The Power of Gentleness
Martin Luther: “Before God be glad at all times, but before men be lenient.”
Jonathan Edwards once said that the fruit of the Spirit grows from within us like the branches of a tree - in a balanced fashion, left and right. We don’t just grow love - the Spirit grows love AND, at the same time, say, faithfulness. God is interested in all that He Himself is, not just the fruits that we wish we would have more of.
The universal example of this difference between God and us comes in Philippians 4:5, when Paul instructs us to see to it that our . . . gentleness! is evident to all. Of all the personal characteristics that people, even often Christians, want to be evident to all around them, I would guess that 9 times out of 10, gentleness does not make the top 3.
But of all the fruits of the Spirit, Paul puts his finger on gentleness, or reasonableness, as the thing that all should find self-evident about you, and me. Why? Why is God so interested in gentleness? Why are we not?
God (probably) desires this because gentleness is the exterior experience or interface that other people have with a person who possesses a joy in the Lord. I’m happy to defer to you, though I have the right not to, because I have everything - joyfully so - in Him. The Spirit grows the twin fruits of joy and gentleness in tandem, like a tree.
And how does the Spirit produce this fruit? In the struggles and disappointments and anxieties of life, we believe - 4:5 - the Lord is near (“at hand”). He is returning soon in glory, sharing that glory with us, and until then, by His Spirit, He is near to us, with the attitude of a generous Benefactor, laboring in His good pleasure to give us His kingdom (Luke 12:32).
This fruit itself produces twin fruits, branches off the branches. First, it puts anxiety in its place (4:5a). We move from simply believing He is near (4:5), to experiencing peace in our anxiety (4:7), to, as we practice this faith, seeing His very presence with us (4:9).
And this sense of His presence brings us full-circle. It produces, in our outward interactions with others, a gentleness, a reasonableness, that our world increasingly lacks. It matters not what political persuasion you are - this world is bereft of gentleness. This must be another reason why God loves it so. Our friends and neighbors thirst for gentleness, unwittingly longing for God.
Slow down a bit, then, and preach to your soul: the Lord is at hand . . .