Let us now direct our attention to the manifestation of the fruit of the Spirit deemed “gentleness” (or “meekness”) in Galatians 5:22-23:
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, meekness, self-control; against such there is no law.
The term defined as “gentleness” or “meekness” is the Greek word praotes, defined by Thayer’s as:
1) gentleness, mildness, meekness
This term is used in the New Testament as an attribute of the child of God (Ephesians 4:1-2, Colossians 3:12, 1 Timothy 6:11, and Titus 3:2), as an attribute of Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 10:1), and as the attitude which ought to be displayed when a Christian speaks with and/or needs to correct another (1 Corinthians 4:21, 2 Timothy 2:25).
The term “meek” is often used today with a negative connotation; it is often used of a person who is perhaps quiet and unassuming or a person who does not stand up for himself. This connotation is not present in the word as used in the Scriptures or as it was used in earlier times. Webster’s defines the term as follows:
1. Mild of temper; soft; gentle; not easily provoked or irritated; yielding; given to forbearance under injuries.
2. Appropriately, humble, in an evangelical sense; submissive to the divine will; not proud, self-sufficient or refractory; not peevish and apt to complain of divine dispensations.
We may see the reasons behind the choice of the term “gentleness” in many modern versions over the term “meekness,” lest any receive the wrong impression about what a Christian ought to be. A Christian is not to be a “pushover,” one who does not stand up for what he believes; he is to be gentle, a person who maintains control and grace even under significant duress. The Biblical concept of “gentleness” is a much harder attribute to imbibe than it may originally appear.
We may learn about gentleness from the examples of both Jesus and Stephen, for with these two we see first the One whose lief we ought to emulate (1 Corinthians 11:1), and secondly one who recognized this need and performed it. Jesus says concerning Himself the following in Matthew 11:29-30:
“Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
We see that Jesus calls Himself meek (gentle) and lowly in heart (humble), and we see that He best demonstrates this by His death on the cross. We see that Jesus was reviled and mocked in Luke 23:35-37:
And the people stood beholding. And the rulers also scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself, if this is the Christ of God, his chosen.”
And the soldiers also mocked him, coming to him, offering him vinegar, and saying, “If thou art the King of the Jews, save thyself.”
Yet even in this time of duress and peril, Jesus is able to say the following regarding these persons in Luke 23:34a:
And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.”
Stephen finds himself in a similar predicament in Acts 7:54, 57-58:
Now when they heard these things, they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed on him with their teeth…But they cried out with a loud voice, and stopped their ears, and rushed upon him with one accord; and they cast him out of the city, and stoned him: and the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul.
And as the Jews stoned him, Stephen found the ability to say the following in Acts 7:59-60:
And they stoned Stephen, calling upon the Lord, and saying, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”
And he kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice, “Lord, lay not this sin to their charge.”
And when he had said this, he fell asleep.
What can we learn from these examples? Jesus and Stephen were certainly gentle in spirit, able to desire the forgiveness for those who were killing them. Would we consider these two “meek” according to the way the term is commonly perceived? By no means! Yet they are certainly meek according to the way the Bible uses the term.
Could the same be said of us? Do we attempt to show gentleness even to those who would revile and persecute us? Do we return good for evil, or do we return evil for evil? It is always easier to lose composure and to get angry when we are spoken to or of badly than it is to maintain one’s composure and to display the proper attitude of gentleness as seen in the Scriptures. Let us constantly strive to emulate Jesus’ gentleness and in so doing further shine as lights for Christ in the world.