Gentleness is the fifth listed characteristic in the Fruit of the Spirit. Some translations identify this characteristic as “kindness.” Still, other translations interchange gentleness with meekness.
Before addressing this attribute, the first four characteristics are love, joy, peace, and longsuffering.
It will be difficult to outwardly demonstrate gentleness without love for God and others, or not having peace with God, others, and within us, or by an unwillingness to endure others’ actions without complaint.
If we cannot experience God’s joy in our lives — the only characteristic that evokes emotion — we certainly cannot be expected to demonstrate a kind or gentle spirit to or with others.
What Is the Meaning of Gentleness?
Defined, “gentleness” is the condition of being gentle — a mildness of temper, softness or tenderness, freedom from roughness, soothing. Being gentle is a displayed action from having inner peace and self-control that also outwardly portrays kindness in our relationships with others.
Kindness, as offered in some translations, means to be benevolent, which means the action taken is for the benefit of others.
Knowing the fruit originates with the Holy Spirit, who also provides each believer with a spiritual gift for ministering to the benefit of others, it is no surprise that each characteristic includes benevolence. That means our focus is to bless others while blessing and praising God.
Gentleness, then, must also include a form of humility as we serve others for their good. It is not to be puffed up (1 Corinthians 13:4) and cannot be sincerely displayed if being used for our own purposes. It is being polite, restrained (longsuffering) behavior toward others.
The Apostle Paul illustrates gentleness with the example of a mother feeding her babies (1 Thessalonians 2:7). In context, Paul conveys to the Thessalonians that he and his team labored there for the believers there and not for their own self-gain.
Paul instructs Timothy that God’s servant-leader is not to be quarrelsome (demonstrate peace) through participating in foolish, ignorant controversies, but be kind to everyone (benevolent), patiently enduring evil (longsuffering), correcting his opponents with gentleness (2 Timothy 2:23-25).
How is that for practical application of the characteristics of the Holy Spirit’s fruit and work in a believer’s life! We don’t let pride raise its ugly head, but with an attitude of longsuffering and actions of peace and gentleness, we demonstrate God’s love to our offenders or opponents.
Believers are further instructed to bear up to one another with love for the benefit of the other person (Ephesians 4:2) with humility, gentleness, and patience (longsuffering).
Peter instructs believers to adorn the hidden person (his spirit) in a gentle and quiet spirit (at peace, benevolent), which is an imperishable (uncorrupting) beauty, precious in God’s sight (1 Peter 3:4).
As Paul continues to disciple young Timothy for the ministry, he tells Timothy to pursue (deliberately chase after) righteousness (holy living), godliness (seeking after God), faith (which brings about the hope or confidence in God’s promises), love (agape), steadfastness (enduring, longsuffering), and gentleness.
How Is the Lord Gentle?
Jesus Christ is meek and gentle (2 Corinthians 10:1), and God’s character displays gentleness when He is described as slow to anger (Exodus 34:6). God demonstrates His gentle nature with us (Isaiah 40:11) as our Shepherd, gently leading us as nursing ewes.
In other ways, we see God’s power, glory, majesty, justice, and even His wrath after He has been longsuffering and yet we refuse to yield to Him.
But, as a perfect God, He is also gentle and kind, the shepherd who goes after the lost sheep that has ended up in peril, and He reaches down gently and carries the sheep home (Matthew 18:12). He knows we are helpless on our own and He gently brings us back to the protection of the fold.
God continues showing us His care and gentleness through His tender mercies (Luke 1:76-79; Isaiah 30:18-19). God is gracious to us as He shows His continued compassion and cares for us. Those who long for Him are, indeed, blessed!
Jesus calls upon us to take His yoke and learn that He is a gentle and humble heart that allows us to find rest in our souls (Matthew 11:29).
There is no rest where there is no peace, where there is constant strife, where there is only anger and judgment. Jesus promises us perfect peace, a peace beyond our understanding (Philippians 4:7) that leads our souls to rest.
