It’s mentioned in letters addressed to a young pastor, it’s part of an oft-quoted passage on the peace of God, and it’s part of the fruit of the Spirit. Jesus himself exemplified it better than anyone.
Yet this characteristic, so vital for every Christian, is highly under-rated in our snarky culture.
When was the last time you heard a sermon expounding the importance of gentleness?
According to the Bible, gentleness is not the same as being a wimp. A quick word study in a few passages reveals “gentleness” as moral excellence and kindness. To be gentle is to be equitable, fair, patient, and forbearing.
Greek writers used the term as characterizing a nanny with difficult children, a teacher with struggling students, or parents toward their growing children. Paul uses this word picture in 1 Thessalonians 2:7 to describe the demeanor of his ministry team toward the new converts in that city.
Jesus wanted to gather Jerusalem as a hen gathers her chicks (Luke 1:34). Do you hear the tender pleading in that remark?
Americans are not always very good at treating each other tenderly. We value our quick wit, our clever comebacks, our dripping sarcasm. If anyone challenges us, we are quick to roll the eyes and fire a volley of opposite-speak.
Snark doesn’t take much effort for us. It’s as natural as breathing.
- Someone requires something and we reply, Oh, really? Who died and made you king?
- Someone points out our mistake and we say, Totally my bad, I’m sure you get everything right in your world.
- Someone gets under our skin and we mentally give them a clever nickname like Interrupting Fat Lady or Annoying Little Monkey-Faced Man.
I’m not saying there’s no place for sarcasm; even the Bible writers employ it to make an occasional point. When it becomes selfish and mean, though, we’ve gone too far.
We’ve lost the art of gentleness.
Here are some appeals God makes on how to treat each other:
- Let your gentleness be evident — not your stress and anxiety– because the Lord is near (Philippians 4:5)
- If you catch someone in sin, restore him in a spirit of gentleness, knowing you can be tempted, too (Galatians 6:1)
- Put up with others and practice humility, patience, and gentleness, out of love (Ephesians 4:2)
- Run from temptation and chase righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness and gentleness (1 Timothy 6:11)
- Correct your opponents with gentleness, because God might help them see the truth and repent (2 Timothy 2:5)
- Be prepared to give an answer for the hope you have, but do it with gentleness and respect (1 Peter 3:5)
Do you catch the tone? Gentleness is disarming. It helps people receive difficult truth. It builds bridges and prevents anger. It nurtures others instead of putting them down or beating them up.
Gentleness says others are valuable enough to be handled with care.
So if you want a simple, one-question survey to evaluate your spiritual maturity — whether you are male or female — you could ask yourself:
Would others describe me as gentle?