I grew up blessed by a mother who was an excellent baker. If mom didn’t have a pie, cake, and cookies available at all times, she felt as if she had failed in her responsibility to her family. I learned a critical lesson as I watched her create her culinary masterpieces: the best cannot be achieved without all the essential ingredients. Skip the sugar for the rhubarb pie, and the resulting sour concoction is much less enjoyable. Pass on the eggs in the cookie dough, and the cookies just aren’t the same.
As I’ve observed relationships in churches over the past several years, I’ve noticed that we’re sometimes lacking an essential element of God’s recipe for spiritual power and impact. That “missing ingredient” is gentleness. According to the dictionary, to be “gentle” is to “…show a mild, kind, or tender temperament or character, to be moderate in action, effect, or degree; not harsh or severe.”
Many have noted that our society is becoming more polarized, brash, and blunt. At times, Christians have been swept up in this wave, with some placing the greatest value on loud confrontational insistence on personal convictions, regardless of the relational damage it might do to those around us.
While indeed there are times when we must stand firm and speak decisively, doing so without the biblically necessary ingredient of gentleness is bound to do more harm than good. If we are to imitate Jesus, we must take into account his self-description: “Come to me, all you who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest…for I am gentle and humble in heart…” (Matthew 11:28-29). Echoing that, Ephesians 4:2 calls us to “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.”
Both the Old and New Testaments speak to the necessity of gentleness. Proverbs 15:1 reminds us that “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” Philippians 4:5 challenges us to “Let your gentleness be evident to all.” Further, an essential ingredient of Christian leadership is a gentle demeanor, especially with those with whom we disagree: “Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth” (2 Timothy 2:25).
In a world in which many feel the loudest, strongest, most overpowering voice wins, we as Christians are to stand out as gentle, even in the midst of disagreements and struggles. Allow me to close by asking all of us to evaluate our relational interactions through the lens of the essential quality of gentleness. May God grant us the grace of a gentle spirit: “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15).