The Spirit's Fruit: Gentleness
What is it to be gentle? Everyone has an image in their mind’s eye or an idea. But it’s probably best to start with the One we ought to model and so ask, what did gentle look like on Jesus? Perhaps the first place we might go is Matthew 11:28-29. There Jesus tells us that he is “gentle and lowly in heart.” Gentle here means meek or humble. We might say that to be gentle is not to think of oneself more highly than one ought to think. B. B. Warfield once wrote, “No impression was left by his life-manifestation more deeply imprinted upon the consciousness of his followers than that of the noble humility of his bearing.” Jesus was humble.
What is more, he called others to be the same. In the Sermon on the Mount, we find that Jesus gave the qualifications for kingdom citizenship. One must arrive at a true sense of their spiritual poverty, mourn as a result of it, and humble themselves as they reach for a righteousness that is not their own. Humility is essential to the way that God leads us to Himself.
Paul, a man who was made aware of his jealousy by being bested by Stephen (Cf. Acts 6:8-9, 58; Romans 7:7-12), learned this lesson and taught it in Romans 12 saying, the transformation of the mind has to do with not thinking more of ourselves than we ought to think (Romans 12:1-4). Such thinking is inconsistent with how Jesus thought of Himself, and we must follow Him.
But this attitude must also be that of the pastor. According to Paul, there are folks in the church who cause problems and need to be shepherded. In second Timothy chapter two, Paul compares the pastor to the Lord’s Servant, obviously a nod to the Suffering Servant of Isaiah. Here he says that the Lord’s Servant must not be quarrelsome but kind. He must be able to endure the evil of those who oppose him. And he must be able to correct opponents with gentleness. In other words, the pastor must recognize who he is, not thinking more of himself. He is merely a messenger. Hostility directed to Him is really meant to hit Christ. The minute we take an offender’s jab personally is the moment we have forgotten that we simply serve the Master and those who oppose Him will surely oppose us.
Now for the hard point. We are not to be doormats. This is counterintuitive to the pastor. Of all people, he is happy to be trampled underfoot if it will do someone some good. But if confrontation is required then it must be done. Let me put it another way, when confrontation is required, to fail to do so is not gentleness but cowardice. Of course, even this confrontation needs to be done with gentleness. However, gentleness does not mean that we omit the hard things that need to be said, but it does mean that we say them for Christ’s sake and not our own.
What is gentleness? It is being Christ-like and that is what our church culture needs in abundance. Let me ask you, how will you show gentleness today? Will you compliment someone’s gifts rather than envying them? Will you speak the gospel into someone’s life that is bound up with burden? Will you say some hard things with kindness that have needed to be said for a long time? Will you be like Christ, not tomorrow, but today?
Jeffrey A Stivason (Ph.D. Westminster Theological Seminary) is pastor of Grace Reformed Presbyterian Church in Gibsonia, PA. He is also Professor of New Testament Studies at the Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Pittsburgh, PA. Jeff is the Editorial Director of Ref21 and Place for Truth both online magazines of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals.