"See, your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey..." —Matthew 21:5
Gentleness. The word brings up images of babies and lambs and little soft things. But what if I have a not-so-gentle personality? Christians are expected to demonstrate gentleness as a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). But what is gentleness, why is it important, and how do we develop genuine gentleness in our lives?
If you haven't read our article "What is the Fruit of the Spirit?", please take a few minutes to do that. The TL;DR version is that the fruit of the Holy Spirit is the result of the Holy Spirit's presence in the life of a Christian (Romans 8:9; 1 Corinthians 12:13; Ephesians 1:13-14).
One of the primary purposes of the Holy Spirit is to conform us to the image of Christ, making us more like Him. This change doesn't happen overnight. In fact, we spend the rest of our earthly lives working with the Holy Spirit to cultivate these characteristics in our lives the best we can.
The characteristics listed as Fruits of the Spirit are adjectives that, ultimately, describe Jesus. When it comes to gentleness, do you think, "Gentle doesn't describe me at all!" Never fear! God doesn't expect you to grow overnight, and He doesn't expect you to do it alone. God, often through circumstances in our lives, will provide opportunities to practice these characteristics until they become a part of who we are in Christ.
When I became a Christian as an adult, this fruit of gentleness really concerned me. I am an extroverted, loud, always joking, person who likes to have a lot of fun—that doesn't sound too gentle to me. If gentleness meant that I had to be quiet, demure, and serious all the time, I wasn't sure I even wanted to cultivate gentleness into my spirit. But I had it all wrong.
Do you have younger siblings? If so, then this example should make sense to you. When little ones don't get their way, they often resort to kicking and screaming because they lack the skills to communicate their wants/needs/feelings. A frustrated child's tantrum may be a statement of, "I needed my nap today, but we're doing too much, and now I'm tired, but I don't know how to tell you, so I'm just going to kick over this stack of soup cans!"
One magic parenting technique is to speak softly and gently. We think we need to holler or talk louder to be heard, but the opposite is true. If we are quieter and softer, they can't hear us, so they simmer down so they can. It's an amazing trick! Why does it work? Because it's contrary to human nature; it's unexpected.
Jesus absolutely loves doing the unexpected in order to teach us and help us grow. Many Bible scholars call His ways "upside down" because they are the exact opposite of how we expect the world to work. One would assume that if someone is shouting, you have to shout louder to get their attention. But that isn't the case!
Let's look at the tantrum example again. What if the father gets down on the 2-year-old's level, then says gently, "Hey, Buddy. I can see you're upset and you're tired. We've had a busy day. We can do this errand another time. Let's go home and rest." The father doesn't condone the behavior, but he acknowledges his child's feelings and cares for him. By leaving the grocery store so his child can rest, he had to change his own plans. He'll have to return to the grocery store later to complete the family's shopping, but he's not going to make his son feel guilty about it. The sacrifice is worth it to him because he puts the toddler's real needs first. That is gentleness in action.
When we look at our world through the perspective of the news, social media, school hallways, and the workplace, we can see that we do not live in a gentle world. We are surrounded by images of violence, anger, betrayal, hate, poverty, struggle, and hard labor. It's brutal out there. When a Christian surrenders to the Lord's desire for a heart of gentleness, that person becomes something radically different than what non-believers see in the world. Suddenly, there's a reason to simmer down for a moment and pay attention to this new, unexpected presence.
What does gentleness look like in practice? Well, in my experience, it looks like love, grace, helpfulness, and kindness. Here's a list of more ways gentleness can show in your life:
Gentleness, also translated "meekness," does NOT mean weakness. On the contrary, gentleness requires a lot of strength and self-control. It requires humility and thankfulness toward God, and polite, kind behavior towards others. The opposite of gentleness is anger, a desire for revenge, and self-aggrandizement (trying to make ourselves look important). Does gentleness mean that I don't get to be my loud, funny, joking self? Not at all! In fact, my extroverted personality often helps me get to know others and make them feel welcome and accepted.
As I have allowed God to transform me, I have begun to welcome gentleness. Sarcastic, harsh answers have been replaced with kind remarks that understand the struggles we all face. Gentleness points others who are searching for answers towards the loving arms of Jesus. God likes me the way I am, but He prunes the branches that aren't growing well so that the ones that will advance His Kingdom really flourish! I like that.
Are you an unexpected, refreshing breeze in a bitter, troubled world? Ask God to bring circumstances into your life that allow you to practice gentleness. When Jesus presented Himself as the promised Messiah, many Jews were disappointed because they had expected a mighty warrior king who would destroy their enemies and rule a physical kingdom. They did not understand this gentle man riding in on a donkey whose plan was much bigger than they could fathom.
Jesus never holds back the truth, yet He gives life, not destruction. We demonstrate the gentleness of Jesus when we have a gentle manner and gentle words (Proverbs 15:4). Gentleness is an unexpected, powerhouse response to a world that only expects more anger, violence, and strife. Being gentle can make all the difference in your part of the world.
Gentleness is one of the characteristics of Christ listed in Galatians 5:22-23. Gentleness is not so much about our natural personality traits as it is about our attitudes and how we approach others. We demonstrate Jesus' gentleness when we have a gentle manner and gentle words (Proverbs 15:4). Gentleness is our unexpected, powerhouse response to a world that only expects more anger, violence, and strife. Being gentle can make all the difference in your world.
Rhonda is an author, wife, mother, and mentor. She graduated from the University of Missouri with a degree in English and Religious studies. She loves studying God’s Word for truth and wisdom and uses it as a compass and roadmap for her own spiritual journey. Rhonda believes in sharing the Good News and the hope found in Biblical truths with others. She uses her writing and mentoring opportunities (often with a pinch of humor) to do just that.