THOUGHT: For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God. Rom 8:14

The Picture of Gentleness and Meekness
Wednesday 8th January, 2014

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith; Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law. - Galatians 5:22,23

As we are in the middle of a week of special emphasis on the Holy Spirit, I would like to direct our attention to the key text, pertaining to the fruit of the Spirit, mentioned in the Apostle Paul's epistle to the churches of Galatia. Paul wrote "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law." Galatians 5:22, 23.

Before we consider the topic "The Picture of Gentleness and Meekness" permit me to call your attention to a few preliminary points. First, we must take note of the fact that the Greek word translated as fruit in the phrase "fruit of the Spirit", is in the singular, and it means that which is "produced by growth" and that the Holy Spirit is the "source" or the "cause" of the fruit. Second, an important question that we must examine is: What is the difference between gentleness and meekness when referring to the fruit of the Spirit? Third, Paul's list of the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians chapter five is more of an itemized account rather than a description of the graces that naturally develop in the life of a Christian, when that life is under the Holy Spirit control. Therefore, to arrive at a fuller picture of a gentle, meek and mild Christian we must consider the wider context of the Galatians picture.

What is the word picture of gentleness and meekness? Or what is the quality of gentleness and meekness? The biblical picture of gentleness and meekness should not be confused with feebleness, spinelessness and indolence. Nor should we accept the mistaken viewpoint that the Bible's picture of gentleness and meekness somehow connotes something which is not strong or able to endure hardship. Being gentle and meek should not be confused with weakness of either personality or character. We must not mistake "meek" for "weak." The Greeks never viewed the gentle and meek person as being a pushover or a "piece of cake." Neither is the biblical picture one of an individual who is easily taken advantage of or defeated.

Actually, the Greek word translated as gentleness means "kindness" and "refers to a kindly disposition toward one's neighbors, showing goodness and concern towards others, sympathetic kindness." It implies treating people in ways that will bless and help them. In like manner, the meaning of the Greek word translated as meekness is "mildness," "gentle submissiveness," and "controlled strength." It implies the "ability to bear reproaches and slights without bitterness and resentment." What then is the main difference between gentleness and meekness? The main difference is that gentleness relates more to action while meekness is more of an attitude. Therefore, meekness is most seen in bearing and enduring injury patiently, while, gentleness is exercised in outward actions relating to others.

An illustration by Donald Gee, an English Pentecostal Bible Teacher, makes the biblical meaning of gentle meekness clearer. "A guide was taking a group of visitors through a factory. One of the things he showed them was a giant steam hammer capable of flattening an automobile. Then the guide put down a walnut and had the hammer break the shell without hurting the meat of the nut. What an illustration of gentleness as power under perfect control!" This is a truly beautiful picture that comes close to the biblical meaning of "kindness" and "controlled strength." The Christian that is really gentle and meek is someone who is kind, calm and submissive while possessing great power and strength of character which is always under the control of the Holy Spirit. Ellen White provides us with a truly balanced picture of biblical meekness when she writes: "Meekness is a precious grace, willing to suffer silently, willing to endure trials. Meekness is patient and labors to be happy under all circumstances. Meekness is always thankful and makes its own songs of happiness, making melody in the heart to God. Meekness will suffer disappointment and wrong, and will not retaliate. Meekness is not to be silent and sulky" (Testimonies for the Church, Vol.3, p.335).

Christ modeled divine longsuffering excellently. The apostle Paul testifies that he, the worst of sinner, was a recipient of Christ's unlimited patience [longsuffering] (1Tim. 1:16). He was, thus, shown mercy again and again until Christ saved him, a self-righteous Pharisee. Hallelujah! Who then can be saved without the unlimited patience/longsuffering of Christ?

Biblical meekness and gentleness is compatible with great power and authority. The lives of Moses, of whom the Bible says that he "was very meek, above all the men which were upon the face of the earth" (Numbers 12:3), David and Paul are very worthy examples of meek heroes. But the life of Christ was the example par excellence of meekness and gentleness. Speaking to His disciples Jesus said "Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart :"( Matthew 11:29).Not only did Christ speak of Himself as being meek but His meekness was also evident in everything He did. And, while the meekness of Jesus is seen in relation to other human beings, it is even more evident in His submission to the Heavenly Father's will in the Garden of Gethsemane. Thrice, Jesus prayed to remain submissive to His Father's will, "O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me:nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt" (Matthew 26:39), when He staggered and suffered superhuman agony as the sins of the world were rolled upon Him.

Jesus was a Man of great strength of character who displayed meekness by His submissiveness to God. It is in the life and ministry of Christ that the concept of gentleness and meekness finds its true meaning, where there was a need to temper real power and courage with grace and humility. We see this concept in a stanza from a well known hymn:

"He could have called ten thousand angels
To destroy the world and set him free
He could have called ten thousand angels
But he died alone, for you and me"

And in the Pauline example of meekness par excellence in the Son of God, "Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death-even death on a cross!"(Philippians 2:6- 8, NIV). This passage presents the followers of Jesus Christ with an astonishing example of how to exercise power and authority in our daily lives, a picture of the meekness and gentleness of Christ in action. Christ is our model and we need to plant our feet in His steps.

Gentleness and meekness don't come naturally for the Christian. Galatians 5:22 tells us that these graces are "produced by growth." We have to "become humble learners, and ever to remain as pupils in the school of Christ to receive from the Master lessons of meekness and lowliness of heart."(Testimonies for the Church, Vol.4, p.527).Jesus said to His disciples "Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden and I will give you rest. 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." (Matthew11:28-30).We are invited to establish a relationship with Christ that will help us to develop the Christian graces of gentleness and meekness. This relationship needs our cooperation for the development of these precious Christian graces. We have to submit ourselves to the guidance and control of the Holy Spirit in order to develop gentle meekness. Moses learned meekness during the 40-year intermission from Egypt as a herder of sheep and Paul needed a desert education, to temper the great enthusiasm he had as a leader in Judaism, after his conversion to Christ. That is why Mrs. White says that "The precious graces of the Holy Spirit are not developed in a moment. Courage, fortitude, meekness, faith, unwavering trust in God's power to save, are acquired by the experience of years."(Testimonies for the Church, Vol.8, p.314).

