How many of you remember the movie, The Wizard of Oz? Just curious—did any of you see this movie in the theater when it first came out—in the fall of 1939? Awesome! It would be fun to talk about how it felt to see a movie go from black and white to color for the first time!
Well—whenever you saw it—do you remember the scene when Dorothy and her friends are finally given an audience with the film’s namesake? They follow the yellow brick road and make it to Oz where they meet with the mighty “wizard” himself.
Just in case you don’t remember—here it is: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=amclN9RG49c (first one minute 6 seconds)
How did Dorothy describe herself? She softly, fearfully said, “I am Dorothy, the small and the meek.” Well, if you remember the rest of the movie then you know that Dorothy doesn’t always seem meek—at least, not in the way that many define meekness.
- Earlier in the story she stands up to mean Mrs. Gulch.
- Later she stands up to the Wicked Witch of the West—who looks an awful lot like Mrs. Gulch.
- She even stands up to the Wizard himself.
So—Dorothy may be meek, but she’s certainly not weak. She’s no doormat, no helpless damsel in distress. Dorothy is strong and courageous, without being a bully about it. She truly is meek — according to the actual, literal (Biblical) definition of the word.
We’ll get deeper into to that definition in a moment. But first, let me bring our guests this morning up to speed by saying a couple weeks back we started a study of the nine fruits of the Spirit. So far, we’ve looked at love—and self-control. Today we come to gentleness which is another word for meekness. And before we go any further, let’s say our text for this series together—I’ve left out a couple words—to help you with your memorization. Hint—they are the virtues we have studied thus far!
Galatians 5:22 – 23 – The fruit of the Spirit is , joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and – . Against such things there is no law.
Okay—let’s get to a definition of today’s fruit—gentleness. As I inferred a moment ago, it’s the same word in Greek that we translate as meekness. It was pronounced “praus” and it communicated the idea of power under control. “Praus” was used in New Testament times to describe an animal that was domesticated—like a wild stallion that had been trained to obey words of command or answer to the reins of its rider. The animal was still just as powerful as it was before it was trained, but that power was now exerted at the right time and in the right amount—much like Dorothy did in the film.
Please note—this means the virtue we studied last week: self-control—and this week’s virtue: gentleness—go together. We see both in the verse we read last week. I’m referring to Proverbs 25:28 where it says, “Like a city that is broken into and without walls is a man who has no control over his spirit.” In other words, without gentleness, you’ve got power but no control over it. Un-gentle people are like an un-walled, vulnerable city.
Here’s some more word pictures to help us understand power without control.
- Hurricanes like Katrina.
- The entire nation of Venezuela seems to be an example of uncontrolled power these days.
- The current spread of measles that is happening because parents didn’t control it by getting their little ones vaccinated.
On the other hand, Proverbs 16:32 says, “He who rules his spirit is better than he who captures a city.” This tells us that gentle people—self-controlled people—are actually very strong people.
According to this proverb there is a sense in which a gentle person is stronger than a warrior, because it takes more strength to control your temper than it does to storm a city. So, gentleness or meekness doesn’t mean weakness—in fact it means the exact opposite.
Gentleness isn’t passivity either. The gentle person is intentional and involved with what is going on. Again, Dorothy is a good example—she was gentle—meek—but she wasn’t spineless or cowardly or timid. She bravely accepted the Wizard’s quest to destroy the wicked witch—and succeeded thanks to that handy bucket of water!
In his commentary on this text Barclay sums all this up by saying a gentle person is someone, “who has every instinct under control. Every impulse—every passion—every ounce of strength has been harnessed.”
This week I came across a story from the life of John Wooden, one of the most revered coaches in the history of college basketball, who credited much of his success to his dad. Wooden tells about a time when as a boy he learned about gentleness as he watched his father deal with a certain situation. The Wooden family lived in rural Indiana and local farmers could earn money—by taking teams of mules or horses into the gravel pits scattered through the county where they would haul out loads of gravel. Some pits were deeper than others, and sometimes it was hard for a team to pull a wagon filled with gravel out through the wet sand and up the steep incline. Wooden says, “One steamy summer day a young farmer was trying to get his team of horses to pull a fully loaded wagon out of the pit. He was whipping and cursing those beautiful plow horses, which were frothing at the mouth, stomping, and pulling back from him. The elder Wooden watched for a while, then went over to the young man and said, ‘Let me take ‘em for you.’ Dad started talking to the horses, almost whispering to them, and stroking their noses with a soft touch. Then he walked between them, holding their bridles and bits while he continued talking—very calmly and gently—as they settled down. Gradually he stepped out in front of them and gave a little whistle to start them moving forward while he guided the reins. Within moments, those two big plow horses pulled the wagon out of the gravel pit as easy as could be. It was as if they were happy to do it.”
