It’s a biblical theme that I’ve run up against a few times lately – and been convicted by. God’s people ought to be marked by gentleness (or meekness in the King James rendering). Indeed, the more I think about it, the more I see that this ought to be one of our primary character traits. After all, this quality finds itself in some of the greatest character checklists in all the Bible!
What are some of those check lists?
One is the beatitudes in Matthew 5. Do you remember that list? “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” “Blessed are the pure in heart,” “Blessed are the peacemakers,” and so on. What about gentleness? Does it make the cut? Check. “Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth” (Matthew 5.5).
And then there is Paul’s famous basket full of “the fruit of the Spirit” in Galatians 5. “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” So there it is again, in another very famous place – gentleness!
Paul also compiled a famous list of elder qualifications in 1 Timothy 3. And, you guessed it … gentleness makes this list, too! Among other things, “an overseer” (or elder / pastor) “must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not addicted to wine or pugnacious, but gentle.”
The beatitudes, “the fruit of the Spirit,” and the qualifications for elders. Along with the Ten Commandments, I think we’d agree that these are some of the most important moral and spiritual checklists in the Bible! And all three of them encourage gentleness in God’s people. And that’s not by accident! God must hold this quality in very high regard! He must consider it one of the great marks of true spiritual maturity – that we, each of us, grow in and exhibit gentleness!
Are there times when even Christians must be stern, or even forceful? The examples of Jesus, Paul, and other godly men surely tell us that there are (especially when religious hypocrisy rears its ugly head). But for all the times when severity is called for, it seems to me that there are many, many more times when gentleness is the order of the day.
For most of us, the rubber meets the road most obviously in our home lives. How many husbands, at the end of a long day’s work, are less-than-gentle with their wives? We tell ourselves that we’re just grouchy about our monotonous or stressful jobs. But the Bible doesn’t call for gentleness only when we’ve had a good day! In fact, it’s on the lousy days that our true character probably shows itself most. Are you gentle, men, even then? Am I?
And what about moms and dads? Do we discipline in anger, rather than with deliberate and patient consistency? Do we respond to our children’s repeated questions with great irritation, rather than helpful explanation? Do we snap at them from above instead of kneeling down at eye-level and explaining to them why mommy is disappointed in their behavior (and why, more importantly, it is displeasing to the Lord)?
Grandparents, older siblings, pastors, supervisors, co-workers, teachers, and many, many others can be guilty along these same lines, too. And, oh, I am convicted by these things – by how easy it is just to dominate a situation with severity, rather than to teach, and explain, and motivate, and actually lead others forward with gentleness.
The character of Jesus Himself, found in the four gospels, is our great guide and example in these things, of course. But let me leave you with another testimony that I came across recently. It’s from the introduction to the Diary of Kenneth MacRae (edited by Iain Murray). MacRae was one of the great preachers of the last century. But here is what his daughter said of his family life, away from the public eye: “his rebukes … were given in such a Christian and fatherly spirit that they drew one yet closer to him, and made one admire him more than ever.”
That, to me, is a marvelous picture of biblical gentleness – and one I wish to emulate! That, even when I offer critique or rebuke, people would sense the Spirit of Christ in me, by means of a spirit of gentleness … and would therefore be drawn to me (and to Jesus in me) rather than pushed away! Make it your aim to be the same. “Blessed are the gentle.”