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Welcome to Part 4 of our Gracious Life Series. If you are just joining us, please make sure you start at the beginning of this series. In fact, it might even be good to listen to the short series we did on the Grace of God just before starting this particular series. We can’t know what our acts of grace are to look like until we understand the grace of God.
Up until now we’ve been looking at various character traits that must be present and active in the life of a believer if they are to truly be gracious people. We’ve looked at humility, kindness, and compassion, and today we’re going to study the attribute of gentleness.
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Now, let’s pull the curtain back on biblical gentleness.
First, I’m going to assume that you’ve already listened to our previous episodes in this series. Building off that assumption, I hope you’ve learned how drastically the average Christian’s vocabulary has been influenced by the popular use of words in our culture. And I hope you understand how that word usage is often very different from the Scriptures.
Allow me to use an example I haven’t used yet to drive this point home.
It is biblically accurate to say, “Let go and let God,” but at the same time it is biblically inaccurate to say “Let go and let God.” How can that be true?
This is a perfect example of the devil being in the details. If a statement or word can be understood (or misunderstood) in more than one way, then the statement is dangerous at best and requires specificity.
If by “Let go and let God,” you mean that God is sovereignly in control, and so I need to stop trying to control the situation and simply trust Him, then you would be right.
If, however, you mean that I should also stop doing the things that the Bible clearly says I should be doing—like counting the cost, being discerning, wise, obedient, righteous, etc—then, no, you’re wrong.
And we’ve already seen that terms like love and kindness get us in trouble because they can be interpreted in so many different ways. Therefore, Christians need to demand biblical specificity, and that’s what we want to accomplish today.
Therefore . . .
1. Gentleness is required to be gracious.
In James 3:17 we read, “But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy.”
As we learned in our Disciple Spiral Series, wisdom is the practical outworking of our biblical knowledge and understanding. Therefore, in order to live in a Christ-honoring way, we need to be pure, peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, and without hypocrisy. Both mercy and gentleness are requirements of God to live a wise life.
In addition, no one deserves gentleness. That means that to graciously treat someone in a way they don’t deserve, we are going to have to be gentle.
We also mustn’t forget that as disciple of Christ we are to imitate Jesus, and He was perfectly and eternally gentle.
Therefore, as with kindness and compassion, no Christ-honoring believer can dismiss the responsibility to be gentle.
But I know what some of you are thinking. “But, Aaron, if Christians are nothing but doormats, the world is going to eat us for breakfast!”
And though I forgive your mixed metaphor :-), I want to point out that it’s that kind of thinking that perfectly illustrates the point I was making before. Since when does being gentle mean that we’re doormats? Since when does being gentle mean that we won’t fight the good fight? Since when does biblical gentleness apply only to wimpy Marvin Milktoast?
If you think that’s what it means to be gentle, you not only don’t understand what the word means, you don’t understand who Jesus is.
That’s why . . .
2. Gentleness is not weakness.
It’s true that the Hebrew word translated “gentle” in Proverbs 15:1 can refer to something that is weak or fragile. The verse reads, “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” However, that’s not the meaning of the Greek words translate “gentle” and “gentleness.”
We’re going to go into more detail about the definitions of the words, but I want to illustrate this point first.
Two of the three words we’re going to consider refer to being mild or meek. But what is meekness? What does the Bible mean when it refers to Jesus being “mild”?
I love the phrase “Meekness is not weakness.”
The third Merriam-Webster definition for meek is “not violent or strong,” but the first definition is “enduring injury with patience and without resentment.”
How strong do you have to be to be injured by someone—physically or othewise—and endure it patiently without becoming resentful? That is not an easy task for the faint of heart. In fact, as you look at our world today you will see billions of people easily offended and very much not patient. They do not possess the fortitude necessary to bear that injury without completely breaking down.
I’ve been a martial artist since I was twelve years old. That’s over 30 years ago, and over that time I’ve developed a very high pain tolerance. Let’s put it this way, I can take a lick’n and keep on tick’n. I’ve built that tolerance in the face of many of punch, kick, throw, and arm bar. It’s taken great amounts of effort to push through the pain and do so with a good attitude.
But I’m not just strong in the sense that I can take a punch. I also have a lot of self-control. If I were teaching a martial arts class and you were a student and it came time to spar, would you want to fight me—a 5th degree black belt—or a brand new white belt?
It’s easy to be tempted to say, “The white belt.” But the reality is that the white belt has no idea what he’s doing. He doesn’t know what works and what doesn’t work, he doesn’t know how hard to hit, he doesn’t have very much muscle control or self-control, and I’ve seen far more people accidentally hurt fighting inexperienced students than fighting black belts. Why is that? Well, because the black belts know how to control their movements, they’re proficient, and they can pull their punches.
