Pursue righteousness and a godly life,
along with faith, love, perseverance, and gentleness.”
I Timothy 6:11
We are reminded in several New Testament passages that our demeanor as believers is to be one of gentleness; in fact, in I Timothy we are told to pursue gentleness. In the sixth chapter, Paul was warning Timothy about the challenges that faced the church in Ephesus. Infiltrating the Christian community were false teachers, along with individuals who had an “unhealthy craving for controversy;” who were depraved in mind (v. 4); who used godliness as a means of earthly gain (v. 5); and who desired riches to the detriment of all else (v. 9). There is nothing new under the sun, and we face the same types of problems today both within and without the church. Yet it is in this very context that Paul counsels us to “Pursue…gentleness.”
Elsewhere we are told, “Since God chose you to be the holy people He loves, you must clothe yourselves with tender-hearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.” (Colossians 3:12) It is an interesting comparison that Paul uses. None of us would dare to leave our homes without clothing ourselves; that is an essential part of our daily routine that makes us presentable to the outside world! In the same way all these virtues, including humility and gentleness, are part of our required wardrobe. Paul does not offer it as an optional exercise, but instead says “you must” do this.
We are called to be gentle because we are to model the character of our Lord, who proclaimed that He was the Good Shepherd (John 10:11). This is an amazingly tender image that recalls all the passages throughout the Old Testament about the Shepherd and His flock, a picture which symbolizes the beautiful relationship between God and His people. In passages such as Ezekiel 34:11-16 and Isaiah 40:11, we read of Him tenderly carrying His sheep, binding their wounds, and seeking out the lost lambs.
Jesus’ description of Himself in Matthew 11:29 is “…I am gentle and humble in heart.” Gentleness and humility are qualities that are of necessity bound together, as we saw in the Colossians passage above; in fact, one of the very definitions of the word “gentleness” is “humility.” Christ exhibits both because these characteristics are the very nature of His heart.
But although we are called to follow His example, often we are far from gentle in word and deed.
In the current climate of our world, we hear many voices raised in biting defense of one view or another. We do not hear many voices that are gentle and humble. Yet that is how Scripture calls us to respond to those who may be difficult, or who promote values different from our own. We also often withhold the grace of gentleness from ourselves, giving way instead to the clamor of self-criticism and shame.
True, Jesus also exhibited righteous anger and used strong words when necessary; but these occurrences were directed towards the leaders of God’s people, who were not walking in righteousness and should have known better. Paul teaches this same principle in I Corinthians 5:12-13, “What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside.” And when Paul spoke here of judging those within the church body, it was within the context of leaders implementing spiritual discipline to deal with blatant, unrepentant sin. When it comes to judging, in general we would do well to remember the words of Jesus: “Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned.” (Luke 6:37).
Remember the gentleness of Christ as you seek to become molded into His image. When you are tempted to become irritated today with a family member, a neighbor, a social media post…ask yourself, “how can I respond with the spirit of Christ’s gentleness? It often does not come naturally to us, and it is certainly not always easy—but pursue it. Practice it. Nourish the spirit of gentleness.
“[Gentleness] may well be called the Christian spirit. It is the distinguishing disposition in the hearts of Christians…All who are truly godly and are real disciples of Christ have a gentle spirit in them.”
A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.