Gentle! Who, Me?

Recently I was engaged in a conversation with a group of brothers who were discussing a meeting they had all just attended.  Brother “A” asked if the others felt he had been too forceful in injecting his opinions.  Brother “B” responded, “Not at all.  You are a gentle spirit.”  I know brother “A” well enough to know that he was a bit surprised.  I know him as a very type-A driver with strong opinions and a dominant personality.  I suppose he was not sure what to think about being called a “gentle” spirit.  Maybe he is just getting soft as he gets older.  Maybe he was just having a low-key day.  Perhaps he is becoming more Christlike, in spite of his natural personality.

In our culture of dog-eat-dog work ethics and assertiveness training in most realms of business, gentleness is just not esteemed as an important ingredient for leadership and effectiveness.  However, the Bible is clear about the virtue of gentleness.

Who Needs to Be Gentle?

The Lord Jesus spoke of His gentle character when He said, “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:29).  The great Apostle Paul described his leadership with these words: “But we were gentle among you, just as a nursing mother cherishes her own children” (1 Thessalonians 2:7).  Describing the qualifications for all church leaders, Paul said that they must be “gentle” (1 Timothy 3:3).  Later, in the same epistle, he wrote that a man of God must pursue gentleness (1 Timothy 6:11).  Then he noted that a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be “gentle to all” (2 Timothy 2:24).  

Galatians 5:23 lists gentleness as a fruit of the Holy Spirit’s control in our lives.  When we are restoring a sinning fellow-believer we are to do it in a “spirit of gentleness.”  Ephesians 4:2 commands us to relate to one another with all gentleness.  Philippians 4:5 says that our gentleness should be evident to all men.

What is Gentleness?

So what is this often-ignored character quality of gentleness? Greek scholar W.E. Vine describes it as an internal “grace of the soul; and the exercises of it are first and chiefly towards God. It is that temper of spirit in which we accept His dealings with us as good, and therefore without disputing or resisting.”  It is virtually synonymous with the quality of “meekness” – which is not to be confused with “weakness”, but is rather a disciplined strength.  As Vine states, this quality “manifested by the Lord and commended to the believer is the fruit of power…the Lord was ‘meek’ because He had the infinite resources of God at His command.” Finally he says that biblical gentleness is “neither elated nor cast down, simply because it is not occupied with self at all.”  It seems that real gentleness is the mark of a secure and selfless heart, ruled by the character of Jesus Christ.   

The Competitive Alternative

In contrast to this quality of gentleness, I remember asking a friend about the new pastor of his church.  His first response was, “I like him. He is a real competitor.  I’ve played basketball with him several times; he’s aggressive and has a temper.”  I grew up playing competitive sports and still enjoy them.  However, to hear this ideal described as a primary trait of a Christian leader gave me cause for a reconsideration of the biblical standards of leadership.

Granted, the New Testament does talk about us being in a contest – an intense war.  The Apostle Paul used athletic and military terms to describe the Christian life and spiritual leadership.  He taught that we are in competition with a spiritual enemy over the eternal destiny of souls.  There is a place for “righteous indignation” toward sin and the dishonoring of God’s Word and character, like the scene of Christ casting money-changers out of the Temple.

Yet, the idea of being a “competitor” so we can gratify our ego with a win over some inferior human is far removed from New Testament leadership.  Intimidation through anger in order to assert our will in some selfish battle of personalities is not affirmed in Scripture.  At the root of this drive is pride, often fueled by insecurity.

C.S. Lewis wrote in  his book Mere Christianity, “Pride…is competitive by its very nature…Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next man. We say that people are proud of being rich, or clever, or good-looking, but they are not. They are proud of being richer, or cleverer, or better-looking than others…Once the element of competition has gone, pride has gone.”

The Balance

There is a fine line between striving for excellence and competitive pride – just as there may be a fine line between gentleness and weakness.  But there is a wide divide between a gentle spirit and a competitive spirit in our spiritual journey.  One is the fruit of security and selflessness while the other is evidence of self-absorption and pride.

The bottom line is that we must live from the strength and security that is only found in Christ.  We must lead like Paul.  We must love with a Spirit-produced gentleness.  The promises for this kind of character are clear: “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:5).  The praise of Psalm 18:35 should be our declaration: “You have also given me the shield of Your salvation; Your right hand has held me up, Your gentleness has made me great.”

Copyright © 2014 Daniel Henderson. All rights reserved.