Fruit of The Lips: Gentleness

FOTL 3-2

“No, wait” – we say, cautiously approaching Jesus – “you don’t understand.  I’ve really messed up, in all kinds of ways.”

“I know,” he responds.

“You know most of it, sure.  Certainly more than what others see.  But there’s perversity down inside me that is hidden from everyone.”

I know it all.

“Well – the thing is, it isn’t just my past.  It’s my present, too.”

I understand.

“But I don’t know if I can break free of this any time soon.”

That’s the only kind of person I’m here to help.

“The burden is heavy – and heavier all the time.”

Then let me carry it.

“It’s too much to bear.”

Not for me.

“You don’t get it!  My offenses aren’t directed toward others.  They’re against you.”

Then I am the one most suited to forgive them.

”But the more of the ugliness in me you discover, the sooner you’ll get fed up with me.”

Whoever comes to me I will never cast out. (Dane Ortland, Gentle & Lowly, 63-64)


What is gentleness?

Gentleness is that quality of care and affection which seeks to protect, honor that which it serves. It’s approach is not harsh.It’s handling is not flippant or careless. It is love through tenderness. The same word here for gentleness, πραΰτης (prautēs), is also frequently translated as meekness. Both words carry the same force of gentleness, but meekness highlights the nature of power under restraint, serving in gentleness as a conscious choice of tender grace.

Gentleness is one of those characteristics that we can easy misunderstand, even rejecting it as too weak or too mushy to be a significant part of “good theology” and Christian living. It’s also one of the most misunderstood aspects of God’s nature. Of ourselves, we cast God in our own image or of our own imagination. We can either make him all gentle with no rigidity of holiness, or what is most common, is that we make him to be austere, stern, and distant, not understanding at all left to our own devices how gentle and condescending He truly is to our sins and dire situation. He think Him far when he is near and cold when he is warm.

God’s Gentleness:

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”” (Matthew 11:28–30, ESV)

In Matthew twelve, Jesus gives us an insight into His very heart; he is gentle and lowly. To those who are heavy laden, crushed under the fear, pressure, shame and despair of this world, Jesus’ heart is to lift that burden. He is the physician who has come to heal the sick. And he is lowly, or humble, condescending from His throne to bear the fragility and humility of manhood to the cross and through the grave for the sins of man. He went as a lamb to the slaughter, strength under control, silent in the face of Pilate, but for the joy set before him.

Even as the whole world stands condemned, “God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:17). Jesus is not repulsed by us or exhausted by our sins. He does not scold us and deal with us in the ways that our sins justify if we come to Him.

As Psalm 103 says, “He will not always chide, nor will he keep his anger forever. He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us. As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him. For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust. As for man, his days are like grass; he flourishes like a flower of the field; for the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place knows it no more. But the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him, and his righteousness to children’s children,” (Psalm 103:9–17).

And what is this new yoke that we take up in Him? What is this His burden? Dane Ortland in his excellent book Gentle and Lowly likens Jesus’ burden like the burden of a drowning man who puts on a life jacket. His yoke bears us up and saves our lives.

God’s Gentleness & Power

Praise the Lord! For it is good to sing praises to our God; for it is pleasant, and a song of praise is fitting. The Lord builds up Jerusalem; he gathers the outcasts of Israel. He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds. He determines the number of the stars; he gives to all of them their names. Great is our Lord, and abundant in power; his understanding is beyond measure. The Lord lifts up the humble; he casts the wicked to the ground.” (Psalm 147:1–6, ESV)

Although abundant in power, God is also abundant in tenderness. He sees the brokenness of our very hearts, binding up our innermost wounds.

Behold, the Lord God comes with might, and his arm rules for him; behold, his reward is with him, and his recompense before him. He will tend his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms; he will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young.” (Isaiah 40:10–11, ESV)

God comes in might and strength and sovereign rule, yet he is not a king who will only sit far away on His throne. Philippians two reminds us that he left His throne, not counting equality with God a thing to be grasped. What does that mean? Is this saying that Jesus couldn’t grasp the concept intellectually of being equal with God? No, it’s not that. It more literal. He didn’t grasp or cling to His throne, though He is equal to God and would have full right to do so. The chapter goes on to tell us that Jesus humbled Himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross. And that image of the King of Kings coming down to be our tender shepherd, leading the way right next to us, not far away, is what has given Him the right to carry the name above all names and to have every knee bow down to Him. His gentleness does not come at the expense of His holiness. We often over extend gentleness into what might rightly be called tolerance, giving gentleness a quality that treats all people and all sins with kid gloves, soft words, and even acceptance. But this is not so with God. He is aligned by perfect holiness. His wrath burns hot against all lies and soul-stealing sin. He sees with clearer eyes and speaks with a sharper tongue than anyone about the true nature of our sin. And yet, He still chooses to acknowledge our frame, treating us with tender care of a father.

a bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not quench,” (Matthew 12:20, ESV)

To those who are bruised or smoldering, feeling knocked around or about to fade out, God is not delighted to snuff them out or see them broken.

“If compassion clothed itself in a human body and went walking around this earth, what would it look like? We don’t have to wonder.” (Ortland, Gentle and Lowly, 32)

For thus says the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: “I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the contrite.” (Isaiah 57:15, ESV)

Where does the Holy one dwell, the One who inhabits eternity? He is both high and low. He dwells in marvelous light, surrounded by angels in glory and splendor, but He is just as present with the humble and contrite of heart. This focus on gentleness is not meant to restrict our minds into a vision of God that is dominated by merely one trait. He is holy, holy, holy in all of his ways and full in every characteristic. But we must pay attention to how God chooses to reveal himself. In the NT it is as gentle and lowly, and at Mt. Sinai, it is “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation”” (Exodus 34:5–7, ESV). Again, God will by no means clear the guilty. His gentleness does not mean tolerance. But he does deal with the guilty gently, with patience, mercy, and steadfast love. It is those who refuse this grace and spurn his gentleness that experience his wrath.


