I tried to recall if I had ever heard a sermon on gentleness – I’m pretty sure that I never have… Actually, I did read a sermon in Seminary entitled “Gentleness in the Pastorate” – But, I besides that I don’t think I ever have heard one – yet I was surprised to see how frequently gentleness (or meekness) is emphasized in scripture as a Christian trait:
Ephesians 4:1-3 I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to 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.
Colossians 3:12-13 Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another …
Galatians 6:1 Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.
2 Corinthians 10:1 – Paul says that he appeals to them with the meekness and gentleness of Christ
1 Timothy 3:3 – requires that elders in the church be “Not violent but gentle”
1 Timothy 6:11 – But as for you, O man of God…Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness.
1 Thessalonians 2:7 – Paul gives an image of how gentleness characterized his ministry when he says that among them they were “like a nursing mother taking care of her own children.” I doubt that there exists a more suitable image of “gentleness” than that.
2 Timothy 2:25 – instructs us to correct even our opponents with gentleness.
Titus 3:2 – tells us “to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people.”
James 1:21 Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.
James 3:13 – Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom.
Philippians 4:5 – “let your gentleness be evident to all” – why gentleness of all things?
Matthew 5:5 – In Jesus’ list of beatitudes – “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.”
I mention so many scripture references to show that gentleness is an important Christian virtue – yet I wonder if it’s one we overlook.
For example: I’m extremely skeptical of the popular/common teachings that purport to define biblical masculinity or biblical femininity – It’s ok if you’ve been helped by them, I don’t mean to say there’s nothing helpful about them – but I’m often skeptical of them, for the reason that I’m never fully convinced that those conceptions are more biblically-informed than they are culturally-informed; I can’t recall – maybe I did at one point but I can’t recall – hearing teaching on biblical masculinity that emphasized gentleness – yet that is a fruit of the Spirit which inhabits all believers – not just one gender of believer. I can’t recall ever hearing teaching on biblical masculinity that emphasizes the treating others with the gentleness that a mother has when she breast-feeds her infant – as Paul says he had as a minister and that by implication we should have when we minister to others.
All believers are called to be gentle;
Christians, unfortunately, haven’t always been known for their gentleness. They’re often known for their argumentativeness, for being judgmental, for treating others with harshness rather than tenderness.
all believers; and in particular, the NT lays a particular emphasis on gentleness for church leaders – pastors, elders and deacons.
One of the requirements to hold the office of elder listed in 1 Timothy 3:3 – “Not violent but gentle”. Some of those other passages I listed early were written to Timothy in his capacity as a pastor in the Church.
Pastors, and church leaders, unfortunately, haven’t always been known for their gentleness. In fact, sometimes they are known for their military-grade harshness. They beat people up instead of heal them; they lay heavy burdens on people instead of helping people carry their burdens; they are impatient with mistakes; unsympathetic towards the weak; ungracious towards the struggling; they act as kings instead of servants in the household of God; they respond with defensiveness instead of humble approachability when confronted, challenged, or disagreed with; they insist upon their own preferences instead of being willing to yield for the sake of others; they are quick to speak and slow to listen; they assume they are always right and assume others are always wrong; they are self-seeking instead of servant-hearted.
And, I say this – and I’ve said things like this in sermons and you might wonder why I talk about what scripture requires of pastors/elders when most of you are not pastors/elders – so I’ll tell you: I say this not to be critical of other people – but first: to let you know that when I prepare to preach, I seek to apply the Word to my own heart, and my own calling as pastor (as the other elders here do as well); and second, many people have had bad/harmful experiences with church leaders or pastors and I want you to know what the bible says a pastor is supposed to be and do.
I don’t say this because I have arrived; but because that is what I – and the other elders/leaders here – are striving to be.
Seminary professor: “Stay out of the pastorate until you have learned to be gentle.” I wish I had read that earlier in my ministry.
Because, I haven’t always exactly excelled in this fruit of gentleness. When I first arrived at Hope; wasn’t a pastor- thankfully, because I had a lot to learn in the area of gentleness.
But, I will say, thankfully, that I think the fruit that i’ve grown the most in – especially in terms of being a pastor, is this fruit of gentleness. And if you’re hearing that and scratching your head thinking “really?”, then that just shows how much less gentle I used to be.
