I can’t think of a more foolish statement to the Roman ear than the one Paul said to the church at Ephesus. It must have seemed the most profound of paradoxes to hear the phrase, “be strong in the Lord” because in the eye of virtually every one in the entire Roman world the Lord of these Christians was anything but strong. Oh, they knew about Him. He was a man of lowly men, a truly “gentle – man.” He was a man who didn’t struggle or strive, scream or cry. He was a man who turned to the other cheek. One “who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return.” (1 Peter 2:23) It was the last thought that would have entered their mind – this picture that Paul pulled out to convey to his contemporaries the idea of strength. It must have sounded to them like he was trying to describe a square circle.
Now, they (and we) could have understood it if Paul had said, “Be meek like Jesus,” or “Be patient in the Lord.” “Be peaceful in Christ.” But to hold Jesus up as an example of manly might wasn’t just a little strange to the ordinary Roman of that day. Yet, the point behind the picture was, and is, profoundly true. I wouldn’t hesitate for a moment to say that Christ met all of the criteria to be considered strong, even to the Roman mind, for the essential element of His strength was the tenacity of will. The thing that makes it strange for the Roman, and even us at times, is the fact that it came about in an opposite way in His life as it did in the life of the Roman.
You see, it reached the Roman through the suppression of compassion. But it reached the Son of Man through the strengthening of compassion. The tenacity of will in this man named Jesus came from the fact that His heart was consumed with compassion. I know that is a seemingly foreign thought for us today. Normally the strong and the sentimental are considered opposites, but that is a mistaken concept. Nothing produces an iron will more than soft heart. It is gentleness that makes you great.
So then, here’s the question: When does the will take on this iron tenacity? It is only when the heart is affected by deep affection.
I’ll illustrate. Most of the time youth is seen as something less steady than adulthood – not as resolute or resolved. Often the young are seen as being more prone to temptation. Now, I’m not denying that there is truth in this assumption, but the question should be asked, “Why is this so?” Is is because their feelings are fickle or their emotions run hotter? No. It’s because because there are fewer things in their lives to strengthen their resolve. You see, when there is love, when there is a home, when there is a child, and when there is a responsibility that is placed upon the heart, it is then that the will is strengthened and becomes steadfast. It is then that there is a determination that develops the strength of solid steel. That is the strength of the Lord. It is a firmness that is found in feeling. It is a courage that is created by compassion. It is a bravery born out of a burden. Paul put is so profoundly – “for when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Cor. 12:10)
How does this – can this – take place? It is only when the nature of the One whose name is Love comes into our heart that we can truly be strong. Without Him in our heart, all of the forces of life will overwhelm us. We will trip in the tempest of temptation. We will sink into a sea of difficulty. That’s why we need what Paul would call “Roman strength,” but strangely there is no Roman method that can give it to us. We can only find this “Roman strength” by becoming “unRoman” – by allowing our heart to become so soft that it hears the hurt in the hearts of those around us.
“Dear Jesus, let me never forget that I am bound to others, and that it is through this compassionate cord that my will is strengthened. Let the memory of my ties make my resolution even that much stronger, realizing that it is only through your love that I will learn the power of Your might. Amen.”