In aeronautic terminology, “attitude” refers to the angle of an aircraft in regard to a reference point such as the horizon. It encompasses the yaw (i.e., the left-to-right movement of an aircraft in relation to its vertical axis), pitch (i.e., the up or down tilt of the aircraft’s nose in relation to its side-to-side axis), and roll (i.e., the rotation of the wings around its front-to-back axis) of the aircraft. In simplistic terms, a plane’s attitude refers to its overall orientation, and its overall orientation matters a great deal when it comes to landing an aircraft. As a plane descends from a flight, the pilot must ensure that the attitude of the plane is aligned properly, or the aircraft may make contact with the ground at the wrong angle and, as a result, potentially crash. Therefore, maintaining a proper attitude is essential to a successful flight and, more importantly, a successful landing.
The same holds true for us as Christians. Just as the attitude of an aircraft has tremendous influence over whether or not a successful landing ensues, our attitude toward those outside the Body of Christ has tremendous influence over whether or not a successful evangelistic mission ensues. So the expectation is for us to orient our attitude around Christ. That is why Paul instructed his readers to “have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:5). He is our reference point in all matters, including our mission. So let us consider for a moment the attitude that Jesus modeled during His interactions with people.
Jesus’ attitude toward people, particularly the lost, could be summarized with the word gentle. The term “gentle” refers to a kind and amiable disposition rather than a rough and calloused one. Therefore, a gentle attitude is one that is compassionate, calm, patient, and nonjudgmental. The reason Jesus maintained such an attitude to those whose lives were deemed “sinful” was because His mission was “to seek and save the lost” (Luke 19:10). As a result, He repeatedly targeted those who were “lost” and did so in a way that was attractive rather than repulsive.
For example, while resting next to a well in a Samaritan town, Jesus initiated a conversation with a woman whose marital status was very complex, even sinful (John 4:18). Jesus did not overlook her failed marriages or current sinful living arrangement, but, at the same time, he did not belabor the issue. He knew she was aware of her sin. He realized this when she was so vague in her response after He instructed her to summon her husband (John 4:16-17). So after acknowledging her sinful condition, Jesus focused on her spiritual thirst. He answered her theological questions (John 4:19-24), revealed Himself to be the Messiah (John 4:25-26), and then waited for her to respond.
Jesus was incredibly gentle with this woman who wanted to have the right relationship with God but did not know where to begin at this point in her life. His gentleness is evident in the fact that He did not take a holier-than-thou approach and recuse Himself from speaking to her since she was a woman, a sinner, and a Samaritan. His gentleness is evident in the fact that He did not attack her for her sins or deem her undeserving of “living water.” His gentleness is evident in the fact that He was not impatient with her spiritual process but instead allowed her to ask questions and to bring others to Him. Jesus treated this woman as someone worth saving rather than someone worth condemning and conveyed this to her through a gentle spirit.
Such a description could not be used in reference to the Pharisees. They were self-righteous, sanctimonious, judgmental, and accusatory. They frequently criticized Jesus for interacting with known “sinners” because they would never be guilty of such unholy interactions (Matthew 9:10-13; Luke 15:11-2), and they were quick to point out the faults of others without recognizing their own guilt (Matthew 12:2; 15:2; 23:23-24). Their attitude manifested itself in contrast to Jesus’ attitude on that fateful day when they presented a woman caught in adultery to Him (John 8:3-11). They did not see her as someone worth saving. They were more than willing to condemn her if it would help them achieve their ultimate goal of bringing a charge against Jesus. But Jesus did not let their unrighteous attitude change His. In a spirit of gentleness, He challenged those religious leaders to take ownership of their sin, then turned His attention to the accused, refused to condemn her, and instructed her to “sin no more.” In the end, the only human who ever had the right to be self-righteous, sanctimonious, judgmental, or accusatory chose to be gentle instead.
If we intend to have the same attitude as Christ, then we, too, must be gentle. In fact, the New Testament authors instruct us to have such an attitude. Paul told Timothy that “the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness” (2 Timothy 2:24-25, emphasis added). And Peter instructed his readers to “in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15, emphasis added). So as we engage in Christ’s mission of seeking and saving the lost, let us be reminded that the right attitude is a gentle attitude because a gentile attitude is based on Jesus’ attitude. Once again, Paul said, “have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:5).