the underrated virtue of gentleness

But the fruit of the Spirit is…gentleness…

Galatians 5

In these rough and tumble days, to be a man, to be strong, seems to more and more mean being crass and downright nasty. But nothing could be farther from the truth. True strength is able to absorb pain, and rather than inflicting it back, seek to help the one who is troubled.

There is nothing more important for Christians than to be gentle. The fruit of the Spirit as quoted above begins with “love” which might be the fountain of all the virtues listed with it, of course the love of the Spirit of God. And to love means among everything else listed (“love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control”), to be gentle. This is a character trait which defines our Lord:

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Matthew 11

The Greek New Testament scholar Bill Mounce on πραΰς, translated “gentle”:

Gloss:
gentle, meek, the positive moral quality of dealing with people in a kind manner, with humility and consideration
Definition:
also spelled πρᾶος, meek, gentle, kind, forgiving, Mt. 5:5; mild, benevolent, humane, Mt. 11:29; 21:5; 1 Pet. 3:4
πραΰτης in the Galatians 5 passage, seems to mean basically the same thing.
When it comes right down to it, God himself is gentle with people. God lets people have their own way with consequences following, and God will step in at a certain time to level judgment on evildoers. But God is normally what one could well describe as gentle toward all.

The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

2 Peter 3

…do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?

Romans 2

Reflecting God as we become more and more like Christ by the Spirit, means to be more and more gentle. That can mean firm, and not letting people walk over us. But in everything, gentle just the same.

A part of God’s good work to be completed in us (Philippians 1:6) in and through Jesus.

 

gentleness

But the fruit of the Spirit is…gentleness…

Galatians 5:22-23

What is meant by gentleness is probably obvious to most, but I’ll try to define or describe it. It’s a disposition that is soft yet firm, not weak at all, but neither is it the kind of strength commonplace in the world. It’s force is not physical, but moral and spiritual. At its core for the Christian is Christ-likeness. In love, it is persuasive at least in the sense of being admirable, and eventually emulated, at least influential to others.

I’m looking forward to reading Dallas Willard’s book on gentleness. If there’s one characteristic that should mark our professed love as Christians in this day and time, I think it’s gentleness. But such a disposition would do us a world of good as well. And I don’t mean simply the act of being gentle, which is good in itself, but gentleness in our hearts working into our bones out into our lives, so that we’re simply people who are becoming gentle.

This is called a fruit of the Holy Spirit, in other words something the Spirit produces in our lives. The book of Galatians says that we either walk, that is live according to the flesh or according to the Spirit, one of the two. There might be somehow a gray in between in our experience as we endeavor to move toward what we don’t have. I tend to think Scripture is saying it’s either/or. So we are dependent on the Spirit to be working in our hearts and lives, which means we must yield to the Spirit. Again, the book of Galatians is a great (and not long) book to prayerfully read and study with that thought in mind.

At any rate, that’s my goal. I am tempted to abandon gentleness, especially with the pressures I face at work and elsewhere. But such a place is good training ground to  discipline myself to hold on to what the Spirit would bring forward and through my life, instead of giving in and living in the flesh, as I’m all too accustomed to do at least in certain habits, like keeping my thoughts to myself, but the attitude unchanged. Though, as you might imagine, a wordy person like me can all too easily speak up. To become disposed to something else as a new habit of life is surely vitally important for those of us who wish to follow Christ.

And I think it’s good to take the quote in its entire context, considering other traits that the Spirit would be working into our lives, the fount of it arguably being love, in and through Jesus.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

Galatians 5:22-23

what I would like to settle into, if only I knew how

No one can map out just what they’re going to be and do. We each have gifts, things we enjoy doing and can learn to do well in. All from God. In Christ’s body, there are different gifts given to each by the Spirit for the church. We need to discern what they are with the help of others. Listening carefully to what others say about what we do, as well as simply settling into what can do well is a good start.

