I have often stated that the Christian faith is, in a sense, oxymoronic. It is a wellspring of paradox. You see, the Christian faith tells us to turn the other cheek and also to contend for the faith. It teaches that the Word of God, the Bible, is a two edged sword and that it is God’s word that brings life. Christianity is founded on the Atonement of Jesus, the Christ, by His death on the cross and yet we worship Jesus because He is alive, having risen from the dead. When we look at the eighth fruit of the Spirit, gentleness, it is no different. Nothing can be more difficult to explain than the power of gentleness.
Let me give you a scenario that might explain a little of what Gentleness is like. I have a dog. He is part Jack Russell and part Cairn Terrier. He is a very active and hyper dog. He loves to play and the rougher you play the more he likes it. He is not very big but he thinks he is a Pit-bull. I smack him around and he just loves it. The harder I push him away the faster he comes back at me. He bites and tears and just goes wild when he plays. But there is another side of the picture. I also have a one year old daughter. She is about the same size and weight as the dog. Buddy, the dog, loves to play with her also. But when he plays with Tory, my daughter, he is very careful. He will grab the same rope that he and I play tug of war with and very gently give it to Tory and be very content to cautiously chew on it while she daintily holds the other end. So, is my dog bi-polar? Or has he simply mastered gentleness?
The old term for gentleness is the word meekness. In this case I think it might be good to explain why the term was switched. You see, meekness used to have a meaning that made people aware o f the innate character of the word. Meekness had the idea of “power under control.” Now the word has the idea of weakness. On the other hand gentleness may not imply great power but it does imply that it is not the natural state of affairs.
The Bible calls Moses the meekest man on the face of the earth Numbers 12:3). Yet if one looks into Moses’ past it is easy to see that Moses had a temper and one that was violent enough to kill (Exodus 2:11-14). Jesus himself was a model of gentleness and yet He grabbed a chord and made a whip out of it and threw the money changers out of the temple. You see gentleness is a fruit of the Spirit but it is not being weak or wimpy. Gentleness is taking control of a lot of power and harnessing it into something useful. It is said that when a stallion is ready to be ridden that he has been gentled. Is the stallion still able to buck off his rider? Absolutely! But the point is that the great power of the stallion is brought under control of the rider by the bit in his mouth (James 3:3). So also is the temper and power of a person brought under control by the submission to the Spirit of God.
This hit me very hard. You see I am not a gentle person. I have a fiery temper, a short fuse and enough physical mass to cause someone serious damage. Over the years I have learned to yield to the Spirit and allow Him to instill in me a measure of gentleness. But as the legendary Bruce Banner said, “Don’t make me angry, you won’t like me when I’m angry.” This is where I struggle. I am quick to be anything but gentle. Why am I telling you this? Well, because it will illustrate my point. It is only when I am under the control of the Spirit that I react as I should. Not as I normally would but as a Christian, who has a natural tendency to be violent, should when controlled by the Spirit of God.
I found this illustration and I think it makes the point rather clearer than I ever could. “On one occasion a nurse in one of the London hospitals complained to the Chaplain-General to the forces that she had been rudely treated by some patients. ’Thank God for that,’ was the reply. ‘What do you mean?’ asked the astonished nurse. ‘Why,’ said the Bishop, ‘if you are carrying a vessel and somebody knocks up against you, you can only spill out of the vessel what is inside. And when people misjudge and persecute us, we can only spill what is inside. In the case of a godless man, he will probably swear. But if you are filled with the Holy Ghost, you will manifest the gentleness of Christ, and make men astonished.”