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By Rev Charles Seet

Preached at Life BPC 8 am service, 2006-08-13

Text: Galatians 5:22; 2 Timothy 2:24,25

We have been doing a series of studies in the Fruit of the Spirit. This morning we will be studying the 5th virtue of the Fruit of the Spirit given in Galatians 5:22,23 -- the one that is called gentleness. Gentleness is much needed in Christian living. We live in a society that is becoming increasingly aggressive, uncaring and insensitive to the feelings of others. In the business world, particularly, where everything is always directed toward productivity and profit, to remain competitive, there is very little room for gentleness. Some even advocate using principles from 'Sun Tsu's Art of War' to succeed in business. But Christ has called us to be in the world but not of the world. We must be different, in order that people who observe our life may notice the difference and be drawn to Christ. In these days of coldness and competitive hostility in society it is particulary necessary that Christians learn gentleness.

Gentleness is also a quality needed for Christian service. In 2 Timothy 2:24 the apostle Paul gave this instruction 'And the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient.' It is therefore good for us therefore to cultivate a gentle spirit in our life. It pleases both God and men, and it also facilitates our service for the Lord. 

I. What Gentleness is

Gentleness is very closely related to another quality in the fruit of the Spirit: meekness. In fact in many passages they go together, and are used interchangeably in the English language. These two qualities seem to go together. Meekness however may be distinguished from gentleness in that meekness is the way one regards oneself, and is therefore described in the Scriptures as 'lowliness of mind.' (e.g. Philippians 2:3). Gentleness on the other hand, deals with the way that one regards others.

A gentle person is mild-mannered toward people, moderate, considerate, thoughtful to others, yielding and friendly. A person who is gentle does not resort to using force to get things done: Titus 3:2 'To speak evil of no man, to be no brawlers, but gentle shewing all meekness unto all men.'

But very often people are told that this soft approach to people is not suitable for survival in our world. We are told that if we want to be successful, we must adopt an unscrupulous approach, bull-dozing our way through no matter what it may cost to others. We are told that results can only be obtained by being aggressive and rough toward all competitors, and refusing to give in to any demands or requests. Those of us who are men, especially, are not expected to be gentle because this is a sign of weakness, but to be tough and unyielding. But the truth is that gentleness is not a sign of weakness at all. It can be a most powerful tool used by God to accomplish His purposes. Proverbs 15:1 'A soft (gentle) answer turneth away wrath: but grievous words stir up anger.' Proverbs 25:15 'By long forbearing is a prince persuaded, and a soft tongue breaketh the bone.'

The Bible gives us an excellent example of a king who was not gentle in dealing with his people and the result of it was that he lost most of his kingdom. According to 1 Chronicles 10:6-16, when Rehoboam, the son of King Solomon came to the throne of Israel, his people requested him to ease the heavy taxation that his father had imposed on them to finance his massive building projects. Rehoboam first asked the wise older men for their advice and they said to him, 'If thou wilt be kind to this people and please them, and speak good words to them, they will be thy servants for ever.' Their advice was that king Rehoboam would gain more by being gentle toward the people. 

But Rehoboam did not listen to them. Instead he listened to the advice of his younger friends who told him to be tough, saying to the people, 'My little finger shall be thicker than my father's loins. For whereas my father put a heavy yoke on you, I will put more to your yoke: my father chastised you with whips, but I shall chastise you with scorpions!' King Rehoboam followed this very unwise advice and lost 10 tribes which broke away and formed another kingdom.

Besides understanding what gentleness is, it is also important for us to clarify what gentleness is not. To be gentle is not the same as being gullible or naive. Christ told His disciples to be wise as serpents, while being harmless as doves. We would be foolish to be accomodating with people to the point that wicked persons take advantage of our gentleness, and manipulate us for their own purposes. Gentleness must always be applied with wisdom. Even our gentle Saviour Jesus Christ who is called the Lamb of God, did not commit Himself to everyone who claimed to believe in Him, because as the omniscient Lord He knew all men and what motives they had for coming to Him (John 2:23-25).

To be gentle also does not mean that one must always give in to others, even on issues where we must stand firm and uncompromising. Whenever moral principles are at stake, we cannot afford to be swayed by others. In the history of Israel there was one king who was just the opposite of Rehoboam. While Rehoboam was not gentle enough, this king was much too gentle even with the enemies of God. This king was Jehoshaphat. He was a good and god-fearing king, but he adopted friendly attitude toward King Ahab, who was the most wicked king of Israel. Ahab married Jezebel the evil Sidonian princess who brought Baal worship into Israel. He persecuted the prophets of God and coveted the property of Naboth.

Jehoshaphat accepted Ahab's invitation to help him fight a battle. He embarked on a joint shipping venture with Ahab. He even had his son married to Ahab's daughter. But each of these things ended in disaster, as a prophet from God rebuked Jehoshaphat, 'Shouldest thou help the ungodly, and love them that hate the Lord? therefore is wrath upon thee from before the Lord.' (2 Chronicles 19:2) Let us therefore learn to exercise gentleness with wisdom, standing firm on moral principles.

