We know when someone is being gentle with us, and we can see gentleness where a person cares for another. This could well be a nurse who has empathy and tenderness for the sick under her care. A mother is instinctively gentle with her baby, and I’ve often thought about Mary, the mother of Jesus, how she may have cared for her special and unique Son (Luke 1:46-55; 2:19). I’m convinced she would have adored Him and been very gentle with Him. Placing Him in an animal’s feeding trough was a tender and caring act. There He would have been secure in His swaddling cloths (Luke 2:7), warm and protected from the elements, and perhaps from animals that may have been present.
What is gentleness? My dictionary offers: ‘genteel behaviour; softness of manners; mildness of temper; sweetness of disposition; meekness; kindness, tenderness and mild treatment.’
As the eighth fruit of the Spirit set out in Galatians 5:22 ‘gentleness’ fits very nicely with the other fruit; particularly ‘love’, ‘patience’, ‘goodness’ and ‘kindness’, because a gentle person would most likely have those characteristics. A person who is heavy-handed, unthoughtful, and uncaring is unlikely to be gentle.
When we observe Jesus as portrayed in the New Testament, we find Him being compassionate (Matthew 14:14; 15:32; Mark 1:41) and gentle (Matthew 11:29; 2 Corinthians 10:1), and yet He is not gentle when He admonishes the Scribes and the Pharisees (Matthew 23:23, 31, 32). He uses a whip to cleanse the temple of vendors of animals and money changers (John 2:14, 15), and He tells lawyers they load others with rules and regulations, and at the same time they do not lift a finger to help them (Luke 11:46).
Following Jesus’ example, we should be gentle (2 Timothy 2:24; Titus 3:2; Galatians 6:1; Philippians 4:5; 1 Thessalonians 2:7) when comforting, supporting and encouraging people, but we should be forthright when it comes to admonishing people for their sake and for the sake others who suffer at their hands. Paul said to the Galatians, “What do you want? Shall I come to you with a rod, or in love and in a spirit of gentleness (1 Corinthians 4:21)
Gentleness, then, is a quality to be pursued (1 Timothy 6:11), along with other attributes of the Spirit. It is pursued while walking in the Spirit (Galatians 5:16, 25) on our journey of sanctification, i.e., that is to ‘press on’ for the things ahead, ‘the prize of the upward call of God, in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:14)’.
Jesus says of Himself, He is gentle and lowly in heart and He implores us to take upon ourselves His yoke of gentleness for finding rest for our souls (Matthew 11:29). He wants us to be gentle like Him, and He gives us these words of comfort: “Come to Me, all you who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and My burden is light (Matthew 11:28-30).”
Right in the centre of His being, i.e., His heart, is the wonderful quality of gentleness. Ought not we to desire Him to dwell in our hearts (Romans 8:9, 10)?