Gentleness…Strength under Control
I have a feeling most of us open up the door to our closets and see all different types of clothes. There are the broken-in, comfortable, clothes that make you relax just by wearing them. Then there are the stiff, tight clothes that you have to wear to work or special occasions. Some of us probably look into the closet and see clothes that do not fit anymore, but we keep them around, hoping that one day they will fit again.
Some of us probably have at least one outfit in our closet that was given to us as a gift that we’ve never worn. Maybe it’s too big, too small, too trendy, or too bright. Or maybe it is one of those bright, ugly, Christmas sweaters. For whatever reason, it’s been given to you, and so you don’t feel like you can throw it away. But, you can’t ever really see yourself wearing it?
As we come this week to the virtue of Gentleness, I’m afraid that many of us probably look upon this virtue in such a way. We hear about Gentleness enough in the Bible that we know we should probably put it on, but we’re kind of afraid if we go out into public wearing Gentleness, bad things will happen. I mean, in our “dog-eat-dog” world, you go out wearing gentleness on your sleeves and you’ll get eaten up! In this “you better watch your back because no one else is” world, wearing gentleness is sometimes an invitation to get walked all over.
But what if that is not what gentleness is all about? What if gentleness is not about letting people walk all over you, or being forbidden to ever stand up for yourself? Gentleness is not about being weak. In fact, quite the opposite. Gentleness is about strength. But not the kind of strength we see paraded all around these days. Gentleness is strength – under control.
In Jesus’ day, gentleness was understood as a virtue in which a person was always angry at the right time, and never angry at the wrong time. So, a gentle person is someone who gets angry when they see people taking advantage of other people. However, they are not someone who loses their temper because of a Facebook that conflicts with their political ideals. A gentle person is angry at the right times, and not angry at the wrong times. Gentleness is strength – under control.
A gentle person is able to look beyond the personal slights everyone receives in this world, they are able to see issues as bigger than “It’s my way or the highway.” However, when they hear that someone has been treated unfairly, they are going to get upset and try to do something about it. A gentle person is not passive, they are not unfeeling, they are not quiet. When it is time to act…they act. And when it is time to wait…they wait.
There is a second way the people of Jesus’ day understood gentleness. One of the images of “gentle” used in Jesus’ day is an animal that has been completely trained and is under control. So, the gentle person is like that perfectly trained dog, on whose nose you have placed a treat, and told “stay.” And as long as the owner says “stay,” the dog will not give into their drive and passion for that treat. The dog has been so well trained that those natural passions and desires are kept in check until the human gives the command to eat. Or it is the security dog, who has been trained to protect the family. This is a fierce and powerful dog who can easily attack any intruder, but is also so gentle as to never harm the little child. Gentleness is strength – under control.
You can see then what a simple step it was for Christians to understand that being gentle was all about submitting all their natural desires and passions to God and allowing God to bring gentleness into their lives.
So, when we take these two views of gentleness together, we see that when we are called to gentleness, we are not being called to be passive, unfeeling people who get walked all over by aggressive people. Instead, we are called to have a passion to make sure we get upset about what gets God upset, and that we are to be so under the Holy Spirit’s control, that when we do get upset, we react in positive, redemptive ways. That really is the heart of gentleness, that we are so God-controlled that in each situation we act the way God would have us act.
So, gentleness is not that ugly sweater you keep in your closet, but never wear out in public for fear of being laughed at. Gentleness is that suit of armor you are called to wear every day, for the sake of others and the Kingdom of God.
So let me ask you, do you get upset about the things that upset God? When you see injustice, when you see families torn apart, when you see children going hungry, are your prayers “That’s so sad God,” or are they “God, what would you have me do?”
Secondly, do you get upset about the things that don’t really matter in this world? Do you really get bent out of shape when someone is late for an appointment? Do you get really upset when someone doesn’t say “thank you” for something you did for them? Do you feel your blood boiling when things don’t go your way?
If so, let me give you this description of gentleness I have found that I think is so insightful. When you put on gentleness: Your reactions change. Worry, fear and sudden outbursts of anger become a thing of the past. You no longer manipulate others to make yourself happy. You no longer get depressed when you don't get your way. You quit threatening others into compliance. You wake up thankful for God's blessings. You sleep in peace because your conscience is clean and your relationships are restored. The tone in your voice softens. Your eyebrows are no longer separated by a deep furrow. You smile more. Your vocabulary expresses more encouragement and less criticism. You fall in love with Jesus Christ and become comfortable with His molding process in your life.
Of course, it is this last sentence that is the key to gentleness. It is not about us keeping our strength under control. It is not about us trying to get ourselves upset with the things that make God upset. It is all about, as every Fruit of the Spirit is about, becoming comfortable with God’s molding process in our life. Are we allowing the Holy Spirit to mold us in such a way that he is developing gentleness as one of your strengths?
So, here’s your challenge this week, pull that sweater out of the closet. Gentleness is strength – under control.