Society commonly values the strong. Strength has been traditionally associated with aggressiveness, toughness, great physical power, or the ability to dominate others. In the world of sports, teams are typically named after strong creatures like dragons, lions, wolves, and eagles, or they identify with strong metaphors like volcanoes, storms, thunder, and stars. Everybody loves to be part of a very strong team. Angst, violence, or domineering power is often applauded by many. Aggressive power, sometimes even regardless of method, is highly merited in business, academic, and gaming settings. In a world where the strong are rewarded and the weak shunned, gentleness finds a challenging spot in people’s preferences. It seems like gentleness is associated with softness or weakness.
The eighth fruit of the Spirit is gentleness. It is translated from the Greek word prautes, which means mildness or meekness in spirit. This virtue helps refine and redefine how we act toward others or respond to them in speech and deeds. Gentleness is the way of doing things with tenderness or mildness, but it is not weakness. In fact, gentleness is restrained strength for a good cause. It is having the humility to put great strength under control for the sake of what is good. One Christian man who used to be a highly trained mixed martial artist refused to fight his abusive dad, who had pulled a knife on him. Instead, he gently restrained and hugged his dad while expressing love and respect despite the father’s hostility. He knew he could’ve easily beaten up his dad, but the Holy Spirit reminded him to respond in grace and gentleness. The world would’ve approved if he had acted in violence against his dad, but he chose to pursue God’s approval instead. Proverbs 15:1 says that a gentle answer deflects anger, but harsh words make tempers flare.
As Christians, we are expected to reflect the character of God by making His gentleness in us evident to all (Philippians 4:5 Let your moderation be known unto all men. The Lord is at hand.). Even when dealing with people who oppose the truth of God, we are to instruct gently, hoping that God will grant repentance and lead them to a knowledge of the truth (2 Timothy 2:25 In meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth;). In one of His beatitudes, Jesus said that, “Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth (Matthew 5:5 KJV).”
While some people may seem to be naturally gentle, others have a hard time practicing this trait. Gentleness doesn’t have to exclusively define one’s personality. A person with a strong personality may exhibit gentleness. Take Paul, for instance. He had an extraordinarily strong personality, yet he was gentle in addressing Timothy in his letters. Gentleness has more to do with a person’s character, and it can be learned, even by those who think they are not naturally gentle. A person filled with the Holy Spirit can become supernaturally gentle, though it may not be an overnight transformation. It can get frustrating for a person who is used to being harsh in words and deeds to others—they may hope to change yet find themself failing at times. Character is very hard to mold when we are left on our own, but through dependence upon the Holy Spirit’s capabilities, we are empowered to persevere. Perseverance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope; hope that comes from the Spirit will not disappoint us (Romans 5:4-5).
God is our greatest example of gentleness. King David experienced God’s gentleness and likened God to a good shepherd in Psalm 23. God, Who holds the power that created the universe, chose to lead and rebuke us in gentleness despite our sinfulness. Jesus, who commands legions of powerful angels, made no threats and allowed himself to be betrayed, captured, put into an unfair trial, flogged, mocked, and crucified in the hands of frail men for the sake of our salvation (Isaiah 53:7 and Matthew 26:53-54). And when we are weary and burdened, He invites us to find rest in Him.
“Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.
For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
(Matthew 11:28-30 KJV)