible for us to contend, fight, defend and argue for the faith and do so lovingly and gently. The Christian defense and contention looks distinctively different from how the world would do it. In contrast, it is quite easy for us to claim peace and unity, but do so in an unloving fashion. While it may appear loving on the surface, at its root our “peaceful and loving” actions are actually rooted in fear of man, insecurity, and a lack of confidence.
The first test to ask yourself in any situation is: am I acting out of love for others that is rooted in Christ? The answer to this question will probably give you a clue as to whether you’ve discerned the appropriate behavior and speech.
As for Gandalf, well, he’s a good example but less than a mere shadow of the One we follow. Seek him, look to him. Believe him. Follow His example.