Previous article in this series: December 1, 2009, p. 111.
The next item in the list of the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22 is gentleness. This word is sometimes translated elsewhere in the Bible as “kindness.”
This is another virtue that we learn to desire and that we pray that the Spirit of Christ will work in us more and more by the means of grace and His inner working. In fact, it is one virtue that the Lord calls us “to put on” in Colossians 3:12. “Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved,… kindness….” We must put on, or clothe ourselves with, gentleness towards one another in the household of faith.
What is gentleness or kindness?
Gentleness is a virtue of God Himself. In Luke 6:35, we learn that our heavenly Father is “kind unto the unthankful and to the evil.” In that verse Christ teaches us to be kind unto our neighbors upon the earth. The basis for that command of Christ is the fact that the Father is kind unto the evil and unthankful. Certainly that is very true concerning the salvation of God’s people. He is very gentle unto the unthankful and evil such as we are. In fact, while we were yet His enemies, the Father sacrificed Christ for us and thereby redeemed us from our sin, evil, and unthankfulness towards Him. That is the greatest demonstration of God’s kindness unto His people, who in their sin and according to their nature are evil and unthankful. In spite of our evil and unthankfulness, the Father in His sovereign kindness saves us according to His eternal counsel. Now, according to that example and on that basis, we are called to reflect that gentleness unto our earthly neighbors in all our dealings with them.
That glorious kindness of the Father towards His elect in Christ Jesus arises out of His grace. We are taught that truth in Ephesians 2:7: “That in the ages to come he might shew the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness towards us through Christ Jesus.” Here we learn that the grace and goodness of God flow unto us through Christ Jesus in this way of kindness. Although we deserve a crushing and eternal blast of God’s indignation because of our sin, yet God in His grace is kind unto us. He is not kind unto those who are not in Christ Jesus. The “us” of Ephesians 1 is not all men, but, according to Ephesians 1:4, the “us” is God’s elect. To all those who are not chosen by the Father, God is not kind, but righteously severe in His wrath and indignation. God handles the wicked, whom He curses, with a rod of iron. However, in contrast to the unrighteous, God is gentle and marvelously kind. Even though the people of God show that they are just as unthankful and evil sinners as the wicked, and sometimes even worse, yet God delivers us from our sin, heals us from our spiritual death of evil, blesses us with new life in Jesus Christ, and works in us that glory of eternal salvation. That is the wonder of God’s sovereign, unmerited, and unconditional gentleness towards undeserving sinners. Have you experienced that gentleness of God?
We sing of His gentleness towards us in the Psalter.
Mindful of our human frailty
Is the God in Whom we trust,
He Whose years are everlasting,
He remembers we are dust.
Thy free salvation is my shield,
My sure defense in every strait;
Thy hand upholds me, lest I yield;
Thy gentleness hath made me great.
Jesus lived this virtue of kindness and gentleness towards His people in His earthly ministry. He was not gentle towards everyone in His ministry. Jesus pronounced judgments upon the cities, including Jerusalem, that rejected Him and all the prophets that He sent to Israel. Those pronouncements of desolation, destruction, and woe were His word of harsh judgment on account of their pride, sin, and unbelief. Moreover, Jesus spoke very harsh and damning words to the unrighteous Pharisees, even calling them snakes and children of Satan. The gentle Lord will crush His enemies and deal with them in harshness.
However, unto His own He is neither harsh nor bitter. For example, when His disciples repeatedly did not understand His work as the Messiah, He did not lash out at them to destroy them and retaliate against them for their unbelief. He rebuked them in His love and grace. In kindness that seeks the salvation and true comfort of His elect sheep, Jesus called His disciples to repentance and true faith in Him.
Jesus demonstrated His kindness powerfully to the woman who had been caught in the very act of adultery and was set in all her shame publicly before Jesus and a large crowd of people. The Pharisees were brutal and selfishly harsh with that woman. They had no compassion for this sinner, and had no desire to give her any covering for her shame whatsoever. They abused that sinner for their own agenda of a public discrediting of Christ’s work and person.
However, the good and kind Shepherd controls His sheep. Unwittingly, the Pharisees were a tool in the hand of the Lord to bring the woman to the right place: our merciful Savior. Christ in His mercy was kind unto her. As her merciful High Priest, He said to her, “Neither do I condemn thee” (John 8:11). Forgiven! Jesus did not flatten this wicked sinner, who stood in the shame and the guilt of her terrible sin before the Lord. He did not crush the bruised reed, nor quench the smoking flax (Is. 42:3). As her Lord, He forgave her sin.
Does that mean that in His kindness Jesus minimized the seriousness of the woman’s adultery? No. Jesus could forgive her sin because He took that heinous iniquity upon Himself and willingly was determined to suffer for this woman the crushing and bruising blow of God’s wrath for her and all adulterers and fornicators like her, who are of His sheep. And, in His kindness, Jesus did not tolerate her sin. He spoke to her the kind and powerful word of life by which He called her out of her sin into the way of sexual purity and of thankfulness: “Go, and sin no more” (John 8:11).
There are other examples of this gentleness of Christ. Another example is how Jesus handled Peter when Peter was in the courtyard of the high priest’s residence. After some time had passed since the last time that Peter yielded to the temptation to deny Jesus, Peter responded to a remark from another in the courtyard who affirmed that Peter was one of Jesus’ disciples. Peter for the third time denied Christ. (Who of us would not have done the same thing?) After the echo of Peter’s defiant denial and the crow of the courtyard rooster had faded, “the Lord turned, and looked upon Peter” (Luke 22:61a). Jesus did not destroy Peter, nor did He yell angrily across the courtyard at Peter. Jesus looked right into the heart and soul of Peter, so that Peter remembered that Jesus foretold that Peter would deny Christ exactly as he had just done. Jesus brought Peter to repentance with that gentle but soul-piercing look of mercy and gentleness.
