The Fruit of the Spirit Is Gentleness
Today as we continue with our series The Fruit of the Spirit, we will focus on gentleness.
When I was two years old, my mother put me in a playpen in our front yard. One of the toys in the playpen was a little rubber ball. We had no cell phones back in the dim ages, so when the telephone rang my mother went inside to answer it. I picked up that rubber ball and threw it out of the playpen into the yard. A nearby German Shepherd saw the bouncing ball, grabbed it in its mouth, and leaping over the side of my playpen brought it back to me. My mother walked out the door about that time and screamed to high heaven. The dog took off, but from that time on I have had a queasy feeling about German Shepherds.
Several years ago I was asked to preach a revival in Forest City, North Carolina. On the Sunday morning of the revival, I was seated on the platform with the pastor when something happened that took me aback just a bit.
A German Shepherd walked all the way down the aisle to the front of the church and settled down at the end of the first pew. He slept through my entire sermon. I might add that he is not the only one that sleeps through my sermons.
That night during the fellowship, that same dog appeared again, this time with his owner, a blind woman named Elizabeth. Her dog was a seeing-eye dog.
Elizabeth said, “Rex, I want you to meet Pastor Kirk. Rex, I don’t think he’ll bite you.” Then she added, “Pastor Kirk, Rex won’t bite you either.”
After that introduction, Rex and I got along well. He came to every revival service with Elizabeth.
A German Shepherd is a wonderful breed. Dr. Hugh Hayes, a veterinarian in our congregation, tells me it is one of the finest. Looking for all the world like a wolf, a German Shepherd has the ability to be a guard dog, a watch dog, and even an attack dog. Rex, however, was very gentle. I call this story about Rex, “The Gospel according to Rex” because I learned a lot about the spiritual gift of gentleness from that gentle dog.
The Greek word for gentleness, prautes, is difficult to define. William Barkley says that it is the most difficult word in the New Testament to translate because we simply do not have a precise English term for prautes. We usually translated it one of two ways: meekness or gentleness. Neither of those words does prautes justice.
In ancient Greece, prautes described the reaction of a person of authority who refused to use power to crush another person. For example, a king, having the authority to render punishment to a servant who had failed at a particular task, could order the death of that servant. A king responding with kindness and forgiveness, however, would be recognized for gentleness and meekness. Most often, prautes described that balance between power and gentleness.
Rex is a good example of a dog that had the power to be both powerful and gentle.
William Barkley writes in his commentary on the book of Galatians that prautes does not mean weakness. We hear the word meekness and immediately think weakness. Instead, prautes means a balance between power and the refusal to crush others, a balance between justice and gentleness. Barkley considered this word untranslatable, but he wrote that with prautes “we treat all men with perfect courtesy, that we can rebuke without rancor, that we can argue without intolerance, that we can face the truth without resentment, that we can be angry yet sin not, that we can be gentle and yet not weak.”
When I think of the characteristic of gentleness, a great teaching from the book of Micah comes to mind. Perhaps Micah 6:8 is the principle verse in the entire book. Micah asks, “What does the Lord require of you?” His simple answer is, “Do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God.” Now think about that answer just a minute. Micah tells us to act with justice, to do what is right. Micah qualifies his response by adding that we are also to act with mercy. How do we act with mercy? We must have an attitude of humility. Acting with gentleness – balancing or combining justice and mercy – is tricky.
A hymn we sing describes our Lord Jesus as, “Gentle Jesus, meek and mild.” We do not get the true personality of Jesus from that description. Meekness, as it appears in the New Testament, is very different from the way we tend to think about it. We consider meekness in terms of the way any dictionary defines the term or the synonyms listed in a thesaurus. Consider these adjectives for meekness: tame, timid, mild, bland, unambitious, retiring, reticent, weak, docile, acquiescent, repressed, spiritless, and even wimpish. Jesus was certainly meek. Jesus was certainly gentle. Not one of those words from a thesaurus, however, accurately describes his personality.
Jesus said of his own ministry that he would not cry out or quarrel. He added that no one would hear his voice in the streets, that he would not break a bruised reed, and that he would not quench smoking flax (Matthew 12:20). He was talking about having an attitude that does not destroy, that does not crush.
