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We come now to the eighth stop on this nine stop tour of the fruit of the Spirit. It strikes me that there have been two threads that have run through each of the facets of the fruit of the Spirit and that bind them all together.
First, each of these facets of the fruit of the Spirit applies perfectly to God. But in none of these have we been able to point to ourselves and say, 'now that's what I'm talking about.' But whether it be love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness or faithfulness, the same point has been made so far in each sermon, God is each one of these things by nature. And each and every one of these attributes of God is embodied in the person of Jesus Christ.
The second thread that has run through this series is that these attributes that pertain only to God, are the very attributes that the Holy Spirit wants to produce in us. But in us they don't come naturally, the only come super-naturally. In our baptism, the Triune God has taken us to Himself and made us His own. The work of the Holy Spirit is to conform us into the image of God, so that the love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness and faithfulness of God is manifest in our life.
Those two threads that we have seen run through all of the fruit of the Spirit so far are present as well on this eighth stop – 'gentleness.'
The word is "prautais." It's the word that describes someone who relates to other people with 'gentleness,' 'meekness', 'mildness, 'tenderness.'
In 1939, Brooklyn Dodgers manager, Leo Durocher pointed to the opposing team as they took the field was quoted as saying, "Take a look at them. They're all nice guys, but they'll finish last. Nice guys finish last." Now there's a saying that might just catch on.
Bold, aggressive attitudes may be necessary on the ball field, but they're definitely out of place in the Kingdom of God. Jesus once said, "Blessed are the 'praus,' the meek, for they shall inherit the earth." (Matthew 5:22).
When we hear the word "meek" we may picture the skinny weakling who's always forking over his lunch to the bullies in the cafeteria and who gets beat up on the way home from school by the same.
This is definitely not what Jesus has in mind. "Prautais" describes the person who might well be powerful, physically strong, socially empowered, but who relates to others with humility, as a servant not as a master.
Long before this word was a theological word it was a secular one. It was the word used to describe a judge who heard his cases and established his verdicts with justice, but who did so with great consideration for both the plaintiff and the defendant. It wasn't 'hard, cruel justice' for the sake of justice. It was justice with sincere concern for those involved – 'gentle justice.'
The same word was used to describe a king who ruled his territory with sincere consideration for his citizens. He was known as a 'gentle king.' Needless to say, the accused loved to hear that they were to be tried by a 'gentle judge.' And citizens loved to live under the rule of a 'gentle king.'
The unbelieving world doesn't get this because this is not the way of the world. It's just not the world of business or politics or sports work. There, it's full-fledged Darwinism – survival of the fittest, dog eat dog.
But 'gentleness' is the way of God. It's the way that God works in the world. God is strong and powerful. He is almighty. But His power is made known in 'gentleness' and 'meekness' and 'tenderness.'
You see the gentleness of God in those whom He chooses to lead His people. To lead His people out of slavery under Pharaoh God chose Moses, of whom the scriptures write, "Now the man Moses was very meek, more than all people who were on the face of the earth." (Numbers 12:3).
The time would come however, when God would appoint one greater than Moses to lead His people out of a greater bondage – a slavery to sin under the devil. The prophet Isaiah described this leader like this, "He will speak tenderly to Jerusalem." (Is.40:2). "He will not cry aloud or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street; a bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench." (Isaiah 42:2-3).
The fulfillment of Isaiah's prophecies are all met in Jesus Christ. He is strong and mighty, even almighty. But His power and authority carried out in perfect gentleness, mildness, meekness. He is the embodiment of the gentleness of God.
Jesus says, "Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, FOR I AM GENTLE AND LOWLY IN HEART and you will find rest for your souls." (Matt.11:29).
Just think of the ways that Jesus relates to sinners throughout the gospels. He is always gentle and tender with those who come to Him for help and healing. How tenderly he deals with the lame and the sick, the diseased who are brought to Him. Think of how gently He deals with the woman caught in adultery, the woman at the well in Samaria, the disciples who argue with one each other over which is the greatest. Think of how mildly he deals with Martha who complains about the lack of help she's getting from her sister Mary.
