Are you gentle? How would you know?
Gentleness, or meekness, is often defined by culture as softness, usually implying weakness. Christians sometimes define it as controlled strength.
But Wilhelmus a Brakel points us to a description more consistent with the New Testament uses of the term. He observes that the root of the Greek word is “a derivative of the word ‘to transfer’” and thus the gentle person is one "who readily establishes contact with others and with whom others easily make contact in turn.”
In short, gentle people are approachable people. Meek people have something worth communicating or transferring to the souls of others, and they work to do so. They also know that they need to receive from others, so they're ready to listen.
In the New Testament, gentleness usually has to do with communication, both verbal and non-verbal. Gentle people reach out to others in ways that make others want to reach out to them. Communication is easy, or at least looks easy, for the Christian who has disciplined himself to bear such fruit.
Are you gentle? Ask yourself, “do others welcome me readily when I approach them?” And “do others easily come to me for help?” Whether or not we are gentle is best measured by looking at how others relate and respond to us.
People know instinctively that the gentle-of-heart build bridges to transfer the treasure with which they’ve been entrusted. And they sense that it is safe to connect with them in order to receive that treasure. Both Overbearing Otis and Shy Shelly fail the test of gentleness. Overbearing Otis fails to value the people around him and cannot build bridges. In the process, he tarnishes the treasure he holds. Shy Shelly is too fearful to build bridges. She also fails to value the treasure entrusted to her, leaving people around her with the sense that she has nothing to offer anyway. The work of the Holy Spirit is necessary for each of these souls to become gentle.
A mature, gentle person can relate to all kinds of people. Even when situations are awkward, or difficult matters must be discussed, meek saints leave others knowing that they love them even in the midst of conflict. And that, indeed, requires great strength. Jerry Bridges wrote, “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.”
Where do we see these truths in the The New Testament? The following passages teach us how gentleness should characterize our communication:
- Rather than speak evil of others or be known for quarreling, even with rulers and authorities, we are to be gentle and courteous with our words: “Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people.” (Titus 3:1-2)
- Teachers are to correct even opponents with gentleness: “And the Lord's servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.” (2 Timothy 2:24-26)
- Elders who bring correction must follow the example of the Apostle Paul who corrected the Corinthian church with gentleness. He wrote: “What do you wish? Shall I come to you with a rod, or with love in a spirit of gentleness?” (1 Corinthians 4:21) Later he wrote again: “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!” (2 Corinthians 10:1)
- The church is required to restore one caught in transgression with a spirit of gentleness. The transgressor must know that the church is a place where he will find grace: “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.” (Galatians 6:1)
- When Christians tell other people about Jesus in evangelism and apologetics, it is easy to develop a proud or argumentative spirit as they lay out the logical case for faith in Christ. Those with whom we speak must leave the conversation with a sense that we love them, and that will only be communicated through gentleness: “But even if you should suffer for righteousness' sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, 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; 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. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God's will, than for doing evil.” (1 Peter 3:14-17)
- Communication in marriage must be gentle: “The heart of her husband trusts her” says Proverbs 31 of the godly wife. He finds her approachable and trustworthy. Similarly, Paul writes of wives in 1 Peter: “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, when they see your respectful and pure conduct. Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear— 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.” (1 Peter 3:1-4)
- We are to walk with the saints in gentleness: “I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” (Ephesians 4:1-3)
How do we grow in gentleness? This fruit can only be produced by the Holy Spirit, and it comes as we:
- Receive God’s word with meekness. “Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.” (James 1:21)
- Pursue gentleness and fight for it: “But as for you, O man of God, flee these things. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith.” (1 Timothy 6:11-12a)
- Put on gentleness each day: “Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience…” (Colossians 3:12)
- Take the yoke of Jesus by faith: “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.” (Matthew 11:29)