Galatians 5:23 (Gentleness)

Sermon preached on July 1, 2000 by Laurence W. Veinott. © Copyright 2000. All rights reserved. Other sermons can be found at

Unless otherwise noted, quotations are from The Holy Bible: New International Version (NIV). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House.

When I attended Memorial University for my education degree I recall the first day of class for my student teaching course. There were about fifteen of us in the class and we were sitting around in a semicircle. I remember being rather surprised at the professor when he came into the classroom. He was an older man and he looked like he had an attitude. When he came in he didn't say, "Hello," or "Good morning," he just sat down at his desk and arranged some things without looking up at us. But he looked surly. Then, without warning, he looked up at one of the students and said something to the effect,

"What are you looking at?"

(He actually didn't use those words, I can't use the words he used.) It was a shock to all of us. The poor student wasn't doing anything. I remember thinking to myself, "Oh no! This is going to be a terrible class." But then the professor broke out in a laugh and said he was just joking. His whole demeanor changed and he became very affable and charming. The part about him being mean and sullen was all an act. He just did it to break the ice.

But for a minute I was worried. Why was I worried?
I was worried because there was no gentleness there. He presented himself as harsh, uncaring, and angry. It was a frightening prospect.

Gentleness is something that people appreciate and value. It's one of the fruits of the Spirit that God has given to us so that we can make the gospel attractive. God wants us to be gentle. He wants us to be gentle with those within the church. He wants us to be gentle with those outside the church. Our text reads,

"But the fruit of the Spirit is
love, joy, peace,
patience, kindness, goodness,
faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
Against such things there is no law."

The great lesson we see here is that

you are to be gentle.

Over and over again God's Word impresses this upon us. In Ephesians 4:1 we read,

"As a prisoner for the Lord, then,
I urge you to live a life worthy
of the calling you have received.
Be completely humble and gentle;
be patient, bearing with one another in love."

What is a life worthy of our calling like? It's a life of gentleness. What characteristic is worthy of our calling? Gentleness. Jesus has been so gentle with us that the appropriate response is that we be gentle with others.

Philippians 4:4 we read,

"Rejoice in the Lord always.
I will say it again: Rejoice!
Let your gentleness be evident to all.
The Lord is near."

The Lord is near. If we didn't know this verse and someone asked us what characteristic we should display because the Lord is near—how many of us would answer 'gentleness'? Not many. It's just not that high on our list of priorities.

Colossians 3:12 we have these words,

"Therefore, as God's chosen people,
holy and dearly loved,
clothe yourselves with compassion,
kindness, humility,
gentleness and patience."

In 1 Timothy 3:1f the apostle Paul gives the qualifications for leadership in the church. One of the qualities that an elder is to display is 'gentleness'. (verse 3) In 1 Timothy 6:11 Paul gives advice to Timothy on how to conduct himself. He warned him to stay away from such things as greed, envy, strife. He wrote,

"But you, man of God,
flee from all this,
and pursue righteousness, godliness,
faith, love,
endurance and
Fight the good fight of the faith."

We Christians are to be gentle. It is to be one of characteristics that defines who we are as Christians. We are to be gentle.

But what does it mean to be gentle? What is gentleness?

The first thing we need to do is to define gentleness. The Greek word that Paul uses means has many nuances to it. It means to be 'considerate, courteous, soft, mild'. Gentleness is the opposite of harshness. In 1 Corinthians 4:21 Paul asked the Corinthians,

"What do you prefer?
Shall I come to you with a whip,
or in love and with a gentle spirit?"

If you are ever being harsh with someone, you are not being gentle with them. The two are opposites. We see the same thing in 1 Timothy 3 in the list of qualifications for church leadership. An overseer must be,

"not violent,
but gentle."

Gentleness has nothing to do with violence, with harshness, with anger.

Billy Graham defines gentleness as,

"mildness in dealing with others… it displays a sensitive regard for others and is careful never to be unfeeling for the rights of others."

We see this in 1 Thessalonians 2:6f where Paul describes his actions when he was with the people at Thessalonica.

"As apostles of Christ
we could have been a burden to you,
but we were gentle among you,
like a mother caring for her little children.
We loved you so much that
we were delighted to share with you
not only the gospel of God
but our lives as well,
because you had become so dear to us."

Gentleness is the way that a mother is with her little children. How does a mother handle a baby? She cuddles and protects him. She's considerate of his condition, of his needs. She moves slowly, carefully when she has her baby. She handles him gently. She doesn't treat him roughly, uncaringly. When she gives him a bath she does it with care. She tests the water to make sure it isn't too hot or cold. She puts him in it slowly so that he will not be shocked by the sudden transition. She is careful not to splash water and soap into his eyes. The whole environment is one of love, of consideration, of sensitivity, of protection. It's an environment which is considerate of the needs of the child.

Jerry Bridges writes,

"Gentleness is illustrated by the way we should handle a carton of exquisite crystal glasses, it is the recognition that the human personality is valuable but fragile, and must be handled with care."

