As we have been dwelling upon each of the fruits of the Spirit listed by Paul in Galatians, I have become impressed with the breadth and scope of the application of each of these manifestations of our relationship with Christ and how we flesh out these truths in our lives.
Obviously, some of these fruits of the Spirit have been easier to discuss than others. In verse 23, Paul shares that gentleness should be evident in the life of those who claim to be followers of Christ.
So what does Paul mean by gentleness? The word that Paul uses is difficult to translate. Generally, this word has been used to describe our willingness to be submissive to the will of God, while it also can mean to be teachable or considerate of others.
For our purposes I am going to address the most common usage of this word in Paul’s day which relates to our willingness to be considerate of others. This aspect of personal relations is a struggle for all of us who call ourselves human.
As we relate to our fellow members of the human race, we might sometimes find it difficult to defer our wants and desires for the sake of what others might need or want. This type of selfless behavior does not always mean that others will appreciate or respect our willingness to show them preference.
In fact, some might say that if we show this type of Christ-like consideration towards others, people will probably take advantage of us. Of course, this is an accurate assessment. The deeper question is not whether or not others will take advantage of our thoughtfulness, but are we willing to allow the character of Christ to be so evident in our lives that we are not concerned with our own rights?
Some have confused this spirit of gentleness with being a powerless doormat that simply allows him or her to be abused by an uncaring and merciless people. After all, if you live with this type of attitude toward others, they will take all that they can from you and leave you miserable and unprotected.
Like many of you, I have an overly developed sense of justice. Of course, by justice I mean that I am most concerned that others treat me with respect and dignity. What right do others have to abuse or mistreat me? So when I perceive that I am being treated unjustly, my self-righteous indignation wells up within me and demands that others show me some basic human dignity.
When I am quiet and begin to listen to those thoughts and words, I can begin to see just how far I have to go when it comes to living out a Christ-like spirit of gentleness.
As our Lord was being beaten and abused, He did not utter one single word in protest. Rather than lashing out at those who sought to ridicule and demean all that He had done for others, He kept silent. Even though He possessed the power to overwhelm His accusers and tormentors, He chose to take all that they unleashed upon Him.
Of all that took place in those horrific hours leading up to our Lord’s death on the cross, this is what amazes me most. At any moment He could have lashed out, and even brought great physical harm to those who were seeking to humiliate Him, yet He remained silent.
What kind of power does it take to restrain the power of the Almighty in the midst of such pain and suffering? Only the Son of God could possibly possess such an immovable spirit of self-control and strength.
This same gentleness that empowered our Lord to show such courage and compassion toward those who did not deserve it is now at work in the lives of those who have been called by His name and filled by the Spirit.
It is only by the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives that we can truly stand in the midst of a sometimes hostile world and proclaim His love and mercy to those who, like us, so desperately need it.
Perhaps the Apostle Paul said it best earlier in his letter to the church at Galatia, “For I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, Who loved me and gave Himself up for me” (Gal. 2:20).
It all seems to come down to our willingness to consider others before ourselves. Of course, it is only by His power that you and I have the strength to live in such a revolutionary manner. (Mike Cooper is Missouri Baptist Convention’s director of Sunday School Discipleship.)