Thanks for reading the previous posts on the Fruit of the Spirit (Fruit of the Spirit #1: An Introduction, Fruit of the Spirit #2: It all begins with Love, Part 1, Fruit of the Spirit #3: It all begins with Love, Part 2, Fruit of the Spirit #4: Joy, Fruit of the Spirit #5: Peace, Fruit of the Spirit #6: Patience, Fruit of the Spirit #7: Kindness, Fruit of the Spirit #8: Goodness and the Fruit of the Spirit #9: Faithfulness).
In this post, I’d like to take a brief look at the next Fruit of the Spirit that follows Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness and Faithfulness, which is Gentleness.
In doing the research on these last two Fruits of the Spirit (Gentleness and Self-Control), and as I’ve considered applying them effectively, practicing them consistently and becoming proficient in the daily demonstration of them, I’m convinced that these are probably the hardest of the nine Fruits to develop (as if you didn’t think the previous seven weren’t a challenge as well). I’ve always had a respect for the fruit of Gentleness but in looking even more intently at it, I want to see it developed in my life because if done well, I can see how it almost exponentially takes the demonstration of the Fruits of the Spirit to another level. Here’s why.
Dr. Spiros Zodhiates and his team of researchers did a great job researching the meaning and the definition of the word Gentleness (Prautes) and in the brief definition of Gentleness, the “wow” factor is evident, especially as we read it in the context of scripture and specifically with the teachings of Jesus.
There are four main ideas that I’d like for you to consider regarding the definition and application of Gentleness (Prautes). They are:
- Gentleness goes straight to the heart of the person and to the heart of any issue in life: Like me, you may be surprised to learn that the main idea with Gentleness doesn’t deal so much with the thoughtful, kind or tender display or behavior(s) associated with Gentleness. Demonstrating Gentle behaviors are important, but the main focus of the Fruit has to do with us being in a humble position in order to hear from God, who will speak, instruct, counsel, convict then prompt us to accurately demonstrate specific behaviors that the situation dictates or deserves, again in any situation that we happen to be in at any given moment. In fact, the Greek word Prautes is also used when our English word Humility surfaces in a couple of passages of scripture (James 1:21; James 3:13) to underscore the notion of being in the humble, open and “needy” position before God because God intends to give or impart something to us that the situation deserves. But it doesn’t stop there.
- We don’t contest, oppose or resist the message and action we receive from God regarding Gentleness and the Gentle response that God initiates within us; we humbly accept His instruction and we endeavor to Gently carry it out. Dr. Zodhiates states that a Gentle response continues when we gracefully receive the “message” or counsel that the Holy Spirit is seeking to impart to us and we accept it or take it in because we know God is good and His intentions for us (and for others who need to experience a Gentle response from us) are good. For me, I know that left to my own insight, if something happens that irks or riles me up, my “gentle response” would look far different than a gentle response that’s prompted by Jesus, and that’s what this word and response are getting at. God’s ways are not my ways, but God’s intentions and outcomes, if received by me, will probably be what the situation accurately and appropriately needs in order to effect the appropriate outcome.
- Gentle responses are not weak responses; in fact, the appropriate demonstration of anger is key to demonstrating a gentle response to others. Dr. Zodhiates quotes Aristotle, who stated that “Gentleness (Prautes) is the middle ground between two extremes.” Per Aristotle, getting angry without reason is at the end of one extreme and not getting angry at all is at the other end. Given the definition, Prautes, or the appropriate display of Gentleness means we’ll demonstrate a response that reflects us getting angry at the right time, in the right measure, for the right reason” and we can assume, as is the nature of the Fruit, to demonstrate the right behavior to affect the right outcome. The challenge will be for us to become aware and wise regarding what’s the middle ground or gentle response that the person or the situation deserves. I told you this fruit is a difficult one to cultivate!
- Finally, Gentleness is a condition of our mind and heart that demonstrates a strength of character. The question for me, er, to me (and you) is whose character is being demonstrated? Remember, Jesus is the “exact representation” (Charakter in Hebrews 1:3) of God’s Character, and I get that this is the character, characteristics and character values that God wants to grow maturely within me (which is what fruit is) to offset my character defects or characterological behaviors or the “weeds” that are usurping my ability to be a fruitful human being. It’s His character that Jesus wants to develop in me because He not only desires to help me to become a gentle person, but He also wants to generate gentle responses through me to others, again, which are appropriate for any situation I’m in.
