By Pastor Glenn Pease
Bill Hybels, the popular pastor of the Willow Creek Community Church, one of the fastest growing churches in America, admits that he is not a tender hearted person. By nature he is often cold, hardhearted, and indifferent to the hurting world around him. In his book Who Are You When No One's Looking, he tells of how he and his wife went to see the movie Sophie's Choice. It was a heavy drama where Sophie had to decide which of her two children she would hand over to the Nazi officer, for sure incineration. He was thinking he would like another box of popcorn, but he noticed his wife was sobbing. She cried through the rest of the movie. As they walked to the car he knew it was no time to crack jokes. It was a day and a half later when she said to him, "I want to tell you why I was so upset at the movie. I was picturing having Todd in one arm and Shawn in the other, and having 30 seconds to choose which one was going to live and which one was going to die. How in the world could I ever make that choice?" Pastor Hybels did not understand that, for he did not get into the skin of the actor and feel the emotion. His wife did, and she identified with the emotional turmoil.
His wife is tenderhearted and she can empathize with others, and feel what they feel when they hurt. He, on the other hand, is hardhearted and does not let the pain and tears of others bother him. All people tend to fall into one or the other of these categories. He sees it in his own children. His 6 year old son will burst into tears when he sees a house plant die. His 9 year old daughter thinks he is silly, and she could whack one to pieces with no sense of remorse. His good friend had to put his dog to sleep, and it was torture. After they took the dog to the vet, he sat in the car for a long time to regain composure, before he returned to work. His brother said, "Why didn't you bring him to me. I could have knocked it over the head and taken care of it-no problem." Here were two brothers raised in the same family and environment, yet one is tenderhearted and the other hardhearted.
The whole point of Pastor Hybels sharing this is, that he, as a hardhearted Christian, knows he must be all the more surrendered to the Holy Spirit to produce the fruit of gentleness, for it just does not grow in him by nature. Tenderhearted people by nature are more gentle, but Christians like himself need to constantly rely on the Spirit to have a kind and gentle spirit toward hurting people. This is his honest confession-
"If we harder-hearted Christians are honest, we have to admit that our
tough approach can do damage. We kid people that we shouldn't
kid, and when they get hurt we say, 'Can't you take a joke?' We don't
listen to other people very well. Usually while they are talking to us we are either making unrelated plans or mentally responding to what they are saying.We wonder why many people are so weak and timid. We use people and dispose of them unceremoniously when they have served our purposes. Although we may not realize it, others tell us we act superior. We love to be right, to compete and especially to win. If the truth were known, we secretly view tenderhearted people as emotional weaklings or psycho-logical misfits. We don't understand them."
He knows a lot of Christians who are like that, but he recognizes that this is not Christ like, and such Christians, like himself, must not relate to other people according to their fleshly nature, but according to the nature of the Spirit. He is not like the comedian who says, "I am very health conscious. I'm lazy and out of shape, but I'm very conscious of it." He is not just conscious of his lack of a gentle spirit, he works hard at letting the Spirit produce this fruit in him.
This fruit of gentleness has a host of English words that translators have used to convey its meaning. Some of them are, moderation, humility, forbearance, courtesy, considerateness, meekness, kindness, and sweet reasonableness. We see the spirit of gentleness in the way Jesus dealt with the despised sinners of His day. Zaccheaus was hated as a tax collector, but Jesus treated him with consideration, and gave him a chance to express himself.
The Pharisees were ready to stone the woman taken in adultery, but Jesus was gentle and did not blast her even with verbal stones, but forgave her and commanded her to go and sin no more. The gentle person is one who takes all the of the facts into consideration. The hardhearted are quick to make absolute judgements regardless of the circumstances. They are legalists, and are seldom open to grace. A non-gentle Jesus would have had the woman stoned, and only later reflected on the strange circumstances that the man was not also brought to be judged. Jesus was gentle for he could see this woman was being used by the Pharisees. They cared not for her fate, but only for how she could be used to trap him.
A gentle spirit takes in a whole picture. It does not operate on half truths. It does not jump to conclusions that hurt people. If you hear something bad about another person and you are instantly ready to condemn them, you do not have a gentle spirit. A gentle spirit is patient, and will want to get all the facts. And even when the facts do support a negative conclusion, they will way all the circumstances, and give the person every possible consideration. If God did not have a gentle spirit, there would be no plan of salvation.
