Gentleness, a pretty undervalued currency in the world around us. It is described in the dictionary as “the quality of being kind, tender, or mild-mannered.” Listed as one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit it includes concepts of humility and thankfulness towards God. Paul asks the Philippians:
“Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.” (Phil 4:5)
Amplified: “Let your gentle spirit [your graciousness, unselfishness, mercy, tolerance, and patience] be known to all people. The Lord is near.”
Paul is dealing with difficulties in the Philippian church. It seems that two leading women couldn’t get along with each other. One was named “Euodias” (“sweet smell”), and the other was named “Syntyche” (“friendly”). We don’t know much about these women or the precise nature of their dispute. They were evidently well-known leaders in the church who had a serious falling out. For whatever reason, things were not very sweet and friendly between them.
Besides urging them to be reconciled to one another, Paul also urges the Philippians to be gentle. Many commentaries refer to this as “sweet reasonableness.” To me, this is being intentionally kind, compassionate, and humble towards others, especially when they are facing struggle or difficulty. What I would call “giving grace.”
I first came across this phrase when I was visiting a friend and complaining about how someone was just “getting up my nose” as they say. Or “all up in my grill” or “in my face.” Identify with that feeling. My friend told me: “Sometimes girl, it is just better to give grace.”
Giving grace is an intentional decision and a right heart attitude to have.
It is a type of forbearance, a giving up of your own rights in preference to another. Euodias and Syntyche were divided because they were determined to have their own way. One woman insisted on her rights, and the other would not yield ground. Paul was saying that for the sake of peace, we should be willing and ready to yield (or sacrifice) what we call our rights, our position, pride, and preference. Sweet reasonableness and gentleness subdue explosive tempers and stubborn wills.
Gentleness describes a person who does not always insist on every right of law or custom. It stands for the spirit or attitude that does not seek to retaliate. It denotes one’s willingness to give and take instead of always standing rigidly on one’s rights. This is the person who is yielding his rights and is therefore gentle, kind, courteous, tolerant or as one has described it exhibits a “sweet reasonableness” or an ability to extend to others the kindly consideration one would wish to receive themselves.
Paul called the Philippians to be known for their gentleness. That if anyone should describe their behaviour, they could not overlook their gentleness. People were to know it experientially.
The call to gentleness is not so much that we are to be gentle, but that we are to be gentle to ALL men.
It’s easy to be gentle when we are around those who we care for, and who care about us in return. But to do the same for strangers, or people who hurt us? This is where gentleness is often confused with weakness. We fear to appear weak, fragile, or uncertain to others, and in so doing, forget that maintaining a gentle attitude is a surer sign of strength.
Jesus demonstrates gentleness in how he handles the situation of the woman caught in adultery (John 8:1-11). Jesus avoids the violence and self-righteousness of the Pharisees, who wanted to stone her and instead chooses to deal with her in love and gentleness.
- It is staying calm in conflict and being kind with our words and with our touch, as we seek to find peace and make peace
- It is forgiving when justice would allow me to condemn. Merciful when judgement would be called for.
- It is making allowances for others, even when my own rights would be sacrificed
- It remembers that there are more important things in the world than the keeping of rules and regulations and that being gracious would bring about greater change. Less judgement, more compassion.
- It means being tolerant, not unduly rigorous when my rights are not recognized—choosing gentle negotiation versus loud demanding of rights.
- Being third on the list, after God and other people. Being humble and willing to make the sacrifice for God and others.
Clearly, these attitudes do not come naturally. So we must have the help of the Holy Spirit to produce this characteristic in us. Gentleness is an attitude we have to decide to put on, like clothing.
“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.” (Col 3:12)
Finally, Paul reminds them that the “Lord is near” that He is near to us, and the phrase implies that He is soon to be coming back. Will He find us to be a gentle people?
Holy Spirit, thank you that You are working gentleness into my heart and attitudes. Help me to be sensitive to You in situations that call for gentleness. Help me to be willing to take third place, to do Your will Lord and serve the deepest needs of others, before I service my own rights and agenda. Help me to be gentle in word and action, being gracious to others as I would want them to be to me. Help me to be intentionally gentle, to choose to have this characteristic and be know for it.