A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. (ESV)
A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. (NIV)
A gentle answer deflects anger, but harsh words make tempers flare. (NLT)
“I vow not to exchange harshness for harshness but to be tender-hearted and to seek the Lord to soften my heart more and more every day.” These were the words I vowed on my wedding ceremony, words that I continually remind myself of and seek accountability for.
In my life, My default response is often to exchange harshness with harshness rather than gentleness. Therefore, I must be submitted to Jesus, the one who is gentle and lowly in heart. If a am ever to display gentleness, I need the holy spirit to equip me with His fruit. I am blessed with friends who possess a gentle nature, and foremost among them is my wife. She embodies peace and gentleness, creating an environment of safety and trust for everyone she knows. She is gentle; this is one of the greatest attributes of Christ that I see in her. I learn from her in this way every day. Unlike her, I would not say I am a gentle person at my core; it’s something I have to work on day after day. I tend to be a challenger, a truth seeker, and a person with strong opinions, passion, and boldness. As with most things in life, these traits can be either beneficial gifts for flourishing or stumbling blocks toward evil. They can tend to naturally lead to harshness rather than gentleness. That's why I need this verse in my life, and I must remind myself of the commitment it represents almost every day.
Swim Against the Current
Recently, my wife and I were asked a thought-provoking question: "What fruit of the spirit have you seen the other person living out?" (I encourage you to ask this question to others.) She looked at me and said..gentleness. I was both shocked and overjoyed. Since this seems to be the fruit on the tree's highest branch, the one hardest for me to live out. If I have gentleness as a character quality, it is not that I have it because it’s natural to me but because I’ve recognized my lack of it and my need for it, prayed for it, and been granted it by the spirit.
We rarely drift towards gentleness; pursuing it is like a slow swim against a strong current of anger and harshness. Sometimes, God allows circumstances in our lives that propel us towards gentleness, usually through trials that break and mold us into this virtue.
Maybe you’re like my wife and have a gift of gentleness, or you're more like me and have a natural bend away from it. Regardless of our starting point, we must recognize the power of both anger and gentleness and earnestly seek this virtue through prayer. Even when justified, harshness tends to escalate, resulting in pain and shattered relationships. On the other hand, when met with gentleness, harshness begins to be turned away, giving way to conviction and ultimately fostering peace and growth.
Drop Your Rock
Gentleness is the primary attitude we should have when speaking to others. But if you're anything like me, that's really hard. And yet, the reality of the gospel is that this is exactly what Jesus did for you and me. He saw us in our brokenness and harshness and approached us with gentleness. Take, for instance, the story of the woman caught in adultery in John 8. Not only did Jesus' compassionate response likely lead her to a life of flourishing, but it also stirred conviction within her accusers, the Pharisees. Had Jesus responded harshly, they would have grown angrier and more defiant. Instead, He chose to speak simply and gently, saying, "Let the one without sin cast the first stone." One by one, they abandoned their stones and walked away.
The craziest thing about this story is that Jesus didn’t even pick up a rock to begin with, despite being the one without sin. As the Pharisees walked away, recall how Jesus spoke to the woman. He neither disregarded her sin nor treated her harshly. Instead, he told her, "I do not condemn you; go and sin no more" (John 8:11). He was gentle with her and yet called her to holy living. No condemnation. Go and sin no more. He was tough and tender, mighty and meek, full of conviction and kind towards sinners.
Since Jesus never picked up a rock, maybe we can drop ours.
He's calling you and me to embody the same attitude. If your theological convictions don't produce gentleness, repent and start again. This is not weak, flimsy gentleness; it requires courage. He is calling us to move towards broken and messy situations with gentleness. I hope you and I will have the courage to restore our friends and family with a spirit of gentleness this week.
By Blake Stanley