Does not the Lord deal similarly with us in His kindness? Do you recognize that gentle, but soul-piercing look of your Lord to bring you to repentance and faith in Him?
Think about how Jesus handled the little children of believers. Did He in cruelty send the parents and the little infants away as though He had no time for the lambs of His flock? Did Jesus tell the children that He has nothing to say to them but only to their parents? Did He tell the children that He has no blessing for them as infants and they must wait until they get older? We learn that Jesus gathered His little lambs in His arms and blessed them with the blessings of salvation.
That same gentleness of our great Shepherd towards His lambs is taught in Isaiah 40:11: “He shall feed his flock like a shepherd: he shall gather the lambs with his arm, and carry them in his bosom, and shall gently lead those that are with young.” When we bring our children under the means of grace, including the preaching of the word and the sacrament of baptism for our infants, we behold the wonder of Christ’s gentleness towards us and towards our seed to bless us and them with His undeserved and unmerited blessings of salvation.
“Who touched Me?” Jesus said to a large crowd, including the woman who had touched the hem of His garment. She was timid and shy and thought she could obtain her healing unnoticed. But that is not the way Jesus works salvation. He brings us to stand before Him face to face and to confess our salvation with heart and mouth before Him, before His church, and even before the world. Jesus is our Savior and covenant Friend, who joins us in close fellowship with Him. Thus did Jesus bring before Him the woman who touched His garment, so that she might unburden her soul. And in response, Jesus said, “Daughter, be of good comfort: thy faith hath made thee whole; go in peace” (Luke 8:48).
Similarly, Jesus deals with us, who are of a weak faith and are also often reluctant to cast all our care upon Him. We must remember that He in His gentleness does care for us and remains near to us in His care through the Comforter, His Spirit.
Based on what gentleness means with respect to our heavenly Father and our Lord Jesus Christ, we may then describe the gentleness of the elect, regenerated, and sanctified children of our heavenly Father.
True gentleness for us is the virtue that is the opposite of and is also opposed to all spiritual brutality, hostility, and harshness. Gentleness is not cruel. It is never motivated by a spirit of retaliation, by which we decide that the offender must pay double for the pain that he or she has inflicted on us. Gentleness does not strike back. It is not proud. It will not hurtfully poke fun of the afflictions, disabilities, weaknesses, and acute problems of others.
Gentleness is a virtue in which the child of God, who is the covenant friend of God, shows himself to be spiritually friendly to other members of the body of Christ. It is a virtue in which the child of God deals with fellow believers, not to crush them, but to build them up and to deliver them from spiritual ruin. It is a virtue that regards covenant friendship and life in the body of Christ as very fragile and precious, and a gift of God to be handled delicately. It is a virtue of the handling of the souls of others with great care. It is a virtue that parents must exercise towards their children, whereby the parents handle the souls of their children cautiously, without crushing them under the fist of a tyrant or under the impossible, Pharisaical burdens of endless rules. Instead, the lambs of Christ are handled with His gentleness, which guides the children by instruction and consistent discipline, out of the way of sin and unbelief and into the way of faith and a thankful life. The goal of that gentleness is that the children may grow up smiling in the fear and admonition of the Lord.
From whence comes this virtue of gentleness? Is it a natural ability that one can acquire by birth or by sufficient education? By nature we are cruel and harsh. True gentleness, gentleness that meets the standard of excellence of the Holy Spirit, cannot have its origin in us. In fact, a man might be naturally and sincerely gentle towards another miserable and hurting individual while at the same time tolerating that other person’s sin and not speaking as Christ did to the woman caught in adultery. A woman may handle her child with great gentleness and raise that child in a gentle spirit that might make the leaders of Hinduism, Buddha, or Islam proud. A man or woman’s natural gentleness or sincere gentleness in bondage to a false religion does not meet the Holy Spirit’s standards of quality and excellence for His fruit.
All that is of man is spiritual enmity and bitterness against God and against one another. Where enmity and sin rule in the heart of a man, no true gentleness will result. In fact, where enmity rules in a man’s heart, that becomes evident inevitably in his words and actions towards God and one another. For example, if a husband or a wife lives in the sin of bitterness and harshness towards each other, then their thoughts, words, and actions of harshness and brutality will crush, hurt, and suffocate the life and beauty of what the marriage bond ought to be in view of the gentle Christ towards His beloved bride, the church.
The gentleness that meets the Holy Spirit’s standard of excellence has its source in the love of Christ. The foundation and life source of being kind to one another with a view to Christ and our heavenly Father is the love by which Christ loved us first and, as a result, the love whereby we love Christ first above all else. With that love of Christ in our hearts, there will be the beginning of a life of true gentleness. Where there is that self-denying, thankful, faithful love of Christ and unto Christ, there will be gentleness towards one another.
That love of Christ sees the great gentleness with which Christ has made beautiful and glorious His undeserving bride, His church. In thankfulness for that wondrous, gentle Lord and Savior, there will be present in our hearts by the grace and Spirit of Christ the beginning of that gentleness towards our neighbor, especially towards those whom we know and love in our Lord.
Therefore, clothe yourselves with His gentleness.
… to be concluded.