Character Traits of the Spiritual Life: Gentleness


Character Traits of the Spiritual Life:


Richard Hollerman

Are you a gentle person?  We may not have riches but each of us can be gentle in spirit and demeanor.  The English word gentle may be defined as “kindly; amiable. . . . not severe, rough, or violent; mild.”[i][i]

Several Greek words convey the idea of gentleness.  The Greek epieikeia denotes “fairness, moderation, gentleness” or, to use the phrase of Matthew Arnold, “sweet reasonableness.”[ii][ii] The terms praos, praus, prautes, and praotes “indicate a mild, soothing quality, a quality that is to be expected in friends, benevolent rulers, tame animals, and mild medications.”  Also epieikes and epieikia  “originally indicated a thoughtful, considerate, and decent outlook.  Rather than hotly demanding his or her rights, whatever the cost to others, a person with this trait seeks peace in a calm way.”  All of the Greek words are “opposites of an angry harshness that grows out of personal pride and a dominating selfishness.”[iii][iii]

Let me ask you: Would you rather speak to a gentle person or a harsh and cruel person?  Would you rather have a wife or husband who is gentle or one who is uncaring, mean, and reactionary?  Would you rather work for a kind and gentle supervisor—or a harsh, cruel, dishonest, and mean-spirited one?  Peter tells us that some masters or managers are not “good and gentle” but instead are “unreasonable” or “perverse” (1 Peter 2:18 NASB, NASB margin) or “unjust” (ESV).

Gentleness is one of the “fruit of the Spirit” mentioned by Paul (Galatians 5:22-23).  It is a trait required of overseers (elders) in the believing community (1 Timothy 3:3) and all of us are called on to be gentle (Titus 3:2).  Scripture says that a woman should be interested in “the hidden person of the heart” with “the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit” for this spirit is “precious in the sight of God” (1 Peter 3:4).  If you are a woman, do you aspire to have a “gentle” and “quiet” spirit—one that God says is precious to Him?

As you relate to people, do people find you to be harsh, angry, bitter, unkind, cruel, and reactionary?  Or do you respond to people with a spirit of gentleness?  “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Proverbs 15:1).  Manifest the love of God toward people when you respond to them and express this love with a genuine gentleness.  Sometimes when we are correcting a false teacher or belligerent person, we must “reprove them severely” (Titus 1:13), but commonly we can have a gentle response for the average person, especially one who is open and receptive.  Paul writes of this attitude: “The Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth” (2 Timothy 2:24-25).  A gentle correction may do more than an accurate but mean-spirited one.


It is good to remember that our Lord Himself said, “I am gentle and humble in heart” (Matthew 11:29).  If Jesus was gentle with people, we can be as well.  Paul appeals to people “by the meekness and gentleness of Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:1).  He could strongly denounce people when they needed it (Matthew 16:23; 23:1ff), but He could also gently “touch” babies who were brought to Him and He “took them in His arms and began blessing them, laying His hands on them” (Mark 10:13-16; cf. Matthew 19:13-15; Luke 18:15-17).  This shows the extent of His gentleness with the helpless.

Gentleness is frequently mentioned in Scripture, showing the importance that God places on this virtue.  Paul tells Timothy to “pursue” the quality of gentleness, along with other virtues (1 Timothy 6:11).  The apostle claimed that his own responses to new converts were also characterized by gentleness: “We proved to be gentle among you, as a nursing mother tenderly cares for his own children” (1 Thessalonians 2:7).   We are to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which we have been called, and this is characterized by “gentleness” (Ephesians 4:1-2).  Paul also says that we are to “put on . . . gentleness” (Colossians 3:12).  James likewise mentions the quality of gentleness.  He says that a wise and understanding man should show “by his good behavior his deeds in the gentleness of wisdom,” and goes on to say that “the wisdom from above” is “gentle” (James 3:13, 17).

How do we respond to someone who wants to know something about our beliefs?  Do we react or “clam up” or become resentful?  Peter says that we should take advantage of such occasions for the gospel: “Sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence” (1 Peter 3:15).  Our words are to be truthful and courageous words—but they also are to be gentle and reverent words!  Do people consider you a gentle person?  They should.  Paul says, “Let your gentle spirit be known to all men” (Philippians 4:5).


[i][i] Random House Webster’s College Dictionary.

[ii][ii] W. E. Vine, Expository Dictionary.

[iii][iii] Richards, Expository Dictionary.


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