But consider also how He responds to even the Pharisees and Scribes who make all kinds of false accusations against Him, who try to trap Him in His words, who try to discredit His teaching. He responds to His enemies with such gentleness and mildness and meekness.
Our approach to those who attack us is more like that of Peter's in the Garden of Gethsemane. When the soldiers tried to arrest Jesus, Peter drew the sword and sliced off a soldier's ear. He was ready to stand up, stand up for Jesus with all of the offensive fire-power a fisherman can handle. But gentle Jesus puts a stop to that 'nice guys finish last' approach to others. "Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword." (Matthew 26:52) And with unbelievable gentleness, Jesus takes the ear that had been severed from His enemy and puts it back into place.
We could go on like this for quite a while, but one more example will do. The same Peter who drew the sword to defend His Lord, for some reason, cowers in fear before a young girl in the High Priest's court yard. "I don't know the man," he says. Not once, not twice but thrice.
How does Jesus respond to His cowardly, denying disciple? Does He scold him or teach Him a lesson or bring Peter to his knees until he begs for mercy? No, as soon as He rises from the dead, Jesus calls for Peter and prepares a meal for him, and says, "Peter, do you love me? Feed my sheep." Not once, not twice but thrice. Who can comprehend the gentleness with which Jesus deals with sinners? But comprehend it we must, because this is precisely the way that Jesus deals with us.
The image that Jesus uses to describe Himself more often than any other is that of a shepherd. Dealing gently with His sheep gone astray, He searches and finds us and gently lifts us onto His shoulders to carry us home. In meekness and lowliness, He lays down His life for His sheep. Rather than scold them and teach them a lesson they'll never forget, He prepares a banquet table for them in the presence of their enemies. This is how our Lord deals with sinners like you and me. He absolves all our guilt with a gentle word of absolution; He restores our soul with His tender touch of body and blood.
Through these means of grace, the Holy Spirit not only treats our sins with the gentleness of God, but He also conforms us to the image of God that we may have to the same attitude with one another.
Writing to the Colossians, Paul says, "as God's servants, put on compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, MEEKNESS and patience." (Col.3:12). This is the way a servant of God relates to others. And you'd certainly expect that this is the way they would relate to their brothers and sisters in Christ. Even the unbelieving world expects to Christians to act like this within the Church. Which is why it's so disappointing and harmful when we see Christians take a 'dog eat dog' approach with one another in the Church. Paul has seen his share of 'power plays' and 'political power plays' that take place within the church among brothers and sisters in Christ. And so he instructs Timothy, a future pastor, "As for you, man of God, flee these things and pursue gentleness." (1 Timothy 6:11).
When Paul writes to the Corinthians who needed a good deal of straightening out, he says, "I Paul, entreat you in the MEEKNESS AND GENTLENESS OF CHRIST." (2Cor.10:1). He instructs to the congregation in Galatia saying, "If any of you is caught in sin, those who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of GENTLENESS." (Gal.6:10).
Obviously, husbands should be gentle with their wives and wives with husbands and parents with their children and friends with friends. But what may not be quite so obvious is that the servant of Christ is to be particularly gentle and meek with unbelievers and even enemies of Christ's kingdom. Peter instructs the Church, that when confronted with challenges and accusations by unbelievers, they are to respond as follows, "Always be prepared to give a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you. But do it with GENTLENESS and respect." (1Ptr.3:15).
Paul instructs Timothy that pastors must "correct their opponents with GENTLENESS." (2Tim.2:25).
Even believing wives who are married to unbelieving husbands are advised to "let your adorning be the imperishable beauty of a GENTLE and quiet spirit, which in God's sight is very precious." (1Ptr.3:4).
So here now we realize that there has been a third thread running through all of these fruit of the Spirit on our tour so far. And that is that in each case, we fall short of the glory of God. And the work of the Holy Spirit always begins and continues and ends in us with confession and repentance and forgiveness and new life.
The popular saying may be, "nice guys finish last." We may live in a 'dog eat dog world.' But Jesus says, "blessed are the meek. For they shall inherit the earth." May the Holy Spirit continue to increase His fruit of gentleness in us that we may be a witness to one another and to an unbelieving world of the gentleness of God with sinners.