And of course, church leaders can’t be spineless. Church leaders and all Christians need courage and conviction and boldness. When dealing with wolves in sheep’s clothing they may need to be forceful; But, in most cases, when dealing with other sheep in the flock of Jesus – in applying this courage and conviction we must never cease to be gentle.
- What is Gentleness?
- Where does gentleness come from?
- What is Gentleness?
Dictionary Def of the greek word used here in Galatians 5:22: “the quality of not being overly impressed by a sense of one’s own self-importance; gentleness, humility, courtesy, considerateness, meekness”
My definition: An internal, self-assessment of humility, leading to an outward attitude of gentleness towards others.
And that attitude towards others includes being: courteous, cooperative, considerate, submissive;
being sensitive to how your words and actions affect others;
being willing to defer to the opinions and preferences of others instead of insisting upon your own way;
being tender towards the weaknesses, temptations, limitations of others rather than despising and looking down upon them;
resolving problems with the least amount of force or authority or control, and with the most patience and carefulness.
Gentleness/Meekness, as is often said: “isn’t weakness”; rather, (Bridges): “Gentleness is the strength of being tender. Gentleness is needed because the human personality is valuable but fragile and must be handled with care.”
Handling people with care – I think that’s the best way to picture gentleness – being as careful with other people as a nursing mother is with her infant.
Gentleness, I think, is particularly in view when the weakness or fragility of others is in view – and so gentleness is all about how you respond to the weakness of others.
- What is gentleness?
- Where does gentleness come from?
It comes from knowing Christ, and fearing God.
2 Corinthians 10:1 – Paul tells the church in Corinth that he appeals to them with the meekness and gentleness of Christ
-so, not only is gentleness something displayed in Paul, but it is something specifically modeled after the example and character of our Lord Jesus.
That Gentleness and meekness of Christ is the gentleness and meekness referred to in Matthew 11:28-30:  Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  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.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
It is the same gentleness and meekness described in the words of Isaiah 61, which Jesus applied to himself in luke 4: Isaiah 61:1 “the LORD has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,”
It is the same gentleness and meekness described in the words of Isaiah 42, applied to Jesus in Matthew 12:20: “a bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out”.
Puritan preacher Richard Sibbes: “We see, therefore, that the condition of those with whom Christ was to deal was that they were bruised reeds: not trees, but reeds; not whole, but bruised. Those to whom Christ comes are compared to weak things, not strong.”
Christ comes to those who are weak, not strong; broken, not whole; sinful, not righteous; weak, not strong; empty, not filled; and so don’t let those things keep you from coming to him! It’s not weakness or sinfulness that keeps you from Christ – In fact, it is only the absence of realizing/admitting those things that prevents you from Christ, because failing to admit or realize of those things makes you blind to your true need of him and the grace, mercy, forgiveness, strength, life he offers. The one who can’t come to Christ isn’t the weak one, it’s the one who thinks they’re strong.
Those who come to Christ find a gentle savior – who gives rest to the weary and strength to the weak; because all who come to Christ are weak! All who come to Christ are Tempted; All who come to Christ do so because they are despairing of strength and life and need to be filled with his tender love and need to receive his gracious salvation and forgiveness.
And, the ultimate question is: do you know Christ – the gentle savior? If you know Christ – then you will see yourself as weak; and you will be able to show the same gentleness towards those who are weak around you;
Hebrews 5:2 – Describing the High Priest, says that “He can deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself is beset with weakness.”
He knows what it is to be weak; he knows what it is to be flawed; he knows his own faults and imperfections, he knows what it means to need grace; and it’s because of that that he then can extend grace to others.
If you don’t believe that you yourself are weak – beset with weakness – then you won’t be able to deal gently with others.
But knowing Christ teaches you your own weakness – it gives you humility – so that you can deal gently with others.
And, the point of that Hebrews passage about the high priest isn’t ultimately about the high priest – but about our savior – Jesus the Son of God – who deals gently with us in our weakness, because he knows what it is to be weak.
We often think about how different Jesus’ was from us. Which is true – certainly – being fully divine, he was very different. But, Jesus was also fully human. Fully divine and fully human in one person. He was not some divine robot or angel impervious to weakness, temptation, and suffering. He was fully human – tempted in every way as we are, yet without sin. In terms of the fullness of his humanity – the only way he differs from us is that he did not commit sin ever at all in neither thought, word, deed.