When Jesus taught the Beatitudes, he mentioned the meek, saying that they are blessed. We read those words in Matthew 5:5 and think that he was referring to people who are weak, downtrodden, all those adjectives the dictionary and thesaurus use. Jesus meant that a meek person has that proper balance between justice and mercy, the ability to use strength with gentleness. Jesus declared in this Beatitude that the meek will inherit the earth.
In this world in which we live, we might expect someone to say that the blessed are the strong and assertive. They are the fierce competitors, the aggressors, the achievers. We might expect someone to say that the blessed are those who receive recognition, admiration, and reward.
When I was a boy, we used to play the game King of the Hill. The purpose of the game was to see who was strong enough to reach the top of a hill and become the king. He would then take on all comers, trying to keep his position and defend his territory. He fought off the other boys who all scrambled, fought, and clawed their way up the hill. Each boy tried to reach the top and overpower the king so that he could take control.
Our world works in the same way. This idea of gentleness or meekness seems to fly in the face of everything we know about how to succeed, yet Jesus said the meek will inherit the earth.
Beginning in Luke 11, Verse 39, Jesus rebukes the Pharisees: “You Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and the dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness.” Then he gives six woes, beginning in Verse 43. “Woe to you Pharisees, because you love the most important seats in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplace.” Verse 45: “One of the experts in the law answered him, ‘Teacher, when you say these things, you insult us also.’” Jesus replied, ‘And you experts in the law, woe to you because you load people down with burdens they can hardly carry, and you yourselves will not lift one finger to help them.’”
How did the Pharisees load people down with burdens they could not carry? The Pharisees were legalistic. They were so concerned with the 939 laws on the books. It was said that they had as many laws as a pomegranate has seeds. Consider this law: If a stone wall falls on a person on the Sabbath day, only enough stones can be removed to determine whether the person underneath is a Jew or a Gentile. A Jewish person may be freed. A Gentile person must wait until after the Sabbath for rescue. The Pharisees weighed people down with burdens they could not carry, and Jesus called this to their attention.
Do you realize that Baptists have traditionally had the reputation for being legalistic? I grew up with the mantra, “Don’t dance, don’t drink, don’t cuss, don’t smoke, don’t chew, and don’t date girls that do.” All of us who are Baptist grew up with a similar legalistic attitude, one certainly without gentleness. Contrast that idea with the invitation of Jesus in Matthew 11:28-30: “Come to me all you who labor and are heavy laden, 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. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
Do you want to be like the Pharisees or be like Jesus? The difference is gentleness. Someone who is gentle has a clear sense of value without being wishy-washy, judgmental, or legalistic. That person has a way of easing burdens rather than making the burdens unbearable.
This morning I used one of Paul’s passages that encourage Christians to live this way as our Call to Worship: “Live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love” (Ephesians 4:1-2). So what does this mean in our life together as a Christian community? Paul gives us the perfect example about gentleness and bearing the burdens of another in Galatians 6:1-5:
Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. If anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself. Each one should test his own actions. Then he can take pride in himself, without comparing himself to others, for each one should carry his own load.
Paul offers a valuable lesson.
I want us to look at an issue that has touched almost every person seated here today: divorce It has touched me. It has touched all of us. Many divorced people, especially those in a Baptist church, often feel like second-class citizens. They feel unwelcomed. I know what the Scriptures say. We have just studied that passage in Micah where God says clearly, “I hate divorce.” Of course, He does. I hate divorce too. I have spent forty-six years of ministry, trying to keep marriages together. In fact, every person I know who has been through a divorce and everyone who has family members who have been through a divorce, hate divorce. I do not know anybody who loves divorce.
Some of the finest lawyers I know who represent divorcing couples have enough sense to say, “Look, there’s a chance this marriage can be saved. Why not get some counseling first?” I respect those lawyers very much.
Jesus also addressed divorce in a pivotal passage. In Matthew 19:1-8, the Pharisees came to test him and ask about the law regarding divorce.
Jesus answered their inquiry with his own question, “What did Moses say?”
“Well, Moses allowed it.” They were correct in their response; Moses did allow divorce.