His mercy is not calculating and cautious, like ours. It is unrestrained, flood like, sweeping, magnanimous. It means our hunting shame is not a problem for him, but the very thing he loves most to work with. It means our sins do not cause his love to take a hit. Our sins cause his love to surge forward all the more. It means on that day when we stand before him, quietly, unhurriedly, we will weep with relief, shocked at how impoverished a view of his mercy-rich heart we had. (Gentle & Lowly, 179-180)


Our call to gentleness in life and speech

“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” (Matthew 5:5, ESV)

It is the meek, those who are marked with a God-like gentleness, which are entrusted with the stewardship of this world. Take for example the qualifications that God gives for leadership and stewardship of His church from 2 Tim. 2:

And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will” (2 Timothy 2:24–26, ESV).

A defining characteristic of a meek and gentle leader is that they are not quarrelsome.   I frequently see people who are quick to condemn spiritual leaders for being too passive and perhaps “too gentle” in regard to personal sins, church scandals, or cultural movements. And that is certainly true. But the pendulum easily swings into a sort of watchdog cage-fighter who wants to argue with everyone about everything. There are many spiritual leaders who fail to meet this qualification because they are grievance collectors who like to argue too much. The sober-minded leader can see the sin for what it is, can hate it with the proper intensity, and still be under the control of the Spirit which gives the fruit of gentleness. Our tone and our presence should match that of our Redeemers and not merely the accepted tone of our “camp”.  This meek leader is kind to everyone, able to teach; one who patiently endures evil, and who corrects his opponents with gentleness. Jesus didn’t combust when he was in the presence of sinners or of sin. He wasn’t scandalized, nor did He match the volume or the tone of the mobs. He saw beyond the symptoms and into the sickness, crying our “father forgive them, for they know not what they do” on the cross. But neither did he mince words or pull punches. He was meek and mild, his kindness leading to forgiveness.

I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” (Ephesians 4:1–3)

We are to walk and speak in a manner worthy to which we have been called, speaking with gentleness as we are eager to maintain the bond of peace. How eager are you to express tenderness? I am often eager to express my discontent and my frustration. If I am daydreaming about a troubled situation with which someone is in the wrong, and especially if I feel that they have wronged me, my eagerness is to have them see their fault and to feel my indignation. But this verse says that like God, our ambition would be an eagerness to maintain unity. We shouldn’t daydream ways to knock someone down a peg or to slay their prideful sins with the sharp sword of our flaming lips of justice. We should daydream about how we can bring reconciliation. How they can see Christ in us, and how we can maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

“The words of the reckless pierce like swords, but the tongue of the wise brings healing” (Prov. 12:18).

Meekness is sober-minded and under restraint. So when the meek man speaks with gentleness, he isn’t speaking with reckless sword thrusts, flailing and spinning around the room while wielding a sharp object. When you speak with reckless and careless harshness, even if your criticism is absolutely correct and the other person’s sin is flagrant and wicked, we can miss the ultimate goal of bringing healing. What is the goal, after all? We often move the goal posts into scoring points for our side or our pride, but the godly man has the magnanimity and humility to aim his sword at the sin while not butchering the sinner. If you were to arrive in the ER with a severe wound and you were flat-lining, you wouldn’t want your doctor to spend the first few minutes giving you a lecture about how you should have been more careful. No, the doctor should have the mind to serve your protection and safety, no matter what opinions they have of why you are hurt. This is why Jesus was the great physician who had no problem being gentle to those who were sick.

Listen how James puts it:

Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.” (James 3:13–18, ESV)

Gentleness is a sign of true wisdom and righteousness. When we begin to boast about ourselves and our wisdom, when we critique our relationships from our lofty and exalted position without gentleness, it’s a sign that we are really filled with some sort of pride and selfish ambition. We are more glad to be right than we are to bring peace. When we are really wise, our words are peaceful, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere, sowing peace. And don’t forget, says James, that this prideful harshness is not only unwise and prideful, it’s demonic. It is more in line with Satan the accuser than with Christ the gentle and lowly.

Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.” (Galatians 6:1, ESV)

Gentleness reinforces our genuine affection, allowing someone to take their defenses down so that you can remove the speck from their eye, having no log in your own.

Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.” (Colossians 3:12–14, ESV)

The Bible frequently speaks of “putting on” the qualities of Christ and taking off those of the flesh. Like a garment to be removed or one to cloth our nakedness, we are called to dress ourselves according to the occasion. And this covering that we are to put on is Christ, taking off the harshness that comes from being annoyed. Taking of the harshness which comes by having our pride challenged. And we are to take off coldness and passivity, which looks like indifference, but  is actually harshness by the removal of leadership, wisdom and love. A shepherd who will not protect his flock may be plenty gentle, but he is ultimately a velvet-tongued destroyer. Jude calls the shepherds who feed themselves “waterless clouds”, those whose service is empty, vain, and useless. Leadership in our age of feelings sensitivity can quickly make a firm word of love into severe word of hate. But gentleness frequently takes the form of meek restraint in dealing with the present situation, knowing that what happens later if the sin problem is not dealt with is much greater. A parent that yells at their child as they run into the street issn’t being harsh (even if it sounds like it), they are sparing their child from the much harsher reality of being hit by a car. In the same way, rebuke and correction and exhortation can often land on the ears of our time as harshness even as we are seeking to spare them of a much less gentle reality in the future.