We must face what we are, instead of puffing ourselves up in pride. Sadly, we fail to live up to our heavenly calling (Colossians 3:1-4). (I write this not to beat anyone down, but to help us all live in reality rather than in some type of spiritual fantasyland. We must sense our ongoing need of Christ and the gospel at the same time as we trust in Christ and the gospel and enjoy the glorious position we have in him.)
Few things are as worthless as bruised reeds and smoldering wicks. A reed growing near marshes is rather useless and a bruised reed can’t support anything. A smoldering wick is too far gone and almost ready to go out. Though we ought to be walking in the Spirit and joy and light, these words often are an apt description of Christ’s people. Many are weak and damaged by sin. Very few Christians escape the stumbling walk caused by entangling sins (Hebrews 12:1). Though some rejoice in salvation, they moan over their wicked past, not seeming to trust fully that the good news means that all their sins are forgiven. Others were victims of abuse, and the memories of that abuse mar their view of themselves and their hope. How many have been through severe conflicts in the church, and are afraid to love Christ’s people again! And far too many have been taught false doctrine and their lives are constantly ravaged by the falsehoods that they have consumed. And what can we say about those whose minds are overcome by a wrong delight in one part of the truth, so much so that their lives are a hideous caricature of true Christian living?
The good news of these verses is that Jesus does not break bruised reeds. Nor does he put out smoldering wicks. Are you bruised? Be encouraged. Jesus is the Great Physician. Expose your wounds to him. Never fear to go to your Mediator, because he is not only your friend, but also your brother and husband (Sibbes, Works, Vol. 1, p. 46). Remember that peace and joy are two main fruits of his saving reign (Rm 14:17). Are you smoldering? Look at him, for he is the Light, and remember that you are in him!
Think of the tender care that Jesus has toward us. If you are observant, you can see how all these words about Christ are about what he would not do. We ought to most certainly understand these negatives, but they should also lead us to think toward the positive aspects of his ministry. In other words, it is a kind of litotes, which is a figure of speech using understatement in which an affirmative is expressed by the negative of its contrary (e.g., “you won’t be sorry”, meaning “you’ll be glad”). Think of Romans 1:16. Certainly, Paul was not ashamed of the gospel, but the intent was to communicate his joyful confidence in it.
The Lord Christ goes with us into situations where we learn to trust him. One man in the Gospels said to Jesus, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean” (Matthew 8:2). Another said, “If you can do anything, take pity on us and help us” (Mark 9:22). One questioned his power and the other his desire, but he graciously healed in both cases. Another time, Jesus saw the Twelve in trouble out on Galilee during the night. What did he do? He walked out on the lake, let Peter go for a short walk with him on the water, rescued him, and then he calmed the wind.
He sends us out into the world, as he did the Twelve and the Seventy, where we can see his saving power at work. When we come back rejoicing, he instructs us about how to rejoice more properly. He makes the weak strong.
He teaches us about the extensiveness of his grace, when we become narrow-minded and idle. Think of how he tenderly taught Peter to reach out to non-Jewish people when he was avoiding them (Ac 10:1-42).
He leads people gently from sexual immorality to honor, by telling them through the Scriptures about his call of grace and the gift of the Spirit (1 Thessalonians 4:1-8). Although the Lord wants us to bear much fruit, he knows that branches need to be tended to in order to become fully productive. He knows that “a few grapes will show that the plant is a vine and not a thorn” (Sibbes, p. 58). For this reason, he leads us by his Spirit in faith, hope and love that we might become more fruitful.
What new fruit is the Lord producing in your life now? In other words, how is Jesus making you smile with the joy of increasing holiness? Respond to his kindness toward you!
Grace and peace, David