II. Our Pattern for Gentleness

Having defined what gentleness is we now go on to study our pattern for Gentleness. And there is no better pattern or example of gentleness than our Lord Jesus Christ Himself. The apostle Paul held up the gentleness and meekness of Christ as the basis for his exhortaton to the Corinthians: 2 Corinthians 10:1 'Now I Paul myself beseech you by the meekness and gentleness of Christ,' 

Gentleness was foretold to be one outstanding aspect of the ministry of Christ in Isaiah 42:1-4 'Behold my servant, whom I uphold; mine elect, in whom my soul delighteth; I have put my spirit upon him: he shall bring forth judgment to the Gentiles. He shall not cry, nor lift up, nor cause his voice to be heard in the street. A bruised reed shall he not break, and the smoking flax shall he not quench: he shall bring forth judgment unto truth. He shall not fail nor be discouraged, till he have set judgment in the earth: and the isles shall wait for his law.' 

These verses from Isaiah are quoted again in Matthew 12:18-21 where they are applied to Jesus Christ. It is worth spending a few moments to study this passage: Isaiah uses two figures of speech. The first is that of a cracked, half-broken reed. It is so fragile that it will part in two forever under the rough treatment of men in the world. In the hands of Jesus the reed will not be broken further; in fact it will be fully restored. When Jesus is at hand, no one is beyond hope, no matter how hopeless he may believe his lot to be.

The second figure of speech is that of a flickering, almost extinguished oil lamp wick. A sudden movement will quench the light entirely. But in the hands of our Lord Jesus, the flame will be safe for He will be gentle and understanding. The flame will grow in strength again till it is able to shed its light for all to see.

According to verses 3 and 4 the gentleness of Christ is the means by which He will one day bring forth judgment unto truth and judgment in the earth. The isles will one day wait for His law. In other words in the final analysis, Gentleness will work. It will prove to be even more effective to subdue kingdoms than force and aggression.

In the New Testament, Christ Himself speaks about his own gentleness in Matthew 11:28-30 (Let us turn our Bibles to this passage and read it): 'Come unto Me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn of Me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.' The word 'meek' in v.29 can also be translated as 'gentle' and so the verse reads, 'Take my yoke upon you and learn from Me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart.'

What a loving and gentle invitation our Lord gives to all who are weary and heavy-laden. Jesus is gentle because He knows and understands our needs. He knows the anguish of our hearts, our failures and disappointments. With tender loving care He offers us rest in Him, and the opportunity to learn from Him. For our sakes He even makes His yoke comfortable for us - one that is not burdensome, but easy and light. Is there anyone who can be more gentle to us than Jesus Christ?

The Four Gospels give us several accounts of people who found such rest and restoration through the gentleness of Christ. One example is the account about Zacchaeus described in Luke 19:1-10. Zacchaeus was a rich tax-collector who was despised by people around him, but when he heard that Jesus was coming he climbed up a sycomore tree to see Him because he was very short. Jesus saw Zacchaeus and said to him, 'Zacchaeus, make haste, and come down; for today I must abide at thy house.'

To a person like Zacchaeus who was much hated and disliked by all of his own countrymen, there could be no better kindness shown to him by Jesus than coming to honour his house with His divine presence. How gentle was our Saviour in understanding the deepest need of Zacchaeus and meeting that need so well. Zacchaeus was marvellously saved after that.

Another person who experienced the gentleness of Christ was the thief that was crucified beside him at Calvary. In the initial part of the crucifixion, this thief was actually hurling terrible insults at Christ together with all the rest of the people there. But later on, when he saw how Jesus took all that suffering and reviling for doing nothing wrong and without any resentment at all, he came to realize that Jesus must be the Messiah who could save him. The thief then turned to Jesus and said, 'Lord remember me when Thou comest into Thy kingdom.' How wonderful was the gentle reply that Jesus gave to him: 'Verily I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with Me in paradise.' (Luke 23:43)

Yet another person who experienced this gentleness of Christ was Peter, one of His closest disciples. Peter had denied Him three times on the night that Jesus was arrested. Peter had every reason to feel that he had grievously disappointed his master and was no longer worthy to be a disciple of Christ anymore. In fact in John 21 Peter went back to his fishing business and it was Jesus who came to seek for him and restore him. And our Lord did this in a most wonderful and gentle manner. He gave Peter the opportunity to confess his love for Him three times. Then he recommissioned Peter to follow Him as His disciple.

Now that we have seen our pattern for Gentleness in Jesus, we want to consider how we may emulate this pattern: How do we cultivate this virtue called gentleness in our own life?

