The Jewish Zealots of Jesus’ day attempted to fight against the rule of the Roman Empire with violence and terrorist tactics. Eventually the Romans brutally put down the rebellion with the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D.
The early Christians were also a target of Roman violence. They responded, however, in a different way than the Zealots. Peter wrote to Christians who were suffering persecution and encouraged them to not fear but to “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect” (I Peter 3:15).
We are to respond to persecution, answer questions and do missions and evangelism with gentleness and respect. The way of the Zealots, however, is more appealing to our old nature. When somebody insults us we want to insult them back. We want to “fight fire with fire.” We mistakenly think standing up for your rights, telling people off and letting people have what’s coming are signs of strength.
We are to spread the good news of Jesus, not so much as warriors on attack but as gentle, humble servants. We do fight against sin and evil that holds people captive. But in our dealings with people, including those who may hold very different beliefs than we do, we are to treat each person with gentleness and respect.
Hudson Taylor was a missionary to China in the 19thcentury. Other missionaries in that day would often look down upon the way the Chinese dressed and ate. Taylor showed respect for the Chinese people by wearing the kind of clothes they wore, cutting his hair the way they did and eating the kind of food the common people ate. His respect and gentleness led to great opportunities to share the good news of Jesus.
Various plagues hit the Roman Empire during the days of the early Church. Fear led many Romans to drive the sick away rather than care for them. Even though it put them at risk of getting the plague themselves, the Christians would find the sick, including those who didn’t hold to their beliefs, and gently and lovingly care for them. The early church grew in numbers and strength as unbelievers took note of the loving service of the Christians.
We serve Jesus, who described Himself as “gentle and humble in heart.” With gentleness, we share the good news of Jesus and help people to find “rest for their souls” (Matthew 11:29).