Paul was constantly referring to the fruit of gentleness in dealing with the tensions in the early church. There was enormous conflict and arguments of all kinds, even over his authority. Some in Corinth were asking, who does Paul think he is telling us what to do? Paul writes in II Cor.10:1, "By the meekness and gentleness of Christ, I appeal to you." In I Cor.4:21 he wrote, "Shall I come to you with a whip or in love and with a gentle spirit?" Love and gentleness go together. Lack of love and roughness go together. If you are quick to throw stones you reveal, not so much how bad your victim is, but how spiritually rough and unpolished you are.
Paul in Gal.6:1 uses this fruit again in telling Christians how to deal with fallen Christians. He writes, "Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently." People who are truly spiritual are gentle people, whose goal is restoration and not judgement. The Christian operating in the flesh says, "They blew it, let them pay the penalty. Let's boot them out of the fellowship so they do not contaminate the rest of us." The spirit led Christian says, "There but for the grace of God go I. Let's help this fallen brother get back on the road, and continue the journey with us."
Pride makes us rough, for it says, "I am superior, and those inferior to me deserve to be stomped on." Humility, however, is gentle, for it says, "I need the gentle love of God to survive, and others need it from me. I will do unto others what I would have them to do unto me." Paul writes in Eph.4:2, "Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing one another in love."
You will notice how everyone of the fruits of the Spirit is linked to the other fruits. None of them operate in isolation. They are a cluster of fruit, like grapes, and they function together. These fruits working together in harmony are the most powerful force in the world. Gentleness does not sound like a great power, but united with the other fruits it is powerful beyond what we would ever dream. Alexander Maclaren, the famous English preacher, goes to great lengths to praise the power of gentleness. He writes,
"Gentleness is the strongest force in the world, and the soldiers
of Christ are to be priests, and to fight the battle of the kingdom,
robed, not in jingling shining armor or with sharp swords, nor
with fierce and eager bitterness of controversy, but in the meekness
which overcomes. You make take all the steam hammers that were
ever forged and battle at an iceberg, and except for the compara-
tively little heat that is developed by the blows and melts some
small portion, it will be ice still, though pulverized instead of
whole. But let it move gently down to the southward, there the
sunbeams smite the coldness to death, and it is dissipated in the
warm ocean. Meekness is conquering."
We have to be honest and admit, gentleness is not a popular virtue in our culture. The power of brute force is what produces the heroes in our culture. I have to admit, I get the same kick out of seeing Clint Eastwood shove problems instantly with a gun or a fist, as do a host of Americans. But the fact is, it is a world of fantasy, just like the cartoons, and does not fit the real world. In the real world most of our heroes from Hollywood would be locked up for life after a week of their violent lifestyle. It may be good entertainment, but it is worthless as a guide to good living.
Paul wrote to Titus about how Christians should live in there culture. He used the fruit of gentleness as one of the key ingredients of the good Christian citizen. In Titus 3:1-2 we read, "Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good, to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and to show true humility toward all men." Considerate is the English word used here for the fruit of gentleness. The ideal citizen that Paul describes here does not live rough, talk rough, and act rough toward others, but is peace-loving, and gentle in relation to all men.
My personal observation is, Christians are not a whole lot different from the world when it comes to citizenship. They are just as critical of authorities as anyone else, and just as likely to slander them as anyone else. It could very well be that Christians do not have the impact on our culture they should have, considering their great numbers, because they operate on the level of cultural values rather than Biblical values. They use the same weapons of the flesh the world uses, and thus they have only the power of the flesh, and not the power of the Spirit.
The power of gentleness is so seldom tried that we can't know what it might accomplish. Shakespeare recognized its power in As You Like It. He has the Duke say, "What would you have? Your gentleness shall force more than your force move us to gentleness." And them Orlando says, "Let gentleness my strong enforcement be."
Many Christians argue that there are so many stupid people in power that you have to be rough, and deal with them with violent language. We have to fight with weapons they understand. But Paul gives instructions to Timothy on how to deal with stupid, aggravating people who stir up all kinds of quarrels. He writes in II Tim.2:23-25, "Don't have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels. And the Lord's servant must not quarrel; instead he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth." Again, we see the fruit of gentleness is a key ingredient in dealing with problem situations.
