Pastor Edward Brouwer 6-3-18 Fruit of the Spirit: Gentleness Galatians 5:13-25
What does it look like to be gentle? Is it an attitude? Is it an action? When you put your clothes in the washing machine and set it to gentle cycle, you understand a couple of things. The clothes need special treatment, a little less rough and tumble, a spin cycle that isn’t so harsh on the clothes as to stretch them beyond use. Today we are looking at the fruit of the Spirit in our lives of gentleness. We’ll define what being gentle looks like: what it is and what it isn’t. We’ll look to Jesus and reflect on his teaching, and his actions and finally we will ask how does Jesus enable me by his Spirit to display His gentleness in our life.
Read Galatians 5: 13-25
The word used by Paul here has a range of meaning: from meek to humble, to fair and kind. It always has in view an action toward someone or something. So Paul, using the same word just a few verses later writes, “if anyone in the church is caught in sin, you who are mature spiritually should restore that person in a spirit of gentleness”. Sometimes it’s helpful to look at a word that is the opposite to help fill out it’s meaning. In this case don’t be proud and haughty in attitude and then be harsh in action with a fellow brother or sister in Christ. Paul sees the fruit of the Spirit as a corrective of the “old way of life”, the life we used to live according to the flesh. That way of life, that attitude of selfish pride led to enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, dissensions, divisions and envy. Don’t go there Paul writes! We can if we are worldly and walking according to the flesh and not the Spirit. Every Christian can and will fall into these ways of thinking and acting if we get out of step with the Spirit, marching (if you will) to our own drum beat. What Paul is saying to the church then and to us now is this: the gentleness of the Spirit of Christ will bear itself out in relationships. Let’s take three examples from Jesus’ life to fill this out. We’ll look first at a time when he related gently to sinners. Then a look at his teaching and finally an example of his actions.
1) In John 8 we read of the story of the woman caught in adultery. Jesus is teaching at the temple and the religious leaders, wanting to catch him and so bring up charges against him, present a very sticky case. They present a woman who is guilty of adultery. They know Jesus is loving and compassionate, but they also know that Jewish law requires the death penalty in such cases. Surely they will trap Jesus now! Jesus ponders the dilemma and begins writing with his finger in the dirt. After an appropriate pause he turns to the religious leaders and says “the one who has never sinned should cast the first stone”. He doesn’t touch on the legalities of the case, the obvious hypocrisy of only bringing the woman (and not the man) “caught” in the act, nor does he address penalties. He approaches with compassion. The Law required perfection (be ye Holy even as I am Holy Leviticus 19:2), and not one of them could contest that they had never sinned; therefore it followed that they could not self-righteously condemn a fellow sinner to death, without simultaneously indicting themselves! Slowly they walk away, the oldest (and wisest) first. Only two remained. Jesus, who never sinned was there, and he said to her “where are they? Is no one left to condemn you? I don’t—go your way and sin no more”. The gentleness of Jesus is all over this story. His kindness toward the woman is powerful. Instead of judging her, like he had the right to (since he was holy and blameless), he forgave her. But that was not license to continue in sin. He gave her a new life, rescued her from the just demands of the law, namely death, and now he says “go and live your new life now and don’t live in the old life of sin”. Jesus says the same to us! He gently speaks the word of forgiveness and grace. Now go and live by the Spirit in your new creation, not gratifying the sinful desires of the flesh but rather, seeking to love and serve the one who rescued you. (This is hard and we need much help)
2) Jesus gives a further example of gentlenss in his teaching. He beckons sinners to “come to me all you who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest. Take my yoke and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart and you will find rest for your weary souls (Matthew 11:28) The sin that crushes you with guilt and shame, give that to me! I will take them he says! I will be crushed by them so that you can be free from them! This religion of trying harder and doing more; you will never succeed in making yourself worthy (pride insists on self-justifying but humility looks away from self to Jesus). I will take your false sense that it’s up to you to save yourself, and I will replace it with my yoke of justifying you and redeeming you. It’s not YOU, it’s me and all you have to do is believe.
3) But lest we believe that the gentleness of Jesus only looks like a meek and mild version of Him, with a spineless demeanor that leads to inaction, let us be reminded again of the words in Matthew (21:5) “see your King is coming, riding on a donkey, gentle…” Jesus does not ride into Jerusalem on a warhorse ready to kick out the Roman occupiers. No he comes in gentleness to give himself as a ransom. But the very next moment Jesus is in the temple turning over the tables of the moneychangers and reeking general havoc in the Court of the Gentiles saying “my Father’s house is a house of prayer for all nations, but you have made it a den of thieves!”. Jesus as the gentle King is not a push over. The action of Jesus is that he is assertive not of his own rights per se, but of the rights of God’s people and the righteousness of God. We can learn two important lessons about gentleness, which comes from knowing who you are and what you are called to. Jesus’ identity was as the presence of God in the temple. So he could say to Philip when he asked “show us the Father” (John 14:8)…”if you have seen me you have seen the Father, for I and the Father are one”. Out of that strength, of knowing who he was he could defend the rights of the oppressed, the disenfranchised, the outsider! Make no mistake that is what he is doing when he clears the Court of the Gentiles—the religious leaders had made it convenient for the Jewish diaspora to exchange their Roman currency for temple coins and for sacrificial doves… (“We are doing our people a great service!”) YES but at the cost of preventing gentiles to pray in peace– because the Temple leaders had requisitioned the Court of the Gentiles for a market place atmosphere.
How does this apply to me? In my gentleness I am not to assert my own rights! But rather the rights of others. I am not to defend myself, but defend the defenseless. Defend the weak, the young, and the poor. When you are secure in your own identity in Christ then you do not have to defend yourself. Have the mind of Christ, not looking out for your own interests, but also the interests of others. Apply that to your interactions with your spouse. Am I simply being selfish here, and I trying to have my own way here? With snide comments or sarcasm, am I asserting myself or am I asserting what is right and true and good and noble and pure and worthy of praise, think on these things. Proverbs 15:1 “a gentle answer turns away wrath”
Gentleness is an attitude and an action. Our Savior enables us to be gentle because he is! Are you weary? Come. Are you tired? Come. Are you struggling under a burden or sin or shame or guilt or trying to save yourself? Come. He invites you to this table. This is our Jesus, who comes to us and responds to even the feeblest recognition of need. This gentle Jesus said that he would not bruise a broken reed or snuff out a smoldering wick. Jesus responds to us to strengthen us, and by fanning our weak faith into the fire of devotion. Look to Jesus, He is the Author and Finisher of your faith and he welcomes you to the table to “taste and see that He is good”.