Fruit of the Spirit: Gentleness ~ Sunday, August 4, 2019
Christ the King, Palm Coast, FL ~ Pastor Jay Zahn ~ Fruit of the Spirit: Gentleness ~ Sunday, August 4, 2019
Helen had an emergency call from home and had to leave work immediately, even though she had not completed her assigned project for the day. She couldn’t locate the division chief to him know that she was leaving, so Helen asked a coworker, Mario, to explain to their boss why she had to leave.
The next morning when she arrived at work, Helen had a message to report to the office of the division chief. Without giving Helen an opportunity to explain her absence, the division chief lectured her harshly on responsibility and accountability. He said he expected to her to be reliable and to complete important assignments on time. It was clear to Helen that Mario had not given her message to the chief the day before. It was embarrassing for Helen to be lectured so severely, because she was very dependable and would never have left work unless there had been an urgent need.
When Helen returned to her work station, the embarrassment and hurt showed on her face. As soon as Mario saw her, he realized what had happened and felt terrible.
“I’m sorry!” he said remorsefully. “I couldn’t find the boss last evening. I should have left him a note. What happened? Did he give you a chance to explain?”
Helen shook her head.
All throughout the day, Mario apologized again and again. Because Helen knew that Mario would not have let her down intentionally, she told him she was not angry with him. But Mario couldn’t get over disappointing a friend. His heavy feelings of guilt weighed on his shoulders, his stomach was upset and he had a headache. Mario apologized again, seeking to get relief, but Mario’s apologies started to irritate Helen. She had to find a way to help him feel better so he would stop repeatedly apologizing for the same sin. Finally, responding to his need to confront the issue, she said gently, “Mario, that truly was a rotten thing you did. Your behavior was inexcusable. I trusted you and you let me down.”
Mario nodded in agreement as Helen spoke. His head drooped lower and lower as he waited for Helen to go on.
Helen continued with a smile, “However, I forgive you. Now, we never have to discuss this again.”
And they never did.
When Helen acknowledged that Mario’s feelings were serious and weren’t going to go away, she was able to be a gentle friend. She was able to help heal the hurt.
Being gentle is an act of love. Aristotle (died 322 B.C.) said of the Greek word for gentleness or meekness, “[It is] the ability to bear reproaches and slights with moderation, and not to embark on revenge quickly, and not to be easily provoked to anger, but to be free from bitterness and contentiousness, having tranquility and stability in the spirit” (On Virtues and Vices).
Gentleness shows itself when I’ve learned that the Christlike way to respond to conflicts and quarrels, rejection, unfairness, or harsh words spoken against me, is not with rage and defensiveness, not with harsh and aggressive words, not with angry gestures and facial expressions, —but rather, tenderly, using my strength to control my tongue and my temper.
Gentleness means being very aware that the other person is a human being with feelings too. And maybe that person, even the one who is being very nasty, is just as hurt as I am by whatever is going on between us. So if I fight back with matching or increasing aggression, it will only make things worse. We will hurt each other even more, and what’s the point in that?
While mowing the front yard, nine-year-old Greg was determined to do a good job to please his father. When Greg was almost finished with the mowing, his father returned home from work. Greg called out, “Hey, Dad! Look what I’ve done!”
Greg’s father missed the opportunity to be gentle with the boy. Instead of congratulating his son, the father snapped, “Well, you’re not finished yet!” Then he launched into a lecture about raking, weeding, and edging the lawn. He said any job worth doing was worth doing right. Greg became defensive and his dad became angry, and soon the two were fighting. Exasperated, Greg’s father shouted, “If you don’t learn to do a good job, you won’t amount to anything in life!”
Greg said nothing more, but in his heart he vowed that he would prove his dad wrong. He vowed to become bigger, better, and more successful than his father ever was.
Greg spent most of his life trying to live up to that childhood vow: He drove himself to make outstanding grades in school, he got a part-time job at age fourteen, and after high school he chose a high-paying career and earned several promotions over the years. Greg succeeded in his goal, but he never forgave his father.
Thirty years later Greg shared his story with a friend. The pain and sadness was evident in Greg’s whole demeanor. When Greg finished talking, his friend gently and quietly asked, “What has your success cost you?”
Realization dawned on Greg as he responded hoarsely, “My father. It has cost me my dad. There never was a relationship between us, only a competition.” A missed opportunity for a father’s gentleness triggered a son’s lifetime of hurt and anger.