The goal of the Christian in all relationships, even with the most painful of jerks, is to get them to accept the truth in Christ. The most effective way to do this is by the power of gentleness. G. W. Langford wrote,
Speak gently! Tis a little thing
Dropped in the heart's deep well;
The good, the joy that it may bring
Eternity shall tell.
John Drescher, in his marvelous book Spirit Fruit, tells this story of the gentleness of the great evangelist D.L. Moody. Crowds came to hear him everywhere he went and on one occasion a young boy , dirty and ragged, came to the door of the large church where he was to preach. The usher at the door told him he should be home in bed, and he turned him away. The lad went to the side of the church where he was crying when Moody arrived in his carriage. He heard the boys sobs and went over and asked him what his problem was. He explained he was not allowed in to hear Moody preach. Moody smiled and said, "Do you really want to get in? I know how you can get past that big fellow at the door. Are you willing?" The lads response was a definite, "Yes, sir!"
Moody told him to hold on to his coat tails, and not let loose until he said so. Moody just walked into the church and up to the pulpit, and the little guy was right behind. He said, "Now my boy you sit here." Then he put him in his chair, where he listened to Moody preach. The pastor who told this true story said, "The reason I know it is true is because it happened in my church, and I was that little boy." Moody"s gentle handling of a crisis in this boys life led him to become a full time servant of God in that very church where the kindness was shown. It Christians do not add gentleness to this world, they are part of the problem and not part of the answer.
The bottom line is, God expects Christian men to be gentlemen, and Christian women to be gentlewomen. This is a major part of what love is all about in this rough world. T. Dekler wrote of Jesus-
The best of men,
That e'er wore earth about him was
A soft, meek, patient, humble,
The first true Gentleman that ever breathed.
Jesus had great power, and He could have zapped people into conformity to the will of God, but He did not. He used love and persuasion. He did not compel people to follow Him. He called, and some did, and many did not. He was a gentleman, who treated all people with dignity, and he respected their right to say no. He did not say to the rich young ruler who walked away, "You swine, get back here and take up the cross and follow me." Instead, He wept and let him walk away. Jesus did not force Himself on anyone. He might have had a greater following had He used some of the techniques others have used to browbeat and make people feel guilty. But Jesus was a gentleman. Samuel Butler wrote, "If we are asked what is the essential characteristic that underlies this word, the word itself will guide us to gentleness, absence of browbeating or overbearing manners, absence of fuss, and generally consideration for other people."
The fruits of the Spirit all grow so quietly and gently. The gifts are often loud and attention getters, but the fruits grow as quietly as the fruits of nature. We know when fireworks is going off at the fair ground, because we hear the loud explosions in the sky. We know someone is hurt or ill, for we hear the screaming sirens, as the ambulance races to the scene. We know the weather is severe, because we hear the blaring sirens warning of a tornado. The presence of many things are known by the noises that are produced. But no one has ever awakened in the night and said, "Listen to all the racket the apple tree is making. The apples are growing again." No! They grow silently, quietly, and gently. So the fruit of the Spirit grows in us. The gifts might draw a crowd, because of the shouting, singing, and noise of rejoicing, and this is great. But the fruits do not come with a bang. They come as the Holy Spirit gently nudges us closer to Christ. He works quietly as we read the Word of God, and as we pray for guidance, and as we reflect on life and where we fit it the scheme of things.
The Holy Spirit came upon Jesus, you recall, not as a vulture or a screeching hawk, but in the form of a dove, the symbol of gentleness. Jesus will be forever praised in heaven as the Lamb of God, the creature of gentleness. God is gentle, and that is why there is a plan of salvation rather than just a plan of judgement. We owe all we can ever hope for in Jesus to the fact of God's gentleness. This is to have an impact on how we treat others. William Taylor wrote, "Forget not thou hast sinned, and sinful yet must be: Deal gently with the erring one, as thy God hath dealt with thee." May this prayer of an unknown poet express the desire of your heart.
Give me Thy gift of gentleness, most gracious Lord;
For whom the way was rough, and darkly black,
For clouds of sorrow hung about life's track,
Till tears and anguish seemed my double part--
It was Thy gentleness that healed my heart'!
And there are others--walking weary years,
With bleeding feet, the stony track of tears.
Oh, make me gentle, Lord; through me express
The healing grace of Thine own gentleness.
May God motivate us to pray such a prayer often, for the fruit of gentleness.