But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. – Gal. 5: 22-23
We arrive now at gentleness, the penultimate member of the nine-part fruit of the Spirit. As always, we depend on the Spirit, whose work results in the bearing of the fruit and who inspired the written word to grant us insight as we consider this virtue together.
WHAT IS GENTLENESS?
The Merriam Webster dictionary defines gentleness as the quality or state of being gentle; especially mildness of manners and disposition. To be gentle is to have or show a kind and quiet nature: not harsh or violent. Whereas most translations use the word gentleness for this part of the fruit of the Spirit, a few others use different words. They include Humility, Tolerance and Meekness. Humility is the quality or state of not thinking you are better than other people, being humble; tolerance is the willingness to accept feelings, habits, or beliefs that are different from your own; meekness is having or showing a quiet and gentle nature: not wanting to fight or argue with other people.
Each word used to describe this gift may give it a different hue in the mind, but a close look would reveal that a common thread runs through all of them and one word that captures that thread is ‘mildness’. Think of gentleness as mildness of manners and disposition; humility as mildness of self-estimation; tolerance as mildness in response to others and meekness as mildness in person. It is vital to note that these words mean first, a quality that the person thus described is in essence, and secondly, a manifestation of that nature. Gentleness is therefore a nature before it is a manner and disposition. As a gift of the Spirit, it results from the work of the resident Holy Spirit within a believer. The Spirit makes smooth the person’s rough edges, making them gentle, and that inevitably manifests in their disposition and relationships. There are some persons who from birth are timid, shy, quiet and introverted and may be described as gentle. That is not what we are dealing with here. Such persons may require the pressing of the right provocative keys for the flip side of their mien to be revealed. What we are dealing with is the deep work of the Spirit that makes even naturally rough, proud and intolerant people to be transformed into gentle individuals. It is the kind of work that results in a Moses who could kill an Egyptian at the slightest whim, break God’s finger-written stone tablets, later be described as the meekest person on the earth. It is a gift of the Spirit.
THE GENTLENESS OF CHRIST
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. – Matt. 11:29
Christ here invites the weary and burdened to come to Him and obtain rest. In the invitation to take His yoke and find rest, Jesus revealed where true gentleness and humility, the kind that the Spirit gives, resides: “for I am gentle and humble in heart.” Those who come to Him receive a heart that comes from Christ and is gentle and humble. They are then gentle in manners and disposition. The offer of the Spirit and the fruit is an invitation to partake of the divine nature. The same nature that Jesus has at heart is what the Spirit produces in the believer He indwells. God is not asking you to go and manufacture something you don’t have, He only asks you to take your share of His life. At creation, He put a quantum of His life into the clay body of Adam by breathing into his nostrils the breath of life and man became a living soul. Today He gives that life by the Holy Spirit whom we have received. When Paul was writing to the Corinthian believers in 2 Cor. 10:1 he said “By the meekness and gentleness of Christ, I appeal to you, I Paul, …” The meekness and gentleness of Christ. It is of Christ, you have been given the privilege of sharing in it. Perhaps it was this character of God that Elijah the Prophet didn’t know until that fateful day inside the cave at mount Horeb. He was expecting to hear God in the wind, earthquake and fire, things that could hardly be described as being mild. “And after the fire came a gentle whisper” (I Ki. 19:12). God spoke to him gently. The gentleness we are dealing with is the gentleness of Christ.
But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. – 1Tim. 6:11
The bible includes gentleness in the list of things that the man of God should pursue. In other places, the believer is asked to “clothe yourselves with … gentleness…” (Col. 3:12); “Be completely humble and gentle” (Eph. 4:2); “always be gentle toward everyone” (Tit. 3:2). Gentle, completely and always, to everyone? Only the Spirit can give that. The Spirit will work in you and prune you through the experiences that God will arrange, to birth this virtue in you. In addressing wives, Peter said their beauty should not come from outward adornment but from the “unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight” (1 Pet. 3:2-4). It is the work of the Spirit. Your pursuit is to cooperate with that work. Moses had to go to Midian to work with sheep to learn that killing is not the way to deal with the flock. When in Exodus he broke the first stone tablets inscribed by the finger of God, he had to chisel out another pair and write out the commandments while God dictated them. He didn’t break another thing. This same man would grow to intercede on behalf of Israel when God asked him to step aside so he could wipe out the rebellious Israelites, and the Lord relented (Ex. 32:9-14). That same Spirit is available to help you.
THE NECESSITY OF GENTLENESS
Like the others, this part of the fruit of the Spirit is absolutely vital in your life and relationships. It will spare you abrasions and portray the heart of Christ. Do you oversee the flock of God? The Bible includes gentleness in the list of qualifications to that office: “not violent but gentle” (1 Tim. 3:3). Do you have to answer questions concerning your hope in Christ? “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). It is okay to be “radical for Jesus”, but you must also be gentle. There are certain doors or people that you may have struggled to breakthrough. You may have chosen to speak the truth, but did you do so in love and gentleness? A wise man said “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Prov. 15:1). Could this be what has been missing in your marriage that you are in never-ending quarrels? The Bible also says “a gentle tongue can break a bone” (Prov. 25:15). What many a teeth cannot do, a gentle tongue can. Do you have a hard-headed boss, spouse, child, ward, neighbor or colleague? How far have your ‘teeth’ taken you in your attempts at breaking them? Try the wisdom of scripture. In sending His disciples to the world like sheep to a pack of wolves, Jesus, in a manner of speaking, gave them two feet to stand on. He said “be as cautious as snakes and as gentle as doves” (Mt. 10:16, GNT). You need gentleness to complete your bipedal movement or else you will hop through life on one leg.
Finally, “Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near” (Phil. 4:5).