Our next characteristic to consider in our efforts to have the fruitful life now is gentleness. All of the major modern versions (NASB, NKJV, ESV, NIV) translate the word prautes as “gentleness.” All of the older versions (KJV, ASV) translate this Greek word as “meekness.” The reason for the difference is stated well by W.E. Vine: “The meaning of prautes is not readily expressed in English, for the terms meekness, mildness, commonly used, suggest weakness and pusillanimity to a greater or less extent, whereas prautes does nothing of the kind. Nevertheless, it is difficult to find a rendering less open to objection than ‘meekness’; ‘gentleness’ has been suggested, but as prautes describes a condition of mind and heart, and as ‘gentleness’ is appropriate rather to actions, this word is no better than that used in both English Versions.” Thayer uses all of these words to define prautes: “gentleness, mildness, meekness.” Vine goes on to argue that meekness/gentleness does not consist of a person’s outward behavior only but also about the temper of spirit.
To see what this gentleness/meekness looks like in the scriptures, let us examine Isaiah 40. “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). Notice the contrast which helps color the word we are studying today. Verse 10 tells us about the might and strength of the Lord. Isaiah is describing the power of the Lord coming with reward and recompense. There is nothing weak about the Lord in this description. Rather, the Lord is describing coming in great power that would have brought fear to the people. But notice how the next verse contrasts this fearful power. God will tend his flock like a shepherd and carry the lambs in his bosom. He will gently lead the young. God has great power and strength but maintains control of his power to be able to gently lead and tend for his people.
This is why Trask and Goodall, in writing about the fruit of the Spirit, describe meekness as “strength under control.” Consider how we see this quality fulfilled in Jesus:
Meekness/Gentleness of Christ
“Behold, my servant whom I have chosen, my beloved with whom my soul is well pleased. I will put my Spirit upon him, and he will proclaim justice to the Gentiles. He will not quarrel or cry aloud, nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets; a bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not quench, until he brings justice to victory; and in his name the Gentiles will hope” (Matthew 12:18-21). Notice the gentleness depicted as the Messiah will not break a bruised reed or quench a smoldering wick. Does this mean that the Messiah is weak? He is not weak because he is going to bring victory, justice, and hope to the Gentiles. He is a conquering, powerful Messiah who comes in gentleness to his people. Jesus did not come with a heavy hand against the broken and weak.
I want us to see that meekness/gentleness does not mean that we are supposed to be passive. This word does not mean that we are to “laid back” taking a “whatever” attitude. Gentleness is not being calm because you have no other choice. We have the tendency to think of meekness as a person who has no other options than to be mild. However, meekness is seen in Jesus because he had the infinite resources of God at his command. Jesus had rights. Jesus had power. Jesus had the ability to do many things. But rather than enforce his rights, exert his power, and do whatever he wanted, Jesus acted with gentleness in the best interests of the people.
We see this characteristic in Jesus, prophesied by Isaiah. “This took place to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet, saying, “Say to the daughter of Zion, ‘Behold, your king is coming to you, gentle, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden'” (Matthew 21:4-5). Jesus is described as the king, yet he is gentle and meek.
Paul keys upon this characteristic of meekness in Christ. “I, Paul, myself entreat you, by the meekness and gentleness of Christ…” (2 Corinthians 10:1). In the midst of issuing an urging of the Corinthians, he speaks from control, reminding the readers about the meekness and gentleness of Christ. Paul could have berated the Corinthians for not allowing into their fellowship those who sought to undermine his apostolic authority, but he did not. Instead, Paul acted with gentleness. We see that Jesus was the perfect example of meekness/gentleness. How can we adopt this characteristic also? We will first look at a general application and then consider a number of specific applications.
Since meekness is the idea of strength under control, then we need to think about times when we are in positions of power or strength and the need to exercise gentleness. Meekness is not about gossiping, degrading, or belittling others. We are in a position of strength in that we know information that is harmful to others. We have a choice as to how we are going to use that information. We can tell others about the foolishness of another. We can degrade the person for their foolishness. We can ridicule the person for what he or she has done. But that is not meekness or gentleness. We need to think about how we would like to be treated under those circumstances. We do not want to be degraded. We do not want others to know what foolish things we have done. By exercising gentleness in such circumstances we are able to maintain and restore relationships.
