What does it look like to have a gentle spirit? We live in a world where it can be quick to pass judgments instead of seeing the best in others. We can find ourselves expressing our opinions harshly when we differ from one another.
Watching debates between Christians online when there is a disagreement makes me cringe a bit when I see the responses towards one another not gentle and kind. Disagreement is inevitable, but there is a way as believers that God’s Word lays out for us what that should look like.
There is the reality of being hurt by the words of others and instead of taking the way of meekness, we take the route of defending our rights.
Bringing it closer to home, how are your responses towards those you are closest? What does a gentle spirit look like in the context of your marriage or with your children?
When I start a post, I always have my Blue Letter Bible app handy to define and lookup cross-references. I’m looking at several passages that use the word gentleness or also translated as meekness. The word in 1 Peter 3:4 for gentleness is the same Greek word used in Matthew 5:5 for meekness. We always think first of meekness as “strength under control.”
but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious.
~ 1 Peter 3:4
In these verses, the Greek word “praus” (gentleness or meekness) is defined as mildness of disposition, a gentleness of spirit and humble. In Vines dictionary, it further goes on to say, “gentle of a soothing disposition.”
This definition below is from the Outline of Biblical Usage taken from Blue Letter Bible:
“Meekness toward God is that disposition of spirit in which we accept His dealings with us as good, and therefore without disputing or resisting. In the OT, the meek are those wholly relying on God rather than their own strength to defend against injustice. Thus, meekness toward evil people means knowing God is permitting the injuries they inflict, that He is using them to purify His elect, and that He will deliver His elect in His time (Isa 41:17, Luk 18:1-8). Gentleness or meekness is the opposite to self-assertiveness and self-interest. It stems from trust in God’s goodness and control over the situation. The gentle person is not occupied with self at all. This is a work of the Holy Spirit, not of the human will (Gal 5:23).”
Meekness or gentleness (and I’ll use these terms interchangeably in this post) gives us the idea of “controlled strength.” Meekness or gentleness is a humble and gentle attitude that trusts the Lord in all circumstances knowing that they are for our good and His glory (Romans 8:28).Meekness or gentleness is a humble and gentle attitude that trusts the Lord in all circumstances knowing that they are for our good and His glory (Romans 8:28).
Meekness is defined as power under control, and in the life of a believer, it is being under the control of God’s Spirit. We’re free from any revenge or bitterness in our relationships. A gentle or meek spirit should be how we relate to God and our relationships with others.
Related Series: Sermon on the Mount Podcast Series
We cannot develop this character trait on our own. The character traits Jesus mentions in the Beatitudes are not natural. They are supernaturally produced. I picture the Jewish crowd that Jesus was talking to in his Sermon on the Mount as a bit shocked at this third pronouncement in the Beatitudes. Instead of their Messiah coming as a mighty conqueror, Jesus comes as one who is meek and humble.
“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
~ Matthew 5:5
Let’s layout what meekness isn’t. This excerpt below is from Studies in the Sermon on the Mount:
“There are people who seem to be born naturally nice. That is not what the Lord means when He says, `Blessed are the meek.’ That is something purely biological, the kind of thing you get in animals. One dog is nicer than another, one cat is nicer than another. That is not meekness. So it does not mean to be naturally nice or easy to get on with. Nor does it mean weakness in personality or character. Still, less does it mean a spirit of compromise or ‘peace at any price. How often are these things mistaken. How often is the man regarded as meek who says, ‘Anything rather than have a disagreement.” ~ D. Martin Lloyd-Jones
When we look at the order of the Beatitudes, the first one is “poor in spirit.” To even begin to cultivate a true spirit-controlled character trait of meekness we need to be poor in spirit. Every other character trait in the Beatitudes comes out of this one. It is the reminder we can do nothing on our own but only through Christ. So first we must be in Christ. We must have a personal relationship with Jesus through repenting of our sins and faith in Christ alone for our salvation. (See the Gospel).
When we’re meek, our attitude is one of trusting God and that everything the Lord allows in our lives is good. We won’t find ourselves complaining or grumbling because we know that all things have been permitted by his loving, sovereign hand and will be used for our good and His glory. When we understand what it means that God is in total control, then no matter how challenging the relationships and situations in our lives they will be looked at with eternal purposes in mind.
We can humbly bow before God with a heart that trusts Him knowing that he is continuing to remove the dross from our lives and allow challenging circumstances to make us more like Christ. That is not a natural response for us; again it is a supernatural response. We need to be reminded to trust the Lord in all things because He is at work in all things in our lives. Everything has a purpose as believers, and it is to make us dependent on Him and more like Jesus.
God has not left us alone in cultivating this gentle spirit. We have been given His Spirit and the Word. We have the gift of Christian fellowship to point us to truth. When we trust that God is in control, we know that His dealings with us are good and we don’t have to fight for the upper hand or demand our way. If there has been an injustice against us, we can rely on God’s strength rather than our own to defend us in His way and in His time and for His purposes (Isaiah 41:17).
