On Gentleness

R.J. Lago | October 7, 2019

Growing up, I didn’t hold a lot of babies. My siblings were always close in age, and I didn’t have any extended family members with babies growing up. How you would get access to holding other people’s babies from that point is beyond me.

This lack of exposure to infants did not matter at all until recently, but now my wife and I are foster parents. We went through the excruciatingly long journey of getting approved. Then, our first week on call, we receive a call for a 9-month-old. I didn’t think anything about the situation. That was until I was sitting on my living room couch, holding the child in my arms. I realized in that moment, I could break this child if I am not careful. That horrifying image led to the next thought, I need to be extremely gentle with this child of mine. 

Do you remember the first time you held a child? You thought the same thing that I did, I need to be gentle. I don’t know of any other experience where the overwhelming pressure to be gentle is so great. 

When was the last time you felt the importance of being gentle? A rarity for sure. Yet, Scripture commands gentleness. Gentleness is blended into every section of Scripture. From heroes of the faith, prophecies, and the psalms, God’s Word is clear on gentleness. It must be in practice.

Gentleness defined

“The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. 24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit.”

In his letter to the Galatian church, Paul describes the battle over our souls. I have written more on this in another article

Paul is describing gentleness as a part of the single fruit of the Spirit. Like an apple tree only yielding an apple. That same apple is explainable in greater detail by the look and taste. The Spirit produces one fruit with nine ways to describe it. When you see an apple, you know it came from an apple tree. When you know someone bearing the fruit of the Spirit, you see Jesus portrayed. 

The Greek word used for gentleness in this passage is πραΰτης (praütēs). Gentleness is comprehensive. Every aspect of the Christian life should be powered by a gentle attitude. This is not a gender-specific command. Every Christian must live out this command. Martin Luther had these powerful words to say: “Christians must not be sharp and bitter, but gentle, mild, courteous and fair-spoken, and such as make others delight in their company… [Gentleness] is an excellent virtue and most necessary in every kind of life.”

Gentleness is essential to the Christian life. 

There are multiple ways to expound on the idea of gentleness in the Christian life. In Luther’s words, gentleness is necessary in every kind of life. Still, let’s consider two aspects:

Christian, be gentle disciples

All Christians are disciples and disciple-makers. When making disciples, helping others see errors in their living and thinking is essential. Whether you are a parent, a friend, or a member of a local church, you will eventually need to speak into someone’s life (Gal. 6:1). 

Discipleship can be challenging. Imagine a child breaking basic rules over and over again. Keeping composure when correcting them is not simple. Now imagine how difficult it can be to see siblings in Christ make soul damaging decisions. The self-control necessary to not explode, well that’ll be for another article. Nevertheless, when admonishing and disciplining others, keeping your cool is only half the battle. Responding with gentleness is the other half. 

What does it look like to be gentle, and how can we grow in gentleness? Jesus answers this with two commands (Mark 12:29–31). First, love God with everything. The more that you and I grow in our love for the Lord, the more that we realize how small we are comparatively. When this happens, the more we understand the grandness of God (Isaiah 40:12–14). How does this help produce gentleness? By fostering humility. Gentleness is possible when humility is present. Instead of seeing yourself as the center of the universe, you see God as the center. You recognize that you fall short of what God has commanded. How by His grace He has given His Son for our fall. When our love for God grows, so does our love for others because we are not elevated (1 John 3–4:12).

Secondly, Jesus’ says to love others as yourself. Imagine that you failed royally, how would you want to be corrected? Surgery with a dull blade is never the surgeon general’s recommendation. Presenting correction with gentleness is like a new scalpel, it cuts but does not injure. Christians must use gentleness as the main tool in loving others. Rebuking in gentleness will not be as demanding if the entire life of the believer is marked by gentle wisdom (James 3:13-14). We want to be shown meekness, so our care of others must be in gentleness. Christian, as disciples of the Lamb of God, let’s not devour each other.

Christian, be gentle in your witnessing

The last command that Jesus left His disciples before He ascended into heaven was to spread the news. The Apostles were not told to get a bumper sticker saying Jesus is neat. No, they were to be witnesses, and they all died for their proclaiming. That command does not change in 2019. You are the vehicle that carries the gospel to your job, school, friend group, and family. Not your pastor, you! Not me, you! The specific corners of the world in which you live are not mine. So prepare to share the gospel, pray, and go.

But, before you do go, be gentle. Have gentleness on the forefront of your mind! Let me give you a common scenario that many non-believers experience. Imagine you go and share the gospel with a friend after reading this article. Instead of being gentle, you are rough, over the top offensive, and plain rude. Then imagine, from this wonderful encounter with you, your former friend goes to their job. At their job, they have a co-worker who has been sharing the gospel with them for months. Now the ability for the friend to continue to share has been spoiled.

The good news of Jesus is already offensive. Telling someone they are a sinner, needing a perfect savior to stand in their place, and the only one is Jesus, is offensive to a sinful world. The early followers all died sharing this news because it is so disruptive. You don’t need to add to the offense.

Instead, Christians should be the most tender people that the world encounters. Our news does offend, but that does not mean our conveying it has to. Sometimes you will have to let someone know they are in sin, and they can find hope in Jesus. That does not need to be a harsh conversation. You can convey the truth of the gospel with gentleness. If that causes an argument, don’t let it be over your attitude. There is already enough angst in this world. Our attitude towards everyone should be like a refreshing spring in a hot desert (Tt 3:1–7).

Victoriously Gentle

Can you imagine what it must have been like for Mary and Joseph? They were around more babies than I was growing up. Still, the night comes to give birth to Jesus. She wraps the God of the universe in a soft cloth (Luke 2:7). The Sustainer of all things was held in the arms of a newborn mother. The gentle coming of Christ is astounding.

Can you imagine the people following Jesus? They were abused by the religious leaders of their time. Ordered to perform a long list of made-up rules, the burden was crippling. The power of sin was great, suffocating their hopes. Then Jesus comes teaching something radical. Grace. He invites those crushed by the weight of trying to earn a spot in God’s Kingdom, a way to be free. Instead of more burdens, Jesus offers liberation in Himself. A gentler way to live in this harsh world (Matthew 11:25–30).

Can you imagine the power of Jesus’ silence? Like a lamb led to the slaughter, no complaining or hesitation, gently moving towards the cross (Isaiah 53:7). The God of the universe would go from preaching hope to being nailed on a Roman cross. While He was on the cross, what was His demeanor? Next to Him was a thief, deserving punishment. The man asks for Jesus to remember him when Jesus enters His kingdom. The response? Gently, “you will be with me” (Luke 23:39–43).

Some of the last words that Jesus speaks on the cross were the most victorious words ever spoken. They are for you. They are for me. “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34). While suffocating on the cross, the power of these gentle words are amplified. The victory of the cross is magnified in the gentleness of the one hanging on it. 

He has risen. The Church is spreading His message. Our goal must be to bear the same gentleness our savior displayed.