The Fruit of the Spirit is Gentleness

2 Corinthians 10:1-11

Boldness, Power, Strength and . . .Gentleness?  One doesn’t seem to fit.

Paul was a man of  strength and power, action and accomplishments– he tookdefeat hard – he believed in success and winning.  Whether as a Jewish Pharisee or a convertedChristian, Paul still had his eye set on the goal and demanded the very bestfrom himself.

I imagine it was abitter lesson to learn and later admit to others that he wasn’t always in control –remember his struggle in 2 Cor.12:7-10:  Tokeep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly greatrevelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, totorment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But hesaid to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect inweakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, sothat Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delightin weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. Forwhen I am weak, then I am strong.

Hadn’t he prayed?  Was God not listening?  Wasn’t he a powerful man?  Hadn’t he himself healed others?   God had a lesson Paul desperately needed to learn– with all his capabilities, strengths, accomplishments – Paul was not incontrol of his life.  But God, regardless of Paul’s inadequacies andfailures,  in spite of what Paul considered his strengths - God could workpowerfully in him.

So when we turn to 2Cor. 10 – it is out of that background that we can understand Paul’s tone inspeaking to these brothers who seemed to put a premium on boldness and power – 2 Cor. 10:1-4By the meekness and gentleness of Christ, Iappeal to you—I, Paul, who am “timid” when face to face with you, but “bold”when away! I beg you that when I come I may not have to be as bold as I expectto be toward some people who think that we live by the standards of this world.For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. Theweapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, theyhave divine power to demolish strongholds. 

Paul’s nature was tobe bold and confrontational – task oriented and goal driven.  He could, at times, bulldoze over people inhis pursuit of his goal.  But as hewrites to the Corinthians, there is a change in style – he appeals to them, notby the strength and force of his character, but “by the meekness and gentleness of Christ.”  The Corinthians are like us – when Pauldidn’t come across like a Sherman tank, but with gentleness, their assumptionwas he didn’t have much confidence, he didn’t deserve their loyalty.  We assume humility means lack of confidence,gentleness means lack of strength, meekness means that you let people walk allover you.

But Paulhas a point to make about meekness and gentleness – that it is not amatter of boldness or timidity when face to face because “we do not wage war as world does….”   His point is thatin Jesus we see the greatest kind of strength and power, not out of force, butby dependence upon the Spirit of God. 

We have always hada fascination with strength. John Wayne, Clint Eastwood, Arnold Schwarzenegger.  Ourheroes have been those who stood up to every challenge and came outthe victors by their strength and courage.We can’t help pitying the loser, the weak.  It is our assumption that the one who hasn’tdone  anything to help himself can’t do anythingto help himself.

We teach our sons to fight and our daughtersto defend themselves.  We try to raisestreet-smart kids who won’t get pushed around, and instill in them an intenselycompetitive spirit to make them winners at any cost.  Butis any cost worth the cost?By teaching our children to be strong and competitive, where do we fitin the quality of gentleness which Paul describes as a fruit of the Spirit inGalatians 5?  Now, don’t hear me sayingthat we need to raise effeminate sons and emasculate men.  But when we elevate competitiveness and poweras the key male characteristics and denigrate compassion and gentleness assomehow unmasculine, we do serious damage to God’s picture of a true man.

As hard as I look, I never find outwardstrength encouraged as a desirable quality in relationships.  Never do NT writers urge competition as arelationship builder.  But you don’t have to look far to findgentleness and humility taught and practiced by godly men and women, and mostespecially by Jesus.  Not a lack ofstrength, but a different kind and source of strength.  Paul describes it:  “not weapons ofthis world, but a divine power.”  And what a difference it does make.

Most of us have anatural feel or sense of what gentleness looks like.  When we read the words of Paul to theThessalonian church – 1 Thess. 2:6-8“As apostles of Christ we could have been a burden to you,  but we were gentle among you, like a mothercaring for her little children. We loved you so much that we were delighted toshare with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well, because youhad become so dear to us.”  Such a sweetness ofspirit, exemplified as a mother caring for her children is the picture thatcomes to mind.  But his description ofhis ministry doesn’t end with mothers.He continues:  “Youare witnesses, and so is God, of how holy, righteous and blameless we were amongyou who believed.  For you know that wedealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, encouraging,comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into hiskingdom and glory.”  The qualitiesthat Paul draws from a father are encouragement, comfort and nurture.

Yet, gentleness can be a deceptive word –there are other dimensions to this quality.The Greek word for “gentleness” can also be translated “meekness.”  For some, meekness only intensifies thatpicture of timidity and weakness.Instead, it ought to draw a very sharp picture of self-control –strength held in check.

While gentleness is the outward manifestationof this quality in how we treat people, let’s not be deceived into thinkingthat it is a sign of weakness beneath.

Aristotle defined the word “gentleness” asthe mean between excessive anger and excessive apathy.  It is the quality of the man who is alwaysangry at the right time, but never angry at the wrong time.  It’s never an anger that bristles withself-pride and snaps at personal offense.Meekness knows when to get angry – and for the right reason - only indefense of others.

Not that gentleness is complacent toward sinand injustice – simply unwilling to get involved, but that this gentlenessworks, not from human, but God’s perspective.How does gentleness confrontsin?

John, in John in John 8 tells us the story ofJesus and woman caught in adultery.  ThePharisees dragged her before Jesus, demanding that he pass judgment on her, knowingthey had him trapped.  And then hisresponse:  “If any one of you is withoutsin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.”  And one by one they dropped their stones andwalked away until only Jesus and the woman were left.  And then the most amazing words, “Isthere no one left to condemn you?”  “Noone.”  “Then neither do I.  Go and sin no more.”  It was gentleness that Jesus brought toconfrontation – rather than condemn and destroy, brought forgiveness andtransformation to that woman.

