It seems like gentleness isn’t something our society holds much stock in. At first glance it’s assumed a gentle person is weak, someone who the who will be taken advantage of. There’s an overwhelming feeling of resistance to this concept of being gentle—no! We must stand up for our rights! Speak up! Push back! If we don’t, no one else will.
This sentiment was reinforced at a recent literary festival. Over the course of two days, I was overwhelmed by the intensity and seething rage from the speakers who spoke about past hurts and horrible upbringings. I left troubled and hesitant to get further involved with this community. What could I possibly do to help?
Ever since this experience, I’ve wondered how different the event would have been for me if there had been slivers of hope and tones of forgiveness woven throughout the trauma and pain. What if there was a gentle response in the face of great injustice? Who wouldn’t have been encouraged by a testimony of grace setting them free from their troubled past? If nothing else, I can see the value of the gentle approach.
What is gentleness?
The dictionary definition of gentleness is “the quality of being kind, tender, or mild-mannered.” In contrast, the biblical definition of the gentleness described in Galatians 5:22-23 (as one of the fruits of the spirit) is closer to meekness or humility. While the basic definition describes an action, something you do, the spiritual gift of gentleness is something you are. It’s deeper than surface-level actions.
So what is this spiritual gift of gentleness anyway? In short, it’s the strength to see past our egos, surrendering to God’s plan for our life and in others’. It’s letting go of control, allowing ourselves to be led by the Holy Spirit. At its core, gentleness is being content not knowing how things will unfold and trusting in the bigger plan.
We often reduce gentleness to being a pushover—someone who is weak. But looking at the world through the lens of Scripture it’s clear this is not the case. Numbers 12:3 describes Moses as “…very humble—more humble than any other person on earth,” which is a perfect example because no one would describe Moses as a weak-willed softy.
Gentleness is not a lack of strength; it’s an attitude of living with the realization and understanding that we can accomplish nothing apart from God (John 5:19).
How to become a humble person
True humility is difficult to achieve but easy to spot. It’s demonstrated by someone who approaches life filled with gratitude for both the good and the bad, someone who doesn’t take credit for their success and doesn’t become resentful when they fail. If you’re living in humility then you’re able to move past entitlement, comparison and pessimism. People who are genuinely humble are not offended or threatened when they are overlooked or disagreed with.
So how do we become gentler, humbler people?
First, we must realize biblical humility is a gift from the Holy Spirit. Said another way, we can’t become a humble person on our own strength.
Humility is a gift. Once we let go of the idea can we can earn humbleness by wishing for it, or trying really hard, then we can begin asking the Lord to help us develop this gift. This can be difficult because it also means laying down our hopes and dreams and trusting God to lead and guide us on the best path (Romans 8:28).
Second, gentleness isn’t static—we must continue cultivating it.
Just like any other fruit of the spirit, it’s easy to neglect these gifts and allow our worldly cares to distract us. Just because we’re in a relationship with God it doesn’t mean we won’t struggle with our sinful nature and get thrown off-course from time to time. Staying vigilant and watching for areas where our spiritual lives could use more attention will help us keep pride at bay.
Third, we must let go of achieving status and influence, trusting God to elevate us at the right time.
A big part of developing humility is being content with where we are in life. This doesn’t mean stamping out your goals and aspirations, but it does mean trusting God to align your will with His and waiting for His perfect timing. Getting to this state also means we can accept ourselves (and others) as we are and don’t feel the need to brag about our accomplishments, pretend things are better than they are or exaggerate our achievements.
Deep down we know God’s opinion of us is of much more value than what the world thinks. When we can come to a place where we understand this then we’re able to live in humility—acutely aware that each day we have here on earth is a gift and that the only reason we’re looking forward to a fulfilling future in heaven is because Jesus Christ was willing to die for us.
But what if someone takes advantage of me? What if someone thinks I’m weak? What if I get hurt?
When we take on a gentle posture, we become others-focused and look for ways to serve. Pastor Chuck Swindoll says being a servant is not a sign of inner weakness but of incredible strength. It doesn’t mean there will never be a confrontation or strong words, it’s having the discernment to know when to speak up and when to stay silent because you’re waiting on the Lord to prompt you. When you’re humble, you take human aggression out of the equation. Because this is so counter-cultural there will be times someone mistreats you or takes advantage of your kindness. This is a very real risk when you follow the gentleness path. But then, aren’t we living in line with Jesus? Isn’t that how he lived his life?
“I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” John 16:33
You may be overlooked, treated wrong and taken advantage of. Take heart. Be patient. Give your concerns to the Lord. Take the long view, don’t fixate on this moment. What are we doing here? What’s the goal? We have a larger purpose, don’t forget that.
What else does the Bible say about gentleness?
Here are additional references about faithfulness for further study.
- Proverbs 20:6
- 2 Timothy 3:1
- 2 Timothy 3:2-4
- Malachi 2:14-16
- Proverbs 17:17
- Romans 10:17
- Acts 2:42
- Acts 20:28
- 2 Timothy 1:13-14
- Acts 2:38
- 1 Corinthians 12:9
- Galatians 2:16
- Galatians 2:20
- Revelation 14:12
- Luke 16:10-12
- Colossians 3:22-25
- Colossians 4:1
- Ephesians 6:9
- 2 Timothy 4:7
- Matthew 24:13; 44-46
- Matthew 25:21-23
- Galatians 5:22-23
Developing the fruits of the spirit in our lives isn’t easy, but it’s worth working towards. A lot of the work of becoming gentle is done when we can overcome our reactions to negative situations. Instead of responding right away, learn how to take a breath and count to 10. Ask God for help, and for the correct reply.
I’ve heard meekness described as power under control. God gives us influence, authority and power but it’s under control and we don’t abuse our power. The challenge: maintaining a gentle and quiet spirit even when we’re hurt and frustrated.