How to Be GENTLE
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. The law is not against such things.” (Galatians 5:22–23, CSB)
According to Bill Farmer’s newspaper column, J. Upton Dickson was a fun-loving fellow who said he was writing a book entitled Cower Power. He also founded a group of submissive people. It was called DOORMATS. That stands for “Dependent Organization of Really Meek And Timid Souls—if there are no objections.” Their motto was: “The meek shall inherit the earth—if that’s okay with everybody.” The symbol was the yellow traffic light.
Mr. Dickson sounds like he’d be a lot of fun, doesn’t he? What is disturbing about all of this, though, is that many people assume that the ridiculous ideas behind DOORMATS and Cower Power represent the quality of meekness set forth in Matthew 5:5. Many, even in the church, think that to be meek is to be weak. But the opposite is true. What the Bible is talking about is a powerful virtue. The slogan “strong enough to be gentle” comes close to defining it. True meekness is best seen in Christ. He was submissive, never resisting or disputing the will of God. His absolute trust in the Father enabled Him to show compassion, courage, and self-sacrifice even in the most hostile situation. Now let’s apply this to ourselves. When we are meek, we will bear insults without lashing out in proud resentment or retaliation. We’ll thank God in every circumstance, while using every circumstance, good or bad, as an occasion to submit to Him. Meekness would be weakness if it meant yielding to sin. But because it stems from goodness and godliness, it is a great strength.1
The love of God leads me to the other fruits of the Spirit. Gentleness is listed near the end because it is one of the most challenging fruits to develop in this postmodern society. As a society, we are not taught to be gentle with one another. Instead, we are taught to be strong and to tear down others. The Holy Spirit leads me to be gentle with others because the Gospel is gentle. Let’s look at six ways to be gentle.
Generate gentleness from a relationship with God
A relationship with God is the source of gentleness. The Spirit gives me the resources I need to be gentle with others. In another place in Galatians, we are told to be gentle with other people who are overcoming a sin. We should generate gentleness as a form of grace to others.
“Brothers and sisters, if someone is overtaken in any wrongdoing, you who are spiritual, restore such a person with a gentle spirit, watching out for yourselves so that you also won’t be tempted. Carry one another’s burdens; in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:1–2, CSB)
Being spiritual means being gentle with others. When we see someone do something wrong, we should be gentle with their recovery.
In 1987 Donna Rice was involved in a scandal with presidential hopeful Gary Hart. She accompanied Hart, who was a married man, on a pleasure cruise to the Bahamas on a yacht called Monkey Business.
At the time, Donna Rice was a backslidden Christian, says Ramona Cramer Tucker in Today’s Christian Woman. As a freshman in high school, Rice had received Christ at a Cliff Barrows crusade. Throughout high school her life revolved around choir, youth group, mission trips, and inviting friends to church.
When she went away to college, though, she gradually compromised to the point where she was far from God. Then, the Gary Hart scandal put her and her picture on the front page of newspapers and magazines across the country.
Her life fell apart. She resigned her job, and she was hounded by the press. She was offered millions to tell her story. As she wrestled with what to do, her mother and grandmother said something to Rice that would seem obvious: “Before you make any decisions, get your life straight with God.”
But it wasn’t obvious to Rice. She says, “I was stunned because I hadn’t yet realized I could put the entire mess in his hands.”
Then Rice’s mother gave her a cassette tape from a former youth-group friend. “Donna, I imagine you’re in a lot of pain right now,” the friend said. “I just want you to know that God loves you and I love you.”
Rice recalls, “When she began to share songs we used to sing together, I collapsed on the floor in my apartment and sobbed. I knew I—and no one else—was responsible for my choices. I cried out, ‘God, it took falling on my rear in front of the whole world to get my attention. Help me to live my life your way!’ God answered my plea by flooding me with his presence and forgiveness and by surrounding me with Christian fellowship.”
Those who have slipped away from God can be restored. Never underestimate the role your words can play in leading someone to God.2
Emulate the gentleness that God provides
God provides the gentleness I need. There are characteristics of God which I am not expected to model, or to emulate. These characteristics include His wrath, His anger, His destructive power over sin. However, there are qualities of God I am expected to emulate. Gentleness is one of them. This is the mode for the Christian. We are told to pursue gentleness and put on gentleness.
“All who are under the yoke as slaves should regard their own masters as worthy of all respect, so that God’s name and his teaching will not be blasphemed.” (1 Timothy 6:1, CSB)
“Therefore, as God’s chosen ones, holy and dearly loved, put on compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience,” (Colossians 3:12, CSB)
We must actively be gentle as Christians.
Nourish a gentle spirit with prayer and fasting
The power of gentleness comes from prayer and fasting. The world can be so distracting that it frustrates the soul. A Christian has to take time to allow the Holy Spirit to release gentleness. When we pray for others it’s difficult to be harsh or angry with them. When we bring even our enemies before the throne of grace, we begin to see them with eyes of tenderness. And, as we pray we enter into God’s very presence, which should give us a profound sense of humility.
“For the High and Exalted One, who lives forever, whose name is holy, says this: “I live in a high and holy place, and with the oppressed and lowly of spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and revive the heart of the oppressed.” (Isaiah 57:15, CSB)
We need to take the time to nourish the soul. Fasting and prayer are practices that reinforce rest in our lives. This rest builds in me the strength I need to be gentle.