I love putting it this way, someone who has a gentle spirit is God-controlled. I desire my responses and reactions to others to be God-controlled not Marci-controlled.
Practically Living Out Gentleness:
This is the part that is the most challenging for us. We know the truth. We know what the Lord calls us to do but what does it look like practically lived out? I don’t have an exhaustive list here but wanted to share some thoughts that have come about from my personal application of these truths and from my study time in the Word. As always, I encourage you to do a word study of meekness/gentleness on your own if this is an area of particular struggle in your life.
I’m not naturally gentle in spirit. I’m pretty opinionated, and I like to be right. Hence, why I’m spending time studying this character trait. I desire the Lord to cultivate a spirit of gentleness in my life and I have seen fruit over the years that only can come about by His work in my life.
The meek are those who quietly submit themselves to God, to His Word and to His rod, who follow His directions, and comply with His designs, and are gentle toward all men.
~ Matthew Henry
We can share our point of view, but it does not need to be demanding or obnoxious. Being gentle in spirit does not mean being mute. We have the ability in Christ to communicate calmly. The Spirit enables us to treat others in a way that doesn’t harbor bitterness or resentment when we’ve been wronged.
When we lack gentleness, we’ll see ourselves insisting on our own way. We may be difficult to do things for because we’re the only ones who can do them right. Ouch! Do we find ourselves to be complainers or grumblers?
A thought to always remember is that people are all different, and we all do things and think about things in different ways, but different isn’t always about right or wrong. It’s just different. We can make a personal preference a law in our minds and expect everyone to submit to our law.
Look into our hearts and see where we unwilling to bend? Do we allow others to make mistakes? Are we quick to say we’re sorry? Others in our lives need to know it’s okay to make mistakes, we make plenty of them ourselves, and God’s love for us doesn’t change. Our love for others shouldn’t change or our acceptance of them because of their mistakes.
How do you respond when your ideas are not accepted? Not just in situations at home but in church or at work? Do you kindly give your opinion and let the Lord do His work?
There are going to be times when we need to correct someone as truth cannot be compromised but in what manner do we do it? Are we able to speak graceful words in truth and love? We can deal with our children in a loving, firm way that is not given to anger when needed. In Christ, we are equipped to do this.
We have people in our lives that may be challenging to deal with. It may be a husband or a child or a friend. These are people we are close to daily. Are we gentle in our responses to them? If there are areas in their lives that change is needed, do we give them time to change? Change is a process, not an event. Someone who is gentle in spirit gives people time to change.Change is a process, not an event.
Maturity in Christ takes time. None of us will ever be perfect here on this earth, but we can have high expectations of others that they just aren’t even mature enough to reach. When we put expectations on others, and they don’t meet them, we will find ourselves responding to them in anything but a kind and gentle spirit. We need to let the Lord work in the lives of others in His timing, and we need to continue to be a loving light for Christ in their lives.
We are a light for Christ by using encouraging words, offering much grace, showing patience, speaking truth in much love, and loving them where they are at (Ephesians 4:29). The beautiful thing about being in Christ is that God doesn’t just save us and leave us—He continues to change us and mold us more into the image of His Son. But it’s His timetable, not ours.
Gentleness is Hard:
It’s not hard to be gentle and kind to those who are nice to us. The problem is when we have challenging situations or relationships with others.
We are not alone in this:
Philippians 4:5 – Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.
Just a quick look at Philippians 4:5 two things stand out to me. Paul says “to all” and “The Lord is near.” The Apostle Paul knew it was hard. The Lord is near us to help. It’s His power that we need to rely on to guide us and protect us. It is only by His grace that we can be gentle people. He didn’t expect us to do it on our own.
Seek Him today in His word and prayer and ask the Lord to cultivate a gentle spirit in your heart and life. Ask those closest to you where you lack in gentleness. Be aware of where you insist on your own way or who are you most critical? Who do you have the most trouble responding kindly towards?
Why do we desire the Lord to change our hearts? So we can bring Him more honor and glory and so we can point others towards Him as the only One who can change hearts and minds.
When others are curious about the change within you, it gives you an opportunity to share the hope that is within you (1 Peter 3:15). My prayer is we become those women who are known for their gentle and forbearing spirit. May we have a reputation for gentleness and may we give all the glory to God.
Perhaps no grace is less prayed for, or less cultivated than gentleness. Indeed it is considered rather as belonging to natural disposition or external manners, than as a Christian virtue; and seldom do we reflect that not to be gentle is sin.
~ George Bethune
Studies in the Sermon on the Mount by D. Martin Lloyd Jones
Thanks for this. I just received a new book on this by Pastor John Crotts (Graciousness: Tempering Truth with Love) and hope it will help me dig even deeper and align my heart with God’s. This was a struggle during New Testament times, and it’s still a struggle for us today!
Marci Ferrell says
Suzanne, I just finished that book and I need to link to it in the post – thank you for the reminder. I picked it up at the G3 conference this year. It was such a helpful read and reminder. It is such a struggle still and sadly for me, it’s usually with those closest to me :(. Thankful the Lord is patient and kind towards us and that we can change with His help.