I can throw a full-force punch right at your nose that has the ability to shatter ten 2-inch concrete blocks and pull that punch a micrometer from your nose without ever touching you. White belts can’t do that.
And that image right there—a seasoned martial artist who is deadly in their ability but also able to control that strength—that is an accurate picture of meekness.
It’s been accurately observed that meekness is power under control.
Picture it this way. Most men you know can lift up one end of a grand piano. They’re not strong enough to lift the whole thing, but they can lift part of it off the ground. But how many of them can set that same piano down . . . gently? Anyone can drop something heavy, but you have to be very strong to set that very heavy item down without breaking it.
I once was moving an old tube-tv that weighed over 300 pounds, and I was by myself. By God’s grace alone, I was able to get it off the cart onto the TV stand without breaking the cart, the TV, the stand, or myself. But I did rip my pants!
Meekness requires a great level of strength and control.
So, please keep those images in mind as we talk about gentleness today. Think about Superman—able to crush a tank with his arms—gently taking a frightened kitten out of a tree. That is gentle. That is kind. That is loving. And that is gracious.
And with that, let’s move to . . .
3. God gets to define gentleness.
The first Greek word we’re going to consider is generally accepted to refer to being mild, humble, and meek, it is only used four times in the New Testament, and we encounter it first in Matthew 5:5, “Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth.”
Who are the gentle? According to the previous and following verses in Matthew 5, the gentle are those who have recognized that they are spiritually destitute, are grieved over their state, humbly ask God for forgiveness, and then mature in their Christ-likeness.
They are willing to set aside their perceived rights, desires, and “ability” to make life work on their own, and they are willing to submit to God.
We see the word again in Matthew 11:29, “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. 30 For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”
In Matthew 21:5 we read, “Say to the daughter of Zion, ‘Behold your King is coming to you, Gentle, and mounted on A donkey, Even on A colt, the foal of A beast of burden.’”
This is a quote from Zechariah 9:9, “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout in triumph, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; He is just and endowed with salvation, Humble, and mounted on a donkey, Even on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”
But this King was not weak. He was bringing salvation. The subsequent verses talk about how He will “cut off the chariot from Ephraim And the horse from Jerusalem; And the bow of war will be cut off. And He will speak peace to the nations; And His dominion will be from sea to sea, And from the River to the ends of the earth.”
That is not describing a weakling. Jesus was the perfect example of humble meekness. The very God-man King Himself submitted to the will of the Father, submitted to His human parents, and submitted to the wicked men who murdered Him. He could have not only called 12 legions of angels to protect Him, with a thought He could have vaporized any of those people from existence. But He was gentle.
And in I Peter 3:3-4 women are instructed, “Your adornment must not be merely external—braiding the hair, and wearing gold jewelry, or putting on dresses; 4 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.”
Listen, I’m not a wife, but I respect their position so much. As a man, I know how hard it is to submit to God when I don’t know what He’s doing and the situation is uncomfortable. And yet my wife not only has to do that same thing, she also is commanded to submit to me . . . a flawed, sinful, often untrustworthy mortal. That is hard! That takes strength. Just like Jesus submitted to His creation, it takes great strength to meekly submit to human authority.
My friends, gentleness is power under control. Gentleness is not doing what you could do because there’s a better, more Christ-honoring way to do it.
Do you exhibit strength under power, or do you retaliate when attacked? Do you lash out? Do you get vengeance? Do you use your strength to manipulate and control?
If so, you’re not a gentle, gracious person.
So, what does this power under control look like?
Our next Greek word is also translated “mild” and “gentle” and was frequently used by Greek writers as characterizing a nurse with trying children or a teacher with stubborn students, or of parents toward their children. In the New Testament it’s used twice.
In I Thessalonians 2:7 we read, “But we proved to be gentle among you, as a nursing mother tenderly cares for her own children.”
Mothers are strong; they are so much stronger than their infants, and yet good mothers are tender and careful. They bathe and change and dress and feed and rock and lay the baby gently to bed.
I know it sounds wicked to say it, but mothers have the ability to throw the child across the room . . . and many have. Mothers have the power to silence their children forever . . . and many have. But those mothers were tyrants. They were monsters. They weren’t meek, and they definitely weren’t as strong as those able to endure the crying and questions and constant needs and the disobedience and the care.
Gentleness is appropriate care. Like a mother who cares for her helpless child, like Jesus who cares for His undeserving followers, a gentle person is going to be gracious to others by doing what’s in their best interest. He is going to compassionately and gently be kind because he humbly recognizes his position before God and the need of the person in front of him.
Do you care for people? Do you seek after their best interest? Do you recognize that the rebellious child in front of you doesn’t need a selfish, offended response from you, they God’s truth in God’s love? Do you realize that call-center employee is likely an unbeliever, and no amount of threatening and yelling and impatience from you is going to glorify God in that conversation. Instead, you need to be patient and self-controlled.
