With strongman politics currently dominating world affairs, I’ve been pondering what Christian leaders should look like. Do we try to keep up with the tough guys, going toe to toe and showing that Christ is stronger – the Lion of Judah?
Or do we try to look different to the worldly powers, and adopt the stance of the Lamb of God, the slain Lamb who, according to the Book of Revelation, sits right there next to the all-powerful throne of God in the heavens? Lambs are soft, fluffy, delightful, seemingly powerless. Lions are terrifying, proud, strong and hard to ignore. Which should we be?
My conclusion: Christianity is soft.
Soft is where we need to stay. Soft is the side of the good guys. Soft is strong. Behold the Lamb!
Take a look at the fruit of the Holy Spirit. That famous passage from St Paul’s letter to the Galatian church gives us a list of things that will be evident in people who have dedicated themselves to following the way of Jesus Christ:
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” (Galatians 5:22-23) They’re all soft.
Kindness is hardly ever a KPI for Christians in leadership: why not?
Dangerously, there are several loud voices in the public arena claiming to represent Christians in politics, cultural commentary and ethical debates that I find hard to square with this list of spiritual virtues. I suggest we ask this question of them as we read and hear their words: are they soft? And if they aren’t soft, they probably aren’t bearing the fruit of the Spirit, so we should be wary about lining up with them.
The people to look to for Christian leadership are therefore, by nature, hard to find. Soft is harder to detect than loud. Gentle is harder to notice than aggressive. Forbearance and patience can look like caving in or going quiet, whereas angry protest feels like finally getting up and doing something.
The joyful person can get overlooked as just being here for fun, whereas the serious driven type seems like what we need. Maybe not, if you are looking for spiritual qualities. Kindness is hardly ever a KPI for Christians in leadership: why not? The opposite is harshness, and that still seems to get rewarded. Something is wrong there.
Christians are to be soft on the outside, and rock hard within.
Self-control seems to me to be the only fruit where hard might trump soft. I don’t know about you, but I think it might be the slowest and trickiest spiritual fruit to ripen. It’s about truly understanding your weaknesses, and throwing everything you have at killing off that old self and letting the sanctified self shine through. Perhaps this type of fruit is different because it is truly about how you deal with yourself, not how you treat others. All the other fruit is about who you are towards your neighbour, your family, your church, your communities.
That decides it: the peach is the fruit of the Spirit.
Maybe that’s it: Christians are to be soft on the outside, and rock hard within. Soft in our dealings with each other, and hard in our dealings with ourselves. Working hard on getting our internal spiritual lives sorted, so we can be generous towards everyone else. Hardening up our insides without letting that hardness affect those we seek to love and serve.
We are to be like peaches. That decides it: the peach is the fruit of the Spirit.
An important caveat is this: these instructions from Paul are first and foremost about how Christians treat each other. They are not a treatise for engaging in politics, unless they have first been a treatise for how you behave towards your brother and sister in Christ. Judgment begins with the household of God.
We need to clean up our own act if we think we have anything to offer the wider world. And what we have to offer should be pretty soft. That’s a hard ask.
Greg Clarke is CEO of Bible Society Australia.