Gentleness is not a strength of mine.
I’m often referred to as ‘blunt’ and ‘harsh.’ The Bible says that Jesus was full of both grace and truth; I always tell people that the truth comes easy for me, but grace is tougher. For some people it’s the opposite, but not me.
I read books like John Eldredge’s Wild at Heart and get really pumped up about being a manly man. A man who is not afraid of anything or anyone; who never loses in a fight, and who is on a mission. It’s hard to rectify the typical American hero who is tough, strong, and courageous, with words like gentleness and meekness.
This post is the result of a request from a reader, shout out to Clay for this idea! (And if you ever have thoughts or questions you’d like me to touch on, just click the Contact Page and shoot me an email!)
The notion of being meek or gentle is something that has never appealed much to me, until I reframed my working definition of the terms. I remember being in college and doing an exegetical paper on Philippians 4, and verse 5 seems to come out of nowhere and sit there awkwardly on the page. Paul is wrapping up his letter to the Philippian church and is shooting some closing exhortations at them. then he writes, “Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.”
It sat somewhat uncomfortably with me, because I looked at myself and did not see a gentle person. Yet this command is situated directly next to the line “The Lord is near.” As in, because Jesus is near; because the Holy Spirit is within you, the world should see you as a gentle person. The body of Christ should be gentle to one another, and to those outside the Body.
But then a number of things happen.
You turn the page backward and read Philippians 2, which describes Jesus’ kenosis, a fancy word for self-emptying and realize that the manliest man who ever lived was gentle to the point of death. He emptied Himself for the sake of those He loved, allowing Himself to be crushed by the hands of other humans.
Now let me ask you a question: Was Jesus weak? Was He weaker than those who crucified Him?
Or in many ways, does it take more strength to restrain our impulses in certain situations?
Think about a father wrestling with his toddler son. They fight, the dad falls down on his back and allows his boy to stand atop his belly, triumphant. The father does not employ his full strength to wrestle his son. That would be ludicrous.
Is the father weak because he does not utterly destroy his son in the wrestling match on the carpet?
There is a gigantic chasm between weakness and meekness.
The best definition I’ve ever heard for gentleness is from Elizabeth George, who said “gentleness is strength under control.”
I think that for many men, we think of gentleness as a sign of weakness. We think that if we are soft-spoken and light-hearted to those around us, we will be seen as weak or timid. I think that the exact opposite is true. If we intend to follow in the footsteps of the One who allowed Himself to be beaten to a pulp and hung on a cross, then we must adopt a mentality of meekness.
It does not reflect a weakness, but rather, a confidence; it projects a comfort within our own skin, saying “I don’t have to be bold and harsh and impose myself upon others in order to be seen as strong.”
When I think about men in my own life who have helped shape or form me, none of them (none of the constructive ones, anyway) were harsh or demeaning to me. None of them urged me to be a better, more manly man by being blunt and hurtfully critical.
Rather, they were gentle. And not once have I thought of any of them as weak or un-manly. Just a few days ago, a mentor of mine called me out for a few things. His words cut deep as he called me out for instances of being too full of myself and for some other areas in my life where he thought I needed improvement.
It hurt, but the way a muscle hurts as it grows stronger. Why? Because he approached these things gently. He did not come down harsh with only truth, truth, truth! but he brought up the topics with gentleness. For that reason, I received his criticism and will hopefully grow as a result. Was he manly, firm, and constructive? Yes. And although he was equally soft and gentle, I did not once think he was effeminate or weak. Quite the opposite.
And I can tell you that it feels good to be on the receiving end of gentleness. You want to be around those people. The harsh, quasi-manly people turn out to be the ones who are typically insecure and lonely.
So let’s work on gentleness. Let’s work on becoming softer alongside our strength. Let’s refine our definition of meekness so that it is not a twin of weakness, but of control.