A virtue, which I need in a higher degree, to give a beauty and luster to my behavior, is gentleness. If I had more of an air of gentleness, I should be much mended. – Jonathon Edwards
If one of your most influential contributions to Christianity is a sermon titled “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” you probably wouldn’t be labeled as “gentle.” As we’ve been going through the fruit of the Spirit, gentleness is one which is very misunderstood. When we think of gentleness, or meekness as some translations have it, we usually think of weakness. Our mind conjures up a small framed person who barely raises their voice and couldn’t hurt a fly. Much of Jonathon Edwards ministry flourished because of his passion and fire. So why would this 17th century, fiery preacher want to be gentle?
A lot of this is to blame on the English language. The Greek word here is prautes and literally means mildness of disposition, gentleness of spirit, or meekness. Coincidentally, “meek” comes from an old Norse word mjuker, which literally translates to “soft.” So, it’s no surprise our culture has redefined what connotations are associated with those words.
Paul uses this word in the best possible example in 2 Cor 10: 1-2:
Now I, Paul, appeal to you with the gentleness (epicikeia) and kindness (prautes) of Christ – though I realize you think I am timid in person and bold only when I write from far away. Well, I am begging you now so that when I come I won’t have to be bold with those who think we act from human motives.
Here Paul is really warning them. They too think the prautes which Paul has been preaching means he’s all talk and no action. But Paul warns them they don’t fully understand what it means when he is preaching gentleness/kindness (prautes).
Picture what it means to be a leader in your home, your community, your church, your circle of friends, or whatever place you have the opportunity to influence others. Gentleness isn’t, for many of us, a defining element of this picture. We think we need to be more like Edwards and have a “fire and brimstone” approach to influence others.
But a big problem I see with this approach is we focus more on championing God’s decrees and miss God’s promises.
Jesus championed prautes when the pharisees brought the woman caught in adultery to Him for judgement. He didn’t praise her for the sin in her life, but in the same way He condemned every pharisee for their hypocrisy. They wanted Jesus to respond with outrage. But He gently addressed her sin and said to her, “Go and sin no more” (see John 8:1-11).
To me gentleness is when a softened heart abides in Jesus. Then, the fruit grown in your life cannot tolerate sin, but approaches it with a bold broken heart. Gentleness is not weakness; it’s the correct response to the world around us.