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Grace Notes

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GENTLENESS
by Philip Owen

          I don’t recall ever hearing or reading a sermon devoted to the topic of gentleness–numerous allusions to it, yes, but never an extended treatment. Certainly, sermons have been preached on this virtue. But I think it’s safe to say that gentleness may be regarded as the forgotten fruit of the Spirit. It’s not ebullient like love or joy. It’s not overt like kindness and goodness often demonstrate themselves to be. In some camps, gentleness might even be considered effeminate; others might view it as a manifestation of weakness. But since gentleness is a bona fide fruit of the Spirit, believers should reject such thoughts and endeavor to have this invaluable fruit produced in our lives.

            Several Hebrew and Greek terms are translated as some form of the noun gentleness and are variously defined as “mildness,” “meekness,” and “condescension.” Though the terms harbor different shades of meaning, for the brief thoughts presented here, we will consider them to be nearly synonymous.

            Psalm Eighteen offers a striking thought regarding this subject. Speaking of God, David writes, “Your gentleness makes me great” (v. 35). Were it not for the gentleness of God’s love and mercy, we would be crushed under the weight of His holy judgment. Were it not for the gentleness of His grace and patience, we would never survive to maturity in Christian growth. Any “greatness” a believer achieves is wholly the result of the gentle ministrations of the Spirit in our lives. Isaiah offers this pastoral picture: “Like a shepherd He will tend His flock, in His arm He will gather the lambs and carry them in His bosom; He will gently lead the nursing ewes” (40:11). God is by nature gentle and always deals with us as gently as is appropriate.

            It is a gross misapprehension of reality to regard gentleness as weakness. Human nature leads us to fight fire with fire. Force must be met by force. Aggression must be opposed by equal or superior belligerence. The Word of God teaches otherwise: “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Pro. 15:1). Fire is not extinguished by a greater blaze but by the gentle splash of water. Where superior arguments or a stronger personality fail a gentle spirit will succeed. “A soft tongue breaks the bone” (Pro. 25:15). Nevertheless, we should remember that gentleness should not be regarded as a weapon or used as an instrument to destroy; rather, “let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God” (1 Pet. 3:4). In other words, gentleness is only “gentle” when it is the manifestation of Christ’s character within us. It will fail utterly if it appears to be manufactured for the sake of appearance or wielded as a weapon to defeat opposition.

            Probably, we most frequently relate the quality of gentleness to our interactions with others (“with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love”—Eph. 4:2). Yet Paul reminds us that we should remember, first of all, that gentleness has to do with our relationship with God (“So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on . . . gentleness”—Col. 3:12). Furthermore, James informs us that our understanding of God’s Word depends on our receiving it “in humility” (1:21—translated gentleness in James 3:13 and 1 Pet. 3:15).

            It is good to remember that the world will not be overcome by the strong; so-called world conquerors like Nebuchadnezzar and Alexander the Great or would-be world conquerors like Hitler and Stalin always ultimately fail. Nor will the most forceful personality carry the day. But God promises that “Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth” (Matt. 5:5). Gentleness is not capitulation; it is not weakness. In fact, it takes great strength—Spirit-supplied strength—to be gentle in stressful situations and difficult trials. It is to be like Christ, who, “while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously” (1 Pet. 2:23).  Be gentle, be Christlike.

 

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