The human personality is valuable but fragile. It's important that we keep both of these in view as we are discussing gentleness. For

the kind of gentleness that we are to have is rooted in love.

As we have seen, gentleness is best illustrated by the way that a mother cares for her little children. (1 Thessalonians 2:6f) It's interesting that a few verses later Paul changes the analogy. He writes, (verses 10-12)

"You are witnesses, and so is God,
of how holy, righteous and blameless
we were among you who believed.
For you know that we dealt with each of you
as a father deals with his own children,
encouraging, comforting

and urging you to live lives worthy of God,"

Thus what we see is that this gentleness that we are to exhibit is to be one that is rooted in love. This gentleness is the result of the Holy Spirit working in our lives. It is not some outward thing that we put on, that is external, that has nothing to do with the heart. No. It's a characteristic that is based upon love.

Now it's important that we realize this because

there is such a thing as counterfeit gentleness.

In 2 Samuel 3:27 we read how Joab took Abner aside as though to speak to him privately. Then he stabbed him to avenge the death of his brother Asahel. When Joab took him aside, he was nice to him outwardly. He was gentle with him, but he had murderous plans. His was a counterfeit gentleness.

There are many examples of this in our society. I once heard a story about
two travelers who were in a long line at the ticket counter in an airport. One of them, who was just ahead of the other in the line, was really upset. He was complaining about everything. And when he got to the front of the line to the ticket clerk he let her have it. He complained so much that he was actually abusive. But all through it the clerk was pleasant, courteous and smiling. She kept her cool, apologized for the inconveniences, and wished him a pleasant journey. The guy behind was amazed at how she could be so pleasant in the face of such an attack. So when it was his turn to be served he complimented her on her handling of the situation. She smiled and told him that it was her job, that that's what she was trained for. But he said, "But how do you do it?" She leaned forward and whispered,

"It was easy. That man is going to Denver. I just sent his luggage to Jamaica."

That's not the kind of gentleness we are to have. To really have this kind of gentleness, you need to love people. You need to think about what's best for them and do things that are sensitive and caring.

You see, what we must understand is that our gentleness has a goal—that of helping people come to Christ, and once they have come to Christ to help them have a closer walk with Him.

That's the design of gentleness.

First, let's look at the goal of gentleness with regard to unbelievers.

With regard to gentleness being a quality that helps others come to Christ we see this in 2 Timothy 2:23f. Paul is giving Timothy instructions on how to conduct himself as a minister of Jesus Christ. He writes,

"Don't have anything to do
with foolish and stupid arguments,
because you know they produce quarrels.
And the Lord's servant must not quarrel;
instead, he must be kind to everyone,
able to teach, not resentful.
Those who oppose him
he must gently instruct,
in the hope that God
will grant them repentance
leading them to a knowledge of the truth,"

But it's not just ministers who are to conduct themselves this way. In 1 Peter 3:15 we read,

"Always be prepared to give an answer
to everyone who asks you
to give the reason
for the hope that you have.
But do this with
gentleness and respectÖ"

In our witnessing we are to be gentle and we are to point them to the One that will be gentle wit h them if they go to Him. We are to point them to Christ. Remember Jesus' words in Matthew 11:28f? Jesus said,

"Come to me,
all you who are weary and burdened,
and I will give you rest.
Take my yoke upon you and learn from me,
for I am gentle and humble in heart,
and you will find rest for your souls.
For my yoke is easy
and my burden is light."

Jesus will give rest to the weary. He will give rest to those who are burdened. In Isaiah 42:3 we read,

"A bruised reed
he will not break,
and a smoldering wick
he will not snuff out,
In faithfulness
he will bring forth justice;"

Jerry Bridges comments,

"The bruised reed and the smoldering wick refer to people who are hurting, spiritually weak, or of little faith. Jesus deals gently with such people. He does not condemn them for their weakness; he does not come down with a 'heavy hand'; rather he deals with them gently…”

Thus when we are dealing with unbelievers, we need to be gentle with them and point them to the gentleness and rest they will find in Christ.

Secondly, let's look at the goal of gentleness with other believers.

We are to be gentle with each other. The goal here is to help other Christians to walk closer with Christ.

Now to see this you only have to think
about the job of the elders and the qualities that they are to display. The elders of the church are to be 'shepherds of God's flock' (1 Peter 5:2). In Hebrews 13:17 we read that they 'keep watch over you' as men who must give an account. In 1 Peter 5: 3 we are told that they are to be 'examples to the flock'. Their goal is to help you draw closer to Christ and to live for His glory. That's the job of the elders.

How are they to do their job? They are to do it with gentleness. It's one of the qualities that is listed as a qualification for an elder in 1 Timothy 3. The elders are to be gentle. They are to be like Jesus. In Isaiah 40:11we read about how our Savior treats His people.

"He tends his flock like a shepherd:
He gathers the lambs in his arms
and carries them close to his heart;
he gently leads those that have young."

