By Peter Amsterdam
August 22, 2017
One aspect of Christlikeness which is less frequently focused on than most is gentleness. Somewhat surprisingly, we find it mentioned throughout Scripture in reference to both Jesus and His Father. It is also included in the fruit of the Holy Spirit.
The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience … gentleness; … against such things there is no law.1
The prophet Isaiah, when describing God’s power, also spoke of His gentleness:
Behold, the Lord God comes with might, and his arm rules for him … He will tend his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms; he will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young.2
King David, when extolling the Lord and all He had done, included the phrase You have given me the shield of your salvation, and your right hand supported me, and your gentleness made me great.3 The apostle Paul referred to Jesus’ gentleness when he wrote I, Paul, myself entreat you, by the meekness and gentleness of Christ.4
As we seek to live God’s Word in our desire to become more like Jesus, we often pray for humility, patience, self-control, to be able to resist our recurring sins, etc., yet we seldom pray that we will become gentle, or at least that’s the case with me. Gentleness is something which we often consider to be part of a person’s natural disposition rather than a Christian virtue, and while most of us would consider a lack of self-control, pride, or impatience a sin, we wouldn’t see a lack of being gentle as one. Until recently, I never specifically prayed for the spiritual fruit of gentleness in my life.
So what is gentleness? The New Testament uses a few different Greek words to express gentleness. The first, epieikeia, is generally translated as gentle or gentleness, and conveys a thoughtful, considerate, and kind outlook as opposed to one that is hotly demanding of one’s rights. It connotes the trait of seeking peace in a calm way.5 The second Greek word translated as gentleness is praotēs, which Paul used when listing the fruit of the Spirit. This word was linked to the medical world and conveyed the idea of mild medication, like something easy on the stomach. It also was used in reference to tamed animals. Author Randy Frazee explains:
Think about a horse. These animals weigh an average of a thousand pounds and have the potential to seriously injure or even kill human beings. Yet we can walk up to the vast majority of horses, pet them, ride them, and deem them as gentle. Is this a reflection of their power and strength? No. It is an indication of their nature—what they are like after being trained. Gentleness for a horse is a choice to allow its power and strength to be controlled. A gentle person is not a weak person, but rather someone who is strong, secure, and mature. They use their strength to face real giants and challenges in their lives but choose not to run roughshod over others.6
Gentleness is power under control. Like the horse, each one of us is powerful. We can use our words and actions to wound others, put them down, or discourage them. Or, through gentleness, we can channel that power to help others, to lift them up, to influence them for good. Even when we need to correct or discipline someone, we can do it in a manner which is loving and encouraging. The apostle Paul wrote:
If anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness.7
Gentleness is often considered a synonym of meekness, and they are similar. One difference, however, is that gentleness is an active trait which describes the manner in which we treat others; whereas meekness is a passive trait which refers to a response when others mistreat us. Meekness is mildness, controlled strength, which implies the ability to bear reproaches and slights without resentment. Gentleness is actively showing goodness and kindness toward others by treating people in a gentle manner which shows concern and care for them.
Gentleness is manifested by being considerate, kindly in our attitude, tender toward others, polite. It's having a mild temper and seeking to make those around us feel happy, loved, and cared about. A gentle person is mild-mannered, thoughtful, and friendly. Such a person doesn’t use force to get things done, but rather shows humble and genuine lovingkindness in their interactions and relationships with others.
Gentleness may be a difficult concept in particular for men, as men aren’t expected to be gentle, but to be “manly.” Gentleness is often seen as a sign of weakness, as opposed to being tough, aggressive, and unyielding. However, rather than weakness, gentleness is actually power that is harnessed and used wisely and lovingly. We see this concept expressed in verses such as these:
A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.8
With patience a ruler may be persuaded, and a soft tongue will break a bone.9
When a person behaving with gentleness stands up for the truth and godliness, they do so in a humble and gracious manner. Gentleness is to be applied when we witness and teach or explain our faith.
Always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.10
The Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness.11
It takes the power of the Holy Spirit to be gentle in our speech, especially when we face confrontation or differing opinions. At such times it’s easy to fly off the handle and speak angry, cruel, or disparaging words. But the fruit of gentleness makes us respond with tenderness toward others, and leads us to show lovingkindness.
