He’s getting old and it shows. Occasionally he falls. His memory is failing. The end of life is not always “the golden years” we’ve been told it would be (or has been shown to be in magazine pictures). This once strong, hard-working, intelligent man is a shadow of his former self. And yet those who meet him still often walk away with a bit of wonder in in their hearts. One aspect he has not lost, over the years is the sweet gentleness which oozes from him; seemingly effortlessly. He was gentle even in the prime of his life. His grandchildren almost idolize him.
“Gentleness”. It’s a trait mentioned at least 32 times in the Bible (usually in the context of character) and yet I don’t believe I’ve ever heard it preached on, or at least discussed at any length. In fact, it’s one of the traits which is barely noticed, and is often, like meekness, seen as a sort of a weakness – pleasant at best, soft at worst.
Yet it’s listed in Galatians 5:23 as a fruit of the Holy Spirit. In Matthew 11:29, Jesus describes Himself as “gentle” as does Paul in 1 Thessalonians 2:7. Gentleness comes from God and is a sign of spiritual maturity. One dictionary defines “gentle” this way: “mild in temperament or behavior; kind or tender”. Let’s ask a few questions.
Why is gentleness not given the credit it deserves?
1. Gentleness is less likely to be noticed
Some traits, such as creativity or forcefulness, spring more into view. They’re “louder” and more outwardly impressive. Gentleness does not call attention to itself, in fact, it’s frequently the opposite. When being gentle, a person is often quieter and more likely to put the focus on others.
2. Gentleness is often seen as passivity or weakness
And let’s be honest. Sometimes apparent gentleness does spring from passivity or weakness. We’re gentle because we’re afraid not to be. We want people to like us, or not be angry with us. But, as we’ll see, true, Spirit-generated gentleness actually requires significant strength and even courage.
3. Gentleness is seen as ineffectual
It’s the tougher personality that people are more afraid of; more likely to bend to. And, in truth, gentle people do sometimes get walked on. Jesus certainly did at the crucifixion. But, let me stress this, one may be gentle and still demonstrate determination and necessary forcefulness when needed. True gentleness is backed by steel.
4. Gentleness is often seen as a more feminine trait
Women, by nature do tend to be more gentle. That’s one reason they make such good mothers. Men can be gentle too, but for reason #3, often focus more on the “manlier’ traits such as ruggedness, determination, etc. These get more respect.
Why is gentleness an important part of godliness?
1. Gentleness is an important part of godliness because it reflects God
Yes, I know, God has a tough side too, but He’s also quite gentle (Isaiah 40:11). In fact, I’m sure that He prefers gentleness. If He weren’t frequently gentle with us, our relationship with Him would be impossible. He’s too strong. His standards are too high. We’re too sinful and slow. With justification, He could easily crush us. Aren’t you glad for God’s gentleness toward you?
2. Gentleness is an important part of godliness because God commands it from us
Paul tells us, in Ephesians 4:2a to “be completely humble and gentle”. It’s a fruit of the Spirit. It’s not optional – not just for “softer” Christians. We were made to have this trait; it’s part of the full package.
3. Gentleness is an important part of godliness because it’s good for us
All the fruit of the Spirit are good for us. They make us spiritually strong and beautiful; like Christ. Gentleness is good for the soul. It protects us from developing a harsh, mean, cynical, bitter spirit – which is easy to do in this world, oddly enough, even to do ostensibly in the “name of Christ” (have you ever been in a nasty church fight?).
4. Gentleness is an important part of godliness because it’s good for others
Our world bruises and stresses everyone. What a soothing balm it is to be treated with gentleness, even when we don’t always deserve it. Gentleness conveys respect and concern for others. It helps them be less anxious or angry in difficult situations. And sometimes it just heals them. It’s like a literal or spiritual hug. Which leads to the next point
5. Gentleness is an important part of godliness because it improves relationships
When we’re gentle with each other, we’re more likely to get along, to trust, to forgive, and to listen. It builds a fund of good will. We’re more able to work through our differences because we’re more relaxed and open.
6. Gentleness is an important part of godliness because it shows active concern about others
This has already been implied. I’m gentle because I don’t want to hurt you if I can help it, or at least to limit the hurt. I care about you and not just my own feelings or concerns.
How can I become more gentle?
1. I become more gentle by becoming Spirit-filled
Gentleness is, after all, a fruit of the Spirit. He creates it in us, cleansing out its opposites such as meanness or callousness. He’s gentle, and when we’re filled with Him, that gentleness flows through us too.
2. I become more gentle by loving people
If I deeply care about you and others, I will want to minimize causing any unnecessary hurt to you. There are usually kinder ways to accomplish the same purpose and I choose these approaches when I can. Which leads to the next, critical point:
3. I become more gentle by learning the relative level of gentleness required in order to be truly helpful
This one’s been hiding in the bushes. As previously noted, God is not always gentle, nor were His servants. Gentleness is being as kind as possible. But sometimes the “kind as possible” part still hurts and may even be harsh. There’s no painless way to rebuke someone, or to express strong disappointment or, when necessary, to call the police on an abusive spouse. Unfortunately, these unpleasant actions, and others, are sometimes necessary, and are often the kindest thing we can do in the long run. Proverbs 27:6 says, with irony: “Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses.”
4. I become more gentle by learning to value gentleness
While our world, especially men, tend to be more impressed by the tough guys, the truth is that godly gentleness is not weak. Only the truly strong can be gentle in this way. Ironically, much of the unneeded hurtfulness in our world comes from weakness; from fear, bitterness, the need to control, judgmentalism, and so on. A truly gentle person is one who has become secure in who they are in Christ.
5. I become more gentle by letting God humble me
When I come to realize how imperfect I still am, when I look back on my own blunders and foolish mistakes, when I realize how patient God and others have been with me, I’m quicker to be gentle with others. We all need to be cut some slack and there’s enough pain in this world already.