“The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.”Today we are looking at the character quality known as gentleness. Paul uses a Greek which can be translated as either Gentleness or Meekness. Our translators have gone with gentleness. In fact, in the New International Version of the Bible, there are only 4 instance of this word being translated as Meekness. The rest are translated as gentleness.
The most notable use is Matthew 5:5, “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.”
I don’t know why the translators made the choice to translate most of the words as gentleness rather than meekness, but I think it might have something to do with the culture they are translating for...our culture. Though our understanding of gentleness isn’t much better.
One of the definitions assigned by Merriam Webster says those who are meek are “deficient in spirit and courage.” Some other dictionaries define it with these words: overly submissive or compliant; spiritless; tame; spineless or spiritless...they have some positive definitions, but we know the ones that come to mind when we hear the someone called meek.
We have in our culture a mental image of those who are gentle and meek...they are weak. We value self-reliance, strength, and independence. So we say things like, “Nice guys finish last!” and “No good deed goes unpunished!” “If you ain’t first you’re last!”
If you don’t believe me, next time you are hanging out with a bunch of guys, choose one of them and say, “You have such a gentle way about you!” and see how they all respond.
But the biblical definition lines up more with the best of our current definitions...with all of its positive attributes.
Biblical gentleness is power under control...It is the power of water being used to create electricity in a hydro-electric dam as opposed to a Tsunami wiping out entire villages.
It is using the venom of a poisonous snake being used to make the anti-venom to heal...as opposed to the raw injected venom that destroys.
The elephant's trunk in particular is an example of great power with precision control. The elephant trunk with more than 40,000 muscles is strong enough to rip branches from trees, yet sensitive enough to pick up a single blade of grass!
Gentleness...meekness is not weakness!
There are two ways meekness is exhibited in our lives. First it means being yielded, teachable, and responsive. Second it means being humble, gentle, and respectful. The first are to be yielded, teachable,and responsive in our relationship with God, and second, we are to be humble, gentle, and respectful in our relationships with others.
So let’s look at these two.
Gentleness is how we respond to God.
Our first response of gentleness is to be yielded, teachable, and responsive to God’s leading in our lives.
God uses many different ways to communicate with us. He speaks to us through impressions and urges from within. He uses dreams. Sometimes He speaks through what seems like an audible voice. He speaks through other people. He speaks through worship. But most importantly He speaks through His word, the Bible.
As Christians all the other ways and means of God speaking to us are evaluated in the light of Scripture. If we get an impression that we feel is from God, our response should be to test it against Scripture...to see if it is genuinely from God. We receive what we believe to be a word of knowledge or guidance to do something, but it just doesn’t seem to fit with Scripture and what we know about God...then we reject.
But the ultimate goal is to live a life yielded and responsive to God’s voice.
So our first step is to learn to hear the voice of God, and to hear God’s voice we have to be listening. This requires time and practice.
You and I live very busy lives, but in the midst of those busy lives we have to learn to hear God’s voice.
1 Kings 19 tells the story of Elijah trying to hear the voice of God. God tells him to go stand on the top of the mountain. “Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.”
We cannot hear God when we have so much stuff jammed into our lives.
We can’t hear God when every possible space is filled with noise...we enter the house and turn on the television...we get in the car and turn on the radio...we get up in the morning and check our newsfeed or check the weather or listen to the news. We fill so many moments of our lives with noise that we cannot hear God.
We do the same thing with our schedules. We rush from one function to another filling up every moment. We stay up late and jam our Saturday’s so full, and then wonder why Sundays are so tiring and we can’t worship.
And what it requires of us is cutting back and cutting down on all the noise and clutter. It means turning off the television and radio. It means saying no to one more thing on the schedule. It means making time alone in quiet with God a priority because we deeply need and want to hear the voice of God.
Once we take the necessary steps to hear God’s voice...then we must obey it.
Mark Twain is credited with saying, “It ain't those parts of the Bible that I can't understand that bother me, it is the parts that I do understand.”
Why would someone say this? Because obedience is always the hardest part.
You see, when we turn off the television...when we take time to pray and worship and read God’s Word...He shows up, and that is the scary part. We learn of His expectations and what it means to obedient, and we become responsible for putting it into action.