The story of David is another wonderful illustration of the development of gentle meekness in "God's graduate school of character-building." His encounters with the lion, the bear and his whipping of Goliath required courage and faith in God on a short term basis. But the trials of a longer lasting nature, like his turbulent encounters with King Saul during the marathon eleven fugitive years, were harder for him to bear. He suffered terribly under Saul's unjust and unkind treatment. Nevertheless, as he matured in the graduate school, he demonstrated an extraordinary degree of meekness or controlled strength. His experience teaches us that meekness develops amid storm and cloud and darkness, as well as in the sunshine. Ellen White helps us with further insight on this point when she writes: "David's grief at the death of Saul was sincere and deep, evincing the generosity of a noble nature. He did not exult in the fall of his enemy. The obstacle that had barred his access to the throne of Israel was removed, but at this he did not rejoice."(Patriarchs and Prophets, pp.695, 696). What an amazing character! This is a very pretty picture of the gentleness and meekness of the sweet psalmist of Israel.

Meekness and gentleness are two Christian graces mentioned by New Testament writers as cardinal virtues. Jesus' teaching in the third beatitude "Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth" (Matthew 5:5), makes it clear that developing meekness is a matter with eternal significance. Developing meekness for the children of God is about sealing our destiny. It's about condemnation or sanctification. This is why the Apostle Peter warns us in his epistle, regarding our deportment, and especially our women folk: "But let it be the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price." (1Peter3:4).God values very highly the ornament of "a meek and quiet spirit" and His children should endeavor to excel in seeking for this heavenly "jewel of inestimable value."God doesn't value very highly the absence of the meek and quiet spirit in the lives of His children and the failure to develop gentle and meek character. Ellen White helps us to appreciate this point on the heavenly adornment of meekness when she writes: "This adorning will possess attractions for many in this world, and will be esteemed of great price by the heavenly angels, and above all by our heavenly Father, and will fit the wearers to be welcome guests in the heavenly courts" (Testimonies for the Church, Vol.3, p.367).

It is important for us as Adventist Christians to understand that our success in ministering on Christ's behalf is connected to us becoming more gentle and meek in character. When we are lacking in these cardinal graces our service robs God of the right to reveal His glory through our lives. We have to let gentleness and meekness characterize and strengthen our ministry inside and outside of our churches and our homes. Paul writing to Timothy says: "And the servant of the Lord must not strive: but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient, In meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth" (2 Timothy 2:24, 25).And, Mrs. White adds: " One smile of pleasure, one peaceful, approving word spoken in the spirit of meekness, would be a power to soothe, to comfort, and to bless. The government of self is the best government in the world. By putting on the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, ninety-nine out of a hundred of troubles, which so terribly embitter life, might be saved" (Testimonies for the Church, Vol.4, p.349).What a wonderful picture of the spirit of meekness!

As members we need to be longsuffering with fellow members.
In the body of Christ every member is different yet precious. So were the disciples of Christ—different and precious. Thomas was doubtful, James and John were fiery and power hungry, Peter was impulsive and quick-tempered, and the list goes on. But Christ never gave up on them. He patiently rebuked, encouraged and restored them as they slowly developed in spiritual maturity. Here is how the prophetess describes John's conversion experience: "But as the character of the Divine One was manifested to him, he saw his own deficiency and was humbled by the knowledge. The strength and patience, the power and tenderness, the majesty and meekness, that he beheld in the daily life of the Son of God, filled his soul with admiration and love. Day by day his heart was drawn out toward Christ, until he lost sight of self in love for his Master" (Steps to Christ. 73).

In the body, there are Johns and Peters too. Some are too timid; some are too self-assertive and ambitious; and some too quick-tempered; yet all are potential candidates for heaven. Like Christ, irrespective of the struggles of our brother we need to lovingly and patiently seek to restore him. Didn't Scripture declare, "Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted" (Gal. 6:1). And Jesus in Matthew 18:10 states: "Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones; for I say unto you, that in heaven their angels do always behold the face of my Father which is in heaven." There is still too much resultant bitterness and rancor in our attempts to reconcile differences with each other. Let us imitate Christ in all longsuffering and meekness.

The picture of gentleness and meekness, par excellence, is beautifully exemplified in the life of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. We have all been invited to enroll in the school of Christ that we may learn "His way of life," that is, his way of gentleness and meekness. Gentle meekness is a part of God's character as He moves triumphantly in mighty power and victory. God wants you and me to be meek heroes. He can help us to become meek heroes and He has left this attractive picture of how we can become meek heroes: "Life is disciplinary. While in the world, the Christian will meet with adverse influences. There will be provocations to test the temper; and it is by meeting these in a right spirit that the Christian graces are developed. If injuries and insults are meekly borne, if insulting words are responded to by gentle answers, and oppressive acts by kindness, this is evidence that the Spirit of Christ dwells in the heart, that sap from the living Vine is flowing to the branches. We are in the school of Christ in this life, where we are to learn to be meek and lowly of heart; and in the day of final accounts we shall see that all the obstacles we meet, all the hardships and annoyances that we are called to bear, are practical lessons in the application of principles of Christian life. If well endured, they develop the Christlikeness in the character and distinguish the Christian from the worldling" (Testimonies for the Church, Vol.5, p.344).

Pastor Richard James,
President, Guyana Conference