Let your gentleness be known to everyone.Philippians 4:5
What it is:
Just as we are gaining insights into our values from across our three Tikanga, it can be good also to explore what words meant when the New Testament writers were using them. Our translators used “gentleness” to translate at least two Greek words used in the gospels and by the apostle Paul.
Epiekeia means thoughtful, considerate, gentle. Someone who seeks peace in a calm way (Phil 4:5).
Prautes was linked to the medical world and carried the idea of “mild medication”. We might say a gentle person is someone who is ‘easy on your stomach’ versus a ‘churning stomach’ when you are faced with someone who is aggressive or unkind. This word is also used in reference to tamed animals. Gentleness for a horse is a choice to allow its power and strength to be controlled. A gentle person is not a weak person, but rather someone who is strong, secure and mature. They use their strength to face real giants and challenges in their lives but choose not to run roughshod over others.
“Together these two Greek words epieikeia and prautes reflect the opposite of an angry harshness that grows out of personal pride and a dominating selfishness. Christ wants us to become gentle for the sake of others.”storage.cloversites.com/lockhartchurchofchrist/documents/Virtue%290-Gentleness.pdf
There is a sense in which meekness and gentleness are interconnected. Meekness can be thought of as an internal disposition of the heart while gentleness is the external expression of that, a way of interacting with others. Both words can also be related to humility, a stance of adopting attitudes of compassion and service rather than considering yourself more important than or having power over others.
What it is not:
Gentleness is often disparaged, particularly in males, as meaning that a person lacks substance or strength. However, tt is not about an absence of strength or an unwillingness to stand firm or speak up on issues. It is not about being a pushover or a doormat for more aggressive personalities but rather the presence of self-control in order to act for the common good and to build peace.
What makes it a Christian value?:
Gentleness is mentioned a surprising number of times in the New Testament in describing the character of Jesus, in talking about the ways in which the Christian community should relate to one another and in talking about an aspect of our character which develops when we abide in Christ and grow into his likeness. Some of these Bible passages are listed on the Bible readings and Reflections page for this value.
In the gospels we see Jesus demonstrating deep compassion and care particularly to those who were ‘on the edge’ or needing healing and hope. We also see him, in true prophetic style engaging in ‘truth telling’ to those who had lost touch with God’s ways or were abusing their power.
Gentleness as a Christian virtue calls us to make use of that gift in our interactions with others, but also to recognise that it does not render us without a voice and that there are times when we need to speak up or act in order to be true to our commitment to honesty, justice and doing the right thing.
An important way of thinking about Jesus’ character, of which gentleness is one part, is caught up in the word kenosis, translated as ‘emptying out’. We see Jesus doing this throughout his life in his giving of himself to others and ultimately in his death on the cross. A key Bible passage for capturing this stance of Jesus is in Philiipians 2:5-8 in what is considered one of the earliest hymns of the Christian community:
Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness, And being formed in human form he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross. Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name…Phil 2:5-8
Developing the ‘fruit of the Spirit’ of gentleness in our lives as we grow in the way of Jesus is slow, steady and intentional work. Christian contemplative prayer practices enable the development of gentleness as we grow in self-control. You can find contemplative prayer practice resources to use with students at the Christian Contemplative Curriculum web-site (a joint project of the NZ Presbyterian and Anglican Schools’ Offices): www.ccc.net.nz under the Meditation Practices tab.