In our culture, gentleness can have a negative connotation. It can imply wimpiness, timidity, or gutlessness. While gentleness is delivered with a soft touch, it isn’t a sign of weakness. Gentleness is power under control. It is power delivered in way that benefits the receiver. Saint Francis de Sales once wrote, “Nothing is so strong as gentleness; nothing so gentle as real strength. The Holy Spirit agrees. Christian gentleness suffers injustice wisely and willingly if in doing so another will be helped. It seeks to be sensitive to others’ needs, to understand their view of life, and to respond in caring ways. Even though it has the power to dispense justice, it prefers to pour on the love. The compelling reason for such unnatural actions and attitudes is the forgiving gentleness that has come to us in Jesus.
The hymn prior to the sermon opened with the lyric: “O Jesus So Sweet, O Jesus So Mild! For sinners you became a child.” When we use that language about Jesus, it doesn’t mean that he was a weakling who never raised his voice or stood up to others. On the contrary, Jesus could speak the truth very boldly and confront people with great strength. The Gospels have plenty of illustrations of that. But his greatest strength was best seen in his gentleness. Jesus did not get aggressive or belligerent when his enemies tried to trap him and even when they falsely accused him. Jesus did not bully or belittle others, and he made time for those whom the rest of society did bully, belittle, and reject.
One of the more compelling examples of Jesus’ gentleness is found in the intensity of the night before he was crucified. Do you recall how Jesus responded gently to Judas as well as Peter during that ordeal as everyone is on edge? Judas led soldiers to arrest Jesus. To make sure they seized the right person, lying Judas even kissed him and called him my teacher (rabbi). Jesus knew exactly what Judas was up to and wasn’t fooled by Judas’ hypocrisy. But the scene didn’t trigger Jesus to harshness. Rather Jesus replied with gentleness. He invited Judas to repent of his sin and find forgiveness when he called Judas friend.
Or think of how he responded to Peter, who had drawn his sword and sliced off the ear of Malchus, the servant of the high priest. The scene is erupting in violence, and what does Jesus do? He stopped Peter from stabbing one of the soldiers to death—and getting himself killed by the rest of the soldiers. Jesus accomplished this, not by screaming at Peter, but rather reminding Peter that his Heavenly Father would take care of him and that he needed to be captured like this. Then Jesus quietly accompanied the soldiers and suffered horrible torture over the next hours so he could secure divine forgiveness for his disciples as well as each of us (Matthew 26:47-56).
Since God has been gentle and gracious to me, and because I would like other people to be gentle with me when I mess up, then let me pray to be like that to them. As a forgiven sinner myself, let me welcome others to the fellowship of the forgiven. Let the gentle fruit of the Spirit ripen in my life and relationships.
If this is what you want too, then who could you practice gentleness with this coming week? Let me suggest a couple of specific scenarios/situations where you can do so: 1) When someone serves you: Be understanding, not demanding. A customer service rep, a cashier, a waiter or waitress, a teacher, a nurse. Caring for people isn’t easy. When people care for you and serve you, do you respond to them with demands or with understanding? How might you share the Spirit’s fruit of gentleness more generously with people who serve you?
Second scenario/situation: When someone disagrees with you, respond tenderly rather than tenaciously. Disagreement can be the launching pad to discord or deeper understanding. Responding gently to those who disagree with you isn’t weakness. It’s a demonstration of the strength of your convictions. It’s weakness that leads to bullying behavior, rudeness, and insults. When the convictions you hold are in harmony with God’s Word, God also supplies you with strength to hold strong to those convictions but doing so with a soft touch. You never get your point across by being cross. Ask yourself: do I want to make a point, or do I want to make a friend?
3rd scenario: When someone disappoints me: be gentle, not judgmental. Where does this kind of gentleness come from? It comes from the deep awareness that I am just as human and flawed and tempted as anyone else. I really have no reason to feel superior and get aggressive when other people show their flaws and failings. Not if I know my own heart. So when somebody else makes a mistake, or drops something, or loses the keys, or forgets to do what they promised, or generally messes things up—things that happen to all of us at some point in life—at that moment rather than losing your temper and raging at them, shouting angry words of accusation and blame, instead remind yourself that it could just as easily have been you making that mistake. And if it had been you, how would you want others to respond to your foolishness or weakness or mistakes?
Jesus perfectly gentle with us, even though he never made a mistake himself. Discipleship of Jesus, following Jesus, means becoming more and more like him—that is, being characterized by the gentleness and humility of Christ himself. And that kind of Christlikeness, the fruit of the Spirit of Jesus, comes from knowing that we are forgiven constantly—no matter what sins we’ve committed. Since God, who is perfect, doesn’t treat us our sins deserve – we have countless reasons to be gentle toward others, when they’re serving us, when they disagree with us, yes, even when they sin against us. God graciously keep on growing this gentle fruit of the Spirit in each of us! Amen.