The Truth About Gentleness

My 2020 devotions are about understanding, embracing, and applying the fruits of the Spirit to our daily lives. But our world has a very different view of living out what you believe. An internet search for applying what we believe in our daily lives generated a website that states: “There’s something magical that happens when you live in alignment with the Truth. Most of us live for ourselves—lying to ourselves and/or others in order to satisfy our immediate needs and assuage our petty fears. But when you dedicate yourself to the Truth, you synchronize yourself with something more expansive—a force that is greater than yourself, existed before you were born, and will continue after you pass away.” (1) Here is the insidious integration of New Age philosophy in modern thinking. New Age philosophy should alarm us; it is just another of Satan’s tools to keep people opposed to God and his Word. Is this useful in a time of such heated, verbal, and judgmental controversy? We instead are to look to the Bible for the real Truth about all things. And I think we have much to learn about true gentleness. Knowing that the Holy Spirit’s gentleness is powerful in our relationships when we humble ourselves will lead us to embrace humility through his power. We do not need to work at “unleashing our full potential,” since we have none of our own but all of God’s grace in Christ applied to our hearts through the Spirit.

Jesus Christ is the prime example of humility and gentleness yielding greatness. His willingness to submit to his incarnation and crucifixion resulted in the world’s most powerful event in all history for all time. Many others have imitated his meekness in the power of the Spirit. Today we will consider how David expressed gentleness toward Saul, living out the truth that Paul expounds in the New Testament. “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.” (Galatians 6:1) Hundreds of years before that, David wrote, “For who is God, but the Lord? And who is a rock, except our God? This God is my strong refuge and has made my way blameless. He made my feet like the feet of a deer and set me secure on the heights. He trains my hands for war, so that my arms can bend a bow of bronze. You have given me the shield of your salvation, and your gentleness made me great.” (2 Samuel 22:32-35; Psalm 18:31-35)

After David had been anointed by Samuel as the next king of Israel, while Saul was still king, Saul became jealous of David and hunted him down. Saul’s murderous behavior was a clear violation of God’s commandments and will. But David consistently refused to kill Saul when given the opportunity. “‘ The Lord forbid that I should put out my hand against the Lord’s anointed. But take now the spear that is at his head and the jar of water, and let us go.’ So David took the spear and the jar of water from Saul’s head, and they went away. No man saw it or knew it, nor did any awake, for they were all asleep, because a deep sleep from the Lord had fallen upon them.” (1 Samuel 26:11-12) God’s gentleness had made David merciful. Gentleness from the Spirit makes us able to do more than resist temptations; we will do great acts of mercy and righteousness if we humble ourselves. 

When we read Paul’s admonition in Galatians 6:1, we mistakenly assume that it only refers to a direct confrontation with anyone who is sinning habitually. Let’s reconsider how much more Galatians 6:1 teaches as we apply the “spirit of gentleness” after our self-examination. “The absence of self-centeredness, of pre-occupation with my own dignity and standing, is to be balanced by that true concern which places myself in the position of another, and acts to that other as I would then wish others to act towards myself. Yet this forgetfulness of self, this unselfconscious thought for others, can be expected only of one who has learned to live with himself; to accept his own abilities and calling, and the niche in which his own inherent gifts must place him. Only in this way can a man attain the quiet assurance and confidence of a responsibility taken and conscientiously fulfilled.” (2) We have a tender-hearted guide who knows how to transform us into gentler people.

Tenderness is a demonstration of love. Biblical gentleness is an outflow of God’s love, resulting in submission to him and appropriate submission to others—a balance possible only with the help of the Holy Spirit. We are usually gentle with people and valuable possessions: a newborn baby, someone who is very ill, or a frail, older person or a little animal, even an antique vase or a treasured old photograph. Not only do we not want to cause harm, but we want to preserve or add value. Gospel kind-heartedness like David’s is possible with people who oppose us and those we might consider enemies of Christ. Jesus modeled this behavior with the Jewish and Roman leaders; and with Judas, treating him like a brother, with love and respect despite his betrayal. During Jesus’s ministry, some came to faith, leaving their habitually sinful rebellious ways behind them. Others were confronted to the point of wanting to kill Jesus, as Saul wanted to kill David because righteous conduct exposed (confronted) their sinfulness. 

There are times when we do need to be more direct. But, “If someone is caught in a sin,” conceited superiority would drive us to look down on them, be glad we are not like them, and feel righteous in ourselves. Pointing out their sin would merely be to underline how good we look by comparison. Conceited inferiority would cause us either to envy the life they are leading, however sinful; or to crave their approval so much that we won’t risk pointing out their failure to live in line with the gospel. What will a ‘brother’, who knows they are a son of God, do? Paul says we will not ignore a situation when we see someone “caught” in a sin. This does not mean that we are to confront anyone we see sinning in any way. ‘Love covers over a multitude of sins’ (1 Peter 4:8)—we are not to be quick to criticize and tell people about their faults (see also 1 Corinthians 13:5, 7). But we must not overlook someone’ caught’—overtaken—by a sin…Christians need to be neither quick to criticize nor afraid to confront…This responsibility belongs to anyone who is trying to live a Christian life at all. What will our aim be? To ‘restore him gently.'” The Greek translated ‘restore’ here is katartizdo. This was the term used for setting a dislocated bone back into place. A dislocated bone is extremely painful, because it is not in its designed, natural relationship to the other parts of the body. To put a bone back in place will inevitably inflict pain, but it is a healing pain.” (3) The Holy Spirit is our great physician whose gentleness is powerful. 

“For who is God, but the Lord? And who is a rock, except our God? This God is my strong refuge and has made my way blameless…You have given me the shield of your salvation, and your gentleness made me great.” (2 Samuel 22:32-35; Psalm 18:31-35) David was a little shepherd boy whom God raised to the throne of Israel. His humility showed up many times while he struggled with Saul and was on the throne. The psalms prove that he was consciously aware of God’s providential goodness, which here he calls gentleness that made him “great.” Later in his life, David’s failings do not diminish God’s righteousness, compassion, or patience, just as our weaknesses and failings do not decrease the Lord’s gentleness with us. Like David, when we embrace the humility of our origins and God’s goodness, we are more able to express the Spirit’s gentleness in our relationships through his power. We might ask ourselves, Am I becoming increasingly compassionate and kind, or crusty and inflexible as I mature in Christ? Am I becoming more or less patient with those who seem to oppose God or me? The psalms have much to offer us in the way of instruction, but Jesus’s tenderness and love is the greatest source of gentleness for all time. Isaiah expressed it well. “I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” (Ephesians 4:1-3)

Related Scripture: Psalm 141:5; Habakkuk 3:17-19; Romans 15:1-3; 1 Corinthians 4:21; 2 Corinthians 2:5-8; Galatians 5:25-26; 2 Timothy 2:24-26; James 5:19-20

  1. ”The Tools,” An excerpt from “Coming Alive,”
  2. Zondervan Bible Commentary, F. F. Bruce General Editor, Galatians 5:26-6:10, One-Volume Illustrated Digital Edition.
  3. Keller, Timothy, “Galatians For You, Helping our Brothers,” Galatians 6:1, ebook Edition, The Good Book Company, 2013.

November 13, 2020

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