That’s obviously quite a sharp difference from us – and in light of that we might be tempted to think that he has no affinity with us – no relatability, no sympathy for us in our difficulty; no gentleness towards us in our sinfulness and neediness; but nothing could be farther from the truth.
Because though in terms of his sinlessness he is night and day different from us – in every other way one can be human, he is like us – such that the author of hebrews can say that he was “made like his brothers in every way; and since he suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.
And so he can sympathize with us in our weakness, he can deal gently with us in our weakness, and because he is Lord and Savior he can give us the divine help that we need in our weakness.
Hebrews – Jesus’ doesn’t despise you for your weakness – but he helps you.
“Christ will not break the bruised reed, but rather he cherishes those with whom he so deals.”
If you are a bruised reed, find comfort in the gentleness of Jesus – who cherishes you.
No weakness should keep you from coming to Christ; because we ought to have no fear that when we turn to him in weakness we find not harshness, but gentleness; when we turn to him in humble repentance we find not wrath but grace; when we turn to him in our weary worn-out struggling through this life, we find rest and refreshment for our souls; not an impossible burden laid upon us but our burdens of guilt and fear lifted off of us – and we find freedom and rest in his light, easy burden of grace.
When Jesus sees people who are like sheep without a shepherd, harassed and helpless, he doesn’t despise them for having gotten lost but he has compassion on them, and feeds them and cares for them.
If you feel like a bruised reed – come to him and find healing; if you feel like a smoldering wick, come to him to find restoration. If you feel like a lost sheep, come to him to be found; if you feel like a weary worn out traveler, come to him for rest; If you feel like a sheep without a shepherd, harassed and helpless, come to the Good shepherd and find compassion. If you have seen your sin, come to the tender-hearted savior and find gracious forgiveness.
Jesus, our savior, is gentle. And, so, like Paul says he displayed the gentleness and meekness of Christ, we too ought to do the same.
And if you know Christ, if you truly know Christ – then you know that you are weak; and you know what it is to feel weakness and to need gentle, compassionate healing; and you can be gentle towards others.
Where does Gentleness come from? Knowing Christ – and fearing God
fearing God means walking in humility before him – knowing his greatness and being humbled by that knowledge of him – and so, not thinking more highly of ourselves than we ought, but having sober judgment of ourselves – knowing our sin and need; and
we’ll never be gentle if we’re not humble.
A very common requirement all throughout the OT is that God’s people humble themselves before him and fear him – it is the condition for his blessing and favor to be upon them – if, they humble themselves before him, then he will turn towards them in grace. And, if you remember, the attitude of Pharaoh before God was a refusal to humble himself before the one true God – “How long”, God asks, “will you refuse to humble yourself before me?”
And, the amazing thing about the gospel is that we have a God who humbled himself:
That is one of the surprising and mysterious attributes of God; that the great, mighty, awesome, holy Lord of the universe would, could, without ceasing to be all that he is, humble himself, and serve, and die for his people.
This humility – is described in Philippians 2:1-11 where it tells us that the one with the name above all names; to whom every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that he is Lord; humbled himself; that though he was God, he did not consider equality with God something to be grasped – in other words, he didn’t insist upon his rights which he was owed as God but instead became a servant.
This serving was seen in John 13, when he wrapped a towel around his waste, stooped down, and washed the dirty feet of his disciples – the Lord of the universe – did that.
Jesus Meekness, gentleness, humility is seen in his self-abasement – his humiliation – his being born, taking on the weakness and limitations of human flesh; his living in a fallen world experiencing suffering, temptation and being surrounded by sinners – being sinned against; being rejected by those he came to save; and, the highpoint of his humbling himself – his dying on the cross and experiencing the very wrath of God for those sinners whom he came to save.
“For all his mighty power, he is a Lord who serves people. This divine service does not compromise his power or authority; rather, it is the form that his power takes. He makes all things work for good, not only his own good, but for the good of those who love him… If God himself can serve his creatures, surely we, who can boast of nothing except the cross, should be able to serve.”
If God can humble himself, how much more can we, should we, must we humble ourselves.
