Gentleness is our penultimate fruit of the Holy Spirit. That’s not to say that the fruit of the Holy Spirit ever come to an end, but you know what I mean. Paul uses the word which can be translated as meekness (KJV) or gentleness (loads of other versions). Being gentle is something that some of us find difficult.
‘Gentle Ben’ is a great story – the Alaskan brown bear befriends a young child in the original novel. It is a fanciful story of a usually fierce and unpredictable creature being friendly, kind and careful with the humans he comes across. But in a dramatic turn of events he is provoked and he retaliates dangerously, his claws are revealed and he protects his territory with violence. The tale returns to a calmer version of Ben and the image is conveyed once more of a docile animal, who exudes great gentleness to all around.
Why should we bear gentleness as a fruit of the spirit? What good will being gentle do us? Especially in our mission as a church; shouldn’t we be being strident, forthright and incisive? When we are preparing for a mission project or event, we often are encouraged to speak about boldness. We are often sucked into thinking that if we use the loudest voice, or the loudest music, or the loudest clothes, or the loudest colours, then people will flock to us! Our event will be a roaring success. Sometimes, though, people can see through the loudness. Sometimes we might just come across as a bit too keen. A bit too loud.
Where does gentleness fit in to our mission? We have to be careful in mission, we have to be sensitive, we have to have respect. Ultimately we have to listen. Gentleness is a way of being, which leads us to a space where we listen to what is around us. We listen to one another, we listen to our culture and we listen to God. St Peter writes in his letter: “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..” What a great way to sum up how we can include gentleness in our mission and evangelism.
Jesus also uses the same word, when he says “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth”. I don’t know about you, but this is a glowing endorsement of gentleness. It is another fruit of the spirit that goes against the flow of our society. Success is equated to power and power is in the hands of the strong, the loud and the over-confident. Gentleness as a way of being is not fashionable in social, political and (sadly) religious life. In scripture it carries echoes of humility and mildness. Do we show humility towards others? Do we show humility towards God?
Our mission is not about a grand show, telling the world how clever we are. It is a real response to God in humility. It is best to engage in mission after we have listened, which I believe is part of gentleness. We can go boldly and we go with a message of power, but we do it with the gentleness that the Holy Spirit gives us.