But remember, that doesn’t mean that we let people “walk all over us.” As a martial artist, one of the most loving things I can do is stop a would-be attacker from fulfilling his plan. By disarming and restraining the attacker, I’m doing the kindest thing I can for their intended victims and for the attacker. I kept them from acting out on their sinful violence. And all the while, I exerted the necessary force on them—not to dominate them and give them a piece of their own medicine—but because it was the kindest thing I could do for everyone involved. I put my own desires and needs aside, and I put myself into harms way to minister to everyone in the situation.
And Jesus was the same. Jesus didn’t stop being gentle when He spoke harshly to the Pharisees or drove the money-changers out of the the temple. No. He was still gentle. He still had His power under control. There were far worse things He might have done or said had He no been the perfect Messiah.
He did exactly what needed to be done in the right way and for the right reason, and He had to exercise restraint and care to do it.
Moving on . . .
II Timothy 2:24 reads, “The Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged.” The word translated “kind” is the word we’re discussing today.
Again, picture this power under control. When someone is trying to argue, fight, and quarrel, the Lord’s bond-servant is gentle, meek, and kind. They don’t lose their tempter because they’re strong enough to keep it. They don’t blow up because they have the Spirit’s power to refrain. They are able to teach the unteachable, and they are patient when wronged.
This is what it means to be gentle. Gentleness doesn’t retaliate. To retaliate is to make an attack or assault in return for a similar attack. Gentle people don’t do that. They’re strong enough through the power of the Holy Spirit to respond, but they don’t retaliate.
Jesus didn’t strike down His crucifiers. He prayed for them, and in so doing triumphed over Satan, death, hell, and sin. No one else was powerful enough to accomplish that, and Jesus did so by gently submitting.
Now, let’s look at our last word which shows up in the New Testament 5 times.
This word has been translated reasonable, forbearance, moderation, gentleness, sweet reasonableness, equitable, fitting, and non-insisting. It expresses that considerateness that looks humanely and reasonably at the facts of a case and is contrasted with contentiousness.
Philippians 4:5 tells us, “Let your gentle spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near.” In a discussion about true biblical peace, God’s people must rejoice in the Lord, be gentle with others, take their anxieties to God, think correctly, and obey. And I love how the first two are basically the first and second greatest commandments. Love God and love others. Care for and be gentle with others. Forbear, be moderate, be reasonable.
That is why this quality is desperately important for pastors. I Timothy 3:1-3 teaches, “It is a trustworthy statement: if any man aspires to the office of overseer, it is a fine work he desires to do. 2 An overseer, then, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, 3 not addicted to wine or pugnacious, but gentle, peaceable, free from the love of money.”
Here gentleness is contrasted with being pugnacious. Pugnacious means eager or quick to argue, quarrel, or fight.
The pastor needs to have the Spirit-control to navigate difficult situations and people in a God-focused, others-loving, gracious way.
Titus 3:1-2 contrasts the word with a person who maligns others, “Remind them to be subject to rulers, to authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good deed, 2 to malign no one, to be peaceable, gentle, showing every consideration for all men.”
Instead of taking the opportunity to retaliate—to do the thing you could do or say the thing you could say—you possess the power to say and do the right things; which doesn’t include maligning anyone.
As we saw at the beginning, James 3:17 says, “But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy.”
And I Peter 2:18 gives a great understanding of what it means to be gentle by contrasting it with an unreasonable person. “Servants, be submissive to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and gentle, but also to those who are unreasonable.”
My friends, there’s no escaping it.
Gentleness is not weakness or frailty.
Gentleness is power under control
Gentleness is appropriate care.
Gentleness doesn’t retaliate. And . . .
Gentleness is reasonable.
That’s how you can be gracious to others. You must be gentle to them. Control yourself by God’s power. Care for them by giving them what God says they need. Don’t retaliate in kind. Be biblically reasonable.
And—whatever you do—please share this episode on your favorite social media outlets so that God’s people can learn how to be gracious to others as He is gracious to them.
If you need assistance learning to be a gentle friend, father, mother, spouse, employee, pastor, boss, teacher, or student, please contact us at Counselor@CelebrationOfGod.com.
And join us next time as we seek to better know, love, and worship God and help the people in our lives do the same.
To that end, we’ll be discussing why patience is a prerequisite to grace.
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The Year Long Celebration of God is a discipleship experience designed to equip followers of Christ to better know, love, and worship Him as they help others in their lives do the same. We exalt God, teach His people how to practically worship Him every day of the year, and train them to disciple others.
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AMBrewster is the creator of The Year Long Celebration of God and host of its podcast.