Tell others about Jesus with a gentle witness
“Let your graciousness be known to everyone. The Lord is near.” (Philippians 4:5, CSB)
Because Jesus is gentle with me, then I need to be a gentle witness with others. The target of gentleness is other people. We are called to be gentle in our witness. We should be firm in our proclamation of the Gospel. Yet, we should be gentle in how we share it with others. Our witness about Jesus should not be a bullying faith. We don’t manipulate people through the Christian faith.
Jesus addressed bullies in His day. Yet, He was gentle in how He expressed the love of God with those who needed it. Francis Schaffer is quoted in his book The God Who Is There of saying: There is nothing uglier than an orthodoxy without understanding or without compassion.3
Have you wanted to flatten, put down, or squash someone lately? You feel the person has had it coming for a long time and your patience has run out? Listen to this story:
The classroom became steamy as the heated debate grew increasingly intense. The professor was a meek-looking sort of fellow, short in stature but long on patience.
The arguing student had the audacity to try and prove the mild-mannered professor wrong. Brains were not a gift of this particular student for two reasons:
One, he had all the facts about the subject mixed up—he was just flat-out wrong.
Two, he was challenging a man who was a leading authority in the field.
Finally, having heard enough, the professor spoke sharply: “I know enough about this subject to blow you out of the water.”
The class sat in absolute silence, waiting for a pen to drop.
Then in a soft voice, the professor humbly apologized to the class for his outburst. “I had no right to say what I did.”
What the professor said that day spoke volumes, picturing exactly what God expects from His followers. God wants followers who are gentle: followers who have mastered the art of “strength under control.”4
If I am to witness to others with gentleness, then it begins with the way I love others.
Love others whom God loves with gentleness
Love is the mechanism of gentleness. We are reminded in Matthew 25 about the way that a Christian treats the weaker people in the world, it is treating Jesus the same way. It is a reminder that if I am to be gentle, I need to love others with gentleness.
“And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’” (Matthew 25:40, NKJV)
In this parable, Jesus explains not just the fact that Christians are expected to minister to others in desperate need, but also in a way that shows gentleness. Let me explain with this story:
In Honest to God, Bill Hybels writes:
Recently my brother and I spent a lunch hour discussing the mark our dad left on our lives …
Dan and I reminisced about the times we had sailed with him on Lake Michigan. We remembered violent storms with fifty-mile-an-hour winds. All the other sailors would dash for the harbor, but Dad would smile from ear to ear and say, “Let’s head out farther!”
We talked about the tough business decisions we had seen him make. We winced when we remembered his firm hand of discipline that blocked our rebellious streaks. We never doubted it. Dad was strong, tough, and thoroughly masculine.
Yet for twenty-five years he spent nearly every Sunday afternoon standing in front of a hundred mentally retarded women at the state mental hospital. Gently and patiently he led them in a song service. Few of them could even sing, but he didn’t care. He knew it made them feel loved. Afterward he stood by the door while each of those disheveled, broken women planted kisses on his cheek. As little guys, Dan and I had the unspeakable privilege of watching our six-foot-three, two-hundred-twenty-pound, thoroughly masculine dad treat these forgotten women with a gentleness that marked us.5
You may say: “I can’t do that.” I don’t have the capacity or ability. Well, then start with your words. If we want to minister in gentleness, then it begins with encouraging others with gentle words.
Encourage others with gentle words
Words can be powerful. They can hurt or they can heal. The way we say things can be truthful, but they need to be with gentleness.
“A soft answer turns away wrath, But a harsh word stirs up anger.” (Proverbs 15:1, NKJV)
“By long forbearance a ruler is persuaded, And a gentle tongue breaks a bone.” (Proverbs 25:15, NKJV)
The way we speak can minister and encourage others in powerful ways. I want to close with an adaptation from the introduction to Brennan Manning’s book, The Ragamuffin Gospel.
The gospel of gentleness is for the bedraggled, the beat-up, and burnt-out.
It is for the sorely burdened, the wobbly and weak-kneed who know they don’t have it all together.
It is for the inconsistent, unsteady disciples; for poor, weak, sinful men and women.
It is for earthen vessels who shuffle along with feet of clay.
It is for bruised reeds and smoldering wicks, bent and broken people who believe their lives are a grave disappointment to God.
It is for me and it is for you and everyone else who knows they do not have it all together.
Jesus came for the sake of those who fail. He came as a friend to the friendless. A mender of broken hearts. A comforter for those who mourn. A hero of the helpless. A bearer of burdens for the heavily laden. And a gentle Savior who will not break you or snuff you out.
1 Galaxie Software, 10,000 Sermon Illustrations (Biblical Studies Press, 2002). M.R.D. II, Our Daily Bread, February 8.
2 Craig Brian Larson, 750 Engaging Illustrations for Preachers, Teachers & Writers (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2002), 454–455.
3 Craig Brian Larson and Brian Lowery, 1001 Quotations That Connect: Timeless Wisdom for Preaching, Teaching, and Writing (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 2009), 29.
4 Leadership Ministries Worldwide, Practical Illustrations: Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians (Chattanooga, TN: Leadership Ministries Worldwide, 2001), 62.
5 Craig Brian Larson, 750 Engaging Illustrations for Preachers, Teachers & Writers (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2002), 189–190.