Aspiring Meditations: 16. Aspiring to Gentleness
Gal 5:22 the fruit of the Spirit is ….gentleness
Mt 11:29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.
Mt 21:5 Say to the Daughter of Zion, `See, your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey
Eph 4:2 Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.
Strangely in observing conversations about the fruit of the Spirit, I have never heard anyone put ‘gentleness’ at the head of their list of things to which to aspire. It seems it is one of the little known or thought about characteristics of the working of the Holy Spirit in us. The dictionary suggests, ‘Gentle’ = having or showing a kind or tender or moderated temperament or character, not aggressive in approach, and ‘gentleness’ is the expression of being ‘gentle’. Perhaps it is not high on our scale of consciousness because we live in a world of ‘big people’ and ‘celebrities’ and rarely are such people known for their gentleness. Yet, here it is, a fruit of the Spirit and, as we’ll soon see, it does come up a surprising number of times in the New Testament.
In Mt 11:29 above, we have Jesus referring to himself as gentle and the apostle Paul at one point says, “By the meekness and gentleness of Christ, I appeal to you.” (2 Cor 10:1) and Mt 21:5 above reminds us of the prophetic word that spoke of the manner in which Jesus approached Jerusalem on a donkey. A triumphal arrival but not one accompanied by signs of power or boasting or arrogance as a general or king of ancient times might have shown. No, this king comes in a gentle manner which is quite different.
Now, unlike faithfulness which, we said, had few direct instructions about in the New Testament and relied mostly on the implication that it was covered by many other things, ‘gentleness’ is something we are instructed about a number of times. For instance, very simply, “Let your gentleness be evident to all,” (Phil 4:5) and then, “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.” (Col 3:12) Note where is comes – in the middle of a list of like-minded characteristics, two of which we have already covered, and two of which we will yet consider in future studies. All of those five words at the end of that verse says about our relationships with others, go easy, be tender-hearted, i.e. be gentle.
Paul also challenges Timothy over this characteristic: “But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness.” (1 Tim 6:11). He doesn’t merely say aspire to it, he says, pursue or go all out for it. This adds a significance or importance to it. This is not some secondary characteristic, it is something we should really make sure is a part of our lives.
Indeed, again Paul says to Timothy, “the Lord’s servant must not quarrel; instead, he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth,” (2 Tim 2:24,25) We’ve included the whole of those two verses to observe the whole context which is a challenge to any leader or any Christian teacher. i.e. don’t be harsh or heavy, but have a softer approach when instructing others.
Now note here that gentleness is the requirement of the way we are to go about doing something – in that case, teaching. But Paul also uses it in the context of restoration of a sinner: “if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently.” (Gal 6:1) The apostle Peter requires it when you are simply answering questions put to you (which may even be in a combative manner): “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,” (1 Pet 3:15)
So, to summarise the New Testament teaching, gentleness is a characteristic of Jesus and it is something all of us who are Christians are required to have generally, and specifically we are to have it when we teach, when we correct, when we restore and even when we give answers to others.
Now why is it so significant, and why is it sometimes so difficult to apply? Well, turning to Proverbs, we can see that having a gentle approach can seriously affect how we get on with other people. For example, “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” (Prov 15:1) The problem is that we may be right in our stance and the other person obstinately wrong, and that can produce frustration and a desire for force home the truth, but so often that doesn’t achieve the desired result; it only makes it worse. We do this when our grace level is low. Are you aware that there are days when your grace level is high and you can handle any opposition, while on another day, for whatever the reason, (it may be spiritual it may be physical and it may be emotional) we know we are just not up to confrontation, and the best thing is to hide away, seek the Lord and get boosted by Him.
The same thing comes up later in Proverbs: “Through patience a ruler can be persuaded, and a gentle tongue can break a bone.” (Prov 25:15) An aggressive approach simply makes the other person hostile. The Message version puts the second part of the verse well: “gentle speech breaks down rigid defences.” There it is! Gentleness can bless others and gentleness can break down barriers. Even more, when we approach people like this, they feel respected and cared for. We aren’t coming to steam-roller them, we are coming in a way they are more likely to find acceptable. Yes, if I am to be the Lord’s servant, I need to let this fruit grow more in me. If I am simply to be His child, I must do this. Yes, this is definitely something to which I must aspire!