Galatians 5:19-26 ESV
The original word translated “gentleness” occurs numerous times in the Bible. The English word used depends on which translation you may prefer. This grace of the Spirit is eighth in a list of nine inseparable characteristics which mutually define the fruit of the Spirit, an evidence of holiness within the Christian.
The Greek word for gentleness is also translated into English words such as humility, meekness, modesty, and mildness. While these terms are expressions of how Christians view themselves internally, gentleness is the expression which Christians exhibit toward Divine authority, biblical truth, and common people.
The Apostle Paul clearly wants us to understand that the characteristics of the Spirit-controlled life are different from those of a life governed by the “flesh” (Gal. 5:19-21). In fact, the Spirit-filled life is governed by the holy characteristics of God, one of which is “gentleness.” What a difference a grace makes!
Understand that “gentleness” does not equate to “weakness.” This specific characteristic within the fruit of the Spirit could not be further from such a definition. In fact, it is quite the opposite.
Since these graces, characteristics of holiness, are a reflection of Jesus Himself, we must measure such a characteristic within the biblical description Christ gives of Himself: “I am meek and lowly in heart” (Matt. 11:29).
We can also see this characteristic evident in biblical examples from Moses (Num. 12:3) to Paul (1 Thess. 2:7), and no one would say that any of these men were weak or powerless. We should rather think of gentleness as the Christian response of kindness, humility, and graciousness toward others. It is the Christian way in which we relate to others redemptively (Gal. 6:1-5).
Indeed, gentleness is strength under the control and authority of the Holy Spirit—the power of holy restraint due to the Holy Spirit fully at work in us—rather than the uncontrolled expression of flesh-driven desires.
The need for being Spirit-filled, Spirit-controlled, Spirit-led is imperative to produce the genuine characteristics of holiness or Christ-likeness. Let us observe three very profound and transforming attitudes of the grace of gentleness in the Christian life.
Submission To God
“Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering, bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do” (Col. 3:12-13 NKJV). The perfect example is, of course, Jesus Christ!
The Apostle Paul informs us as to what God’s expectations are of His “holy and beloved” followers in return. Along with the other evidences of the fruit of the Spirit, gentleness is the result of a Holy Spirit-enabled attitude of total submission to God! This is where radical transformation rests. The question is, “Will I submit to God, confessing His Divine authority at the very core of my being?”
Jesus sets the example of such submission to the Father through His prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane: “Nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will” (Matt. 26:39). In this brief phrase of our Lord’s prayer is the holy blend of absolute surrender along with perfect submission. This is “bottom line” in the Christian faith. The Holy Spirit enables our absolute abandonment to God.
This submission to God results in the transformational activity of the Holy Spirit which results in our partnering in His very nature (2 Pet.1:4). Submission to God promises that the chaos of a life absorbed by the demands of the flesh will be transformed in holiness, that grace that results in many evidences, including “gentleness.” What a promise of transforming empowerment!
Submission To Truth
“Therefore, lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness, and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves” (James 1:21-22 NKJV).
My submission to God and His truth moves me continually forward in holiness, resulting in my being conformed to the image of Christ, laying aside any residue from my former life that is hindering my reflection of Christ-likeness.
Gentleness is that attitude in me that makes me easily teachable. Meek doesn’t mean I am weak, it means I am teachable! A gentle spirit is a teachable spirit, a controlled spirit that can receive from and submit to another, especially God through His Word.
The Word is how God reveals Himself to us, it is the lens through which we view our world and how we relate to it as followers of Christ. The truth about God, mankind, and redemption are found in the Holy Scriptures. It is the Holy Spirit that then makes the application of the truth to our lives, and it further pleases the Lord as we respond in obedience to its revelation.
The authority of Scripture, accompanied by my submission to its authority, results in the cultivation and refinement of the fruit of the Spirit, specifically “gentleness” in me. The grace of “gentleness” enables my full submission to truth so that I am not just a hearer but also a doer of the Word. By the grace of God, I make the personal application, I submit to truth.
This I humbly learn, that the truth about Jesus and His holy character must become the truth about me—no excuses! The fruit of the Spirit named “gentleness” is so opposite to arrogance, stubbornness, resistance, and/or indifference. A gentle spirit at work in me results in an attitude that is teachable, approachable, and influential along my Christian journey.
Oh, the joy of learning, growing, and contributing within the context of where God has placed us!
Submission to Others
“I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to work worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Col. 3:12-13 NKJV).
The evidence of the fruit of the Spirit plays out in our interaction with others. A Spirit-filled life communicates as a language of love. Gentleness communicates love. Gentleness communicates respect. Gentleness communicates redemptively and restoratively with others. Gentleness communicates unity and peace. Gentleness is key within all relationship genres, such as church, marriage, parenting, extended families, colleagues, and the common public.
This fruit of the Spirit named “gentleness” is liberating, winsome, and ultimately peaceable! Gentleness is that characteristic which results in our being known as “peacemakers.” It is this holy attitude of gentleness that causes us to work actively to reconcile those alienated and estranged.
This is the gentleness of God; He brings the promise of peace to the chaotic nature that is naturally governed by sin and driven by the weakness of selfish desires. Rather, He is “the God of peace (1 Thess. 5:23)”— gentleness, reconciliation, redemption, transformation, and actual holiness that is evident toward others.
What promise! A life can be empowered by God Himself, reflecting His holy image, being practically lived out with a holy purpose that accomplishes eternal good on earth for the glory of God and the redemption of others.
Consideration of God:
- Do I live my life submitted to God?
- Do I have a gentle spirit that is easily teachable?
- Do I obey the truth revealed about me in the Word?
- Do I live a life evidenced by the holy power of restraint?
Consideration of Others:
- Am I prepared to be gentle and sensitive to the pressures and insecurities that are evident within my friends, family, and collogues?
- Am I considerate, generous, and fair in all my relationships with others?
- Am I becoming increasingly compassionate, reasonable, and kind, or am I becoming more crusty, obstinate, and stubborn?
- Do I declare that I stand on principle when, in fact, I am only insisting on my own way?
Apart from the sanctifying grace of God working entirely in me, the power to live such a life of gentleness will elude. In my own determination alone I will come up weak and failing.
So, I find myself with my head bowed, my heart and mind in expectant submission, hungrily asking and humbly confessing:
“Come, Holy Spirit, I need You; Come, sweet Spirit, I pray. Come in Your strength and Your power. Come in Your own gentle way.”* Amen.
Rev. Mark Cravens is senior pastor of Kenwood Bible Methodist Church, Cincinnati, OH, and an adjunct associate professor at God’s Bible School and College.
He and his wife, Teresa, have two sets of twin daughters, all graduates of GBS, and two grandsons.