Are You a Gentle Man?

Are You a Gentle Man?

Gentleness requires wisdom because there are times when we should not be gentle. We need God’s wisdom to know when to be gentle and to what degree. Gentleness is not simply niceness or mildness. I’m guessing that most English speakers today misunderstand gentleness as essentially being nice—that is, to be pleasant and agreeable like Mr. Rogers.

Everybody agrees that it is virtuous for a man to be gentle. Gentleness is a virtue that all Christians should value and grow in:

  • Jesus taught, “Blessed are the meek [NASB: gentle], for they will inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:5).1
  • Gentleness is part of the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22–23).
  • God exhorts us to “walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love” (Ephesians 4:1–2).
  • God commands us, “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness [NASB, NIV, CSB, NET, NLT: gentleness], and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive” (Colossians 3:12–13).
  • The man of God must pursue gentleness (1 Timothy 6:11).
  • Peter tells wives that “a gentle and quiet spirit” is “very precious” in God’s sight (1 Peter 3:4).
  • God commands, “Let your reasonableness [ESV note, NIV, NET: gentleness; CSB: graciousness] be known to everyone” (Philippians 4:5).

God commands us to be gentle. But what exactly does it mean to be gentle? And what does it mean for a man to be gentle? Is a gentleman a soft man?

It’s crucial that we define gentleness according to the Bible and not according to modern cultural sensitivities. Is it sinful for a man to be aggressive? What exactly does the Bible say about gentleness?2

What Words in the Bible Refer to Gentleness?

In order to discover what the Bible says about gentleness, a word study on gentleness is a good place to start.3 It’s challenging to study the concept of gentleness because there’s not just one Hebrew word and one Greek word that our English translations render as gentle. There is a cluster of at least thirteen words—five Hebrew and eight Greek. 

I did an exhaustive word study, and I’ll spare you all the details. The gist is that I studied every passage that uses a word for gentleness, and as I reflected on the various passages, I attempted to synthesize them. I unfold that synthesis in the rest of this article.4

What Is Gentleness Like and Not Like?
Ten Illustrations

As I reflected on the various Bible passages in which the word or concept of gentleness appears, I discovered the range of meanings and determined what these words for gentleness most likely mean in key passages. What most helped me define the word was meditating on ten pictures that illustrate gentleness. In these illustrations, the Bible compares and contrasts gentleness. In other words, God tells us what gentleness is like and what gentleness is not like:

  1. Isaiah 8:6 says, “The waters of Shiloah … flow gently” or “slowly” (CSB). Running water can flow gently or violently. Gentleness is like a slowly flowing stream. Gentleness is not like dangerously surging rapids.
  2. The word of the Lord came to Elijah, “‘Go out and stand on the mount before the LORD.’ And behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind tore the mountains and broke in pieces the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire the sound of a low whisper (KJV: a still small voice; NASB: a gentle blowing; LSB, NIV, NLT: a gentle whisper; CSB, NET: a soft whisper)” (1 Kings 19:11–12). Gentleness is like a soft whisper. Gentleness is not like a great and strong wind or an earthquake or a fire.
  3. King David ordered his military commanders Joab and Abishai and Ittai, “Deal gently for my sake with the young man Absalom” (2 Samuel 18:5). This illustrates the qualifications for an elder in 1 Timothy 3:3: “not violent (NASB, CSB: not a bully) but gentle.” Violence is intentionally using physical force to hurt, damage, or kill. A bully tries to harm or intimidate people he thinks are vulnerable. Gentleness is like soldiers dealing mercifully with an enemy. Gentleness is not like violence.
  4. “Thus says the Lord GOD: ‘I myself will take a sprig from the lofty top of the cedar and will set it out. I will break off from the topmost of its young twigs a tender one, and I myself will plant it on a high and lofty mountain” (Ezekiel 17:22). The word for gentle here is tender with reference to a twig. It seems that the concept of gentleness here is how God treats a tender twig—that is, gentleness is like carefully handling a tender twig and nurturing it so that it can flourish. Gentleness is not like breaking a twig.
  5. “A soft (NLT: gentle) answer turns away wrath, / but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Proverbs 15:1). Gentleness is like speaking in a peaceful way that reduces the intensity. When someone is angry, you can respond with speech that de-escalates, calms, and subdues. In contrast, gentleness is not like speaking harshly. When someone is angry, you can respond in a harsh way that intensifies someone’s anger into a flaring temper.
  6. “With patience a ruler may be persuaded, / and a soft (NASB, NIV, CSB: gentle) tongue will break a bone” (Proverbs 25:15).5 The tongue is one of the softest parts of your body, and bone is the hardest. In this proverb, “tongue” symbolizes your speech, and “a bone” symbolizes an authority who seems immovable. Gentle or soft speech can persuade someone who stiffly opposes you. Gentleness is like speaking softly and patiently with the result that you disarm and persuade. Gentleness is not like speaking harshly.
  7. When Paul appears before Felix at Caesarea, he politely requests, “To detain you no further, I beg you in your kindness to hear us briefly” (Acts 24:4). Gentleness is like a disposition that is kind, generous, and gracious. Gentleness is not like a disposition that is unkind, ungenerous, and ungracious.
  8. “Now when the south wind blew gently [NLT: When a light wind began blowing], supposing that they had obtained their purpose, they weighed anchor and sailed along Crete, close to the shore. But soon a tempestuous wind [NASB: a violent wind; NIV: a wind of hurricane force; NET: a hurricane-force wind; CSB: a fierce wind; NLT: a wind of typhoon strength], called the northeaster, struck down from the land” (Acts 27:13–14). “Blew gently” translates a Greek word that contrasts with a tempestuous wind. Gentleness is like a light breeze that is refreshing, desirable, pleasant, and helpful. Gentleness is not like a hurricane-force wind.
  9. “Servants [CSB: Household slaves], be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle [NIV: considerate] but also to the unjust [NIV: those who are harsh]” (1 Peter 2:18). Gentleness is like a good and considerate master. Gentleness is not like an unjustly harsh master.
  10. Jesus exhorts, “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:29). Paul appeals to Jesus’s gentleness: “I, Paul, myself entreat you, by the meekness and gentleness of Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:1). Jesus embodied gentleness in his triumphal entry: “Behold, your king is coming to you, / humble [NIV: gentle; NET: unassuming], and mounted on a donkey, / on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden” (Matthew 21:5). Gentleness is intertwined with humility. Gentleness is like Jesus. Gentleness is not like people who are arrogant, hardened, and brash.

