George Bethune once said, “Perhaps no grace is less prayed for, or less cultivated than gentleness. Indeed it is considered rather as belonging to natural disposition or external manners, than as a Christian virtue; and seldom do we reflect that not to be gentle is sin.” I am currently preaching through the various fruits of the Spirit that Paul lists in Galatians 5:22-23 and this Sunday I am on gentleness and even though Bethune wrote those words in 1839 they ring true for today. When is the last time you prayed for more gentleness? At least for myself, I know that I need more gentleness in my life and have rarely prayed for it.
But what is gentleness? R.C Sproul rightly points out that “the popular conception of gentleness and meekness is a person who is shy, timid, and fearful” But, “gentleness does not preclude the possibility of strength but presupposes it.” Jerry Bridges in his book, The Fruitful Life, writes, “Both gentleness and meekness are born of power, not weakness. There is a pseudo-gentleness that is timidity, and there is a pseudo-meekness that is cowardly.” We might call timidity and cowardly counterfeit fruit. The opposite fruit of gentleness is abrasiveness and arrogance. According to one Greek lexicon the Greek word for gentleness means, “the quality of not being overly impressed by a sense of one’s self-importance (gentleness, humility, courtesy, considerateness, meekness).” Bridges goes on to describe gentleness in the following way: “Billy Graham defines gentleness as, ‘mildness in dealing with others. . .It displays a sensitive regard for others and is careful never to be unfeeling for the rights of others.’ Gentleness is an active trait, describing the manner in which we should treat others. Meekness is a passive trait, describing the proper Christian response when others mistreat us. . .Gentleness is illustrated by the way we would handle a carton of exquisite crystal glasses: it is the recognition that the human personality is valuable but fragile and must be handled with care.”
Once again, when is the last time that you prayed for or sought to cultivate this grace in God’s strength? In order to encourage you to pray for and cultivate this fruit of the Spirit with me, here are some Scripture passages on gentleness to highlight it’s significance in the Bible as an attribute of God that Christ bore perfectly on our behalf and that the Holy Spirit is now working in us as we look to Christ by faith.
The Gentleness of God
- Deut. 32:1 “Give ear, O heavens, and I will speak, and let the earth hear the words of my mouth. 2 May my teaching drop as the rain, my speech distill as the dew, like gentle rain upon the tender grass, and like showers upon the herb. 3 For I will proclaim the name of the LORD; ascribe greatness to our God!
- Psa. 18:35 You have given me the shield of your salvation, and your right hand supported me, and your gentleness made me great.
- Hos. 2:14 “Therefore, behold, I will allure her, and bring her into the wilderness, and speak tenderlyto her.
- Isaiah 40 is probably the best passage in the Bible that shows the perfect balance of strength/power and tenderness/gentleness in God: Is. 40:1 Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. 2 Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the LORD’s hand double for all her sins. . .10 Behold, the Lord GOD comes with might, and his arm rules for him; behold, his reward is with him, and his recompense before him. 11 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. . .21 Do you not know? Do you not hear? Has it not been told you from the beginning? Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth? 22 It is he who sits above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers; who stretches out the heavens like a curtain, and spreads them like a tent to dwell in; 23 who brings princes to nothing, and makes the rulers of the earth as emptiness. 24 Scarcely are they planted, scarcely sown, scarcely has their stem taken root in the earth, when he blows on them, and they wither, and the tempest carries them off like stubble. 25 To whom then will you compare me, that I should be like him? says the Holy One. 26 Lift up your eyes on high and see: who created these? He who brings out their host by number, calling them all by name, by the greatness of his might, and because he is strong in power not one is missing.
The Gentleness of Christ
Much could be pointed to in the life of Christ to show is gentleness, such as how he approached the woman at the well with a perfect balance of toughness and tenderness, but here are two key passages that speak of his gentleness:
- Matt. 11:28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
- Matt. 12:20 a bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not quench, until he brings justice to victory;
The Call to Gentleness
- Psa. 37:10 In just a little while, the wicked will be no more; though you look carefully at his place, he will not be there. 11 But the meek shall inherit the land and delight themselves in abundant peace.
- Prov. 15:4 A gentle tongue is a tree of life, but perverseness in it breaks the spirit.
- Is. 29:19 The meek shall obtain fresh joy in the LORD, and the poor among mankind shall exult in the Holy One of Israel.
- Matt. 5:5 “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
- 1Cor. 4:21 What do you wish? Shall I come to you with a rod, or with love in a spirit of gentleness?
- 2Cor. 10:1 I, Paul, myself entreat you, by the meekness and gentleness of Christ—I who am humble when face to face with you, but bold toward you when I am away!
- Gal. 5:22 But the fruit of the Spirit is. . .23 gentleness
- Gal. 6:1 Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.
- Eph. 4:2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love,
- Eph. 4:32 Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.
- Col. 3:12 Put on then, as God’s chosen ones. . .meekness
- 1Th. 2:7 But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children. 8 So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God abut also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us.
- 1Tim. 3:1 The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. 2 Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, 3 not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money.
- Titus 3:1 Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, 2 to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people.
- James 3:17 But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere.
- 1Pet. 3:1 Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives— 2 when they see your respectful and pure conduct. 3 Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair, the wearing of gold, or the putting on of clothing— 4 but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious.
- 1Pet. 3:15 but in your hearts regard Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; 16 yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.
- 1Tim. 6:11 But as for you, O man of God, flee these things. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness.
- 2Tim. 2:24 And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, 25correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, 26 and they may escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.
- James 1:21 Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.
- James 3:13 Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meeknessof wisdom.
- 1Pet. 3:8 Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tenderheart, and a humble mind.
May God grant us the grace, by His Spirit, to be gentle, even as Christ was gentle and humbled himself for us and died on the cross for our abrasiveness and arrogance, was raised from the dead in power and is now seated at the Father’s right hand where he rules us and all things by His Word and Spirit with the perfect balance of toughness and tenderness. “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 2:5).