It’s helpful to remember the gentleness of Jesus, which can be seen in situations such as His interaction with the woman at the well. She had had five husbands, and was living with someone who wasn’t her husband, and Jesus wasn’t condemning of her, but treated her with love and respect.12 When we read the story of the woman caught in adultery, we see that Jesus didn’t condemn her either, but loved her and forgave her in gentleness.13 When Jesus saw Martha’s rudeness toward her sister Mary, He addressed the situation with gentleness.14
We see God’s gentleness in His forgiveness of our sins, in the mercy He has bestowed upon us, in the patient long-suffering and steadfast faithfulness He has shown us. He is kind and gentle toward us. He is called the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort.15 If we seek to grow in gentleness, we may want to spend time thinking about and praising God for the gentleness and kindness He shows us daily. As we do, it can remind us that we too are to be gentle with others, as He is with us.
Being gentle doesn’t mean being gullible or naïve. Jesus told His disciples to be wise as serpents and harmless as doves.16 We aren’t to let people take advantage of us in order to manipulate us for their own purposes. Neither do we need to give in to others on issues which we should stand firm and be uncompromising about. But we can be gentle in our approach, even when taking a stance on a moral issue. If we want to become more like Jesus, we should be known for our gentleness. Gentleness must be applied with wisdom.17 Jesus 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.18
How is gentleness manifested? It demonstrates respect for the personal dignity of others. It is thoughtful, bearing in mind that others are different than ourselves, and have differing opinions, feelings, etc., and it shows respect for those differences. It avoids blunt speech and an abrupt manner, and seeks to interact with everyone with sensitivity and respect, showing consideration to all. When necessary, it will seek to change a wrong opinion by persuasion and kindness rather than by domination or intimidation. It is sensitive to the reactions of others and considerate of how others may feel about what is being said. It does not feel threatened by opposition or resent it. Rather it seeks to gently instruct, looking to God to dissolve the opposition. It won’t degrade or belittle or gossip about others. If someone is in need of guidance or correction, it will seek to restore him gently. It’s caring about others, actively seeking to make them feel at ease, or restful in our presence, treating them as we would like to be treated, with love, respect, and kindness.19
The apostle Paul instructed:
Walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.20
He also directed believers to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people.21 Elsewhere he said:
As for you, O man of God, … pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness.22
Sometimes it’s most difficult to be gentle with those who are closest to us. We become familiar, and we are faced with their faults, idiosyncrasies, and annoying habits on a daily basis. We can become short-tempered, unkind, impatient, and harsh. But our family, those whom we love most, deserve our gentleness, patience, care, and consideration. It is helpful to remind ourselves that we likewise have plenty of faults, habits, and idiosyncrasies that others are gentle with and kind enough to overlook or forbear. That helps foster gentleness with others.
I recently read an article on a blog by someone who had a problem with his communications with his family and friends and who decided to go on a “sarcasm fast” in order to change the way he spoke to others. If we tend to be critical, speak down to others, point out their faults, or draw attention to their weaknesses; if we easily display anger, or have little patience with others’ ideas and outlooks; then we need to ask for the help of the Holy Spirit to manifest more gentleness in our lives.
We may want to ask ourselves what the fruit of gentleness looks like in our lives and in our relationship with others. Do our attitudes and actions, behavior and conversation display gentleness? If not, will we commit to both prayer and definite action in order to cultivate this fruit of the Spirit?
It’s helpful to remember that God has been ever so gentle with each of us. He loved us, sent His Son to die for us, and gave us the gift of salvation. We didn’t have to earn it or labor for it; it was a gift He gently bestowed upon us. May this fruit of the Spirit be manifest in our lives. May the gentleness of Jesus shine through us as we reflect Him and His love to others.
Unless otherwise indicated, all scriptures are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
1 Galatians 5:22–23.
2 Isaiah 40:10–11.
3 Psalm 18:35.
4 2 Corinthians 10:1.
5 Randy Frazee, Think, Act, Be Like Jesus (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2014), 210.
6 Ibid., 210.
7 Galatians 6:1.
8 Proverbs 15:1.
9 Proverbs 25:15.
10 1 Peter 3:15.
11 2 Timothy 2:24–25.
12 John 4:4–29.
13 John 8:1–11.
14 Luke 10:40–42.
15 2 Corinthians 1:3.
16 Matthew 10:16. Some Bible translations use innocent instead of harmless.
17 Points taken from a sermon by Rev. Charles Seet, given in 2006.
18 Matthew 11:29.
19 These points are summarized from The Practice of Godliness, by Jerry Bridges (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2010), 206–7.
20 Ephesians 4:1–3.
21 Titus 3:2.
22 1 Timothy 6:11.