So in light of these components that define and describe the fruit of Gentleness, I see why it’s so important to listen to Jesus, versus what could be a vengeful, vindictive, reactive and retaliatory voice that stirs within my head when I perceive or when I experience an offense at the hands of another person. If I didn’t listen to Him or to the Spirit instructing or convicting me regarding the right way to respond, then I’d let my anger, even in a situation where anger is warranted, spill out of control and I’ll wind up saying or doing something that I regret, versus saying or doing something that has a constructive or even a redemptive outcome. Thank God for the concept of apologies to clean up any potential messes that I make when I’m not a gentle person!
However, to avert situations like that, I’ll be more successful in demonstrating a Gentle response if in that blink of an eye before I react harmfully, I ask myself what seems like a cheesy question “What Would Jesus Do?” then respond in kind. That’s why this is so hard because I find that I have to not only read my “feelings” thermometer but then hear from God what is the appropriate level to adjust my “behavioral thermostat,” which will help me to provide the right response that is needed in that situation.
Jesus was a master at this, and I aspire to follow Him to develop a mastery of this particular fruit as well. If you have a moment, take a look at some of the godly and humane responses that He demonstrated, or asked us to demonstrate as He provided a model for us to follow. All of these responses could fall under the category of “gentle responses,” and they stand out all the more when you see that He experienced some form of hurt, anger, frustration, resignation or pain in those encounters with others. Some of the “gentle responses” that Jesus practiced (as He modeled for us to follow) are:
- Jesus’ encounter with Nicodemus (John 3:1-21).
- Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan Woman (John 4:4-42).
- Jesus’ encounter with the Children of Abraham (John 8:31-59).
- Jesus’ encounters with the Disciples, especially Peter (John 13:31 – 14:22).
- Jesus’ encounters in the Garden of Gethsemane (John 18:1-11), the Mock Trial (John 18:19-19:16) and the Crucifixion (John 19:16-30).
As you read through these passages, could you see, feel and hear the heart of Jesus intent on demonstrating gentle responses with those involved, even when anger was experienced? Could you imagine His reliance upon God in those moments where vengeance and retaliation could have easily been demonstrated instead of His intentional demonstration of the Fruit of the Spirit? Could you imagine demonstrating responses like this, as the Spirit guides you in specific situations with those you encounter, who may or may not have your best interests in mind? What would a gentle and self-controlled response look like as Jesus speaks these words to you and me?
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.”
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” – Matthew 5:38 – 45 (TNIV).
It’s a big challenge folks and I know that I’ll have to dig deep to come up with some consistent but gentle responses, but I’m up for it. The fruitful outcomes will be worth it. So practically, I’d like to leave you with a few suggestions that I’m going to employ, to help me to be mindful in hearing from God in order to develop gentle responses in my heart and with others:
“You will make known to me the path of life…” Psalm 16:11 (TNIV)
Here are a few steps toward developing Gentle responses. When you become angry, frightened, prideful or selfish…
- In the blink of your eye, imagine two paths before you. One path will take you toward the healthier and right response, while the other one may lead you toward your goal, albeit with more personal and interpersonal challenges. You’ll have to make a decision regarding which path you’ll take, and if you misstep, you can always backtrack to take the better path.
- Take 4 – 5 deep breaths immediately. The breathing will help you to calm down because when you’re calm, it’ll be difficult for you to be anxious, angry or flooded with emotion. Also, the deep breathing helps to connect your mind – body – spirit so that any reactive emotionality experienced by your right brain will be integrated with the opportunity to logically perform what your left brain knows is the appropriate behavioral response to employ.
- Discernment is necessary: You’ll be more successful as you discern between your voice and the voice of God prompting or instructing you regarding what to do. He wants to enlighten and instruct us in the way we are to proceed, which will eventually lead toward a gentle response. Also, please remember that God will reveal which path you’re to take toward the Gentle outcome, and remember that you have a choice to determine how you’ll react; a choice that not only empowers you but flips the script toward better outcomes.
- Apply the “S-T-A-R” Principle: STOP, THINK about what (God and) you want to say/or do, ACT, then REVIEW, to determine if you accomplished your objective in your encounter with the other person. If you’re not confident with your response and think a more gentle response is needed, then immediately Stop, Think…
In closing, Gentle responses are the standard that Jesus would have us to aspire toward and to deliver in our encounters with others. This is not a double standard. As we saw in the scriptures above, He practices what He preaches and wants to lead us to do the same as this fruit is cultivated in our life. Above all, remember that He’s available to help us.
“For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline” – 2 Timothy 1:7
May God bless you as you endeavor to grow the fruit of Gentleness in your life!
Here’s a link to the next post in this series: “The Fruit of the Spirit #11: Self-Control.”
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