Family relationships are another important place where meekness must be practiced. Husbands are the head and are to rule the household well. But that does not mean that the husband runs the home like a dictator. Yes, authority has been given to you, but you are to act in gentleness to your spouse. Thus, Paul wrote that husbands were to love as Christ loved the church, which is sacrificial love. This is a love that puts the interests of the wife above his own interests. Similarly, as parents we have been given the charge to teach and train our children. Fathers are given the responsibility to discipline the child in the way he or she should go. While authority is with the father, the father must not rule from fear, but from gentleness. This is hard to accomplish when our children frustrate us by breaking our rules. But we must have meekness and keep control as we gently and humbly rule the household.
Specific Applications of Gentleness
James 1:21- “Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.” This may not be how we thought we would be expected to be meek. But one way we exercise meekness is in the way we receive the word of God. One of the difficulties in receiving the scriptures is that a person must set aside his or her arrogance and ego and accept their spiritual condition. We have to accept that we are sinful and lost. We have to accept that our choices have caused us to fall short in the eyes of the Lord. We have to accept that we need a Savior to deliver us because we cannot help ourselves in this condition. We have to accept the fact that we need to be taught. We need to hear the word of God in order to make changes. We need an attitude of receptiveness to make life changes based upon the word of God.
Galatians 6:1- “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.” Paul presents a situation where a Christian could come from a point of power. The other person has done something in violation of God’s law. But we are not to be vengeful because of what the person has done. We are not to degrade the person or belittle the person. We come in a spirit of gentleness, not harshness. To come with any other attitude would be sinful. Thus, Paul gives a warning that a spiritual one do the restoration and that he or she keep watch so that they are not tempted as well. Speak to the weak with care, not with arrogance.
2 Timothy 2:24-25- “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….” Not only are we to be meek and gentle in correcting our brethren, but also when correcting opponents. We will be ineffective teachers if we have an attitude that we know the truth and the other person knows nothing. We will never lead someone to repentance with an “I’m right, you’re wrong” attitude. I hope that we are able to see that meekness incorporates the characteristic of humility. In fact, Paul is giving excellent illustrations of meekness in this command. Meekness is about being kind, not quarrelsome. Meekness is about patiently enduring evil, though we may be right. Also, our correcting of error and teaching those who are antagonist toward us must been in meekness and gentleness. When teaching, we need to be able to grant the thought process of others. If someone says that they have a hard time understanding evil or hell, we cannot respond that the person is an idiot for not being able to see our point. Attempt to understand the difficulty and reason with the scriptures with gentleness. The same is true with one another. Grant that this may be difficult and continue to work through the scriptures, not merely argue. (Illustration: Holy Spirit/Billingsley)
1 Peter 3:15- “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear.” Peter says what we have been spend time looking at in the previous two points. In defending our faith, we need to do so with meekness. Teaching is not about power. We are merely tools to let the light of the word of God shine through. We are simply instruments in God’s service. So let us not think of ourselves as anything.
James 3:17- “But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere.” Meekness and gentleness is also a characteristic of wisdom. You and I are not going to be considered wise by our peers and by God if we are not meek and gentle. Wisdom is often about taking a back seat to others. Wisdom is about listening to what others have to say, rather than being argumentative because we think we are right.
1 Peter 3:3-6- “Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear— but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious. For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their own husbands, as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening.” Notice that women were to be adorned with the imperishable beauty of meekness/gentleness. Remember, this does not mean weakness or powerless. In fact, the adorning of meekness is shown “by submitting.” Meekness is about taking a back seat, putting the will and interests of others first. This is exactly what we see Jesus doing, most notably as he gave his life for humanity. Jesus said, “Not my will, but Your will be done.” Meekness is about being able to submit our will and desires to God and to others.
Meekness is not weakness or lack of power. Meekness actually assumes a position or state of power. But that power and strength remains under control. Authority is exercised with gentleness, placing the interests of others above our own. In this way, we are correct our brethren and teach the lost—with humility and respect. Acting this way reflects wisdom that God desires us to have. The Christian life is not about seizing power. When we find that we have an advantage or strength, we are not to use that to our own advantage, but to help others in gentleness.
Think about your life circumstance. As husbands, submitting your best interests to the best interests of the family. As fathers, submitting our authority to rear a child in the way of the Lord. Wives, submitting your best interests to the best interests of the family. No one asserting themselves but seeking the best of others in every decision. With our friends, we will not be gossips or denigrating with what we know about others. We will control ourselves. In this humble, submissive attitude we will receive the word of God, allowing God to mold our lives.