Let your gentleness be evident to all. — Philippians 4:5
Thought for the Day: The more I rejoice, the more I keep things in perspective. The more I keep things in perspective, the gentler I become.
Lately, I’ve had this Bible verse chasing me around: “Let your gentleness be evident to all” (Philippians 4:5). I’ve run across this verse in so many unexpected places that I know it’s something God wants me to pay attention to. Why? Let’s just say, when the Lord was handing out the gentleness gene in July of 1969, I was apparently in another line waiting for something else. Lots of people who were being fashioned at the same time did get the gentleness gene. I know some people who I’m sure stood in line twice and got a double portion. Me? Not so much.
Now, I can have moments of gentleness. I can perform acts of gentleness. But gentleness doesn’t ooze from the core of who I am.
This is especially true if I am sleepy or stressed. Honestly, I think I need one of those warning signs on the bedroom door to enter at your own risk after 8:30 p.m.: “DANGER! Please note that the Holy Spirit has temporarily left this woman’s body to go help a sister halfway around the world who is just now waking up.”
Now, I know that is some terrible theology, but I’m being honest, y’all. What little threads of gentleness I do have are not evident past 8:30 p.m. Not. At. All.
And then there is this thing that happens when I get stressed. Normally, I can pull off a little gentleness throughout the day, but throw in a stressful situation where too much is coming at me too quickly and mercy lou! I get task-oriented and start talking in a staccato-like cadence to my people, because I want the stuff around the house done. right. now. not. in. ten. minutes. because. now. means. now!
I don’t want this to be how my kids remember me. Staccato mama.
I don’t want this to be how I remember me in this season of life.
So this Philippians verse that has been nipping at the edges of my heart and mind, about letting my gentleness be evident to all, is something I know I need — even if it does sting a bit.
Here’s a little sermon I’ve been preaching to myself: Let your gentleness be evident to all. The “your” part means I do have some. Much as I’d like to believe otherwise, God didn’t skip over me in distributing the gentleness gene, and my wildfire personality isn’t a divine exception. Regardless of the stress I’m under, I am capable of displaying God’s gentleness because the Holy Spirit is in me. I have the Holy Spirit in me when I feel all chipper at 8:30 a.m., and I have the Holy Spirit in me when I feel grumpy at 8:30 p.m. The Spirit is in me when I feel calm and when I feel stressed. Gentle- ness is in me!
I just have to learn to reclaim the gentleness that is rightfully mine. And I can reclaim it by practicing the one word that appears right before “Let your gentleness be evident to all” (Philippians 4:5). That little word is rejoice:
Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! — Philippians 4:4
The more my heart is parked in a place of thanksgiving and rejoicing, the less room I have for grumpiness.
My kids are driving me crazy? At least they are healthy enough to have that kind of energy. Don’t miss this chance to rejoice.
My laundry is piled to the ceiling? Every stitch of clothing is evidence of life in my home. Don’t miss this chance to rejoice.
I feel unorganized and behind and late on everything? Scale back, let unrealistic expectations go, and savor some happy moments today. Don’t miss this chance to rejoice.
The more I rejoice, the more I keep things in perspective. The more I keep things in perspective, the gentler I become.
That’s why I have to intentionally seek out perspective-magnifying opportunities. Things like serving at a soup kitchen, delivering gifts to a family in need, or going on a mission trip. If I want the gentleness inside me to be unleashed, I have to break away from my everyday routine. I have to go where perspective awaits me.
Divine gentleness acknowledged
By: Charles Spurgeon
‘Thy gentleness hath made me great.’ Psalm 18:35
Suggested Further Reading: Deuteronomy 8:11–20
There are several readings of this text. The word is capable of being translated, ‘thy goodness hath made me great.’ David saw much of benevolence in God’s action towards him, and he gratefully ascribed all his greatness not to his own goodness, but to the goodness of God. ‘Thy providence’ is another reading, which is indeed nothing more than goodness in action. Goodness is providence in embryo; providence is goodness fully developed. Goodness is the bud of which providence is the flower; or goodness is the seed of which providence is the harvest. Some render it, ‘thy help,’ which is but another word for providence; providence being the firm ally of the saints, aiding them in the service of their Lord. Some learned annotators tell us that the text means, ‘thy humility hath made me great.’ ‘Thy condescension’ may, perhaps, serve as a comprehensive reading, combining the ideas which we have already mentioned, as well as that of humility. It is God’s making himself little which is the cause of our being made great. We are so little that if God should manifest his greatness without condescension, we should be trampled under his feet; but God, who must stoop to view the skies and bow to see what angels do, bends his eye yet lower and looks to the lowly and contrite, and makes them great. While these are the translations which have been given to the adopted text of the original, we find that there are other readings altogether; as for instance, the Septuagint, which reads, ‘thy discipline’—thy fatherly correction—‘hath made me great;’ while the Chaldee paraphrase reads, ‘thy word hath increased me.’ Still the idea is the same. David ascribes all his own greatness to the condescending goodness and graciousness of his Father in heaven. I trust we all feel that this sentiment is echoed in our hearts.