John Wooden said, “I’ve never forgotten what I saw my dad do that day and how he did it. Over the years I’ve seen a lot of leaders act like that angry young farmer who lost control. So much more can usually be accomplished by Dad’s calm, confident, and steady approach. It takes strength inside to be gentle on the outside.”
So—gentleness is not weakness or passivity—not by a long shot.
Now—this word “gentleness” — “praus” — was not a popular word in Jesus’ day. “Praus” was not something to be PROUD of. Gentleness was not considered a virtue in those days—in fact it was thought of as more of a vice. The thinking back then was that REAL men were strong and powerful and dominant. They were never “gentle.” I can’t help but think of King David’s command to his general when dealing with Absalom in the battle that enabled David to retake the throne from his rebellious son. He told General Joab, “Be gentle with the young man Absalom.” (2nd Samuel 18) In other words, “Control how you deal with him.” But Joab wasn’t gentle—wasn’t controlled. He killed Absalom while he was stuck in that tree—and then Joab criticized David for grieving his son’s death—rebuked David for his “gentle response.”
Well, the attitude toward this virtue is still pretty much the same in our day. I mean, being gentle is misunderstood—and because of that it is not always considered a good thing.
- Think about your work situation.
If you’re in sales and marketing, is gentleness high on the list of preferred character traits in those sales seminars you attend? Is that how you close deals and become more successful?
Do you climb the corporate ladder on the rungs of gentleness? Not usually.
- If you are an athlete, does meekness help you win points with the coach?
I mean, if you’re a football lineman does the coach tell you to be gentle as you block the players who oppose you?
- If you’re running for political office—would you get elected if your slogan was, “Vote for me! I’m gentle!”
No—people don’t usually elect the “gentle.” Speaking of that—bound up in the meaning of this virtue—is another positive trait. I’m referring to respect for other people—even those you disagree with. Let me put it this way. There’s a lot of dignity in gentle people. We saw a perfect example of this demonstrated during the many memorials of Senator John McCain when he passed away last year.
One was from ten years earlier in 2008—the year he was running for president against Barack Obama. The election was just weeks away and McCain was speaking at a town hall filled with his supporters. One prejudiced woman came up and told McCain, “I can’t trust Obama. I have read about him, and he’s not, um, he’s an Arab.” McCain grabbed the microphone from her, cutting her off. He firmly replied, “No, ma’am. Mr. Obama is a decent family man [and] US citizen that just I just happen to have disagreements with—on fundamental issues—and that’s what the campaign’s all about. He’s a not person that you have to be scared of as president of the United States. We disagree on some things—but he’s a good man.” The audience BOOED McCain for comments—I don’t know if this cost him the election but I’m sure the gentle stand he took that day probably cost him a lot of votes. Now—anyone who knew John McCain knew that there was nothing weak or timid about him. When he was a prisoner of war in Vietnam, he was offered an early release because his father was an important Admiral. McCain could have gone home. But he refused the offer. He said, in effect, “I’m not leaving until we all leave.” This shows a strength of character that few can imagine, let alone imitate. He was as tough as he could be, and yet, he approached public service with a tender attitude of dignity, humility, and gentleness.
So—once again—gentleness is not weakness. To drive this point home further, let me remind you that ALL these virtues we are studying—these fruits we are learning to bear—including gentleness—make us like our Lord. And I’m not just referring to Jesus—the ALMIGHTY God become flesh. We see the GENTLENESS of God in the Old Testament over and over and over again. By the way—I won’t give his name—but there’s a popular pastor who has come out recently saying his church will no longer teach the Old Testament. They will just focus on the New. He cites various reasons—but basically, he thinks the Old is too legalistic—that God is too harsh in the Old Testament. Well, He’s very wrong. The Old Testament says more about the love of God than the new. And, as I said, it talks over and over and over again about how GENTLE our omnipotent God is. Remember, Isaiah compares God to a gentle shepherd. He says, “God gathers the lambs in His arms and carries them close to His heart; He GENTLY leads those who have young.” (Is 40:11) Psalm 103 says this: “As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear Him; for He knows how we are formed, He remembers that we are dust.” Think of the tender way God dealt with Hagar when she fled from Abraham and Sarah—and the gentle way He took care of Ishmael. Think of the way God cared for Elijah when he was in the pit if depression. In fact, do you remember the way God SPOKE to Elijah—in 1st Kings 19? He said: “‘Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.’ Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper.”