Jesus, as our Good Shepherd, causes us to lie down in green pastures to rest, restoring our souls (Psalm 23:2-3). He gathers His lambs in His arms, carrying them and gently leading them (Isaiah 40:11). The Bible repeatedly shows us Jesus’ compassion.
The word “compassion” means to “suffer together.” Where being sympathetic demonstrates a person’s feeling of someone’s pain or suffering, being “compassionate” drives a person to a kind and gentle action — empathy to the point of doing something to relieve the pain or suffering. Such action stems from a gentle, kind spirit.
Telling someone you sympathize with the loss of a loved one does not necessarily invoke gentleness. Having compassion for someone who has lost a loved one causes you to act through kindness and gentleness, demonstrating your understanding of how they feel and gently helping them to feel better.
It is benevolence — responding in a way that is for the other person’s good rather than from guilt or attempting to make oneself feel better by helping.
It is not what’s in it for me or what I can do to help that will make me feel better. It is, rather, taking the position of how I can help you feel better or what I can do (action) to relieve your suffering or stress.
When Jesus saw the multitude, He had compassion on them and fed their physical bodies (feeding of the five thousand is found in all four gospels: Matthew 14; Mark 6; Luke 9; John 6). Jesus was filled with compassion and healed the leper (Mark 1:41).
Jesus had compassion for a mother who was burying her only son, and He raised the son from the dead (Luke 7:13). Jesus was moved with compassion on a crowd whom He was performing miracles of healing and, knowing they had not eaten, fed them (Matthew 15:32; Mark 8:2).
When Jesus saw the multitudes coming out of the towns and villages to Him, He was moved with compassion and prayed for the workers to reap the already-bountiful harvest of people (Matthew 9:35-38).
There is no greater revelation of Jesus’ compassion and His gentle spirit than the story of raising Lazarus from the dead (John 11:1-44). Jesus had an earthly (human) loving relationship with Martha, Mary, and Lazarus.
Martha and Mary believed Jesus could have saved Lazarus while he was still ill, and both questioned Him as to why He did not come sooner. When Jesus saw Mary and Martha so distraught and weeping, He was moved with compassion for them and wept with them.
But it doesn’t end there. Scripture says this death was to ultimately bring glory to the Father and, deeply moved again at the tomb, He raised Lazarus!
Imagine the rejoicing that followed because Jesus, in His gentle, kind, and loving character, glorified God through this sign of having the authority and the key to unlock death (Revelation 1:18).
What Does This Mean?
Being gentle means not seeking our own way. Paul instructs the church at Colossae to put on (deliberate and conscious act) compassionate hearts (gentleness), kindness (for others’ benevolence), humility and meekness, and patience (longsuffering with others) (Colossians 3:12).
As the Holy Spirit’s fruit matures in the believer, he or she can reveal Christ through a gentle spirit that is to be seen and known to all men. A believer has the power to display a gentle spirit with others because of the work the Holy Spirit is doing and because the Lord Himself is near (Philippians 4:5).
This verse is sandwiched between rejoicing in the Lord always, and there is no need to be anxious for anything because God is with us, and He promises to hear us when we bring our thankful, praising hearts to Him with our requests in prayer (Philippians 4:3,6).
God demonstrated His love toward us through His mercy and grace — kindness and gentleness — rather than with His wrath and judgment to bring us to Him. Gentleness is a character trait of God, and it is one of the nine character traits He wants us to grow as we become more like Jesus.
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Randy DeVaul serves as a community/crisis response chaplain with a national Christian response team and as a deacon, missions coordinator, and small groups leader in his home church in Central Florida. Published regularly since February 2000, Randy is a regular contributor to international, regional, and local trade, lifestyle, and news publications and author of three workplace safety books. You can follow him here and here.
The views and opinions expressed in this podcast are those of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect the views or positions of Salem Web Network and Salem Media Group.
These verses serve as a source of renewal for the mind and restoration for the heart by reinforcing the notion that, while human weakness is inevitable, God's strength is always available to uplift, guide, and empower us.
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