The Apostle James understood this trouble. Writing to the church under his care, he says, James 1:21-24, “Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you. Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like.”
Being gentle means we listen to God’s voice, and then live obediently to what we discover there. By extension then...
Gentleness is how we respond to others.
We live in yielded obedience to God’s will, and that enables us to be gentle in our response to others. We become humble, gentle, and respectful in our relationships.
Gentleness was a popular philosophical term for the classical Greek philosophers. They saw “gentleness” as the expected way to deal with others. They considered it the middle ground between a strong, excessive anger and the inability to be angry. Someone who exhibited gentleness was considered both strong and gentle.
For us as Jesus’ followers this is seen as strength prompted by love. Jesus was gentle with those around him who needed gentleness...the Samaritan woman at the well, the woman caught in adultery, Zaccheus. And Colossians 3:12-15 Paul again uses gentleness as one of the characteristics that guides a Christian’s relationships with others. “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.”
Jesus’ motivation when dealing with people is first and foremost to help them grow closer to God...and his motivation for dealing with people through us is the same...to help them grow.
Why do we treat people with gentleness? Because our goal is not to make them feel less than...our goal is not to judge...our goal is not to make sure they know how far from God they are...our goal is to help them understand God’s love for them and to help re-establish a relationship with God. Our ultimate goal is to see them restored and saved not beaten down and beaten up.
Gentleness is expected in our dealings with unbelievers and those hostile toward us.
1 Peter 3:15-16, “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 gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.”
So you are talking with someone in the lunch room at work or at a coffee shop, and they says, “You say you are Christian and believe that all homosexuals are going to hell!”
That inner fight or flight mechanism pushes you go on the defensive, attack their beliefs, or find a way to get out of there...but then you remember this passage from 1 Peter, and instead of trying to change their worldview in the first 10 seconds, or attack the stupidity of their beliefs...you offer them gentleness. They may still speak maliciously about you, but if you have built up a reputation for gentleness and kindness...they will look the fool.
What they need is gentleness.
Gentleness is also expected in our dealings with those who have fallen into sin.
Galatians 6:1, “Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted.”
Someone close to you betrays you and commits a sin that just devastates you. Rather than rush to their defense or become one of their detractors...you recognize the sinfulness of what they have done, and you, or someone in spiritual leadership, goes to restore them GENTLY. With compassion and respect.
They may not accept the restoration. They may bad-mouth the process. They may slander you...but in gentleness...you find the balance between anger and apathy.
A few weeks ago, Bri was rearranging her bedroom when one of her Precious Moments fell of her cabinet and hit the edge of something on her floor. She burt from the room heartbroken over this ruined figurine.
For the next hour we collected all the small fragments from her carpet, and then using superglue we meticulously repaired this figurine piece by little piece.
That is the gentleness God expects from us as we deal with those who are broken from sin...he has carefully and gently repaired or is repairing the pieces of our sin broken lives, and He expects the same from us as take part in the sin repair of others.
So we live in this dual role...God is putting us back together, but also using us to put others back together.
So we live yielded, teachable, and responsive lives toward God and we live humble, gentle, and respectful lives toward others.
This means all the setbacks, the interruptions, the slanderous words, the mean treatment by others, the personal attacks...and in some area the physical attacks are seen as opportunities for God to work in our lives. That is meekness and gentleness in action, and we able to live up under it because we have taken the time to learn to walk in step with the Spirit.
This is not a submissive passivity that sits back and takes it...but a strength that sees God-opportunities in every situation.
That personal attack is an opportunity for you to learn and grow in your humility...because some of it is right.
Those slanderous words about your faith is an opportunity for you to suffer along with Jesus.
That guy who insults you is an opportunity for you to love your enemy as yourself.
The boss who simply hates you is an opportunity.
We are able to do this not because we are weak. Not because we like the abuse, but because we stop focusing on ourselves and start focusing on what God is doing in the everyday situations around us.
I like that old quote...Don’t mistake my silence for ignorance, my calmness for acceptance or my kindness for weakness...
That is the power under control that should define our gentle meekness as Christians...and, according to Matthew 5:5, will lead to inheriting the earth.