Gentleness: A Rare and Pleasant Christian Virtue
Gentleness is a misunderstood virtue in the modern world and as a result, it is often not valued. Yet, gentleness is integral for Christians. In Galatians 5:22-23, Paul names gentleness as a fruit of the Spirit. Let us consider what this fruit of the Spirit is all about in this article.
What Gentleness is Not
In our world, gentleness, or meekness (according to the KJV translation) is often considered a negative trait synonymous with weakness and passivity. It is associated with lacking confidence and being a pushover. Some merely consider gentleness as a feminine virtue and something that is not appropriate for a man to manifest. In a highly competitive world where it is survival of the fittest, gentleness is seen as something to be taken advantage of. Therefore, one is encouraged to be assertive and combative instead of gentle.
However, contrary to these views, Paul states that Gentleness is a Christian virtue brought forth by the Holy Spirit in the lives of both men and women who are united to the Lord Jesus Christ by faith.
What Gentleness is
Gentleness is a tender disposition whereby one from a heart of true humility is able to relate to others in a considerate, sympathetic, and truly compassionate manner. It is to be mild-mannered and considerate of others.
Think of gentleness as a mother tenderly holding her sleeping baby in her hand and singing a lullaby. There is no aggression or harshness here. There is no violence. Rather, the mother is accepting and sensitive to the needs of the baby. She is mild and tender. She cares for the child and would do it no harm. This is the fruit of gentleness which Christians ought to have.
God of Gentleness
The God we serve is a gentle God. Unfortunately, most people have a picture of God who is angry much like a grumpy old man. Yet, the Bible again and again reveals a God who is gentle.
In Psalm 103:13, we read that “as a father shows compassion to his children, so the LORD shows compassion to those who fear him.” God does not thunder from heaven against our sins, but deals with his children gently despite their foolish rebellion. He restrains his anger against his covenant community lest they be consumed (Exodus 34:6). He is gentler than a mother with her child (Isaiah 49:15). It is this gentleness of God that the Psalmist testifies, saying, “You have given me the shield of your salvation, and your right hand supported me, and your gentleness made me great” (Psalm 18:35).
When God appeared to a dejected Elijah in the wilderness, he came to him not in a mighty whirlwind or earthquake, but in a gentle whisper to comfort him (1 Kings 19:12).
God is often spoken of as a shepherd who gently cares for his sheep (Psalm 23:1). The prophet Isaiah wrote,
He will tend his flock like a shepherd;
he will gather the lambs in his arms;
he will carry them in his bosom,
and gently lead those that are with young. (Isaiah 40:11)
The Gentle Saviour
It is this picture of a shepherd that Jesus used extensively to describe his ministry. He called himself the good Shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep (John 10:11, 14).
Jesus is the fulfilment of the Messianic prophecy of Isaiah, “a bruised reed shall he not break, and the smoking flax shall he not quench” (Isaiah 42:3; Matthew 12:18-21). The ministry of Jesus was characterized by this gentleness. He touched and healed the sick and spoke words of comfort to the vulnerable. He reached out to the poor and ostracized and dealt kindly. He welcomed the little children whom even his own disciples sent away (Mark 10:13-14).
Whether he was speaking to an educated but hard-headed Rabbi (Nicodemus), to a Samaritan woman by the well, or to a rich tax collector known publicly as a swindler (Zacchaeus), Jesus was always gentle. Jesus’ conduct towards sinners was the exact opposite of the self-righteous Pharisees who condemned sinners harshly and treated them with abrasive disdain. Jesus Christ calls weary sinners to come to him and find rest for he is “gentle and lowly in heart” (Matthew 11:29).
The Gentleness at the Cross
The cross is the ultimate picture of human cruelty. It is harsh suffering of unimaginable torment. Yet, it is this very cross that displays to us best the gentleness of God.
God deals gently with us in compassion for he dealt most harshly with his Son upon the cross! As Christ stood in the place of sinners, he faced the holy wrath of God upon his body and soul. Jesus Christ underwent untold horrors as he suffered sinners’ terrible judgment.
The cross depicts the horrific harshness of human sin, and yet at the same time the tremendous gentleness of our Saviour Jesus. Upon the cross, despite his excruciating pain, Jesus turned to the believing thief crucified next to him and gently uttered words of gospel comfort assuring him of eternal life (Luke 23:43).
This gentleness of Christ (2 Corinthians 10:1) ought to be the hallmark of every Christian (Philippians 4:5). We ought to be sympathetic and considerate of others. Whether in the family – between husband and wife, or parents and children, or at work, gentleness is necessary. A gentle tongue turns away wrath and brings forth peace (Proverbs 15:1).
In our dealings with believers in the church, we must always engage with a spirit of gentleness (Galatians 6:1). Likewise in our dealings with unbelievers, we must always answer them with gentleness and respect (1 Peter 3:15).
Gentleness is a particular requirement for the office of an elder in the church (1 Timothy 3:3; cf. 2 Timothy 2:24). They ought to be gentle shepherds like their Master, Jesus (cf. 1 Thessalonians 2:7). Pastors are always to be harsh and uncompromising with sin, but gentle and compassionate with sinners. A pastor who is not gentle is nothing but a bully who abuses the bride of Jesus Christ.
Gentleness is not something that comes naturally. It must be cultivated by the Holy Spirit in our lives. Remind yourself how gently the Lord has dealt with you in his grace. Rely upon the Holy Spirit and ask God in prayer to give you a gentle heart like your Saviour’s. In our harsh world, gentleness stands out as a rare and pleasant virtue.