Not long ago, I was asked to help with a series of devotionals on the fruit of the Spirit for our seminary’s day of prayer. I chose gentleness since I want to be more gentle and hope to learn what that means. I had limited time to prepare, and so reminded myself to avoid the mistakes born of haste (or ignorance). I would not search for quotations or stories about gentleness, since the first assumes my culture has a valid concept of gentleness and the second assumes I do. Nor would I be content to simply list a string of verses that mention gentleness. Again it would be too easy to pour personal or Western definitions into the term.
Reading cultural or preferred definitions into a term is a common error. For example, my two-year-old granddaughter came into my home office as I worked on the devotional and said, “Papa read me a story?” I replied, “I can’t right now honey, I’m working.” She paused to think and asked, “Danny and the Dinosaur?” This, she sensed, was the book most likely to elicit “Okay, bring it to me.” Thirty seconds later, we were reading. It’s important to reward ingenuity.
I shared this with some friends and someone replied, “That’s sweet. You’re getting gentler, Dan.” Maybe. Or maybe I’m getting lazier. Or maybe I was stuck and needed a diversion. It’s easy to confuse style and personality with character. Yet gentleness is not an accident of disposition or relational style. Whether loud or quiet, male or female, powerful or powerless, every disciple should be gentle.
Beyond the Lexicon
A study of gentleness in the New Testament may begin in a Greek lexicon, looking up praus (gentle) and prautes (gentleness). Somewhat surprisingly, the classic lexicon defines praus as “not being overly impressed by a sense of one’s self-importance.” It’s a good definition, but to see what it means, we need to examine Scripture’s use of the term.
Since the fruit of the Spirit is found in Galatians 5:22–23, we begin in Galatians. Though Paul simply lists the term in 5:23, he uses it again just four verses later: “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness” (Gal. 6:1).
Rough and Gentle
Fortunately, Paul shows what he means, since he addresses transgressors several times in Galatians. In chapter 1, he says that anyone preaching a gospel contrary to his is “accursed” (1:8–9). This doesn’t sound gentle to us. Nor does he sound gentle when he says he “opposed [Peter] to his face because he stood condemned” for withdrawing from Gentiles who didn’t follow Jewish food laws (Gal. 2:11).
In Galatians 3, Paul calls his readers bewitched fools (3:1–3). There are tender moments in Galatians 4:12–20 and 5:7–10, and in 1 Corinthians 4:21 and 2 Timothy 2:25, but he sounds rough indeed in Galatians 5:11. Someone will object, not without merit, that Paul advocates gentleness for those who get “caught” in sin (6:1), whereas his foes were hardened. But it seems Peter got caught in sin (2:12), and he got rough treatment too.
Gentle Jesus, Meek and Mild?
Jesus’s version of gentleness looks a lot like Paul’s. First of all, Jesus commends gentleness in the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:3–12). In the first three, he blesses the poor in spirit, those who mourn, and the “meek” (praus again). These go together. The poor in spirit know their need of God’s grace. When they take their poverty to God, he gives them his kingdom. Further, the poor in spirit mourn their spiritual poverty—their sinfulness. When they mourn their sin, they become meek or gentle. The poor in spirit, the mourners, are gentle in this sense: their awareness of their sin keeps them from asserting themselves and their rights.
Jesus is called “gentle” in Matthew 21:5, and while we see that he arrives on a donkey rather than a warhorse, he immediately starts upending temple furniture (21:12). And though he is called gentle, he doesn’t sound gentle. He calls the scribes and Pharisees hypocrites, snakes, sons of hell, fools, whitewashed tombs, and murderers, among other things (Matt. 23:12–35).
Taking Paul and Jesus together, then, it’s clear that gentleness is entirely compatible with blunt language and direct action.
Now notice how Jesus describes himself:
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you . . . for I am gentle. . . . For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. (Matt. 11:28–30)
The reference to his “yoke” probably means his teaching is neither burdensome nor stringent. The very next passage shows Pharisees making legalistic demands—the sort Jesus doesn’t make (Matt. 12:1–14; cf. 23:4).
Yet Jesus certainly asks much of his disciples. He sends them into persecution, arrests, floggings, then tells them to take their crosses and follow him (Matt. 10:16–38). So Jesus is gentle not because he makes no demands, but because he makes proper demands. He is meek because he gives us rest from bad laws and forgives us when we break good ones. But again, gentleness isn’t quite what we assume; it comes with high demands.