In a world that cheers when athletes smash into each other and applauds insults as a form of entertainment, is gentleness even relevant anymore?
When we hear the word gentle, we might think of a mother picking up her infant son from a crib. She softly holds him and cradles his head, moving slowly and not holding so tight as to squeeze him.
We might also think about an archaeologist on a dig, patiently and carefully unearthing artifacts with the slow strokes of his or her delicate instruments.
Now, instead, imagine that mother gripping the baby by the leg and dragging him out of the crib like a sack of potatoes. Also, imagine the archaeologist getting a shovel and chopping hard at the ground around the artifact, smashing against the precious piece of history.
Which examples better describe how people in the world treat each other overall?
Jesus’ example of gentleness
Even after thoroughly pointing out the hypocrisy of the scribes and Pharisees, Jesus Christ defined a spirit of gentleness and showed how He truly felt about even those who were opposed to Him. In Matthew 23:37 He lamented: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!”
Gentleness is feeling this way about other human beings.
In Matthew 11:29, Christ said, “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” (emphasis added throughout). Here Christ makes a connection between gentleness and humility.
This connection is also seen elsewhere in the Bible. The apostle Paul reinforced this idea in 2 Corinthians 10:1: “Now I, Paul, myself am pleading with you by the meekness and gentleness of Christ—who in presence am lowly among you, but being absent am bold toward you.”
Paul included the words meekness and lowly in conjunction with gentleness. These words help show that gentleness requires humility, because along with pride and feelings of superiority come rough reactions and stubborn, know-it-all answers.
What is gentleness? It is the humble and meek attitude of wanting to help other people instead of wanting to be superior to them. This attitude flows from a spirit of real love for the individual—having true, outgoing concern for their well-being. Such an attitude is shown in how we think about and treat others and what we say to them.
Why does God want us to demonstrate gentleness?
Philippians 4:5 tells us to “let your gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand.” Why does God want those He is working with to be concerned with how gently they think, act or talk? God has all the power in the universe, yet He is gentle with us, and He wants us to learn to be like Him. Then, when He gives us power, He will know that we will not use it cruelly or rashly.
As we have seen, humility is closely connected with gentleness, so we need to also consider how God views humility. James 4:6 and 1 Peter 5:5 both say, “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (quoting Proverbs 3:34). God resists pride, including our prideful justifications for not being gentle to those who have offended us, who have been harsh to us or who we don’t feel deserve gentleness. These attitudes are prideful and lead to rationalizing away the need to be gentle.
God wants us to show the same gentleness that Christ showed to the woman caught in adultery (John 8:1-11). Instead of being full of pride and self-righteously casting the first stone at a sinner, we are to follow the example of Christ, gently telling someone to go and sin no more. This is an example of gentleness God wants us to learn from.
Why? There are several reasons: God is overwhelmingly gentle with us when we sin and need correction, and He expects us to be the same way with others. Also, gentleness shows the world that the way of violent encounters and situations ruled by emotion is not the better way. And God wants us to demonstrate gentleness because human beings require a gentle touch in order to truly change their lives and come to Him.
An example of gentleness to follow
A wonderful example of how clever and appealing gentleness can be is found in Acts 17. When Paul began his message to the Athenians, he clearly took into account the background and situation of the people with their many gods. He started out by noting how they were very religious, and then proceeded to comment on one altar he had seen with the inscription “TO THE UNKNOWN GOD.” “Therefore, the One whom you worship without knowing, Him I proclaim to you” (verse 23).
This was a gentle way of easing people out of the idea of dozens of gods and into the idea of the true God. Even though some mocked, others asked to hear more, and some even joined and believed.
Imagine if Paul had not been gentle in this situation—if he had said, “Men of Athens! You have sinned greatly with your terrible gods! You are very ignorant about anything religious! Pray for mercy that you evil sinners may not be struck down as the wicked!” Would he have had any takers? Probably not. Here, Paul proved Proverbs 15:1, “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”
An example to avoid
Two of the disciples provide an example of a lack of gentleness. The story (found in Luke 9:51-56) involves Jesus Christ traveling to Jerusalem with His disciples. When they tried to pass through a Samaritan village, the people there did not receive Him since He was continuing on to Jerusalem.
James and John (who were also known as the “Sons of Thunder,” Mark 3:17) asked Jesus if He wanted them “to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them, just as Elijah did” (verse 54).
Christ rebuked them and answered: “You do not know what manner of spirit you are of. For the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives but to save them.”
Jesus Christ was interested in serving these people, not in vengeance and prideful displays of power. He displayed what is found in Ezekiel 33:11: “‘As I live,’ says the Lord GOD, ‘I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn, turn from your evil ways!’”
Gentleness self-examination questionnaire
- Was I gentle in the situations I faced today? If not, why? Were my rationalizations prideful?
- Do I exhibit the same gentleness to others that God exhibits to me every day? How?
- Do people describe me as gentle? Or do they describe me as critical or brash? Why?
- Do I gently encourage people to “sin no more”? Or do I self-righteously cast the first stone?
How do we demonstrate more gentleness?
Gentleness is typically regarded as something that is weak, mild or nonassertive. But when we consider that it is a result (“fruit”) of God’s Holy Spirit being active in our lives and that being gentle requires the strength of self-control, thoughtfulness, tact and concern—we see it in an entirely different way.
Modern examples of gentleness are distinctly uncommon. How do we stay above the harsh, cruel and angry world around us?
- Apologize quickly after “rants” and “emotional outbursts.” We are human beings with powerful emotions and these will happen, but a gentle person will realize how the things they’ve said might have affected others and will apologize, seek to make amends and seek to gain the self-control that will prevent such outbursts in the future.
- Remind ourselves of God’s gentleness with us. Chances are, we would not want to be on the receiving end of our own “gentleness”; and that is a problem. How would we want God to correct us or point something out to us? The way we do to others? Many times, probably not.
- Think about what our attitude looks like. For example: When we see someone doing something wrong, is our club out ready to bash some heads? Or, instead, is our notebook out with ideas of how to help someone overcome a sin? Getting these pictures in our heads often makes us aware of our lack of gentleness and will eventually get us reaching for the notebook or Bible rather than the harsh words or the club.
Being gentle doesn’t mean that we should not be strong in our beliefs, but it does imply that we should be wise and loving in expressing those beliefs to others. God shows tough love and teaches hard lessons to humans, all the while being the very definition of gentleness.
Now it is our turn.
For more about living a Christian life, see the section on “Christian Conversion.” For more about the rest of the fruit of the Spirit, see our article “The Fruit of the Spirit” and the links to the other eight.