For me at this late stage in life I know I enjoy writing. I actually enjoy sharing a message from Scripture on Sundays at the nursing home, as well. I find a propensity in myself to get off into areas which I would just as soon avoid. But I find that if one takes all of the Bible seriously, and our Lord’s teaching alone, there are places the church needs to go which are uncomfortable. Christ could not avoid controversy for sure, and it is a mistake to think that his followers can.

That said, I would like to aim for an increasingly quiet seeking of wisdom, along with a gentle sharing of such. Such wisdom is ideally steeped in the wisdom books of Scripture, but can’t be bereft of the input and impact of all the rest. And you can see such conviction within the wisdom literature itself. Wisdom simply defined is beginning to understand what is good and suitable for our lives and all of life, and adjusting our lives to that.

I would like to be a gentle seeker and sharer of wisdom. For all, and especially to help people find the wisdom of God in Jesus. I work at Our Daily Bread Ministries which has the goal of making the life-changing wisdom of the Bible clear and accessible to all. So I’m definitely influenced by that, and I find the same passion in the good church we’re a part of.

I would like to hone what gift I have to be more along this line. Gathered from decades in Scripture and life. With some successes and failures along the way. I would like to be under the discipline of wisdom all the more for my own life, so that in my limited way, I can share that by example and word with others. Of course this comes from interacting with God through Scripture and by the Spirit, in relationship with God and others. In and through Jesus.

get blunt

Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”

Matthew 16:23

Peter had just made the God-received pronouncement that Jesus was indeed the Messiah, the Son of God, and Jesus had just declared that Peter’s name, rock would be figurative for the rock on which Jesus would build his church, in some ways Peter and the apostles, but directly the message of the gospel of Jesus which they proclaimed. Jesus then tells his disciples just what he as Messiah must do: suffer and die. Peter rebukes the Lord. Then the Lord roundly rebukes Peter. Notice that this is not some outsider whom Jesus is seeking to win. Yet at the same time when I read the gospels you really don’t have to read between the lines much if at all to know what Jesus is getting at. Jesus is characteristically direct and clear, although it’s certainly always in love.

I don’t think we have picked up much of that needed air. Yes, all we do needs to be marked by God’s grace. We’re as much in need of God’s mercy and help as anyone else. So we don’t at all think or if necessary speak from any position of superiority. We’re all on the same level at the cross. We need to be as gentle as possible. And it can depend on the person who we’re trying to help.

Be merciful to those who doubt; save others by snatching them from the fire; to others show mercy, mixed with fear—hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh.

Jude 1:22-23

We certainly don’t want to alienate others. Of course there are those to whom we can’t appeal at all. They may not be ready to receive it, or they may set themselves up in opposition to God and therefore against themselves. Such blunt language should be reserved only for those who can receive it.

Some would say that this is a case of reading scripture and identifying with Jesus instead of the disciples. It should be and/both. We can’t identify with Jesus all the way, but we should be able to fully do so as those who are seeking to follow him all the way.

In any case I believe the lives of many would have been much better served if pastors and churches, those who are spiritual would have had the wisdom to be blunt when needed. To warn others in no uncertain terms about the path they are on or considering.

Read the gospel accounts: Matthew, Mark, and Luke especially, along with John, and you’ll find that Jesus didn’t mince words with those who were following him. We are blessed if we can both receive such words into our own lives, and then in grace pass them on to others. But bluntly at the right time, not harshly but gently, but with the force and emphasis needed to help the hearer wake up and change course in their thinking and action. In and through Jesus.

who is wise and understanding among you?

Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.

But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.

James 3:13-18

Who is wise and understanding among you? We ought to stop there and meditate on that. What is our own take on just what that means? Does it line up with what’s said here and elsewhere in God’s word? Probably many of us know the truth well enough so that it’s good to stop dead in our tracks and consider our own lives in light of that. We likely through Jesus will see some movement in our hearts and lives toward that ideal, but will also most certainly understand that we fall short of experiencing any of it at times, and need to grow both in depth, and in consistency in practicing such.

Remember that this word of James is in the context of what he was saying about the danger of the tongue (entire context: chapter 3 in our Bibles). We are good at talking, but not so good at walking. And our talk easily gets off track and out of hand. So James counsels slowness to speech and eagerness to listen, not to mention slowness to anger as well.

