“The silk we love for its softness and beauty is also one of the strongest and toughest fibers in the world. It has a strength of around five grams per denier compared with three grams per denier for a drawn wire of soft steel.” (From “The History of Silk,” by Harold Verner, quoted by Liz Trenow in her novel “The Last Telegram.”)
Soft and beautiful; strong and tough. What a combination.
Some in our day call this “a velvet-brick” or “a steel magnolia.” Soft and beautiful on the outside, strong and tough on the inside.
A pretty apt description of our Lord Jesus Christ, isn’t it? We see His softness and beauty in a hundred things He did: the time He took to receive the little children and bless them, respond to the cries of the leper who had touched him, restore a dead son to his grieving mother, forgive an adulterous woman who had been publicly humiliated by religious bullies, and save a five-times married woman of Samaria. He invited the dying thief on the cross to spend eternity with Him in Paradise, and prayed for His executioners.
Our Lord said, Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light (Matthew 11:28-30).
No wonder people have been so enamored by this Lord Jesus Christ from day one.
He was a beautiful man.
But the Lord’s strength and toughness are also visible–on full display, even–throughout the Gospels.
–For forty days Jesus fasted in the desert and did battle with Satan. He stood up against the religious big-shots who would use a blind man for their self-centered purposes. He grabbed a whip of ropes and drove the money-changers and animal-sellers from the Court of the Gentiles in the Temple.
–He went to the cross and stayed there until His work was done.
It’s an unbeatable combination, strength and softness, toughness and beauty.
–Jesus wept over Jerusalem’s fate (Luke 19:41) and delivered a ringing indictment against its leaders who had brought the Lord’s people to this sad state (Matthew 23).
–Jesus wept over Lazarus’ death (John 11:35), then raised Him from the dead and restored him to his family.
Strong and soft. Like silk, may we say. (Or, perhaps we should say, silk is like Him.)
It is the plan of the Living God for you and me, His children and the disciples of the Lord Jesus, to be exactly this way also.
Silken Christians, maybe?
God wants us soft and beautiful; He wants us strong and tough.
And, He wants it all at the same time. He does not want His children to be one or the other but both. To be soft but not strong is to be a marshmallow Christian, one with a broken heart over the misery and suffering around us, but no clue what to do about it. To be strong and tough but without sensitivity and compassion turns us into harsh bullies, judgmental tyrants giving orders but not help, who have all the answers and none of the Spirit of Christ.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faithfulness, humility, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23 from the KJV).
That familiar list is a lot of things. It’s a picture of the character of the Lord Jesus Christ. It’s also His recipe for His children to attain that amazing blend of strength/toughness and soft beauty.
What is more beautiful than love, joy, and peace? And what is tougher than gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control?
May the Lord make us gentle and gracious, soft and beautiful (in the best sense of the word).
–Not like the so-called Westboro Baptist Church whose leadership stays awake at night seeking whom they may condemn and humiliate.
–Not like the harsh, unloving religious fanatics who delight in confronting gays and lesbians, abortionists and political liberals, in order to denounce them in the name of Jesus. Such tactics are as far from the way of the Man of Galilee as it is possible to stray.
–Not like the callous church members who would vote against a benevolence allocation in the church budget because “Jesus said the poor you will always have with you” and “we just need to get ’em saved!”
–Not like the uncaring members who are quick to criticize the unsaved in their community for acting like unsaved people, but have no act of love, gift of compassion, or word of witness to offer them.
To make us soft and sweet, compassionate and caring, the Lord may have to do some or all of the following:
–break us and humble us.
–burden us and overload us (to drive us to Him in despair, forever breaking the independent “I can do it by myself” spirit).
–let us be humiliated by having our own sinfulness displayed before the world.
–take away all that we had trusted in previously, in order that we might trust only in HIm.
None of this is painless. All of it can be fruitful, so long as we snuggle up close to Him and refuse to let any of it drive us from Him.
To make us strong and tough, the Lord may have to do some of the following:
–Put pressure on us, add a heavier load, apply stress. When you want to build a muscle, you do not send it to the beach for two weeks. You send it to the gym for a full work-out. You add weights and demands and burdens which strain the muscle to the very limit. And then, after a bit, you increase even that.
–Leave us alone for a while. We may feel abandoned by the Lord and cry out “Why hast Thou forsaken me?” He’s there, of course. He never leaves. But He will withdraw the evidences of His nearness from time to time in order to deepen our faith and lessen our dependence on feelings and emotions.
–Send certain people into our lives who drive us nuts. We should think of these people as gifts from the Father, sent to test us, to hone the edges off us, to drive us closer to Him, to teach us to obey Him even when we feel terrible. The next-door neighbor who stood in his yard cursing me because my tree was shedding on his lawn did me a giant favor, for which I will always be grateful (even though at the time, I was miserable).
He’s trying to perfect us, to make us Christlike, in order that He may do something significant with our lives.
What is He up to in your life?
I have no idea. That’s the fun part for you, discovering the new things the Lord can now do with you after sweetening your spirit and toughening your soul.
I will tell you this, however, and you might not like it: The process never ends in this life.
We go “from faith to faith,” Paul said in Romans 1:17. Whatever else that means–and He did not provide a commentary with it, so we are left to work it out with the able assistance of the Holy Spirit–it surely means that after we respond by faith to some assignment or challenge or command, and it turns out well and we receive His “well done, good and faithful servant,” the immediate reward for this will be an even tougher task the next day.
It’s a great life. If you remain faithful.
Oh, by the way….
As with holiness and godliness, when you begin to attain the sweetness & beauty of Christ along with His strength and toughness, you will probably be the last to know. Others will see the improvement in you long before you do. What you will be feeling is the joy of close fellowship with Him and the burden of all He is asking of you. Then, one day, you will be shocked when someone remarks about the beauty of your spirit and the strength they see in you. It means two things….
–God is doing what He promised to do.
–And, you should ignore what they say. Take your eyes off Jesus and put them on your accomplishments and you are in big trouble fast. My brother Ron, a preacher with six decades of faithful service behind him, says “Flattery is like perfume: it’s nice to smell but if you swallow it, it’ll make you sick.”
Eyes on Jesus, my friend.