Gentleness is a difficult fruit to live out, because it requires you to have an honest opinion of yourself. Paul tells us in Romans, “by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you” (Romans 12:3).
“But the fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23).
What does that verse have to do with gentleness? Because a key to being gentle is humility. When we have a proper understanding of ourselves and our own failures, we are more apt to be gentle when we encounter others and their failure. We are more apt to react with grace rather than anger.
The word used here is prautas, meaning gentleness, humility, or self-forgetfulness. And Timothy Keller says, “The opposite is to be superior or self-absorbed. Humility is not the same as inferiority.” When we have a properly “humble” opinion of ourselves, we understand just how much we owe to our Father. We understand any good in us comes from Him.
And God Himself is our model for gentleness. He is described in the Psalms and in Isaiah as being like a shepherd:
- Psalm 23:2-3 – He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake.
- Isaiah 40:11 – He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young.
We also see God’s gentleness in these verses:
- Psalm 103:13-14 – As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him; for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust.
- Deuteronomy 1:31 – in the wilderness… you saw how the Lord your God carried you, as a father carries his son, all the way you went until you reached this place.
The point here is that God deals gently with His people, meeting them at their point of need and supplying what they (we) need to endure any hardship or to face any challenge.
And that’s exactly how we should be gentle toward others, whether our family, our neighbors, our co-workers, or even strangers.
But it’s interesting that the Greeks used this same word to describe a wild animal that had been tamed. Now, I’m guessing (I don’t work with animals, tamed or wild), that even a tamed animal requires constant firm but gentle feedback to keep their wild nature in check. And we are the same. As Christ-followers, we need the constant firm but gentle feedback from the Holy Spirit to help us treat others with gentleness. If we don’t pay attention to His gentle correction, we will not respond with gentleness when something doesn’t go our way, or when someone treats us with disrespect or anger.
Here are just a few of the verses in the Bible that speak of gentleness and the impact it can have on those who experience it:
- Proverbs 15:1 – A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.
- Galatians 6:1 – Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted.
- Philippians 4:5 – Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.
- Colossians 3:12 – Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.
- 1 Timothy 6:11 – But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness.
- 1 Peter 3:15 – But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.
Christopher Wright summarizes it well in his book, Cultivating the Fruit of the Spirit, when he says,
“Where does this kind of gentleness come from?… I think that in practical day-to-day terms, the deepest root of this kind of gentleness is genuine humility. And by humility I mean the deep awareness that I am just as human and flawed and tempted as anyone else. I really have no reason to feel superior and get aggressive when other people show their flaws and failings. Not if I know my own heart.” (p. 150)
Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.
– Ephesians 4:2