See, that’s the difference between God’s humility and ours. God ought not to serve, yet he did; we ought to serve, yet so often we don’t.
God humbles himself despite his greatness; we puff ourselves up despite our lack of greatness, and think more highly of ourselves than we ought.
By way of application, Let me end with a few questions that I hope can help us gauge gentleness in our lives; and can also sort of, fill out the picture of gentleness such that we have something more concrete to strive towards:
- How do you respond when someone is struggling or tempted in a particular area that you aren’t, or that you have found victory in?
- How do you respond when someone has “done something foolish?”
- How do you respond when someone needs help?
- How do you treat those who are weaker than you?
- How do you view those who are less gifted, or intelligent, or attractive, than you believe yourself to be?
Do you respond with harshness? Judgementalism? Criticism? Self-righteousness? Despising?
Or, do you respond with gentleness? humility? meekness? tenderness?
Other questions (some of these I got from Jerry Bridges chapter on gentleness):
- Do the people around you feel at ease/at rest around you? Or do they feel tense, fearful, anxious – because they feel you are judging their every action, and are afraid of what you’ll say to correct their every mistake? Do people around you feel like they’re always walking on egg-shells?
- Do people feel like they can never live up to your standards?
- Are the people around you afraid to have – or express – opinions/preferences of their own because they’re afraid you’ll be harsh in your condemning their opinion and insisting upon your own?
- Related: are you overly dogmatic, opinionated, blunt, and abrupt? Necessary to be dogmatic about some things – but even those things we can be gentle in the way we hold them – and there are many things that you can have an opinion about but you don’t need to act as if anyone who disagrees with you is the world’s biggest fool. And, it’s ok to not have a strong opinion/preference about everything.
- Do you always insist upon your own way, or are you at times willing to yield to someone else’s preference or opinion?
- Do the people around you feel caged in by your intimidating, domineering, or manipulative personality? Or do you use violence, or threats of violence, to control or intimidate those around you, when those around you aren’t doing what you want them to do?
- We talked about anger in the sermon on peace, but if you recall the passage from 1 Timothy 3, gentleness specifically contrasts violence. Violence – domestic violence, violence by husbands against wives or wives against husbands or parents against children – is not only illegal but sinful – and a Christian, by the Spirit of God dwelling in him, finds a better way – the way of gentleness – to deal with the stresses, problems, frustrations of life and family.
- Gentleness means patiently, calmly, reasonably solving a problem rather than screaming, yelling, threatening, name-calling, or worse.
- Husbands – are you gentle with your wives? Parents – are you gentle towards your children? Older siblings – are you gentle towards your younger siblings? Brothers are you gentle towards your sisters?
- Do you consider the effect your words (or, posts) will have on those who hear (or, read)? Or do you have the attitude that “I can say whatever I think and I don’t care about the insensitivity of it, and if you get offended or hurt that’s not my problem?”
- Do you seek to resolve problems in the gentlest way possible, or do you simply swing the sledge-hammer without regard for collateral damage? Proverbs 15:1 “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”
Gentleness flows out of humility.
I understand the Oscars recently occurred – and I read an article in the Onion this week, which joked that at the Oscars they rolled on-stage a 20-foot mirror, which resulted in a 6-minute standing ovation filled with thunderous applause, cheers, and shouts of acclamation.
Whatever you think of the oscars – this is the attitude of our world; But the Christian thinks differently – the Christian doesn’t adore himself – the Christian isn’t enslaved to self-love; the Christian isn’t puffed up by arrogance; the Christian doesn’t act as if he is perfect; the Christian rather is poor in spirit and finds good company among sinners – those who need grace just like he does. And, so, the Christian can be gentle towards other sinners – as he himself knows the gentleness of his savior to himself.
The Christian considers himself among the nothings of the world – as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 1 – God chose not those the world esteemed; but those whom by the world’s standards were foolish; weak; lowly; despised; rejected; considered as nothing.
God loves the lowly things, the weak things, the unattractive things, the things which by this world’s standards have no prominence or status or favor or approval; “the nothings of the world”; yet they are beloved in his sight.
Are they beloved in your sight as well?
Have you included yourself in this category of the nothings of the world?
“As it is written, Let the one who boasts, boast only in the Lord”.