Yet, this same Jesus, when confronted byPharisees and teachers of the law, who had hardened hearts against him and theFather, would lash out, “Hypocrites, whitewashed tombs, brood of vipers” (Mt 23:27).  Hardly a reaction we would callgentle, yet it was a reaction that came out of this meek spirit that knew howto react perfectly in every situation.Jesus was not anger-less, but knew when anger and unyielding boldnesswere needed, and when gentleness was the touch that would heal.

Gentleness is acontrolled and intentional response – knowing how to react the right way atright time.  Not just laid back andeasygoing, not emotionless or apathetic – but purposeful in response.  When others insult, I choose not to retaliate, but to response in love – I leave revengeto God. 

When we look at Jesus, we see a man who had atender heart and a compassionate touch for those who were hurting andstruggling.

If you have an arm’s length picture of Jesusyou might tend to see Jesus as separate from emotions - his responses to peopledistant and unimpassioned.  That’s not atall the picture you see in the Gospels of Jesus loving and touching andempathizing with those who are hurting and struggling.  That’s not the picture of his relationshipwith Mary, Martha and Lazarus, when Jesus comes to Bethany after Lazarus hasdied, and Mary and Martha are devastated.They have lost their beloved brother and when Jesus comes, he doesn’tstart with platitudes like “he’s in a better place”– instead John tells us simply,  “Jesus wept.”  There was a gentleness and vulnerabilityabout his heart that tells us there is more to power than keeping our composureand being emotionless.  When Jesus wastouched by his compassion for others his heart was broken and his tears flowed.  Is there shame, is it weakness when we feeldeeply with others?  Not if Jesus is our example.

In John13, John relates the events of the last evening Jesus and his discipleshad together in the upper room.  Whatmakes this event so remarkable is that as they were sitting around the table,the supper is being served, Jesus gets up and begins to wash the feet of hisdisciples.  This was the job of aslave.  No one of Jesus’ stature – a rabbi,teacher – would ever lower himself to washing feet.  Even his disciples would not have loweredthemselves. Yet, Jesus himself kneels before each of them and removes theirsandals and washes their feet.

By this act of humility and gentleness, he isshowing his disciples – and us – that there is no task too small for us.  Power is not displayed in avoiding the menialtasks, the tasks without honor, the tasks that demean.

Illust. – Holding the bedpan 

Atone hospital that trains nurses, one of the teachers says:  "We tell our nurses that there are a lotof smelly jobs in our profession, but every job can be conducted with dignity.Our motto: If you get stuck holding the bedpan, carry it like a queen. Then thefocus isn't on the bedpan but on the graciousness of the one who is holdingit." Dignity in serving is found not in the task but in the one who hascalled us to it. If you are clear that it is Christ who has called you toserve, then you are always part of a royal priesthood. But you have to chooseto see that. It's the only way you can look like royalty while doing a taskthat stinks.

Gentleness and meekness serve with humility,regardless of the stature of the one serving, or the one being served.  It understands the true nature of power andself-confidence.

Move forward one day in Jesus’ life – we cometo the most traumatic, humiliating day anyone has ever suffered.  Betrayed and arrested unjustly – his trial amockery – the humiliation he endured – mocked and beaten and scourged and spitupon –spikes nailed into his wrists and feet.Through it all Jesus speaks no words of rebuke or condemnation, nothreats of revenge.  As he hangs on thecross, he doesn’t summon legions of angels to destroy, but implores the Fatherfor forgiveness.

How did the world react?  Like the man who yelled, “He saved others, let him save himself.” Or the crowd whoshouted, “If you are the king of the Jews,save yourself.”  They assumed, because he did not save himself, that he could not save himself.  And that is the difference between strengththe world admires and the strength God admires – the strength the Bible callsmeekness and gentleness.

Jesus had power to do anything, but he choseto endure the cross because of the compassion that he had for those men andwomen that day, and for you and me today.This gentleness willingly sacrifices itself for others.

I risk the danger of repeating myself – thefruit of Spirit is not natural, but supernatural – it does not come from self –by willing ourselves to be better Christians.I cannot decide apart from Christ that I am going to be gentle.  Only as we allow the Spirit to work will wefind ourselves displaying this quality – he cannot work against your will.  What is it about gentleness that we need forour lives this morning?

A sweet spirit - empathy andcompassion that feels with another.  Goneis a harsh, cutting tongue that wounds and hurts.  Gentleness isn’t a fake smile and drippysweet words that are insincere.  Butsincerity never excuses a brutal honesty that excuses itself with “that’s justthe way I am.”

Gentleness requires a heart for people.  Jesus knew perfectly how to confrontsin.  Paul lets us in on the secret in Galatians 6:1-2,  Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, youwho are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you alsomay be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfillthe law of Christ.  Gentleness walksalongside and strives to bring God’s peace and forgiveness into everyrelationship.

Humility.  In Philippians2:5-8 Your attitude should be the same as that ofChrist Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with Godsomething to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of aservant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man,he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross!

Christ gave up glory to become aservant.  An essential part of thisgentleness of spirit is humility – a willingness to give up pride to become aservant.  The words you say, the thingsyou do, the attitude of yourheart as you pour out your life for others.Gentleness demands the humble heart of a servant.

I am fascinated that throughout the Gospels,Jesus is constantly calling people to follow him, and most of the time it issimple and direct – “Follow me.”  Exceptin Matthew 11, his invitation isn’t to a greater commitment, to a more ferventfaith, but to simply experience the peace of being in a relationship with him:  “Come to me, all you who are weary andburdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me,for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. Formy yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Mt.11:28-30).  In gentleness Jesus calls you to come.

 

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