A Meditation on Gentleness
A Meditation on Gentleness
I’ve been thinking about two things all week as we’ve been hearing about the snow that was coming and is now here. First, I’ve been trying to motivate myself to plan my sermon from Matthew 13 on the parables of the mustard seed and the leaven. It was really hard to get excited about sitting down to plan that since I guessed in all likelihood that I would not be delivering that one today. And in fact I’m not… we will get back to Matthew when we are all together. The second thing that my mind has been processing all week is: what in the world ARE we going to talk about today if not Matthew 13.
So sadly for you, you are going to have to endure me preaching to myself on a personal topic that I’ve noticed creeping into my life. Maybe, hopefully, this will serve your faith too. If not, bookmark today’s devotional in your mind and come back to it when you need to do some work in this area.
We are going to talk today about gentleness. Particularly I’ve noticed this in my life when I’m driving. I’ve always tried to be courteous to other drivers and I really value that quality. I’m not the best at it. But when you are trying to be courteous to others, you really notice when someone is not courteous. For instance, you notice when people drive in the passing lane even when they aren’t passing anyone. You notice the lack of turn signals. You notice people proceeding thru the stop sign before its their turn.
This past Fall, I was trying to buy an edger for my wife and I found one on facebook marketplace. Over the years I have been hassled and delayed by buyers that undercommunicated and never showed up. I endeavored to show this seller that I was motivated and that I wasn’t going to treat him the way I’d been too often treated. I talked to the seller and I was motivated to give him the money that day. But he said he was busy that day, so how about Saturday. I agreed. I drove an hour that Saturday morning to meet him, but he never showed up. I messaged him a few minutes after our agreed meet time. He told me that he had sold it the day that I had originally offered. He said he hoped I wasn’t inconvenienced. At that moment I wanted to lay into him. I had offered to come that day and he was too busy. I was terribly inconvenienced by the hour-long drive wasted and I had another hour-long drive back home empty handed. But somehow I bit my tongue and moved along with my day. Courtesy. Thinking of others and their needs. This seller was not very courteous to me.
So when you are on the receiving end of the opposite of courteous, what do you do? What should you do? What would God want you to do? Or like the t-shirt, what would Jesus do? As Christians, our goal is to be like Christ and to have Christ reigning over every part of our lives. So to ask what did He do is to ask what can He do again right now in us and thru us.
Jesus was a gentle person. He was courteous towards others, even when their thoughtlessness, selfishness, or viciousness hurt Him. He endured. He continued to love even when inflicted. This is most powerfully on display during His death, but it was also the tone of His entire ministry. To be sure, at times, He had hard words to say to a few people over the course of His ministry. Yet even then, He was gentle in His interaction with them.
Laszlo reminded us a few weeks ago of the heart of God on display in the life and ministry of Jesus when in Matthew 11:29, Jesus invited mankind to come to Him and find rest, weary and heavily burdened people. He said “learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart.” He is gentle and lowly in heart. Jesus was gentle.
Gentle means free from harshness, sternness, violence. Instead gentle is kind, tender. Instead of being moved by the actions and attitudes of the other person, a gentle person is moved by their own character. A gentle person is not incited to action. A gentle person treats someone with dignity even when the other person does not treat them with dignity. Because you don’t treat people the way you are treated, you treat people how you want to be treated.
On the day Jesus rode into Jerusalem, Palm Sunday. He chose a donkey’s colt not a war stallion. He lived out the prophecy about Him in Matthew 21:5 “Say to the daughter of Zion, ‘Behold your King is coming to you, Gentle, and mounted on a donkey, Even on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.’” Which is from Zechariah 9:9. But Jesus wasn’t manufacturing a fulfillment of a prophecy. His entire life was one of gentleness. Their King came to them gentle throughout His whole life, not just on that day.
Think of His healing ministry. It certainly served His ministry to have people coming to Him. But one or two displays of miracles would have accomplished that end if that is all that motivated His healing ministry. Jesus did not heal in order to draw a crowd. He healed because He was motivated by love for hurting people. He cared about each one as an individual. He put them first and Himself last. We read in Mark 1:32-33 “When evening came, after the sun had set, they began bringing to Him all who were ill and those who were demon-possessed. And the whole city had gathered at the door.” After the sun sets, I sit. My day is done and now its time to relax and recline. But Jesus kept serving others long into the night.
Think of when they wanted to grab Jesus to make Him king by force. Jesus shook off the offer of power. John records “Jesus, perceiving that they were intending to come and take Him by force to make Him king, withdrew again to the mountain by Himself alone” (6:15). Jesus wasn’t afraid of power or attention, He certainly had both. But He is the King of those who receive Him, He will not shove Himself upon anyone. This foregoing power offered to Him is an exercise of His gentleness. By nature, we crave power, attention, fame, glory. Humans love to be king of the mountain. And the verse emphasizes His gentleness as it ends with Him retreating to a lonely place. The visible opposite of a coup.
Think of how He interacted with His opponents. Jesus had some harsh words for the religious leaders. “Woe to you!” is something most Pharisees and scribes had never heard directed at them before. It is a word of judgment and pending doom. But from Jesus’ heart and lips, it was also a word of hope and repentance. Religious leader, you too are far from God. You must be born again, He said to Nicodemus. In your current state, you will not see the kingdom of God. But all that can change if you humble yourself. Challenging words, but uttered out of a gentle mouth. “Woe to you” as a word of hope. I have faith to see what your life would be like if you turned it over to God. This was the tone with which Jesus gently spoke hard things to hard hearted religious leaders. Challenged by a rich young ruler, Jesus could have challenged him right back. Instead Mark records in 10:12 “Looking at him, Jesus felt a love for him.” Perhaps this sorrowful, hopeful love of Jesus was because this ruler came in a different spirit than other challengers. Perhaps, Jesus had great expectations for even the hardest cases. But His answer to the challenge was both truthful and gentle.
Jesus exhibited gentleness in His silence before the Sanhedrin on the night of His arrest. Before Pilate and Herod as they interrogated Him. He could have argued right on back. He could have made His case and pled for mercy. He could have vaporized every enemy with one word from His lips. Yet He was silent like a lamb before its shearers. What a picture of gentleness in the lamb before shearers!? Peter adds, “while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously” (1 Peter 2:23). The plackard above Him was a taunt “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews” and He could have stopped the whole proceeding… “I AM” “I AM” I am the King and now you’re all going to regret my mistreatment. But He hung there, and bled and died for your sakes. He showed gentleness on the cross as He cried out “Father forgive them, they do not know what they do” (Luke 23:34).
And now we turn to ourselves. How are you doing with your gentleness? Is Christ, His character, and heartbeat evident in your life?
Gentleness is a fruit of the spirit, listed among great virtues like love and joy, peace, to name a few. Galatians 5:22-23 list these great Christian character traits, and Paul calls them “the fruit of the Spirit”. In other words, they are the product of a person who allows the Holy Spirit to thrive within their soul. There are Christians that just haven’t grown mature yet, babes in Christ as the Bible calls them. There are other Christians who want God to forgive their past but not change their future. There are lots of Christians who willfully haven’t yielded to the Holy Spirit. But our goal is Christ-likeness in all things. And today we are thinking of His gentleness. If you aspire to be like Christ, invite the Spirit to develop gentleness within you. This isn’t pull yourself up by your boot straps. You aren’t left to your own devices to come up with this. You have access to divine power to generate this trait within you. Seek the Spirit in this area.
Paul urges the Ephesians and us 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.” (4:1-2). All these words are hard to distinguish. When am I bring humble versus when am I being gentle versus when am I being patient. They certainly do dovetail – or – they certainly flesh out the kind of rounded character I am to seek. These all picture the one who is walking in a way consistent with our calling. We will never be worthy of our calling, salvation is by grace and not by works Paul said two chapters earlier in 2:8-9. But as we operate in humility, gentleness, patience, and love coming from a heart that is learning to be that way, we are living consistent with our belief and we are honoring the work God did when He called us.
