If Christ is the greatest of all leaders, then His heart is the foundation upon which leadership ought to be understood. What then, is the heart of Christ?
“Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls….” Matthew 11:29 NASB 1995
While an entire treatise could be written, examined, proclaimed, and pursued on any particular component of this passage, I must refer you to the work of Dane Ortlund for such exploration. His review of the implications of this singular verse and passage is of the highest quality in “Gentle and Lowly.” The purpose of this particular examination is to utilize the second phrase, “I am gentle and humble in heart”, as a foundation for understanding the posture of leadership before exploring its implications for those who find themselves with influence and leadership.
What exactly does it mean for Christ to be “gentle and humble in heart” to understand these concepts the Greek is broken down below. The Greek New Testament text is provided as an encouragement to do your research. I am human and make mistakes. Per Luke 17:2 it is of high importance that I do all that I can to avoid being a stumbling block or misleading anyone in their beliefs.
ἄρατε τὸν ζυγόν μου ἐφ’ ὑμᾶς καὶ μάθετε ἀπ’ ἐμοῦ, ὅτι πραΰς εἰμι καὶ ταπεινὸς τῇ καρδίᾳ, καὶ εὑρήσετε ἀνάπαυσιν ταῖς ψυχαῖς ὑμῶν:
The word’s I would like to focus on are πραΰς, and ταπεινὸς. Your English bibles translate them as Gentle, and Humble, or synonyms of those words respectively.
πραΰς is best understood as “pertaining to being gentle and mild.” However, I must acknowledge that English is limited in the translation of the word, as gentle is not inclusive of kindness in this exact greek term. It is, perhaps, better to understand gentle, in this sense, as a sort of intentional carefulness in dealing with people. But, joined into this word is also a sense of affection, again, separate and distinct from kindness. This affection runs far deeper and is much more complete than any sort of kindness we are capable of comprehending in any sort of conceptual manner. It is, to attempt at drawing closer to an English rendition, an intentional carefulness that is motivated intrinsically by an extreme affection that is as poised to wage war as it is to swoop down and care for the wounded child who needs the love that only God can provide. So for a minimalistic understanding, we get the following:
Christ at a fundamental level is intentionally careful with our very souls out of an intrinsic affection for our whole person, He is not just careful with our souls but is intentional in every interaction with us on a level that is both intimate and holistic. This is the gentleness of Christ.
What does this mean for leaders?
The heart of our leadership ought to be coming from an intrinsic motivation that is affectionate for the whole person of those whom we lead in such a manner that it produces an intentional carefulness in how we deal with those we lead and influence. Proverbs 15, captures a component of this practicality in verse 28. The NASB reads:
The heart of the righteous ponders how to answer, But the mouth of the wicked pours out evil things.
There is a slowness in our dealings with people that ought to be flowing from this heart posture at the center of what it means to be like Christ in the gentleness of heart.
What then of ταπεινὸς? I will be the first to admit, that this aspect of the research for this post was convicting, my harshness and anxiety were laid out before me in direct contrast to the heart of Christ as a leader and shepherd and part of me broke. ταπεινὸς is not just a general sense of humility, it is a humility that is intrinsically calming and soothing in presence to those who encounter it. If, like me, the previous statements brought on a sense of shame, self-loathing, or any sort of disgust that began to penetrate your mind, let me refer you, at this point, to what we have just moved through regarding the Gentleness of Christ. Take a moment away from this portion and seek Christ in prayer. Rest in the assured gentleness of Christ in His dealings with you.
Christ at a fundamental level is humble and of lowly stature in His dealings with those He leads and shepherds. This humility is fundamentally a provider of such soothing and comforting guidance that it seems radically opposed to the ambitious leadership we often see in those around us, and for those like me, within our own hearts. What then are we to make of this? Is ambition an inherent opposition and rebellion against the God we claim to serve, to be enlisted under, and shepherded by?
We find the answer in Paul’s first message to Timothy, the first letter in the collection commonly referred to as the Pastoral Epistles. For those of you who aren’t familiar with Paul, and the Recipient Timothy I’d encourage you to check out the video by Dr. Tim Mackie HERE.
The 1995 NASB renders the Greek in the following way, “It is a trustworthy statement: if any man aspires to the office of overseer, it is a fine work he desires to do.” 1 Timothy 3:1
Aspiration is a sort of ambition, it is a desire and pursuit. However, it is in the context of persecution and social ridicule that any such person was pursuing leadership within the church at the time of this Letter. See, for the New Testament Covenant, leadership is something that is completely oriented by an honest and pure intention to pursue the service of others per God’s impartation and development of certain Spiritual Gifts (See 1 Corinthians 13), Deep Desires, Natural Talents, and Aptitudes within the person in question. We all have influence and leadership. The aspiration is to wield it following God’s plan and from a heart that seeks the glory of God.
So, how do we walk with God as leaders?
I, categorically, refuse to try and sell any of you reading this some cookie-cutter formula. What I offer instead is a series of questions and resources that will help you prayerfully examine your heart and desires so that you can come to a place of peace with how you are serving God in this season of life, or so that you can figure out what you need to do to change courses and start living the life you are being called into.
- Read 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, and Titus
- Read 1 and 2 Peter
- Read John and 1 John
- Purchase and go through Daniel Henderson’s “The Deeper Life”
- What would it look like for you to be Gentle and Humble in heart like Christ?
- What relationships do you need to humble yourself in?
- Who do you need to grow in gentleness with, even perhaps yourself?
- Where are you going with God?
- What does it mean to seek the glory of God?