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Are you gentle? How would you know? The fruit of the Spirit is seen in the Christian who is gentle. Gentleness, or meekness, is often defined by culture as softness, usually implying weakness. Christians sometimes define it as controlled strength.
But the seventeenth-century Dutch pastor and theologian Wilhelmus à Brakel points us to a description more consistent with the New Testament uses of the term. He observes that the root of the Greek word is “a derivative of the word ‘to transfer,’ ” and thus that the gentle person is one “who readily establishes contact with others and with whom others easily make contact in turn.”
In short, gentle people are approachable people. Meek people have something worth communicating or transferring to the souls of others, and they work to do so. They also know that they need to receive from others, so they are ready to listen.
People know instinctively that the gentle of heart build bridges to transfer the treasure with which they’ve been entrusted. And they sense that it is safe to connect with them in order to receive that treasure. The gentle person keeps lines of communication open; he is approachable, even to opponents or strangers. He is more than just “nice.” Communication is easy, or at least looks easy, for the Christian who has disciplined himself to bear such fruit. Gentle people reach out to others in ways that make others want to reach out to them.
Conversely, what kind of man or woman lacks gentleness? It is easy to see that the loud, insensitive, rough person fails the test of gentleness. But the withdrawn, shy person also fails to qualify as gentle. The work of the Holy Spirit is necessary for each of these souls to become gentle.
A gentle person can relate to all kinds of people. Even when situations are awkward or when difficult matters must be discussed, meek saints leave others knowing that they love them even in the midst of conflict. And that, indeed, requires great strength. Jerry Bridges wrote, “Gentleness is illustrated by the way we would handle a carton of exquisite crystal glasses; it is the recognition that the human personality is valuable but fragile and must be handled with care.”
The New Testament instructs us to be gentle in a variety of contexts. When the word is used, gentleness usually has to do with communication, both verbal and nonverbal.
Rather than speaking evil of others or being known for quarreling, even with rulers and authorities, we are to be gentle and courteous with our words: “Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people” (Titus 3:1–2).
Teachers and elders are to correct even opponents with gentleness:
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 Tim. 2:24–26; see also 1 Cor. 4:21; 2 Cor. 10:1)
The church is required to restore one caught in transgression with a spirit of gentleness. The transgressor must know that the church is a place where he will find grace: “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted” (Gal. 6:1).
When Christians evangelize and defend the faith, it can be easy to develop a proud or argumentative spirit. Those with whom we speak must leave the conversation with a sense that we love them, and that sense will be communicated only through gentleness:
But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but 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, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. (1 Peter 3:14–16; see also vv. 3–4)
Finally, if a church is to experience unity, it must walk with all humility and gentleness:
I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you 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, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. (Eph. 4:1–3)
So are you bearing this fruit and cultivating it in the church? Ask yourself: “Do others welcome me readily when I approach them? Do others easily come to me for help?” If people, children and adults, do not readily approach you regularly, it may be a sign that you need to grow in this grace. How do Christians develop this quality? Since it is fruit of the Spirit, we should ask God to give us His Holy Spirit, knowing that the Father is eager to give Him to us (Luke 11:13). We also take the yoke of Jesus by faith, for He is gentle and lowly in heart (Matt. 11:29). We receive with meekness the implanted Word (James 1:21), we pursue gentleness and fight for it (1 Tim. 6:11–12), and we consciously put it on each day (Col. 3:12).