It’s our lives that will speak volumes, and either validate or invalidate what we profess, or say. Our words can certainly drown out our profession. “I hear what you say, but I see how you live.” On the other hand, our lives can make people want to know just what makes us tick. We show we’re receiving this grace from God through how we live in mostly small and larger ways each and every day.

Gentleness or humility is what should characterize us, demonstrated with good deeds. This is wisdom; this is understanding. It’s not a long or even short discourse that enlightens others. It’s our lives that speak, out of hearts receiving wisdom from God in God’s grace to us in Jesus. And it’s not something we can hardly put our finger on. We certainly can’t take credit ourselves. Perhaps we could say it’s shutting our mouths, and getting out of the way, so that we can finally be in God’s way in Jesus. Growing and living in that way.

A false wisdom, surely looked at as great, but phony is out there. Wrong ideas of greatness, and how to get there. Worldly wisdom which is linked even to the demonic. We can’t separate what scripture calls the world (system), the flesh, and the devil.

Then there’s the real wisdom, that which is from above, from God. Full of love and active for others in accord with what’s given to us, and needed by them. Marked by making peace in a way that promotes or at least doesn’t get in the way of righteousness. And we receive from others that good ourselves. Something always needed, which we need to grow into and begin to live out more and more and never let go of, in and through Jesus.

love is not piecemeal

Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.

Romans 12:9-15

Genuine love does not pick winners and losers. We in Jesus love all, period. That is part of who we are in Jesus. But it doesn’t mean it’s always easy. Sometimes people can say or do things we find quite offensive, maybe even on a personal level, so that they might, so to speak “get under our skin” a little. And then there’s the case of simple blatant out and out hatred toward Christians, which while rare where we live, does happen, and certainly is known all too well in certain parts of the world.

Our mindset, the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:2) involves aligning ourselves with the new heart and spirit God gives us in the new covenant in and through Jesus. Put more simply, we need to put into practice who we are in Jesus, and leave the old person we used to be behind. Which means we’ll have to go against the grain of what we’re used to at times. We may be new in Jesus, but we have to act on that, which involves getting rid of old habits and ways of thinking, and putting on the new ways in Jesus. Ephesians and Colossians both have some important things to say about that.

And so our professed love of the Lord is real insofar as we love others with that same love. We may say we love the Lord, and think we do, but if we withhold love from others, that puts our love for God in doubt, and certainly contradicts that, as we’re reminded in 1 John 5.

And so we want to love, period. A love which isn’t mushy, and may challenge others along the way, but which is genuine and true, marked by gentleness along with the rest of the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5). In and through Jesus.

hard topics (and the tongue)

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

Philippians 4

Politics and religion can be quite dicey topics fraught with potential fallout for relationships. The heat can be turned up pretty high when topics surrounding either are being discussed. Discussion and conversation is soon lost into heated argument, if we’re not careful. Perhaps it’s better to avoid such altogether. Probably one of the most helpful attitudes is to acknowledge how much we don’t know, rather than what we think we know.

In Paul’s small but great letter to the Philippians, we find an apt exhortation near its end which can help us in this. First of all, referring to values that were esteemed in the culture of that day, Paul directs the church and by extension us, to ponder what is true, good, beautiful, and praiseworthy. And then he reminds them to live as he did in following Christ. When you consider the letter of Philippians alone, that is indeed a tall order. But one within our grasp to grow into in Christ.

Back to difficult, controversial issues. It might be best to avoid them altogether when we know we might differ with a fellow believer on this or that. It can be good to discuss differences, provided there is a listening ear and openness to learn on both sides. And to those who are not believers, we should major on simply loving, and sharing the good news in Jesus.

Above all, we need to inculcate love between us, especially when what could divide us is simply a few words away. And we can’t take that for granted with anyone. If we do touch on the difficult issues, we need to be quick to draw back and make room for the other person, and their viewpoint. Out of love for them, and for the Lord. All of this in and through Jesus.