According to the Apostle Peter, a woman’s beauty is supposed to be most evident in her gentle and quiet spirit (1 Peter 3:4), this prescription from a man whose aggravating and endearing outspokenness was a key quality of his personality. Jesus Himself showed us that one person can, without sin, be both bold and humble. In trying to capture a similar combination, modern theorists have come up with the term “assertive” as a midpoint between “passive” and “aggressive.” But the word has been applied to everything from requesting a well-deserved raise to the latest political brawl. How can Christians decide whether assertiveness, which often means voicing one’s opinion, concurs with Peter’s prescription? Can assertiveness and quietness coexist?
If you read my last post, then you understand there are ways in which a caricature of meekness can be harmful to human relationships. A gentle and quiet spirit cannot mean extinguishing God-given gifts or an attitude of deceitfulness or a birthplace for bitterness. It does mean, from the Hebrew, an unpretentious and settled spirit. So let us consider a description of biblical assertiveness which includes humility and honesty, leaving room for the dignity, passion and courage which Scripture also promotes.
Biblical assertiveness is:
…a quality of the mind. In the Bible this aspect of assertiveness is generally called wisdom, but it is also referred to as assurance or confidence. This is not a confidence in some quality of self but in the eternal connection of our soul to the King of Everything. When we understand our worth as determined by God alone, we neither need to hide our light under a basket nor crow with self-centered pride. Wisdom takes joy in knowing what kind of instrument God has crafted – so that you can play the trumpet you are, for example, rather than the harp you thought you were supposed to be. Jesus’ wisdom grew from intimate knowledge of His Father and of the role He had been given. Cultivate this wisdom through deep familiarity with Scripture, seeking God in prayer and making a real effort to understand and appreciate the unique and beautiful ways you have been shaped for His use. (Here is a free resource to help you.)
…a quality of the heart. Jesus displayed every human emotion from temptation to grief to compassion to anger. The psalms teach us that all those emotions can be directed toward God in worship. When we accept our feelings as part of God’s image in us, we can express them in ways that honor Him and promote good in the world. Every feeling has a good purpose as well as a destructive dark side. For example, anger, the one most people fear, is meant to motivate us to change things, to right wrongs or protect the weak. Jesus got angry when His Father’s house was desecrated and when the unsuspecting were led astray. Jesus wasn’t afraid of His own heart. He took care of it, seeking solitude, allowing Himself tears and surrounding Himself with family and friends. When we accept our own emotions as He did and learn to express them appropriately, others will feel more comfortable with us and with themselves. They may even know God better. Get to know your own heart through close attention and journaling, and cultivate at least a few relationships which are safe and encouraging places to express it, including your relationship with God.
…and a quality of the will. The will is the seat of actions and choices. Much false meekness, the kind that makes people uncomfortable (see previous post), comes from misguided choices of the will. Refusing to acknowledge real emotions or real truths, declining to speak because of guilt or fear, is not Peter’s settled spirit. To speak the truth in love (i.e., to speak the truth in relationship) is a Biblical admonition. We do not speak from a motive of anger or punishment or self-protection but out of the assurance that we have submitted ourselves to Christ first and are loving others well with our words. Making godly choices means knowing God’s values and our own. Jesus did not answer every question put to Him, meet all others’ expectations or hesitate to reveal unpleasant truths when necessary to honor His Father. He knew when to remain quiet and when to use His voice. Our will, like His, enables us to control our responses and actions rather than having them control us. When you feel emotional, consider how God might want to use that – and when and where and with whom. When you have something to say, ask Jesus to give you bold and loving words.
A gentle and quiet spirit is not agitated or abrasive, but it may be funny or convincing or brave. A person with this attribute exhibits confidence without arrogance, born from a sense of identity rooted in the love and acceptance of the King of Everything. A person at peace imparts that sense of tranquility to others. I know a gentle and quiet spirit when I find one because I am at peace in her presence. I neither need to protect her nor read hidden signals for her mood or preferences. She is able to say what is true, to own what is real and to do what is right – without nagging or contention or guilt or defensiveness. Because, at the end of the day, she looks into the face of her Beloved, and no other, for approval. It took Peter a long time to learn what that meant for his own life. I don’t expect we’ll get it overnight, either.
Faith and Assertiveness by Blaine Smith
Gracefully Assertive by Chelsea Cote
Why It’s Good to Be Bold by Liz Curtis Higgs