When you hear someone described as gentle or characterized by gentleness, what thoughts come to mind? The dictionary defines gentleness as kindness, meekness, mildness, even delicate. We tend to think of gentleness as a sign of weakness. Gentle people get walked over, taken advantage of, ignored. Most of us aren’t interested in that. Charles Swindoll once said in this age of rugged individualism, “we think of gentleness as weakness – being soft and virtually spineless.”
As such, gentleness doesn’t seem like an effective strategy to deploy when we experience relational conflict, disappointment or failure. And yet, Scripture points to gentleness as one of God’s most effective remedies to the relational mess we often make of our lives.
“Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness.” (Galatians 6:1)
“And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.” (2 Timothy 2:24-26)
“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.” (Ephesians 4:2)
It is striking to me that God’s Word tells us to pursue gentleness in the most intense and complicated relational entanglements. In Galatians 6, Paul tells us to be gentle with those who sin against us and others. I usually retreat or retaliate. In 2 Timothy 2, he tells us to be gentle with argumentative, contrary, hostile, devil-influenced antagonists. I’m tempted to take them down with an articulate counter argument. In Ephesians 4, he tells us to demonstrate patient kindness with people we’re called to put up with for the sake of Jesus (meaning we might not have chosen this relationship of our own volition). I’m more likely to find a new friend group than put up with people who frustrate or annoy me.
Gentleness means to approach others (including our enemies) in a humble and caring spirit, not using force to get our way. Strong’s Greek Concordance defines gentleness as “exercising God’s strength under his control…demonstrating power without undo harshness.” When you consider that gentleness is the opposite of using force, coercion, manipulation, or power to get people to conform, we surprisingly discover that deploying gentleness as a strategy in conflict requires far more strength and self-control than we typically associate with gentleness.
Scripture is showing us that gentleness is one of the most beautiful other-centered expressions of love we can offer someone in a relationship. When we treat sinners with kindness, quarrelers with compassion, and annoying folk with patience, we are honoring the dignity of those made in the image of God. When we counter a heated exchange with calmness and peace, we seek to disarm the person who, in their anger or shame or disappointment or self-righteousness, might otherwise lose their mind if we matched their level of emotional turmoil and unrest.
Gentleness is not the releasing of strength in our relationships. It’s yielding to the strength of God through the power of his Spirit. I tend to make a mess when I try to navigate relational disappointments, conflicts and failures on my own. Things tend to escalate quickly. But that’s not what I should desire when I’m mired in a relational mess. I want things to de-escalate, not escalate. And the way towards nuclear disarmament in my relationships is through gentleness. Reserve and strength. Power and control. These are not words we typically associate with gentleness. Yet, the lives of the Spirit-empowered gentle ones are marked in this way.
Here’s my confession: I’m not a naturally gentle person. That probably doesn’t surprise some of you. But just in case there’s any question about it, gentleness is not one of my strong suits. I tend to use my words to gain power over people and situations (this is probably a weakness of most communicators). And my words are not always guided by the Spirit. I want them to be. They can be.
But I, like most, need to grow in this area. The Spirit’s purpose is to guide the way we access and leverage the power of God at work within us. One way he leverages it is through gentleness. So, even if the world thinks I’m weak for desiring to increase in gentleness, I’ll take being thought less of for seeking gentleness if it means being an advocate for peace and dignity in this relational mess we call life.
Looking to Jesus Together,