Jesus carries His lambs close to His heart. He deals gently with them. This means that we are to deal gently with each other. The kind of atmosphere that Christ wants for His people is one of gentleness. In His church Christ wants His people to experience an environment where they are soothed, comforted, refreshed—an environment where they can grow strong. In the church Christ wants His people to experience gentleness, not harshness. He wants them to experience love, not anger. This is to be true even when people sin and repent of it. Galatians 6:1 reads,

"Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin,
you who are spiritual
should restore him gently."

We are to carry one another's burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ.

Thus in your dealings with your fellow Christians you are to be gentle with them. You need to be sensitive to their needs and then take actions to help them that are gentle, kind and uplifting. That's how Christ wants you to behave in the church.

But should we always be gentle?

Was Jesus always gentle? In John 2:13f we read about Jesus and his actions in the temple area.

"When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover,
Jesus went up to Jerusalem.
In the temple courts he found men selling
cattle, sheep and doves,
and others sitting at tables exchanging money.
So he made a whip out of cords,
and drove all from the temple area,
both sheep and cattle;
he scattered the coins of the money changers
and overturned their tables.
To those who sold doves he said,
'Get these out of here!
How dare you turn my Father's house
into a market!'
His disciples remembered that it is written:
Zeal for your house will consume me.'"

Jesus was not always gentle. The point that needs to be made is that sometimes in our opposition to sin and evil we must not be gentle. When Paul was dealing with some problems in the Corinthian church and especially with arrogant people. He said to them, (1 Corinthians 4:21)

"What do you prefer?
Shall I come to you with a whip,
or in love and with a gentle spirit?"

Paul was completely willing to come to them with a gentle spirit. But for him to do that they needed to stop sinning. If they refused to do that, he would not be gentle with them. James Montgomery Boice wrote on gentleness.

"Gentleness or meekness is seen most clearly in those who are so much in control of themselves that they are always angry at the right time (as against sin) and never angry at the wrong time."

We are not always to be gentle. When sin is held on to, when it is persisted in, we must not be gentle.

However, I think we need to be very careful here. The old nature can be so strong in us that we can easily deceive ourselves. I can perceive a situation where a Christian would be quite harsh with someone where they should have been gentle with them. And he'll excuse his harshness with the thought, "Well, I 'm not always supposed to be gentle." He'll do the completely wrong thing, and yet he'll justify it by appealing to this principle. So we have to be very careful.

So what I would suggest is this. The times you are not to be gentle will in fact be quite rare. Harshness is not to be a characteristic of your life. Gentleness is. We need to keep in mind that one of the fruits of the Spirit is gentleness. It is one of the defining characteristics of someone who has the Spirit. Also, in
Colossians 3:12 we are commanded to,

"clothe ourselves with … gentleness".

So if you're ever in a situation where you're not gentle, you need to get down on your knees and examine yourself. Be rigorous in examining your motives and your actions. I think it would also be wise to get the counsel of two or three objective people and get their advice on this. Be very careful about not being gentle.

Now let's apply this to our situation. We are a diverse group and we have many different ideas and ways of doing things. Yet we need to remain united in love. So I would suggest two things.

First, examine yourself, are you gentle?

Is gentleness one of your defining characteristics? If others in our congregation had to sit down and evaluate put down characteristics that you exhibit—would gentleness be on their list about you? Are you known for your gentleness? You should be.

Many of us fall far short in this characteristic. Some people say, "
I tell it like it is. I don't pull any punches." They are gruff and insensitive. People who do that are not being gentle. They are not displaying this fruit of the Spirit. They are not doing what Jesus wants them to do. They sin greatly.

But I think we all fall short with regard to gentleness.

We all need to be more gentle.

Are you gentle like Christ? Do you love sinners like Christ does? Do you love your fellow Christians like Christ does? Earlier I quoted from Philippians 4:4. It reads,

"Rejoice in the Lord always.
I will say it again: Rejoice!
Let your gentleness be evident to all.
The Lord is near."

William Hendriksen comments,

"The idea seems to be: since Christ's coming is near, when all the promises made to God's people will become realities, believers, in spite of being persecuted, can certainly afford to be mild and charitable in their relation to others."

Everything is going to be set right. The Lord is coming soon. You don't have to be harsh with other people. You don't have to be angry with them. The Lord is coming soon, show them love, show them gentleness.

Let us be gentle with one another. Gentleness tells people that you love them, that you care for them in a way that is sensitive to their needs. Be gentle with each other and to help each other walk more closely with Christ.

Lastly, if anyone here is not a Christian, I ask you,

Do you like gentleness? Do you like people dealing gently with you? Of course you do. Everyone does.

But know assuredly that it's only in Christ that you will find lasting gentleness.

If you go to Christ He will accept you with open arms. He will give you rest, rest that is lasting, rest that is satisfying.

But it's only in Christ that you will find rest. Outside of Him there is no gentleness that lasts. If you're not in Christ when this life is over there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Go to Christ. Go to Him today.