Everyone has their idea of what Gentleness is. Ideas come to mind such as being caring or kind, perhaps mild, soft and tender. When Paul says gentleness is a fruit of the spirit, is it this soft, Christian niceness that looks a little like our friendly neighbourino Ned Flanders?
We have two Greek words in the New Testament that are often translated as gentleness. Firstly ‘Prautes’ the word used when Paul lists the fruit of the spirit in Galatians 5 and secondly ‘Epieikes’; both words are used in 2 Corinthians 10:1 where Paul appeals to the Corinthians by what the NIV translates as “the humility and gentleness of Christ”. This first word ‘Prautes’ is often used interchangeably with humility and meekness e.g. “Blessed are the meek” (Matthew 5:5). But ‘Epieikes’ more often is interpreted to mean being reasonable, moderate and fair.
Gentleness therefore seems to encompass both this idea of humility and meekness and this idea of being reasonable and considerate. Gentleness includes love, kindness and patience, it also involves self-control. This overlap between different elements of the fruit of the spirit emphasises the fact it is the fruit of the spirit not different fruits of the spirit plural.
But what does this practically look like? It’s in Jesus that we are most likely to find the perfect example of a life of gentleness lived out.
1. Jesus shows gentleness to the broken, the fragile and the vulnerable
In Matthew 11:29 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.”
Jesus knew full well how to be with and minister to broken people, he spent his time with the last, the least and the lost. He offered himself, he healed the sick, he tenderly embraced the little children, he loved the rejected, and stood up for those side-lined. More than that he is gentle with us, exhibiting those qualities of God we read of in the Psalms (103:8 & 145:8): slow to anger, rich in love, gracious and compassionate. Those of us who feel bruised and beaten, through Jesus we have access to God’s care and compassion.
Jesus walked with the vulnerable and led by example. If you want to be gentle, spend more time around those who are so broken that if you weren’t gentle they would break. That might getting alongside a friend who is struggling with a bereavement or depression, it might be serving some of the most poor and marginalised in society, it might be spending time caring for little children or the elderly, or countless other possibilities. If you want to grow gentleness, spent time with the vulnerable.
2. Jesus demonstrates meekness is not weakness
One definition of Greek word Prautes is simply put, gentle–strength. The meekness does not imply weakness and this is because at its root it comes from God. As a fruit of the spirit it begins with God’s inspiration and finishes with his direction and empowerment. It is God’s strength under His control, demonstrating power without undue harshness. The English word meek sounds really lame, like being a wet-blanket, we really react to it. It at first glance seems pathetic and ineffective. But meekness shouldn’t be seen so negatively because it is not the result of insecurity or weakness - when expressed from a position of deep security in God’s strength it is the character of Jesus.
Andrew Watson has simply defined meekness as “strength under control and humility as ego under control”. These are helpful definitions when we consider this was the path that Jesus chose, laying aside his power and authority, humbling himself to become man, even to the point of death on a cross (Philippians 2:5-11). The King of Kings who fulfilled the words of the prophet Zechariah, coming into Jerusalem “humble and mounted on a donkey…” Jesus exemplifies this idea of gentleness as ‘strength under control’ and he calls us to do the same.
3. Jesus’ gentleness is illustrated in being both The Good Shepherd and the Lamb of God
In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus has compassion on the crowds for he saw them like sheep without a shepherd, harassed and helpless. Jesus in John 10:11 said “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” This imagery of a shepherd, although alien to us today, is throughout the Bible. The shepherd has a very important role: to look after the sheep, to care for them, to make sure their needs of food, water and shelter are available, and to protect them from dangers such as wild animals. This involves intimate care but nevertheless a strength and boldness to protect. Jesus showed both. He challenged the crowds and the religious elite, just as much as he cared for and loved the broken.
Ultimately, Jesus words rang true when he gave up his life for our salvation. And here he was not only a shepherd who would lay down his life, but a sheep…or to put it more accurately a lamb. The Lamb of God that died upon the cross and whose blood was shed for the sins of many. It is striking how gentle Jesus responds to his arrest and prosecution, submitting to the authorities, surrendering, and even healing the servant of his opposition.
Isaiah spoke of this almost a thousand years earlier:
“He was oppressed and he was afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, he did not open his mouth” (Isaiah 53:7).
Gentleness requires the surrender to put others first, to demonstrate strength under control, to offer care and compassion to the broken. Jesus was the perfect example and the perfect saviour. Now through the Holy Spirit, we can live a life of gentleness that echoes that perfect life.