What do these images have in common? A shepherd gently carrying a lamb back to its mother. A mother cradling a newborn for the first time. A gardener carefully working the soil and removing weeds so as not to disturb the roots of what they have planted. A surgeon, slowly, deliberately, painstakingly using their hands to fix what is torn or remove something that doesn’t belong. A believer in Jesus listening with humility to the heartache and trouble of another. A kindergarten teacher patiently explaining for the fifth time why it is important to listen to her instructions. These are all pictures of our next Real Fruit, the Fruit of the Spirit called gentleness.
If you are just joining us, this is the second article in a series on the Fruit of the Spirit. And yes, we’re working backward. For this series we are going to be looking at three things, what does the fruit look and taste like, how can we encourage its growth, and how can we give it away. The fruit of the Spirit that grows in us by walking with Jesus is not only for our benefit but also for those around us. In addition to this article, there is a link to a short story I wrote in 2004 which portrays in some way a Fruit of the Spirit that is being given away.
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” (Galatians 5:22–23, NASB95)
In many ways, gentleness seems to be passe’ and not in fashion anymore. Force, anger, leverage, shame, fear, manipulation, bribery, and bullying seem to rule the day. The law of the jungle seems to be winning where the weak are devoured by the strong. It doesn’t matter what arena of life we are talking about, politics, business, social media, news outlets, church, or even in our homes, to one degree or another we’ve lost the art of humility and walking in gentleness with one another. Some may view this fruit as not being crucial in the grand scheme of things. Love, peace, and joy seem infinitely more important. Yet, families and churches have been torn apart because they neglected to nurture the fruit of gentleness and grace.
What does the Real Fruit of gentleness look like? The images above are a good start. Each one is a picture of gentleness in the context of a relationship. Humility and gentleness are not blind to the failings and sins of another. They don’t ignore things. Gentleness addresses failure with discernment instead of judgment, with care instead of condemnation, with prayer instead of harsh words. That doesn’t mean that we never feel angry when faced with the sin of another but that our words and actions in response contain the grace of gentleness. Consider, “Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted.” (Galatians 6:1, NASB95) And, “Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” (Ephesians 4:1–3, NASB95) Gentleness never uses anger, shame, fear, or manipulation as a shortcut to accomplish the desires of God. We don’t push people into God’s kingdom, we invite them, we woo them, we care for them no matter where they are, and we give of ourselves with no strings attached. Gentleness is like trying to offer a peanut to a shy squirrel. It takes time, patience, quietness, stillness, and the engendering of trust for the easily frightened animal to take the peanut from our hand.
How do we encourage the fruit of gentleness to grow in our lives? It is important to remember that fruit is only grown as we abide in Jesus. Some of the nine fruit of the Spirit flourish in quietness while others seem to require struggle and storm to emerge. Gentleness is one of those that appears to need times testing. It’s pretty easy to work on gentleness when no one is rocking the boat. Grace is a no-brainer when everyone is on the same page and the waters are calm. When the boat rocks, when someone fails to live up to expectation, when sin offends, or when foolishness leads to disaster, that is when the real fruit of gentleness can grow. We don’t need hurricane and cyclone class storms in our lives to develop gentleness. Every day has a few ripples, a few opportunities to encourage the fruit of gentleness. When those ripples come, pause, breath, and pray before saying or doing anything. James encourages, “This you know, my beloved brethren. But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger; for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God.” (James 1:19–20, NASB95) When you think about it, gentleness realizes the importance and fragility of another. We are only gentle with those people and things we value and care about. Increasing the value we place on others will encourage the real fruit of gentleness and humility in our lives.
How do we give gentleness away? The real fruit of gentleness and grace requires someone to be the receiver. In all of the examples, we offered at the top of this article someone was giving the fruit of gentleness to someone or something else. Gentleness does not require a blind eye but engages the problem with a humble spirit instead of anger and offense. Sometimes the fruit of gentleness requires disengagement, backing off when the gentlest reminder is seen as offensive and engenders anger. We don’t give up on that person but take away some of the fuel so the fire can die down. But there are also times when gentleness requires a firm touch in connection with the rest of the fruit. Love may require intervention; gentleness, grace, and humility pave the way.
As a wrap up for this look into the spiritual fruit of gentleness consider these words written to the Jesus followers in Philippi. “Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too. You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had. Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:3–8, NLT) It takes courage and sacrifice to grow the fruit of gentleness. It may mean devaluing our own rights for the benefit of another even when they don’t deserve it. After all, that’s what Jesus did for us.