I had a classmate who talks very gently. Her voice is soothing and sounds like a lullaby. Whenever she talks in front of the class, everyone seems to be attentive because of the manner of her speaking. Not to sound stereotypical but she is an Ilongga, and Filipino culture say it is one of the reasons for her sweet-soft voice.
Some of the instances we use the word gentleness is when we refer to a person’s manner of speaking, or the way one moves. Men of culture are expected to be gentlemen. But in derogatory circles, those who are effeminate are regarded as unmanly. Harsh words and rash actions are considered ungentle responses.
But what does it really mean to be gentle?
Gentleness is a fruit of the Spirit
Gentleness is one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit, as mentioned in Galatians 5. As Christians, we must exhibit gentleness in the way we speak and act. Brutality and harshness has no room in the Body of Christ. But just like a real fruit, it might take time to develop.
I personally know many who struggles with being gentle. Their words offend people, albeit unintentional. They hide under the guise of being frank and truthful. But harsh words, when spoken, can never be taken back. It cuts like a blade. It pierces the emotions.
Paul reminds the Philippians, “let your gentleness be evident to all” (Philippians 4:5). It has an imperative tone because not many of us are naturally gentle. Also, our forms of gentleness are not always evident to people. We claim to be kind and nice but sometimes it doesn’t show. Thus the instruction.
Though this is a fruit and it might take us some time to fully learn the habit of being gentle, let us all remember that a mark of maturity is when our gentleness develops in an increasing measure. If you know you struggle with being gentle, learn to be one, not just for the sake of those around you but more so for yourself.
Gentleness is not weakness
In a misogynistic culture, being gentle is considered weak. Men are taught to display bravado and try to intimidate others to rule over them. Gentleness has no place when you want to outdo others. But the only time we should outdo others is when we express our brotherly love to them. Paul reminds us to “love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor” (Romans 12:10).
The most common illustration of gentleness is a smiling Jesus carrying a little lamb on his arms. It exudes a warm and comfortable feeling of compassion, care and love. It pictures Jesus as soft and tender, ready to embrace us as he sings for us. But this same Jesus once overturned the merchant tables within the temple courts’ premises when he got angry for the desecration of the supposed house of worship. Jesus is both referred to as a lamb and a lion, meek and strong.
Gentleness is not a weakness. The meek is not weak! If this is so, then Moses is not qualified to lead, and so is Jesus. Gentleness is strength under control. Rather than angrily overreact or passively underreact in any given situation, the gentle person chooses to do what is right – assess the situation, calmly respond with a well-thought of solution. It takes emotion to react without thinking. It takes strength to stay calm and be gentle even when things get out of control.
Gentleness is commendable
Who would you like to be with, a person who offends you with truth or a sweet-talker who spews lies? Of course I’d rather be with someone who speaks the truth, always. But let me propose a better option: how about a person who knows how to speak the truth in love but also knows how to be gentle?
Proverbs 15: 1 says “a soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger”. I always believe that everything we say must be true, but not all truth has to be said. Sometimes we need to “hold our horses” and time our rebuke. It takes wisdom to speak the right words at the right time. What does it benefit us if we prove ourselves right but we lose the confidence of a person?
If Jesus is not gentle with his words, I am sure no one will choose to stay by his side. Day in and day out, people flock towards him, listening to the words he speak. Yes, he offends the priests of his day. His words pierces the hearts of those who listens to him. But more often than not, he is gentle and compassionate, and his love soothes the wounds caused by sin of his hearers.
To the lady caught in adultery, his words brought restoration and hope.
To the Samaritan woman, his words brought acceptance and joy.
To Zaccheus, his words prompted repentance and dignity.
If Jesus is known to be a harsh-talking person hiding under the guise of being frank and “real”, these people would not even bother to talk nor listen to Jesus. But Jesus is approachable. He is not intimidating. In fact, even the little children loves to be around him!
Gentleness is an outward display of our changed life. If we remain to be sulky, irritable, harsh and easily-angered, people will doubt whether we really are Christians. Worse, we misrepresent Jesus with our ungentle countenance.
HOW DO WE SHOW GENTLENESS
If you are struggling to be gentle in the way you speak or act towards others, let me suggest the following practical action plans:
- Be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry. This is James’ instruction to the readers of his gospel. We should listen more than we should speak. Doing the opposite is considered rude.
- Be more emphatic. Whenever you feel tempted to comment about something or someone, try wearing their shoes first. If you know where people are coming from, you will be more considerate next time.
- Be intentionally gentle. Before you spew those words or give unsolicited comments, remind yourself that it is more important to win the person more than winning an argument. Practice gentleness on a regular basis, and be more intentional.
- Be ready to overlook an offense. The reason why people become harsh towards others is because either they easily get offended or they don’t want their rights to be stepped on. Learn to surrender your rights and privileges from time to time. As Proverbs 19:11 says, “good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense.”
We may have different personalities and temperaments but let us remember that the world does not revolve around us. Instead of expecting people to adjust to us, let us win their affection by being gentle towards them.