Paul tells Pastor Timothy that elders must not be violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, and not lovers of money” (1 Timothy 3:3) and also to the man of God (is that pastors or is that any one) he writes “as for you, O man of God, flee these things. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness.” (6:11). He also tells a leader to “correct his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth” (2 Tim 2:25). To Pastor Titus, Paul adds that Christ’s followers should “speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people.” (3:2)
James and Peter agree that gentleness is a prized virtue for the believer in a gentle Savior. James, in comparing earthly wisdom to heavenly wisdom, says that heavenly “wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere” (3:17). If I am living with wisdom that comes from God, I am exhibiting it with gentleness and that whole range of related attitudes. Peter tells both servants and wives to exhibit respect and gentleness whether or not their counterparts are good and gentle or not. 1 Peter 2:18 “Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust.” (1 Peter 2:18). Even when those with the power over them are wretches, Christian slaves are respectful and gentle. In God’s eyes husbands are not the lords of their wives. But lots of societies do view marriage that way. To the wives, Peter writes that they should adorn themselves with a gentle and quiet spirit whether or not their husband is obedient to God’s Word. In 3:4 we read “but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious.” To treat others with gentleness even when they wield power over you in a godless manner: that is a Christ-like trait and it is precious to God when He sees us acting that way. One final word on the subject of wicked use of power: for wives or for workers who are victims of violence or mistreatment… please find your way out of that oppressive environment. Call on believers, christian leaders, a neighbor, or the authorities to help you out of that situation. When someone has resorted to violence or abusiveness, the statistics bear out that the mistreatment will escalate. God wants us to find our way out of that situation, as He says in 1 Corinthians 7:21. I would call upon you to find your relief and with urgency, and our lesson today would call on you to act with gentleness and kindness even as you find your way out. Paul says elsewhere to speak the truth in love. Victims of abuse absolutely must speak the truth about the crime perpetrated against them. And the Christian will act like Christ when they speak that truth in a way that manifests their love for their abuser or the criminal, with precision but with kindness. Peter then says to all of us that we can speak to curious unbelievers with defense and with reason, AND with gentleness and respect. Listen to 1 Peter 3:15. “in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.” Again as we’ve been seeing all morning, it isn’t just our content – its also our demeanor. Christ spoke truth to the people and to His opponents. And He spoke with love and gentleness as well. We do not need to press the truth pedal and ignore the tone pedal. Nor do we push the tone pedal and skip the truth pedal. We need to speak with truth and grace – as Jesus was full of grace and full of truth.
Paul tells us to restore a wayward believer with a spirit of gentleness (Galatians 6:1). That certainly involves speaking truth to the one in error. But Paul is quick to add “in a spirit of gentleness.” Paul, having words with the Corinthians, writes “What do you wish? Shall I come to you with a rod, or with love in a spirit of gentleness?” (1 Cor 4:21). He’ll echo that in the second letter with “I, Paul, myself entreat you, by the meekness and gentleness of Christ—I who am humble when face to face with you, but bold toward you when I am away!” (10:1). They, like those Peter is reflecting on, needed truth and yet were in need of a gentle reproach. Even God treats mankind this way, when we read in Romans 2:4 “it is the kindness of the Lord that leads us to repentance.” All this is living out the Proverb “A gentle tongue is a tree of life, but perverseness in it breaks the spirit.” (15:4).
So let me summarize what we’ve seen this morning. We are called by God to exhibit the character of Jesus Christ, to walk in a manner worthy of the calling. Christ’s character is gentle and lowly of heart. He loved people to the extent that He treated them with gentleness and kindness even when they rejected Him and His message – even when they were in the midst of crucifying Him. Like Christ, we are to be gentle and kind even when it hurts, even when it isn’t reciprocated. We can only live in gentleness as we yield to Christ’s Spirit working within our hearts, so we prayer more of Him and less of me!