But the fruit of the Spirit is . . . gentleness. (vv. 22-23)
For some reason, when I think about gentleness in contemporary terms I picture someone standing up to a bully. Not fighting back against the bully, but not tolerating him either. The Spirit’s fruit of gentleness is not to be confused with weakness; rather, this kind of gentleness has the strength to confront violence and injustice. Some translations use “meekness” instead of gentleness, a word that some like to interpret as “strength under control.” Gentleness is not about being a pushover. It’s about having wisdom in how you choose to use your presence, your voice, and your strength. Gentleness knows how to speak bold truth to power, and it also knows how to handle vulnerable matters with care.
Apart from the Spirit’s work, our impulses lead us to harsh words and careless displays of might. In contrast, when gentleness blossoms in us, both as individuals and in community, we learn how to be wise in our interactions with others. Gentle-ness characterizes disciples of Jesus Christ—the Spirit gives us strength to use our efforts for the good of God’s kingdom, not for our own ambitions. When Paul told the Philippians, “Let your gentleness be evident to all” (Phil. 4:5 NIV), he conveyed how important it was that Christians demonstrate this “strength under control.” The gospel is not pushed on others by force, as though the kingdom of God were a harsh dictatorship. Instead, when gentleness and love prevail, people are beckoned by the gospel’s own inherent power.
God of the manger, teach us the strength of gentleness.