“…then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love…”
I used to have a seminary professor that suggested, when considering which biblical texts on which to focus when giving a sermon, the preacher should “preach from where the shoe pinches!” In other words, read through the assigned texts and the verse that is hard to swallow, for whatever reason, may very well be the one with which the preacher needs to wrestle.
If I am honest, I am “pinched” by the word “gentleness,” which I have been assigned by Dr. McBay as we contemplate the fruits of the Spirit. I do not spend a lot of time considering how others describe me, but I think it is safe to say that “gentle” is not the first that comes to mind!
I bring all kinds of baggage to the word itself. I am a southern male and I like to do things traditionally considered “manly.” I like to fish, hunt, camp and scuba dive. I like to watch college football, the Astros, Texans and Rockets! By and large, these things do not necessarily align with the word “gentleness.” And, of course, it is not just gents who have this challenge. Books on courage, leadership, success, these are the ones that fly off the shelves. You have not seen a “Seven Habits of Lowly, Quiet, Tender and Gentle Servants” on the New York Times’ best seller list.
And yet, we are pressed in Scripture (pinched?) to, in fact, embrace gentleness. In this passage above, Paul enjoins the Ephesian Christians to be “gentle.” Why? Well, of course, one reason is that to be gentle is to be Christ-like. Jesus said, “Take the yoke I give you. Put it on your shoulders and learn from me. I am gentle and humble, and you will find rest.” (Matthew 11:29) As Christians (literally “little Christs”), we are called to emulate the One we follow.
If Jesus, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, can take hold of the word gentleness, it would behoove us to do the same. Perhaps real strength, real courage and real power is not exhibited in powerful gesticulations, but in quiet, sincere and gentle expressions. St. Francis de Sales wrote, “Nothing is so strong as gentleness, nothing so gentle as real strength.” The Scottish pastor, James Philip, wrote, “Only the truly strong and great can be truly tender. Tenderness is a mark of nobility, not of weakness.”
Speaking quite personally and quite honestly, if I am quiet long enough to put aside my resistance to being a “gentle” person, what I sense is that I do, in fact, hunger to be more of a gentle person. I really do desire to be a gentler husband, father, grandfather and friend; I desire it because I know it is what God wants of me and has shown me Himself. Gentleness, like all fruits of the Spirit, are the work of the Spirit. They are an outgrowth of our walk with Jesus.
My mentor, the late John Stott (d. 2011), likes to say, “The Christian should resemble a fruit-tree, not a Christmas tree! For the gaudy decorations of a Christmas tree are only tied on, whereas fruit grows on a fruit-tree. In other words, Christian holiness is not an artificial human accretion, but a natural process of fruit-bearing by the power of the Holy Spirit.”
I wonder if gentleness comes hard to you? If so, let the “pinch” speak and then allow your roots to be more deeply planted in the rich soil named Jesus, and allow Him to show you the more excellent way. The deeper those roots go, the more fruit you will bear. What might that mean is, as you take the yoke of the Gentle One and give Him the reigns of your daily life, that you increasingly mirror the One Who is holding them.
Toward that end, allow me to share a prayer I prayed this very day. The author is unknown, but the prayer has been widely shared.
Lord Jesus, give me your gentleness.
Make me sensitive to others’ needs,
quick to discern even when no words are spoken.
Help me never to rush in with thoughtless words,
nor to brush others aside with sweeping assertions.
Help me never to quench another’s hopes
nor deepen another’s sorrow,
but to pour your peace and balm, your comfort and love
on all those I meet today. Amen.
 Mary Batchelor, comp. The Doubleday Prayer Collection (New York: Doubleday, 1992), p. 421.