The Unassuming Power of Gentleness

The unassuming power of gentleness can bring lasting change and deep healing to our hearts, to our relationships, and to our lives.

Gentleness is like a new language I am trying to learn, one that initially felt foreign. My brain never really registered its sound and manners; it passed right through me.

My world—both exterior and interior—felt loud and shouty. I spoke through the slamming of doors and inside me there was a resident critic, whose voice drowned everything out. Before I used words for my vocation to write, I used them to cut people down.

It was many years after I found Jesus that his gentleness really reached me. Until then, it was as if I soaked up harshness quicker than the salve of gentleness could even get in. I expelled the same when wrung.

But Christ’s repeated pursuit of my heart, and my hurt, finally broke his compassion through. Like a new language opens a new world, the gentleness of Christ showed a new way to be, to live, and to speak.

The Beauty of Gentleness

The light of the gospel awakened me to gentleness. Now I watched how people asked questions instead of assuming. When with others, I listened for gentle responses in conversation, and I saw its power to de-escalate tension and diminish hurt.

Gentleness was there in the centre of loving disagreements. I could not miss it, even if it was muted, because it had a counter-cultural peace about it. When pulled in two directions of truth and of love, gentleness was there to keep from swaying. It helped me stay the course.

The gospel also taught me to be vulnerable to feedback. I began to seriously consider when told that something I did or said was harsh or hurtful. This is when I learnt: it’s the receiver who gets to decide if we are being gentle or not. Innate to our sinfulness is that we seem pretty okay to ourselves.

But scripture is clear: “Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and turn away from evil.” It goes on to add, “It will be healing to your flesh and refreshment to your bones” (Prov. 3:7-9).

I had to turn around from my harsh habits, and it was slow—like a large ship whose rudder is finally turned. But as the verse in Proverbs shows: the beginning of repentance can be the beginning of healing.

Two Ways Before Us

The gospel gives us profound malleability if we let it. It heals us from the inside-out, outside-in—whichever way we are bent. Those of us that can be rash, need the gospel to keep us from destroying our relationships. Those of you who are gentle in temperament, need the gospel to keep you from crashing with self-effort.

Sometimes when I scream, I immediately realise that I sound like everyone that has ever screamed at me or around me. In the same way, gentleness bears witness to the character of Christ. It is being winsome like he is: slow to speak, slow to anger.

Do we want to use our words to hurt or to heal? The Bible is constantly telling us that there are two options. It lays out the consequences of harshness and the power of gentleness.

The words of the reckless pierce like swords, but the tongue of the wise brings healing” (Prov. 12:18).

Later in James 3, the apostle describes the tongue as a restless evil, a fire, an animal that cannot be tamed, and a means of self-destruction.

Having laid this out, James contrasts it with another option. He says, “Who among you is wise and understanding? By his good conduct he should show that his works are done in the gentleness that comes from wisdom” (James 3:13).

Wisdom helps us discern when we are faced with options. We choose the gentle way, as wisdom points us to it. In the moments preceding this choice, we can be consumed by emotion, hurt, or even self-serving rationale. But wisdom is a teacher, guiding us to choose better.

The Gentleness of Jesus

In the gospels we read that Peter thought he was defending Jesus when he rashly swiped his sword. He cut off the ear of a high priest’s servant who was among those who approached Jesus to arrest Him. Jesus immediately asks Peter to put his weapon away and chides him.

He asks him, “Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels?” Luke’s account records that Jesus goes on to heal and restore the servant Malchus’s ear.

With an army of angels at his disposal, Jesus still chooses gentleness. On the eve of his death, he takes the trouble to teach his followers that it is the better way. When he dies on the cross, he directs all the worlds’s harshness towards himself, dodging nothing.

There is still harshness around, but his gentleness has triumphed over it. Because of the gospel, I can be gentle. Because of the gospel, the harsh word is never the final word.