Jesus then added, “It’s because of the hardness of your heart that Moses allowed divorce.”
That very same hardness leads to legalism. One physician told me that a hard heart is the worst kind of sclerosis.
Still, divorce is a reality in many of our families. Clare and I have two children who have been through a divorce. The truth is that divorce hurts. It is a burden that causes everybody to suffer. Children, the divorcing couple, parents, and grandparents all suffer.
Many Baptists now accept the reality of divorce, but we have maintained a double standard, especially about those individuals who serve in Christian leadership. Part of this double standard stems from a misunderstanding about the teaching of Paul in I Timothy 3. Whenever this issue arises, Baptists often ask, “But what about the passage that says a man “must be the husband of but one wife”? I have read and studied that passage and do not think Paul was addressing divorce. He was actually addressing polygamy, a problem in Paul’s day. Men had multiple wives. Paul was saying that Christian leaders should have only one wife.
You never need to worry about divorce with Clare and me. Other people and I have asked her, “Clare, have you ever thought of divorce?”
“No,” she quips, “murder, yes, but not divorce.”
Nobody is exempt from divorce, nobody. Why do I choose this illustration to address gentleness? In just a few minutes, we are going to vote on whether to call a man as a leader of the church. It is not fair for you to vote intelligently without knowing his entire story.
Let me talk to you from my heart. The following people already know the information I want to share with you: the Personnel Committee, the Search Committee, the deacons who attended this month’s meeting, and those who attended the business meeting Wednesday night.
Chris Kurtz was educated at Eastern Kentucky University where he received a degree in music. He originally thought he was going to be a Minister of Music and actually worked in that capacity for a while. When he felt called to pastoral ministry, he attended Southern Seminary and earned a Master of Divinity degree.
While serving on a staff in Summerset, Kentucky, his wife told him, “I don’t want to be married to a minister anymore.” She left.
Chris told this story in a discreet manner. He did not blame her or make any unkind statement about her. He just said she had other interests and that she was married within a year.
Her leaving him was hurtful, but then his church told him to resign from his position because of the divorce. Chris now had a double loss.
He took a secular job selling playground equipment in Summerset, Kentucky, because he wanted to stay close to his young son, Josh. For much of those three years he was in counseling.
Chris told me, “Kirk, I just knew that God had called me to ministry. I knew that somehow I had to get back into ministry.”
One day after telling his counselor this same information, the counselor asked, “Chris, how far away from Summerset can you live and still get back to Josh in one day?”
“About an eight-hour drive, about 400 miles.”
The counselor suggested, “Take a map and draw a circle around Summerset, a circle that would take no more than one day’s time to see Josh.”
Chris took an old-fashioned compass and drew a circle on a map. He then sent résumés to churches throughout the area. A United Methodist church in Frederick, Maryland, called him to be the Minister to Youth. It was there that he met Jamie and her daughter, Natalie.
Chris and Jamie have now been married for six years. Recently, Jamie told Chris, “Your heart is in the Baptist church. You need to get into a Baptist church.”
He answered, “Jamie, I just don’t think any Baptist church will have me because of the divorce.” Chris did find a Baptist church, however, in Hampton, Virginia, where he has served faithfully for the past four years or so. Since the pastor of that church resigned a year ago, Chris has taken on the responsibility of all the administration and educational ministry, much of the preaching, and sometimes even the music ministry. He has been doing everything.
Our Search Committee has gone through a long process of seeking a suitable and qualified candidate. The committee looked hard at more than 100 résumés and personally interviewed six or seven individuals. The Search Committee now recommends Chris Kurtz.
As pastor, I could not vote with the Search Committee, the Personnel Committee, or the deacons. I do get to vote today, and I am voting for Chris Kurtz. He is the right person for the position of Associate Pastor of Administration and Senior Adults. Can you imagine his effectiveness in leading a divorce recovery group? God can use his burden and heartache to further Christian ministry. Chris clearly understands the difference between gentleness and legalism.
Before our vote, I want to extend to you an invitation to accept the Lord Jesus Christ as you Savior. Allow him to help you carry the burdens of your life. Do not delay. Acknowledge him today. Come as God leads.Kirk H. Neely © July 2012