GENTLENESS: Fruit 8 of the Spirit
Galatians 5:23a
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall

If true Christian living requires anything, it demands gentleness, a soft heart sensitive to the hurts of others. Gentleness is a tender temperament as opposed to one that is sour, rude, and coarse.

A hard heart ignores the pains of people. Gentle hearts sympathize with the distress of others as if it were its own.

. Suffering is omnipresent, everywhere we look. We can choose not to focus on pain, and be unmoved by it, but a gentle heart lets itself be affected by what is happening to others.

A Christian must choose – and it is a conscious choice – to ache, to cry, to hurt with others. Feeling the hurt of another is painful, and thus we by nature seek to avoid it, but to succeed for God, we must learn to absorb the pain of others.
Gentleness sees a grieving individual and makes proactive effort to share the pain, to take some of the ache away with us to help relieve the burdened one. When I was once going through a very painful time, my friend Ed Meyer said, “I wish I could take some of your pain, put it in my heart, and endure it for you.”

A gentle heart, capable of very deep feeling, determines not to hurt another, even to the most minute detail. The gentle are “so sensitive as to be utterly unable to hurt another” (Parker).

We should desire to develop a gentle Christ-like, merciful personality so full of love that even when we say no to someone else’s request, the person will leave our presence with no less a feeling of love than if we had said yes. We need a pleasant demeanor that softens the blow if we have to speak against a person’s behavior.

Pastor W. A. Criswell told of young Frank Rutherford, an intense preacher of the Gospel. The truths of God burned in his soul when he preached, but his people gave him little encouragement. One day, after he had preached his heart out, he walked to the foyer. No one spoke to him. Finally, the janitor came by and exited, his only words being, “It is raining outside.” The pastor, walking to his little apartment with no umbrella, became drenched in the rain. That night something died in Frank which could never be resurrected. “He lost his heart and his ability to minister. He left the ministry” (Criswell).

Why didn’t someone say an encouraging word to Frank? No gentle hearts were present. A gentle heart knows one kind word can save a life.

Turkish nobles were once so eager to do benevolent deeds daily that they would hire servants whose main assignment was to find every day poor people to help. Our sensitive Master, wanting to show gentleness to the hurting, has assigned to us His servants the task of daily finding the needy to touch in His behalf.

Our assignment is to squeeze drops of gentleness from our hearts. God has left Christians on earth for this very reason, to be conduits of His gentleness.

Titus, the Roman general, was so committed to doing helpful deeds daily that if the sun set without his having given something away, he would say, “I lost a day.” Surely a Christian’s creed must rise above a Roman general’s.

Do not lose a day. Servants of the merciful God, go find those in misery and show the gentleness of our Lord. “Move amongst men as copies of God” (Maclaren).

Be a moving oasis of gentleness. Believers can through their gentleness point the hurting to the God of gentleness.

Due to our sin in Eden, this world is the abode of much suffering. Oceans of misery surround each of us. The vast scope of this world’s agony makes our job seem almost impossible to fulfill.

We may be tempted to say always displaying gentleness is a fairy tale existence, it cannot be done. In our own strength, this is true, but in God’s strength it is possible.

The early Christians were gentle in the midst of their ruthless culture. We can accomplish it today. Even the hardest hearts can be growing gentler on an ongoing basis.

Unfortunately, many Christians do the opposite. Blows of life, internalized and nursed, result in a heart becoming harder as life goes on. We must determine to respond otherwise.

Hear a word of caution; while we seek to assimilate the pain of others, we must also be casting our burdens on the Lord. Ministering to others is depleting, and all who attempt it must wholly lean on Jesus for strength.

The pain of serving others drains away life-essence. When the sick woman touched the hem of Jesus’ garment, He felt power leave His body. Caregivers need to stay close to the Fount which replenishes their supply.

We must pray for God to transfer to us His own disposition. Gentleness begins as an attitude, developing the habit of feeling properly toward others. “Bleed in other men’s wounds” (Trapp). Ask God to help us truly sorrow over the sufferings of others.

Let our tears run down their cheeks with their tears. Have a warm heart. Icebergs belong in the North Atlantic, not in a Christian’s breast.

When Jesus dealt with hurting people, feeling came first. Before He fed the crowd, He had “compassion on the multitude” (Matthew 15:32). Before raising Lazarus, He wept (John 11:35). Before healing the blind, He was moved with compassion (Matthew 20:34). Attitude and mind set must precede action.

Don’t try to do deeds of kindness solely from a sense of duty or guilt. Knowing we are supposed to be gentle, we may be tempted to force kindness rather than let it be the overflow of a heart full of sweetness. As we accept the pain of others, it sinks deep into our innermost emotional cauldron, where God somehow miraculously turns the pain into a springboard for joy and action.

The classic New Testament illustration of this is the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-37). He dressed wounds, transported a body, and made provision for the victim. These actions sprang from his first choice, which was, “he had compassion.” He let himself ache on the inside.

The priest and Levite who earlier found the victim “passed by on the other side.” Why did they move to the opposite side of the road? They knew if they looked closely they would hurt and care.

They preferred to do religious rites which required no feeling than to suffer mercy’s pain. They were religious, but uncaring, and thus willing to give only the minimum required. “Devout misers are the reproach of Christianity” (Thomas Watson).

Jesus, because He let His heart be moved with compassion toward hurting people, was always showing gentleness to the blind, the hungry, the demon-possessed, lepers, the cripple, sick, bereaved. Wherever misery was, He showed gentleness.

Jesus even gently touched the misery of human lostness. Trajan, the Roman Emperor, would tear off pieces of his own royal robe to wrap his soldiers’ wounds. Jesus tore His own flesh, making His body and blood medicine to heal our spiritual misery. May He grant us His gentleness toward the lost.

Harshness abounds in our society; gentleness is in precious little supply. I want our whole church to be an oasis of sweetness, an island of softness. May congregational gentleness begin in my heart, spread to my words and deeds, filter out through our staff, and waft through our whole congregation to the world at large.

When we see deep furrows in a sad face, sow in them seeds of gentleness. By God’s grace, carry our own sunshine with us, seek burdens to ease, tenderly touch the wounded.

Offer a reassuring handshake, an embrace, a visit, a smile, a monetary gift. If we have no money to give, offer gentle words which carry a world of wealth in themselves.

In word and deed, let God develop in us a habit of sweetness. May gentleness become the gracious atmosphere in which we move and breathe.