A British gentleman was recently defined by a British newspaper as a man who:
- Can train a dog and a rose.
- Arrives at a meeting five minutes before the agreed time.
- Can ride a horse.
- Would never own a Chihuahua.
- And knows there is always an exception to the rule.
When Jesus said in Matthew 11:29 that he was a gentle man, this is not what he meant.
In Galatians 5:23, gentleness is listed as one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit. Paul tells us in Philippians 4:5 that everyone should be able to see how gentle we are.
So there we have it. Jesus was gentle. We have to be gentle like Jesus.
Colossians 3:12 – “Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.”
The word for gentle in the New Testament is a little hard to define. It is also commonly translated as meek.
The Greek word, epieikes, is variously translated as gentleness, graciousness, forbearance, moderation, patience, sweet reasonableness, mildness, leniency, yieldedness, kindness, charitableness, considerateness, magnanimity, bigheartedness, or generosity.
As we follow Jesus and grow into a deeper relationship with God, the Holy Spirit will shape us into people like this. We are called to cooperate in this effort, not sit by and wait. We need to identify and encourage the tender shoots of gentleness in our lives. Paul says it is a garment we have to wear. He says, ‘you must clothe yourselves with … gentleness’. This requires us to first recognise the garment and then to make the effort to put it on.
We can say therefore that gentleness or meekness is not laziness. There are easy going people, laid back people, who are not gentle or meek. The world may admire these people, but according to the Bible they are merely lazy.
Nor does gentleness mean niceness.
There are people who seem to be born naturally nice. That is not what Jesus meant when he said, Blessed are the meek, or as the NLT version ‘God blesses those who are humble’.
That is something purely biological, the kind of thing you get in animals. One dog is nicer than another dog, one cat is nicer than another cat. That is not meekness or gentleness or humility. So gentleness does not mean to be naturally nice or easy to get on with.
Nor does gentleness mean weakness in personality or character. It particularly does not mean a spirit of compromise or ‘peace at any price’.
How often do we mistake these things for gentleness and godliness. How often do we regard a persons as gentle when they say, ‘I would give anything to avoid a disagreement.’ They say, ‘Let’s agree. Let’s try to break down these distinctions and divisions. Let’s smooth over these little things that divide. Let’s all be nice and joyful and happy.’
No! No! Being gentle or meek is not that.
Gentleness is compatible with great strength. Meekness is compatible with great authority and power. God is gentle. Jesus is gentle. A meek and gentle man may so firmly believe in standing for Jesus that he will die for Jesus if necessary. The martyrs were meek, but they were never weak; strong men, yet gentle men.
Gentleness is a characteristic of true Christianity. We are called to be gentle and God created us to be gentle. Our attitude and conduct with respect to others is to exhibit gentleness. There are two parts to this – my attitude towards myself, and the expression of that attitude in my relationship to others.
For example, there’s reasonable flexibility. The Pharisees were incapable of such flexibility, sticking as they did to the letter of the law. Some of us simply cannot abide it if something isn’t done according to a particular policy or preferred method. Others consistently insist on their own way, and make others’ lives difficult until they bend to their direction. I’m sorry for any times that has been me.
I shall try from now to be mild, kind and – as long as it doesn’t violate the Word of God – yielding. I shall try to be reasonably persuadable – reasonably flexible.
Secondly, there is a temperate gentleness that pervades the disposition of one who is “gentle.” You know these people. These are the people about whom you say, “He is just a gentle man.” Or “She is just a tender, warm, and welcoming woman.”
The gentle person is someone you’d feel very comfortable speaking with about things that are troubling you in your life. She is someone you would feel very comfortable talking to about the struggles in your Christian walk. This isn’t someone who is going to be abrasive and dismissive and prickly. They’re not going to slap you on the shoulder and tell you to “suck it up!” This is someone who can be tender, and warm, and nurturing.
All us bristly, abrasive, manly men need to remember. Our Lord Jesus was the manliest man to ever walk this earth. He voluntarily submitted to the cross.
The man or woman who manifests the gentleness that Paul calls us to in Philippians 4:5 is marked by patient forbearance. What does that mean?
Paul describes the opposite of this as quarrelsome. Do not always be ready to defend yourself. A gentle man is not easily offended. His instinct is not to bash physically or bash verbally.
The gentle man humbly and willingly surrenders his own rights. Even in secular usage this word had this connotation. The pagan philosopher Aristotle said this word described “the one who by choice and habit does what is equitable, and who does not stand on his rights unduly, but is content to receive a smaller share although he has the law on his side.”
Maybe you’ve heard a fellow Christian say, “The other person was wrong! They sinned against me, and I have a right to this, that, and the other thing!”
Paul says, “Why not just accept the injustice and leave it at that? Why not let yourselves be cheated?” (1 Corinthians 6:7) Your relationship is much more important than being right.
Where is that Gospel-shaped gentleness that gladly yields your own rights and prefers to suffer wrong if it can benefit others? Where is that eagerness to forgive someone who’s wronged you at the very first sign of their repentance (Matt 18:22)? How can we, who have been forgiven a debt of trillions upon trillions, throw our brothers and sisters into the debtor’s prison of our hearts for the pennies that we’re owed (Matt 18:35)?
If we have truly set our sights on the first and most important thing, our relationship with our Lord and saviour, we will be content whatever the situation.
The person who manifests this gentleness that the Holy Spirit has nurtured is also marked by a happy contentment. The gentle Christian is happily content. When the Holy Spirit has opened our eyes to see God and talk with him, where is dissatisfaction going to come from?
Spurgeon says of the gentle person, “If he can have God’s face shining upon him, he cares little whether it is hills or valleys upon which he walks.”
To finish, here is a quote from Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones.
“The man who is meek is not even sensitive about himself. He is not always watching himself and his own interests. He is not always on the defensive, … all that is gone. The man who is truly meek never pities himself, he is never sorry for himself. He never talks to himself and says, ‘You are having a hard time, how unkind these people are not to understand you.’ He never thinks: ‘How wonderful I really am, if only other people gave me a chance.’ Self pity! What hours and years we waste in this! But the man who has become meek has finished with all that. To be meek, in other words, means that you have finished with yourself altogether, and you’ve come to see that you have no rights or desserts at all. The man who is truly meek is the one who is amazed that God and man can think of him as well as they do and treat him as well as they do. That, it seems to me, is its essential quality.”
Gentle brothers and gentle sisters, let’s help each other to put on the garments of gentleness and cherish our relationship with our Lord and with each other.