Friday, January 25, 2013

Gentleness

Do you have a model verse?  Do you have a verse, or verses in the Bible that encapsulate what you strive for or what you struggle with?  I do.  It is 1 Peter 3:3-4: 


Your adornment must not be merely external -braiding the hair, and wearing gold jewelry, or putting on dresses;  but let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God.


You see, I have real trouble with having a gentle and quiet spirit.  If Peter had told us to have an opinionated and loud spirit, I would be gold!  Since gentleness is the only fruit of the Spirit that women in particular are commanded to display, it must be pretty important, and I should strive to grow it in my life.  

One of my problems is knowing exactly what it means to have a gentle spirit.  Gentleness is similar to kindness or goodness.   It isn't a hard word to understand, but understanding how to apply it in our lives can be tricky.  I've found the best way to unravel tricky Biblical concepts is to let the Bible speak for itself.  I went to www.biblestudytools.com (a great resource, by the way) and looked up every instance of the word "gentle" or "gentleness," particularly those that were the same word in Greek as Galatians 5:23 and 1 Peter 3:3-4.

What I found surprised me.  I expected gentleness to be a very general trait, but in the New Testament, gentleness is almost always mentioned in connection with how we are to admonish or teach others.  Paul often had to admonish the Christians he wrote his letters to, and he used the term gentleness or meekness twice in his letters to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 4:21, 2 Corinthians 10:1).

As women, our role in admonishing might not be quite so public as Paul's was, but we are commanded to teach and correct others.  In Titus 2, older women are specifically told to teach the younger women.  In the same verse, Paul reminds women not to be malicious gossips (Titus 2:3-4).  In other words, instead of gossiping about what another woman is doing wrong, we should admonish her gently.

If you are like me, telling a Christian sister she is doing something wrong is the last thing you want to do.  Its hard to know how to go about it gently because part of admonishing a sinning sister involves pointing out her sin.  If you've read Paul's letters, you know that he was not shy about identifying wrongdoing.  How can we keep a spirit of gentleness when we shine a light on someone's sin?   One way is to keep the end in mind.

Paul's end goal in chastening the Corinthians was to bring about restoration and repentance (1 Corinthians 5:5).  If my goal is also encouraging repentance, I will naturally be more gentle because I will be doing my best not to put my sister on the defensive.  I can start by acknowledging and praising her good qualities before gently pointing out her sin. (If I can't see her good qualities, then I am blinded by prejudice and should probably keep my mouth shut altogether.)  When I do come around to the subject of her sin, letting her know how it harms the people she loves is more likely to cause repentance than telling her how much she irritates me.

Another way to teach with gentleness is to remember that I am just as likely to fall into sin.  Paul addresses this concept in his letter to the Galatians.  "Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted" (Galatians 6:1).  Maybe I don't have the problem with dressing modestly that one of my sisters does, but when I start looking at the planks in my own eyes, her V-neck shirt somehow seem less offensive.  I can address my friend with her best interest at heart, knowing that I would want her to do the same for me.

A spirit of judgment will also hinder our efforts to win people to Christ.  Therefore, Peter also urged us to have a spirit of gentleness when speaking to our non-believing friends.  "[B]ut sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence; and keep a good conscience so that in the thing in which you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ will be put to shame"(1 Peter 3:15-16).

It is no accident that these verses immediately follow my "model verse."  In fact, when Peter is speaking to women about their behavior, he begins by reminding them that they can win over their non-believing husbands by their chaste and respectful behavior.

When I have thought about my model verse in the past, I had a picture of the perfect Christian woman in my head, but I had no idea how I could be like her.  I didn't really know what gentleness meant.  But when I let the Bible explain to me what gentleness is, I can see that this fruit is one I display best when I am sharing the Word of God with others.  Whether they be my loved ones who are lost or sisters who may be sinning, I need to speak to them in gentleness. 

 Melissa
Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE(R), Copyright(c) 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

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