Our God is GENTLE—tenderhearted, compassionate—this is why when God became flesh—that same attribute was present. I mean, Jesus could and did speak truth boldly. Plus, He demonstrated the power to calm storms, heal the sick—even raise the dead—but His greatest strength is seen in His gentleness. One of His best-loved sayings is, “Come to Me all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am GENTLE and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matthew 11:28)
Think of how tenderly Jesus dealt with the Samaritan woman at the well—and the woman caught in adultery. Remember how He responded to the people who beat Him and crucified Him? Instead of yelling curses like those crucified next to Him, Jesus prayed for His crucifiers. Think of the way He gently restored Peter after his denials. Paul refers to this character trait of Jesus in 2nd Corinthians 10:1 when he says, “By the humility and GENTLENESS of Christ I appeal to you.” So—God is ALL-POWERFUL—but He is GENTLE—and to be recognized as His children we must be as well. Christians who are GROWING Christians—are known as gentle people.
In the time I have left I’d like to answer this question: Where do we best SHOW this virtue? How do we best emulate God in being GENTLE?
(1) First, this trait is seen—SHOULD be seen—in the way we relate to the people to whom we are CLOSEST.
You wouldn’t think I’d have to say this—but the truth is gentleness is often scarce in the home. I guess the old saying is true—if we’re not careful, familiarity really does tend to breed contempt. I mean, so many times, the better we know each other—the less gentle we are toward each other.
And—sadly this is especially true between husbands and wives. After a hard day we often lose control and snap at our spouses—saying things we’d never say to a stranger.
- Husbands are you as gentle and caring for your wife as you were when you first married?
- Wives how about you? Are you as caring—empathetic—supportive—as you were in the early years of your marriage?
I think this is part of what Paul was admonishing husbands and wives about in Ephesians when he said, “Submit yourselves to EACH OTHER out of reverence to Christ.” We are to submit to Jesus—we are to follow His example—and be gentle with each other. And, speaking of those closest to us, we of course must be gentle in the way we relate to our children. In Ephesians 6:4 Paul says: “Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.” Yes—there is a time to be firm with our children—but it must be a firmness that is under control. As mom’s and dads, we must remember that gentleness is powerful—that as Proverbs 15:1 says, “A gentle answer turns away wrath.” NPR ran a moving story about a father and son that aired on the hit radio show “This American Life.” The episode was entitled “Know When to Fold ‘Em” and it focuses on a man named David Dickerson—specifically, his return to the Christian household he had not visited since he left for college ten years earlier. He had graduated and had become very successful in his career. His plan on this long-overdue visit was to undermine his father’s “repressive” faith. On the show David says,
“I had all this ammunition, and I couldn’t wait to use it. And I remember thinking, this is a showdown because my dad and I were at war. My dad didn’t know this, but I was at war with him. I was at war with all Christians, and I was just waiting for an excuse to have a shot.”
So, when his father innocently mentioned some mission work he’d been praying about, David unleashed his fury. He said:
“I just rambled on like this. And I knew, essentially, while I was doing this, I was also assaulting his dream. You know, saying everything he was excited about, that he was sharing with me, was misbegotten, was a bad idea, was morally corrupt. And he just kind of quietly let me do my thing.”
David’s father let him expend every round of ammunition without arguing or retreating. He simply looked at David and said, “David, I’m really proud of everything you’ve done in your career.” David concluded the show by saying, “I remember looking at my dad, and I thought—I had sort of expected to argue—you know, not to win, but to come to some kind of armistice. You know, some kind of truce—I hadn’t expected to lose completely, because you can’t argue with decency. You can’t argue with gentle goodness.”
My point here is that one of the main places we need to demonstrate this virtue is in our families.
Charity isn’t the only thing that begins in the home—gentleness does as well. Philippians 4:5 says “Let your gentleness be evident to all” and of course “all” includes those closest to us.
(2) A second place this fruit of the Spirit needs to be seen is in the way we respond to people who are HURTING.
Again, we are following our Lord’s example here. Jesus never turned a hurting person away. He was gentle with everyone who needed it. In all His interactions Jesus fulfilled the prophecy of the coming Messiah about Whom it was said: “A bruised reed He will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.” Matt 12:20
So—Christlike people are tender-hearted people—especially toward hurting people. Their response to others facing difficulty is to gently, compassionately come to their aid. I like what Bridges says about this virtue: “Gentleness is illustrated by the way we would handle a carton of exquisite crystal glasses—it is the recognition that the human personality is valuable but fragile and must be handled with care.”