Here are all ten contrasts in a table.

So How Should We Define Gentleness?

Here’s my attempt to define gentleness:

Gentleness is the virtue of humbly and wisely showing tender kindness to someone.6

Let’s unpack that definition in four parts:

  1. Gentleness is a virtue—that is, a morally good quality in a person.7 A Christian should be growing in this virtue (2 Peter 1:8).
  2. You express the virtue of gentleness when you treat a person with tender kindness. Kindness is “the quality of being friendly, generous, and considerate” (New Oxford American Dictionary). But expressing kindness alone is not gentleness. You must express that kindness tenderly—that is, with compassion or sympathy.

So what might it look like for a father to be gentle toward his children? Fathers, you should honor the Lord and serve your children by responding gently when they are hurting, sick, scared, confused, squabbling, obnoxious, inconveniencing you, or irritating you. This is obviously easier said than done. We need God’s grace to be gentlemen!

  1. Gentleness requires both strength and humility. One of the main Greek words for gentleness (πραΰτης, praütēs) refers to not being overly impressed by a sense of your self-importance. A gentle person is not so insecure that he needs to show off his full strength. A gentle person has the strength to be forceful and harsh—like surging rapids or a hurricane-force wind. But a gentle person humbly harnesses that strength for the good of others—like a slowly flowing stream or a light breeze.8

Contrast two scenarios: (1) An infant is incessantly crying, and an irritated father becomes irrationally angry and violently shakes the baby. That is not gentleness. (2) An infant is crying after pinching her finger, and a patient father securely holds and comforts the baby. That is gentleness. As David Mathis explains,

Gentleness is not the absence of strength but the addition of virtue to strength. … Gentleness is often used as a positive spin for weakness. But gentleness in the Bible is emphatically not a lack of strength; it’s the godly exercise of power. Gentleness does not signal a lack of ability but the added ability to steward one’s strength so that it serves good, life-giving ends rather than harmful ends. …

We want gentle leaders, not weak ones. We want leaders with strength and power, not to use against us to our harm, but to wield on our behalf for our good to help us. This is what makes the image of a shepherd so fitting in both the Old and New Testaments. Sheep are manifestly weak and vulnerable. They need strong shepherds, not weak ones. They need shepherds who are “good and gentle” and will use their power to help the sheep, not use and abuse them.9

  1. Gentleness requires wisdom. That’s why I include the word wisely in the definition: “Gentleness is the virtue of humbly and wisely showing tender kindness to someone.” 

Wisdom is skill or ability. Here are five examples:10

  1. Joseph is wise in that he can skillfully govern Egypt (Genesis 41:33).
  2. Bezalel is wise in that he is skillful at craftmanship and artistic designs (Exodus 31:2–5).
  3. Hiram is wise in that he can skillfully make any work in bronze (1 Kings 7:13–14).

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