III. How to Cultivate Gentleness

A gentle spirit comes from having an accurate scriptural view of ourselves and of others. We must see ourselves as wretched sinners who are saved by grace alone. If not for what God has done in our lives, we would not be what we are right now. We must realize how gentle and gracious God has been to us, to forgive us our sins when we really deserved to be punished. How gracious God is to give us eternal life and a home in heaven, when we really deserved eternal death in hell. How blessed we are to have the privilege of walking with Him, when we really deserved to be left to continue walking in our own ways of destruction!

When we understand how immensely we have been forgiven, and how intensely we have been loved and saved by God, then we will surely be more all the more willing to show that same forgiveness, that same love and the same compassion on those around us and be gentle in dealing with them. When we understand how God had such deep concern and interest in our lives, then we would be all the more willing to show the same deep concern for and interest in the lives of others.

The next step to cultivate gentleness is to train our minds to regard the lives of people around us as being very precious and valuable. If you were given a piece of fragile porcelain so rare and costly as to make it irreplaceable, how carefully and gently you would handle it! If you were to hold a little new-born baby in your hands and marvel at the life that God has infused into this bundle of joy, how tenderly and gently you would carry it!

Now exactly how valuable are the lives of people around us? Each and every person is of priceless value because each person is created in the image of God. Each and every person also receives life, health and sustenance from God and if God considers them as being precious enough to receive all of these things from Him, we would be insulting God if we did not value them too. Let us learn to appreciate the value of people around us, and regard every person we meet as a special person who deserves our attention and our interest in him.

And we have an additional reason to be gentle with those who are saved - because God has considered them valuable enough to send His only begotten Son to die for them. They have been bought with the precious blood of Jesus Christ, and we must therefore be most careful how we handle any brother or sister in Christ. We must be very gentle with them because they are precious in God's sight.

Once we have gained this accurate scriptural view of others we can then go on to think of what being gentle with them means. Firstly, being gentle means being careful not to offend, or stumble them. And if any believer offends you or sins against you, do not seek to retaliate, but be very willing to forgive him or her. In Ephesians 4:32 God's Word says 'Be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake has forgiven you.' 

Secondly, being gentle means seeking the welfare of others, and not only of oneself. (In Philippians 2:4, God's Word says, 'Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others.' In order for us to be sincere in seeking the welfare of others we must be willing to see things from their point of view. We must be willing to understand them well, to be sensitive to their needs, to sympathize with them, feel their feelings, and even think their thoughts. In other words, we should try our best to put ourselves in their shoes. Then we would be able to think about the best way we can respond to them, and ways in which we can really be of help to them.

Now it takes some conscious effort for anyone to cultivate this ability to keep up this interest, this concern for others in order to be gentle with them. On our own we would fail to do this for very long, because our tendency is usually to be concerned only for ourselves. But remember that gentleness is part of the fruit of the Spirit, according to Galatians 5:22. When one is filled with the Spirit, one receives the special grace to keep being concerned for others and to be gentle in our dealings with them.

Now that we have seen how we may cultivate a gentle spirit, we may proceed to consider where we need to apply gentleness:

IV. Where we need to apply gentleness

We need this kind of gentleness first of all in serving God and others. The Apostle Paul wrote in 1 Thessalonians 2:7 'But we were gentle among you, even as a nurse cheriseth her children.' Those who are in any area of service, whether as a Sunday School teacher, or as a fellowship group committee member or a Bible study leader need to cultivate gentleness. A ministry characterized by gentleness is a ministry that will edify people, and provides a good environment for spiritual growth.

Secondly, we need gentleness in dealing with our loved ones. It is sometimes surprising and even ironic to find that people are the least gentle with the ones who are closest to them, because they tend to take them for granted, and expect too much from them. Let us be careful to be just as gentle, if not more gentle, with our parents, with our brothers and sisters in our own family, with our spouse, and with our own children. Gentleness rightly begins at home. According to 1 Peter 3:7, husbands ought to dwell with their wives, 'according to knowledge, giving honour unto the wife, as unto the weaker vessel'

Thirdly, we need gentleness in warning and rebuking others, when they have done something wrong. According to Galatians 6:1, God's Word says that, 'if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted.' We should never use a 'holier than thou' tone whenever we give such warning, but rather a tone of urgent loving concern for the welfare of the erring brother or sister. Even when church discipline is applied to a believer for sins that are publicly known, the ultimate object of that discipline process is not to condemn the person, but rather to restore him or her to fellowship when true repentance is demonstrated.

This brings this sermon on Gentleness to a close. I trust that as we have studied today what Gentleness is, looked at Christ as our pattern for gentleness, considered how we can cultivate gentleness and the areas in which we should apply gentleness that we will seek to put all this into practice. May the Lord help us all to be gentle, a He is gentle.

Vision & Mission

 

To build a united church family that is committed to making disciples through Salvation, Sanctification and Service, to the glory of God.

Verse for the Week

December 3 & 10 - Holy Living

Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness, 2 Peter 3:11