We have said all along that these fruit of the spirit are pretty impossible to achieve in our own strength and without the Holy Spirit’s help, but we could be forgiven for thinking that “gentleness” is an exception. Aren’t most nursing mothers “gentle” with their babies? This sort of tenderness would seem to come naturally. But as with all the fruit, we need to look closely at what the word actually means.
“Gentleness” is translated from the Greek word ‘prautes’ which is actually a very difficult word to translate. It has two close meanings: gentleness, which refers mostly to actions and meekness,which refers more to attitudes. When we describe our relationship with God we use words such as yielded, teachable and responsive. When we describe our relationships with people we use words like humble, gentle and respectful.
It is such a shame that “meek” rhymes with “weak” because we can often muddle the two up. Modern online dictionaries do this and have synonyms for the word “meek”, such as tame, timid, mild, bland, unambitious, retiring, weak, spiritless, broken, and wimpish. This is not the bible definition of meek. Jesus spoke of Himself as meek but we could never use these words to describe Him. He 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”. (Matthew 11:29)
Biblical gentleness doesn’t mean simply acting in a tender and soft way, but rather controlling physical strength for the benefit of another. To be gentle is to have a humble heart and peaceful mind and to submit wholly to God’s plan. The idea is ‘strength under control’. Imagine a wild stallion who has been broken in and is now submitted to its riders will, or a work elephant moving massive logs with its trunk under the supervision of its master. Think too of water that’s under control such as water rushing through a dam turning turbines, generating electricity to light a city. Water out of control would be a flood destroying everything in its path. Or the example of a disease out of control which can devastate the body & kill its victim. But a disease under control can be used to produce vaccines & save thousands of lives. That’s the sort of idea.
The bible places great value in meekness. Jesus said: “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth”. (Matthew 5:5)
The world will try to tell you that gentleness is not a good quality. They say that a strong person is a ‘go getter’, someone who casts all others aside. They speak of a ‘show of strength’, the ‘survival of the fittest’, all that kind of thing. But Jesus demonstrated that true strength is being in control, staying cool, thinking first and then acting appropriately – strength under control.
God of course demonstrates this attitude perfectly. After all, He’s the creator of all things, nothing and no-one is more powerful than Him, yet He controls His anger and never misuses His power. This attitude was demonstrated in Jesus who was perfectly meek. During His trial and crucifixion He could have called a halt to the proceedings at any time, He had the power to do so. But His meekness stopped Him as He knew had a higher purpose than just to show off His strength and control.
Jesus submitted His plans to the father; this is what being meek and gentle means. In 1 Peter 2 it gives various examples of those we should be submitting to and demonstrating meekness towards: governments (v13), servants towards masters (v18) and wives towards their husbands (3v1). Chapter 3 then talks about how we should speak to outsiders: “But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentlenessand respect…”. (1 Peter 3:15)
As in the verse above it is clear that “gentleness” in the New Testament is closely related to wisdom, spiritual growth and how we are to correct and teach each other. Two examples of this are: “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness…” (Galatians 6:1); “Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth.” (2 Timothy 2:25 NIV)
We are to submit our strength, including the strength of our convictions, to God’s wisdom. We are to teach only God’s point of view, not our own. And we are to accept that God’s actions towards us and others are the right actions, even when human wisdom thinks otherwise.
Gentleness is the spirit and attitude behind repentance. To “repent” in a biblical sense is to change one’s mind and believe that God is right. Repentance is necessary for salvation, and we need to carry an attitude of repentance in a gentle spirit our entire lives. So often our point of view can be limited, misguided, and self-seeking, but God is always right. A gentle heart will accept God’s wisdom and yield to His discernment. We can only be gentle as the Holy Spirit develops spiritual fruit in our lives. But He requires our cooperation for it to be developed fully and so we are exhorted in Colossians 3:12 to “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience..”
So how do we demonstrate more gentleness? We must keep being filled with the Holy Spirit. We must be quick to apologise and quick to make peace. We can see how all these other gifts come into play at the same time, fruit such as love, peace and patience.
I was always told, when I was angry, to count to 10. This is such a wise thing to do. It is so easy to fly off the handle and be nasty or rude and forget that gentleness is strength under control. 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 often teaches us hard lessons, but all the while being the very definition of gentleness.