Philippians 4: 5-7
“Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.”
Years ago, I was speaking to one of our church members after the service and he asked, “Patrick, why don’t you speak on conservative values?” I asked, “Well, what is an important conservative value to you?” He hesitated then said, “Strength.”
So today I am going to speak on strength, but not in the way that most people think of it. Today I am going to speak on the virtue of gentleness. Gentleness is not fear or timidity. Gentleness is controlled strength, channeled power, restrained might. It places our human strength and power under God's guidance.
Mahatma Gandhi taught: “In a gentle way, you can shake the world.” That is gentleness. Protestant minister and author, Ralph W. Sockman wrote, “Nothing is so strong as gentleness. Nothing is so gentle as real strength.” We are told that Spirit works through us making us more like Christ. Part of the fruits of Spirit, the results of Spirit working in us, is gentleness. Other translations use the words meekness, mildness, and humility. Gentleness refers to humility and thankfulness toward God, and polite, restrained behavior toward others. The opposites of gentleness are anger, a desire for revenge, and self-aggrandizement.
As a fruit of the Spirit, gentleness demands much from us. We must adopt a position where we place ourselves as a third priority. Just like we are commanded to first, Love the Lord your God, second, love your neighbor, and third, love ourselves, so it goes for being gentle.
We show gentleness toward God by being humble and thankful. Gentleness toward others is displayed through being polite, restrained, compassionate, and mild-mannered in thought, word, and behavior.
Although we are third on this list, we must be on this list. Christ tells us in Matthew 11:20 – “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.” Many of us are not very gentle to ourselves. We use negative language when we make a mistake and think poorly of our efforts. We often think and say things to ourselves that we would never think or say to someone else because it would be rude, hurtful, and inappropriate.
A newborn baby needs gentle and tender care – a soft hug, a soothing touch, a cozy blanket. A crying baby calms as its needs are met. As children of God, we show that we value ourselves by treating ourselves gently and tenderly. If we feel overwhelmed or anxious, we can ask, “What do I need?”
Perhaps it is a short break, something to eat, or a catnap. Maybe we need to stop berating ourselves and use some supportive and encouraging self-talk. We may need a walk outside to stretch our legs, a conversation with a friend, or a few moments in the silence where we can feel God's gentle presence enfolding us. Being gentle on ourselves shows that we are a precious child of God, worthy of love and care.
Psalm 18:35 tells us, “Your gentleness makes me great.” That is, God’s restrained and controlled power, kindness, and compassion, causes us to be great in Him. It is God’s gentleness that guides us to become all that we are intended to be. Greatness is not necessarily being globally distinguished or recognized. Greatness can also mean potency and effectiveness.
In 1 Kings 19:12 we are told – “After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper.” God’s gentleness can come as a whisper to our heart, guiding us in a direction, changing our attitude, supplying hope. God always speaks and acts in a gentle fashion. His manner is not harsh or abrasive. Trust is often damaged in our families, among friends, and in other situations when we use unkind and inconsiderate language. Proverbs 15:1 teaches, “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”
When we use a soft tone toward people and dispel hatred, who is to say that is not greatness? William Hazlett wrote, “A gentle word, a kind look, a good natured smile can work wonders and accomplish miracles.” Proverbs 25:15 tells us, “Through patience a ruler can be persuaded, and a gentle tongue can break a bone.” This Proverb uses a figure of speech to teach us the idea that gentle words can achieve great things.
Life is about loving, so Life responds to gentleness. Gardeners know that plants respond to gentleness. A gentle watering or rain refreshes them, loosens the surrounding soil making available nutrients they would not otherwise receive.
Parents and teachers know that children respond to gentleness because they are also growing and expanding. Their unique talents and traits are best brought about by an atmosphere of kindness, appreciation, and acceptance.
Each of us responds with a burst of joy and an open heart to the gentleness shown to us: A soft touch, a tender word, a loving hug. Every soul has in it elements of greatness, and a touch of gentleness can call it forth. We may feel this gentleness of God in moments of prayer, or it may come to us through a loving friend. No matter how we receive it, gentleness does its healing work, freeing us from fear and doubt, and calling forth the best in us.
Gentleness is not weakness; it is a quality of restraint and strength. Author Leo Rosten wrote: “I learned that it is the weak who are cruel, and that gentleness is to be expected only from the strong.” Gentleness always intends to act with understanding where the feelings of other people are concerned. It does not speak cruelly or act thoughtlessly. Gentleness moves easily and graciously and is always the peacemaker when misunderstandings occur.
Gentleness is never, “I told you so,” but is always, “I understand.” It is never tactless, rude, or impatient. This virtue allows us to perform the kindest deeds in the kindest way and puts people at ease and makes them comfortable. I’m certain that we can all remember a moment when someone treated us tenderly, kindly, gently, and how we responded.
All people are powerful. We can speak words that influence others. We can act in ways that can hurt others or serve them. We can hold an attitude of acceptance or disparagement. It is through our gentle spirit that Christ moves through us, using our softness to transform the hearts that we touch.
Human power in human hands is an ineffective make-believe toy played with by a child. But gentleness places our power directly in the hands of God, under God’s guidance, where it becomes a mighty tool for God to do His works. To be gentle is to acknowledge Isaiah 55:9 – For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.
It is my prayer that we recognize and greet God’s gentle presence in all of Creation, from the vast worlds beyond to the stranger on the corner to the unseen oxygen molecules needed for life. I pray that we hold close to the gentle and humble heart of Jesus, praying daily to follow in those holy footsteps, and in those prayers may we hear the voice of God whispering to our hearts and embrace the power and strength of a gentle spirit.