“But we proved to be gentle among you, as a nursing mother tenderly cares for her own children. Having so fond an affection for you, we were well-pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God but also our own lives, because you had become very dear to us.”
– 1 Thessalonians 2:7-8
The Bible tells us in 1 Peter 3:4 says that a gentle and quiet spirit is of great worth to God. He values gentleness. Gentleness is useful and purposeful. So what does it mean for us to bear the fruit of gentleness? How can we cultivate gentleness in our lives?
When we look at the Biblical definition of gentleness, we learn that it means to be meek or humble. Let’s look first at the meaning of meekness. It’s important for us not to confuse meekness with weakness. I once heard someone describe meekness by saying, “Meekness is not weakness, it is controlled strength.” When we look at the spiritual fruits as attributes of the character of God, do we not see controlled strength in so much of who He is? Is that not the exact definition of mercy? I’ve heard it said that “Grace is when God gives us what we don’t deserve, and mercy is when God doesn’t give us what we do deserve.” Psalm 103:8 says God is “compassionate, and gracious, and slow to become angry.”
What’s interesting is that the Hebrew equivalent of the Greek word for gentleness that is used in Galatians 5:23 is the word “ani” and this is a word that is rarely, if ever, used to describe God in the Old Testament. God is not meek in the ways that we typically think about meekness. However, as Phillip Kenneson writes in Life on the Vine, “If meekness is the strength to refrain from resorting to power and coercion, then certainly there is an important sense in which God is meek.”
Maybe that’s why Jesus was rejected by those He came to save – because they couldn’t recognize this meekness, this gentleness, as part of His character. They wanted to see Jesus as a powerful ruler, but He came instead as a humble servant. They wanted Jesus to bring vengeance and wrath towards their enemies, but instead Jesus directed His anger toward the money-changers in the Temple (Mark 11:15-18) and told them to love their enemies and pray for those who persecuted them (Matthew 5:43-44). Jesus is both the lion and the lamb. He is both loving and just. David, who tenderly cared for the sheep of his pasture and defeated a giant with a sling of a stone, is described as a man after God’s own heart.
In Matthew 5:5 during the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus teaches “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” Phillip Kenneson makes an insightful observation about this verse of Scripture. He says, “The meek do not aggressively conquer the earth and subdue it; instead they inherit it: it is given to them.” Meekness is a powerful force for good. It is valuable to God and to His Kingdom.
Meekness is often viewed in opposition to aggression and violence. When we live in a society that glorifies violence and aggression, to be a person of meekness is to be counter-cultural. Those who are gentle and meek are makers of peace and not of war. They do not stir up trouble, and they do not cause division. They do not return an eye for an eye. The meek are those who turn the other check (Matthew 5:38-39). We will inherit the Kingdom of God because we are sons and daughters of the King. We do not need to conquer it, we do not need to fight for it. We need only be still, because our God is fighting for us (Exodus 14:14).
The meek will inherit the earth, and the humble will be exalted. In Matthew 23:12 Jesus says, “Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted.” Where meekness is viewed in opposition to aggression and violence, humility is viewed in opposition to arrogance and pride. 1 Peter 5:5 says “…clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, for God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”
We need to “clothe” ourselves with humility, just as we need to “put on” the armor of God. We clothe ourselves in the morning. We go through a process of getting ready and preparing ourselves for the day ahead. We clothe ourselves according to the weather outside our door. We clothe ourselves to provide warmth and defense against the bitter cold, or we clothe ourselves to provide coolness and relief from the summer heat. In the same way, humility defends us against outside forces.
