Isaiah 40:1-11, Matthew 11:25-30
October 11, 2009
The fruit of the Spirit is… “gentleness.” Do we even know that that means any more? Gentleness? Why would Paul include that word in this wonderful list of the fruits of the Spirit? Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness… yes, but, gentleness?” Why would that be one of the outward signs that we are to have when we are “walking by the Spirit?”
What do you think of when you hear the word “gentleness.” Do you think “tenderness?” “Mildness?” If you were to treat something gently, what would you do? Would you “handle (it) with care?” Would you carry it on your fingertips? Would you be like a mother cradling a newborn? I’ll never forget some friends of mine in the hospital with their first child. I think I witnessed the first time they ever dressed the baby. It took two of them! And I had my doubts that they were going to get the job done! We might say they were being “overly gentle?”
If a person were a gentle person, how would they act? Would they be quiet? Would they be tender, calm, placid? Would the opposite of a gentle person be rough, loud, rowdy, and boisterous? Do you consider yourself to be a gentle person? While you’re thinking about that, listen to what Jesus said about himself. “Come unto me, all ye who labor and heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me. For I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest unto your souls.”
Earlier in this series, we talked about “peace.” And at that time I mentioned about how people in our world are desperately searching for peace, but many are not finding it. Do you remember that? Well, think about that passage I just read. Is this not the place to find peace? “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me. For I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest unto your souls.”
As followers of that same Jesus, we are called to have as an “outward sign” that we are “walking by the spirit,” this fruit of “gentleness.” But how often do we choose that? It’s tough in our world. Because our world doesn’t understand gentleness! Especially we men!! We have a hard time with someone telling us we are supposed to be “gentle.” The world tells us we are to be “manly men.” We are to strive to be strong! We are to be masculine! And in the ‘80s we were told we were to be “Macho.” (If not, the Arnold Scwharzeneggers of the world would call us “girly-men.”) Well, as opposed to all that, our faith calls us to think seriously about “gentleness.”
Maybe some of you guys remember your moms telling you when you went out that you were to be a “Gentleman.” And that does seem to imply that we are to be a “gentle-man.” I wondered how that word “gentleman” came to be, so I Googled it. And I found that “gentleman” seems originally to have come from a word that had to do with social class. A man who was wealthy and owned land was a gentleman. It was the highest social class you could be without being of the nobility. But since then it has come to mean a man of “good, courteous conduct.” And by the way, you women are not off the hook here, because I’m sure your mothers told you to be “ladies!” And that had the same meaning! Didn’t it?
Well, let’s look at the scripture’s understanding of this word. When we look this passage from Matthew 11, we find here the phrase “for I am gentle.” In the Greek that’s “pra-os eimi” Now, that word “pra-os” is the same word that we have in this list of the fruits of the Spirit in Galatians. It’s just in a slightly different form. There we read, Pra-oteis. And that word, which we translate “gentleness” can also be translated “meekness.” And sure enough, if we go to the Sermon on the Mount and find the place where Jesus said, “Blessed are the meek,” it was the same word Pra-eis.
So we could easily use the word “Meekness” in this list of the fruits in Galatians, because that’s very close in meaning to “gentleness.” But that’s also a troubling word! Because some people think that “meek” means “weak!” But it does not! Some also have a hard time with another similar word “humility” because it’s too close to the word “humiliation.” (You’ve heard me say that before!) But “humility” does not imply “humiliation,” and “meekness” is not the same as “weakness,” and “gentleness” does not mean that we are not to be strong. In fact, I believe it’s clear from the life of Jesus that the greatest strength to have is the inner strength which gives a person the power to be silent in the face of persecution – no matter how unjust that persecution might be! In the face of accusation, the strongest person can say nothing, knowing with inner confidence that the truth about them is different. It is a less strong person that has to prove otherwise to the world. I hope that makes sense to you. The strong person is only concerned with the proof to the self. Jesus said, “Let your ‘yes’ be ‘yes’ and your ‘no’ be ‘no.’”
I hope you can see today that “meekness” does not mean “weakness,” and that “gentleness” does not mean lack of personal strength! Quite the contrary, gentleness takes the greatest of strength! And I hope you also see that we need the Holy Spirit in order to have that strength? Isn’t it amazing that I am having us focus on “gentleness” today and we’re talking so much about strength? But this is not a worldly strength we’re talking about. It’s not an “in your face” arrogant kind of strength. It’s not the kind of strength that is forceful and draws attention to the self. It’s a quiet, inner strength that gives us peace no matter what the outward circumstances!
While you’re thinking about that, remember that Jesus is the greatest example of that. He went to the cross silently, with no lashing out at his accusers, no attempt to justify himself, not even an insistence that he was God’s son! Isaiah describes that in his prophecy. God says through the prophet, “Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights. I have put my Spirit upon him. He will bring forth justice to the nations. He will not cry or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street. A bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick he will not quench. But he will faithfully bring forth justice.” (Isaiah 42:1-3) Then later, in the 53rd chapter he writes, “He was oppressed and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth, like a lamb that is led to the slaughter…” (Isaiah 53:7)
In the New Testament, in each of the accounts of the crucifixion, Jesus is described as going quietly to the cross. Only in John do we have a hint of that inner strength that the world cannot understand. When Jesus would give no answer to Pontius Pilate, Pilate said, “Why will you not speak to me? Do you not know that I have the power to release you and the power to crucify you?” (Which was true!) But Jesus answered, “You would have no power over me unless it had been given you from above.” (John 19:10-11) That is inner strength, meekness to the highest degree.
Well, what does all this look life in our lives? What is this outward sign of “gentleness” in us? While you’re pondering that question, let me share with you these words of Paul in Ephesians. Maybe this will give you a clearer picture. “I therefore a prisoner for the Lord, beg you to live a life worthy of the calling to which you were called,” how? “with all lowliness and meekness, (pra-oteis) with patience, forbearing one another in love, being eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” (Ephesians 4:1-3) Being eager to!
There is such a bad tendency in our world for people to think they “can’t help” who they are, how they act, and how they think. The Bible says “nonsense!” We can – and we are called to – choose those things. And we are called to choose by the inner strength of the Spirit. And what do we choose? Lowliness, meekness, patience, forbearance, and eagerness to maintain the unity of the Spirit. Paul is begging the people to live that life! Now, if it wasn’t a choice, why would he beg? But it is! And I hope I have given you cause to think about that today and to choose that life. (And I know that many of your already do.)
So, as we consider this penultimate fruit of the Spirit, know that the last one is “self-control,” which is all about what we choose to do and to be.. (I think that’s the first time ever, in 28 years of ministry, that I used the word “Penultimate” in a sermon!!) So Paul begs you, and I’ll beg you, too. Choose! Choose to emulate our Savior and have this fruit of the Spirit of “gentleness.” It’s not a weak thing. It’s a thing of strength – inner strength that’s beyond us. It is a Christ-like thing. And who knows, we might just inherit the earth!
Heavenly Father, you have given us your Spirit and your Grace that is so amazing! Help us to have the strength we need, and to call on that strength, to live lives worthy of our calling. Help us to know the ways of inner strength and gentleness, that we may have peace with each other and a gentle strength in the world. For this we pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.