If you’ve gone through a time when YOU were hurting for some reason—be it physical or emotional—you know how good it feels to be treated tenderly. Daniel McNeely is a pediatric neurosurgeon in Halifax, Nova Scotia, so he’s used to fielding questions from nervous parents and patients. But it was a first for him when an 8-year-old patient had a specific request. As the child was being wheeled to surgery while clutching his stuffed animal, the boy, whose name is Jackson McKie, said, “Dr. my bear is ripped. Please stitch him up.” Jackson has a cyst on his brain and a chronic condition called hydrocephalus. The surgery was to drain fluid and relieve pressure on his brain. Dr. McNeely assured the boy he would stich up his teddy bear, and he took the task seriously. After he successfully performed surgery on the boy’s brain, he placed the bear on a table, put on blue gloves and used leftover stitches from the child’s surgery—to repair an underarm tear on the bear. You can see in this picture he even fashioned an anesthesia mask to put on the bear. In fact, that was another first, because McNeely — who had never tweeted before — went on Twitter to post this photo. He wrote, “Before being put to sleep patient asks if I can also fix teddy bear—how could I say no?” Jackson’s father said, “Dr. McNeely is one of the nicest human beings I’ve ever met. He said his son was thrilled when he woke up to see his stuffed buddy had been stitched up just like him.” McKie said that his family deeply appreciates McNeely’s medical care over the years, as well as his human touch. “When we get there we’re terrified to death, but every time we talk to Dr. McNeely we feel better.” Christians are supposed to make people who are hurting—feel better. They know we all have times in this fallen world when we need this fruit of the spirit from someone else. We all have times when we need to be treated gently.
Now—I think the majority of us have no problem being gentle with children—but adults are another matter. I’m referring to adults whom we prejudge as having problems of their own making. And, if being gentle toward “those people” is difficult for you—if your heart is more hard then tender toward “those people”—I would remind you that we all make mistakes. We all have problems of our own making—or will. Sociologist Brene Brown’s did a TED talk called “The Power of Vulnerability.” In it he pushed his listeners to embrace their own brokenness—with the reality that we are not alone in it, that we are—or easily could be—just one step away from the broken people all around us. Brown says:
“We are ‘those people.’ The truth is…we are the ‘others.’ Most of us are one paycheck, one divorce, one drug-addicted kid, one mental health diagnosis—one serious illness, one sexual assault…away from being ‘those people’—the ones we don’t trust, the ones we pity, the ones we don’t let our children play with, the ones bad things happen to, the ones we don’t want living next door.”
The world needs Christ-followers who are like Him—gentle people—people who are lowly in heart—people who don’t break the “bruised reeds” of the world. Remember. Galatians 6:1 says, “Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person GENTLY.” How are you doing when it comes to being GENTLE with the hurting people of this world? It could be a hurting neighbor—or a co-worker who is going through a hard time—it could be a hurting spouse or child. One other way this virtue is most clearly seen,
(3) …is in the way we respond to the people who hurt US.
This is what Jesus was talking about when He said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in Heaven.” (Matthew 5:43ff)
Who are your enemies? Who are the people who hurt you? We all have people we put in this category—it could be a relative who has hurt you.
- It could be a co-worker who constantly puts you down.
- It could be a class-mate who makes fun of you.
- It could be someone who bullies you on social media.
- It could be people on the other side of the political aisle.
I think many of us put telemarketers in the “enemy category.” They are the hardest to love—the easiest to hate. I mean, not only are their calls unsolicited and annoying, but they seem to come just as we are sitting down to eat or hopping into the shower. And we all have our strategies for dealing with them—none of which are GENTLE. This week with Google’s help I found several lists of UNGENTLE ways to deal with these “enemies.” Here are a few—you might want to write these down.
- When they ask for the man of the house, ask them to hold on for a moment; and then put your three-year-old son on the phone.
- Say: “Hello.” (Wait on them to start talking.) “I’m sorry we can’t come to the phone right now. Please leave a message. Beep.”
- If they want to loan you money, tell them you just filed for bankruptcy and you could sure use some money.
- If the company cleans rugs, respond: “Can you get out blood? Can you get out goat blood? How about human blood?”
- Tell the Telemarketer that you work for the same company, and they can’t sell to employees.
- Ask them to repeat everything they say, several times.
- Tell them you are hard of hearing and that they need to speak up—louder—louder—louder.
We chuckle—but none of these ideas is gentle. Well, Philip Yancey met a woman who found a better way—a way to be truly Christlike with these pesky callers. She told Yancey, “I feel called to minister to telephone marketers. You know, the kind who call at inconvenient hours and deliver their spiel before you can say a word? All day long these sales callers hear people curse at them and slam the phone down. I listen attentively to their pitch, then I try to respond kindly, though I almost never buy what they’re selling. Instead, I ask about their personal life and whether they have any concerns I can pray for. Often they ask me to pray with them over the phone, and sometimes they are in tears. They’re people, after all, probably underpaid, and they’re surprised when someone treats them with common courtesy.” Yancey confesses, “Hearing her share made me aware of how often I miss possible hinge moments in my own interactions with people. I marvel at the Toronto woman’s gracious response and think of the times I get irritated with marketers—and with employees on computer help lines who don’t speak good English. I catch myself treating store cashiers and Starbucks baristas as if they were machines, not persons. Subtly or not so subtly, I let the other person know that I’ve been interrupted and need to get back to work. In the process, I miss golden opportunities to dispense grace.”
Whoever they are—we must love our enemies—we must be gentle with them.