Written by Lizzie Cooke
This blog originally featured on Lizzie’s own personal blog page in a series on the fruits of the spirit. You can find more here- https://savedbygrace373.wordpress.com
I think it took so long for me to work out what to say about gentleness because it’s quite a difficult word to define. When we use it in everyday conversation, we use it to mean a combination of kindness and love without anger or sharp words. It then seems perhaps a little odd that it is a separate fruit of the spirit, as love and kindness are already fruits? One bible dictionary definition says:
Gentleness: Sensitivity of disposition and kindness of behaviour, founded on strength and prompted by love
I read one article where it described gentleness as “strength under control” which I thought was quite helpful, meaning, in the context specifically of evangelism which is what I’m going to talk about, you have good and important things to say, but you choose to say them in a controlled, kind and thoughtful way.
Gentleness is something which I’ve learnt a lot about in a very short space of time recently, specifically when it comes to evangelism. (*But please don’t think that I think that I’ve got this evangelism thing sorted. I am definitely not an expert and definitely not amazing at it, I’m still learning, I know I do it wrong a lot of the time still!*)As someone who is quite quick with their emotions, gentleness is definitely something which I struggle with, especially when I know the other person is wrong! I recently read the book “Evangelism made slightly less difficult” by Nick Pollard, and he emphasised gentleness as being the key to evangelism. The moment which I myself realised that maybe almost yelling your argument in someone else’s face because they didn’t understand you wasn’t the best way to convince someone that God did in fact exist was when I did my first beach mission a couple of years ago.
Now maybe it wasn’t this bad, but the way I remember it was that myself and another christian girl were having a conversation with two non-christian girls about creation and evolution and all that sort of thing. The other christian girl was trying to get the two girls to explain how they believed that world had started and how we got to this stage, but instead of waiting to hear them explain themselves, I decided that I should explain to them why they were wrong by interrupting them mid-argument. But I didn’t do it in a very gentle way. I think the word “strident” best explains the way I tried to point these girls to our almighty creator God- perhaps not the most helpful way to do it! In my defence, the girls were being equally argumentative about their opinion, but I had the Holy Spirit and they didn’t- I should have been more gentle. I don’t think being pushy about God is the best way to share the awesome love of Jesus. In this particular instance, God was incredibly awesome (as usual) and the girls came back to the next night to find out more about and to continue the conversation, which meant that my push-iness hadn’t frightened them off and that I had a chance to redeem myself! A couple more of us chatted with them about 4 or 5 times that week and while I have no idea how they felt about God by the end of it, I learnt an extremely valuable lesson in how not to evangelise. The other Christians around me showed gentleness and friendship, and enabled us to get to know these girls and show them love, not frighten them away with my aggressive bible bashing.
A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger
“There’s no point winning an argument if you lose the person” is a phrase which I have certainly had to learn from. When Jesus shared the good news of God’s love and salvation with those around Him, He was the epitome of gentleness. His questions and parables showed people the way to live in a way which enabled Him to point out where they were going wrong but also to lead them to salvation through His all encompassing love. Flicking through my Bible trying to find a specific example for this, I’ve come across so many conversations that Jesus had that show His gentleness, simply in the way He communicates. In John 8, John records Jesus being challenged by the Jews and the Pharisees around Him. They questioned His authority, His authenticity and His power, but Jesus did not once shout at them. Over and over again, John writes that “Jesus said to them”- He said, He didn’t raise His voice, He just said. Jesus knew that He had the authority to make claims about His power. He knew He was justified in calling Himself the light of the world. He knew with 100% certainty that He was in the right, and yet He still showed gentleness. If Jesus was calm in the face of fierce challenge and accusations, then we have no excuse not to be. Jesus endured so much more and the challenge He received was a lot more personal than any challenge we will receive. Sometimes people may make accusations against us because of Christ, but more often than not they accuse Christ Himself. If Christ continued to be the perfect example of God on earth through that, we have no excuse not to.
Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.
Don’t get me wrong, there is a time and a place for a more assertive argument. Jesus shows us that when He cleared the temple in John 2, where John writes that Jesus “made a whip out of chords.” That might appear to us a little extreme or angry, but the context of the situation is so important. Sometimes it might be necessary for us to be more assertive in our conversations, as long as we remember what the purpose of evangelism is- to share the good news of Jesus with those who need to hear it (as in, everybody), not to ram it down their throats or bash them with our bibles!
Gentleness is key when it comes to making people feel at home and accepted in our churches. I’ve heard the phrase “Belong|Believe|Behave” quite a few times when talking about evangelism; basically the idea that in order to best communicate God’s love, we need to make people feel like they belong in church. As a result of that they are more likely to recognise God for who He is and believe in His amazing, saving grace, and following from that, God can mould them into who He wants them to be, and He can guide their behaviour to follow the pattern He created for human beings. That means that we need to be gentle in our actions towards those who don’t recognise God for who He is. We want them to feel like they belong and so we need to be considerate and kind in the way we communicate.
Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.
Jesus showed us, His children, gentleness before we had fully accepted Him into our hearts. Let us show our thankfulness for that in the way we treat those around us- let us show gentleness.
Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.