In the beginning, clothing was created as a result of sinful disobedience. Adam and Eve covered themselves with fig leaves because they realized they were naked and they were ashamed. After God called them out of hiding, He created clothing for them out of animal skins. Their feeble attempt at covering themselves was not enough, the true covering for sin required a blood sacrifice. And now we have Jesus – the perfect sacrifice who’s blood covered our sins once and for all. Because of Jesus, we can wear our humility, not as a covering of shame, but as a covering of grace. When we clothe ourselves with humility we are making a confession that we have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). When we clothe ourselves with humility, we are making a confession that we are sinful and imperfect beings who have been covered by the love of a perfect God (Matthew 5:48, 1 John 4:18). Our humility takes the focus off of ourselves, and points to Jesus – the author and perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12:2)
We are capable of living with humility, because we are created in the image of a humble God. In Matthew 11:29 Jesus describes Himself as being “gentle and humble in heart.” When Jesus entered this earth, He came in the form of a lowly baby in a manger. The Savior of the world, slept in a food trough made for animals (Luke 2:7). The announcement of His birth was made to lowly shepherds in a field (Luke 2:8-11). When He entered public ministry, He chose not to come baptizing, but to come being baptized (Matthew 3:13-15). When He was tempted in the wilderness, He didn’t fall into Satan’s trap to satisfy His own physical desire for food, to make a spectacle of Himself to capture the awe and attention of man, or to bow down to Satan for the power and glory of earthly kingdoms (Matthew 4:1-11). Instead, He chose the path of true humility. He chose to ride in on a donkey (John 12:14), and be crucified on a cross (John 19:18). He chose to be betrayed, denied, and rejected by those He loved and came to save (John 1:11, Matthew 26:14-16, 69-75). He chose to wash the feet of His disciples (John 13:1-17). He chose to not have a place to lay His head (Luke 9:58). He chose a Kingdom beyond this world that eyes cannot see. He chose the Father above who was well-pleased (Matthew 3:17). He chose the eternal over the temporary. He chose the spiritual over the physical. He chose love over legality. He chose love because He is love (1 John 4:8). And in choosing love, He didn’t abolish the law, but fulfilled the law (Matthew 5:17). When we look at Scripture through the lens of Jesus – love abounds. Love is humble – it is not jealous, it does not brag, it is not arrogant, it does not act unbecomingly, it is not self-seeking, and it is not easily provoked (1 Corinthians 13:4-5). In Ephesians 4:1-2, the Apostle Paul implores us to “walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love.”
When we follow the path of humility, we follow the path of Jesus. When we look at the life of Jesus, we see that His humility was often related to His hospitality. Matthew 11:19 describes Him as a friend of sinners. He ate and drank with those society had rejected and cast aside. He was welcoming to all. He invited all to the table, and He asks us to do the same. In Luke 14:12-14, He says, “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, otherwise they may also invite you in return and that will be your repayment. But when you give a reception, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, since they do not have the means to repay you; for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” Romans 12:20 says, “But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink.” Jesus teaches that when we give food to the hungry and drink to the thirsty, when we give clothing to the naked, and when we visit the sick and imprisoned then it is as if we are serving Jesus Himself (Mathew 25:31-46). The Book of Hebrews says that when we show brotherly love and hospitality, we are “entertaining angels unaware” (Hebrews 13:2).
To be gentle is to be wise.
James 3:13-17 says, “Who among you is wise and understanding? Let him show by his good behavior his deeds in the gentleness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth. This wisdom is not that which comes down from above, but is earthly, natural, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy.”
The fruit of gentleness is a fruit of restoration and peace-making.
Galatians 6:1 says, “If anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness…”
2 Timothy 2:24-25 teaches that, “The Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth.”
We cultivate a spirit of gentleness by humbling ourselves in prayer, repenting of our selfishness and pride, and turning away from our sin. We cultivate gentleness by imitating the meek and humble character of our God. We cultivate gentleness by loving our neighbors, loving our enemies, and loving strangers. We cultivate gentleness by practicing the art of being slow to become angry and quick to forgive. We cultivate gentleness by being focused on a Kingdom that is beyond this present world, and by striving to make our Father proud. We cultivate gentleness when we focus more on Jesus and less on ourselves. We cultivate gentleness by loving God and loving others.
“Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
– Philippians 2:3-11