Friday, November 27, 2015

Fruits of the Spirit: Gentleness


I confess that I have not thought a lot about what it means to be gentle as a young man. My daydreams rarely include me being gentle in spirit. Instead, I imagine myself laying out several burly brutes to save the damsel in distress. To me, it is much easier to think of being a macho man than a gentle one.

But maybe being “macho” is an ideal created by our fallen world. Maybe it means something completely different to be a true man of God. Instead of walking around with a swagger, the sleeves of your shirt cut off so you can show off your “guns”, perhaps a true man is someone who is gentle. Instead of challenging the brute who hit you to a duel, perhaps a true macho man from a Biblical perspective will not retaliate to the personal offense, choosing to instead patiently, humbly bear the insult.

Okay, at this point it is very important to explain what I mean, before you get the idea that I think true Godly men should be spaghetti-armed weaklings. There is a balance to be had, and this balance is on the peak of quite a slippery slope.

First off, it is clear that Christian men are to be gentle. After all, it is a qualification for an elder of the church (1 Timothy 3:3). Furthermore, we are told in Philippians 4:5 to “Let your gentle spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near.”

However, gentleness is not to be mistaken as cowardice. There are times where I believe Christian men are completely in line Biblically while throwing a punch (you can read more on this topic by reading my post on turning the other cheek). For instance, if ever I was to come across a damsel in distress, I assure you that I will do my utmost to get her “un-distressed.” If that includes throwing punches, I will be more than happy to oblige.

We just read in our family Bible readings a grim portrayal of cowardice. When Lot is threatened by the filth of Sodom in Genesis, he tries to appease the mob by offering to give his two virgin daughters for the mob to do to them whatever they liked. Thanks only to the two angels with him, he doesn’t follow through with that plan. Please know that Biblical gentleness looks nothing like that. As Christian men, we are to be strong and courageous (Joshua 1:9)--but yet, gentle.

For all the ladies reading this who might be rather upset at me for not including you in this study, well, don’t worry, because I am not excluding you from this post in any sense (okay, maybe disappointing for those of you less inclined to be convicted ;0)). Gentleness, of course, applies to the fairer of the two sexes as well. In fact, Gentleness is a very important to every Christian! As Paul adds in his instructions to Christian women:

Your adornment must not be merely external—braiding the hair, and wearing gold jewelry, or putting on dresses; but let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God. (1 Peter 3:3-4)

So yes, ladies, if you want to be precious in the sight of God, this definitely applies to you too.

So what is Biblical gentleness? Here I am 528 words into this article, and I haven’t yet given a definition of the gentleness found as the eight fruit of the Holy Spirit. Well, there are actually not an abundance of verses describing this gentleness, but we can see from this verse the basics of what it looks like:

For we never came with flattering speech, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed—God is witness—nor did we seek glory from men, either from you or from others, even though as apostles of Christ we might have asserted our authority. But we proved to be gentle among you, as a nursing mother tenderly cares for her own children. (1 Thessalonians 2:5-7)

Biblical gentleness is the opposite of flattering speech, greed, pride, and unneedful assertion of authority. Instead, it looks like the tender care a mother shows to her nursing babies. I have a feeling I am not the only male a little reluctant about pursuing this gentleness, but to all guys still struggling with this picture of gentleness, remember that this is Paul writing the passage above. This guy writing about gentleness is the same apostle who spoke boldly before the Sanhedrin and debated Roman leaders. Read 2 Corinthians 10:1-6. The same Paul who urged the brethren of Corinth with meekness and gentleness in Christ is the same Paul who goes on to talk about our job of destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God. Being gentle does not mean becoming emasculate by any means. Instead, being gentle fulfills one of the greatest qualities of a true man.

This gentleness is patient and humble in the face of offense. It never seeks retaliation or revenge. In regards to our relationship with one another, this gentleness should be seen in how we treat one another with love and respect. In short, our gentleness should model the gentleness Jesus has shown to us:

"Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, 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." (Mathew 11:28-30)

Practical Application

One of the hardest practical applications for me will be learning to never retaliate when I am offended. It is much easier to give a knuckle sandwich than a gentle answer to someone who (perhaps even rightfully) angers me, but God’s way is always the best way. As this Proverb puts it:

A gentle answer turns away wrath, But a harsh word stirs up anger. (Proverbs 15:1)

Gentleness is the best way to respond to whoever we are at odds with. When we truly realize that, it becomes much easier to give a gentle answer. Avoid responding harshly; be gentle!

In Titus chapter three, Paul tells Titus to remind believers “to malign no one, to be peaceable, gentle, showing every consideration for all men.” (v2). In a few verses a little further down, he gives some practical advice:

But avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and strife and disputes about the Law, for they are unprofitable and worthless. Reject a factious man after a first and second warning, knowing that such a man is perverted and is sinning, being self-condemned. (Titus 3:9-11 NASB)

There are many things to apply from this passage. The most obvious, of course, is to steer clear of foolish arguments! I know, I like debating my viewpoint on this or that as much as the next arguer, but is the argument really worthwhile or profitable? If not, we need to pipe down and find something useful to do! It will help grow or at least keep intact our spirit of gentleness.

The second practical application is simply avoiding factious men. I had to look up the definition of “factious”. To put it in “layman” terms (which I am, no doubt), the word is basically used to describe someone who “stirs the pot ,” initiating useless or even divisive argument in a group. As Christians, we should steer clear of such a person, and definitely don’t become a “pot stirrer” yourself!

Lastly, here is one promise for all of us to take to heart as we strive to live out this fruit of the Spirit:

"Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth.” (Mathew 5:5)