The Meaning of Gentleness

There are a lot of different ways to dissect the word “gentleness” but today, I’m going to focus simply on the meaning of gentleness.

The standard definition in our English vernacular is that gentleness is the quality of being considerate or kindly in disposition, amiable and tender, mild and soft, refined and polite. And the opposite of gentleness is harsh or severe.

However, I’m always fascinated when I find out that biblically, the word I’m studying usually means something different from what I thought it meant. I’ve come to realize that we often take our words for granted. We forget the power that our words have because we tend to water down their true meanings.

Biblically, the Greek word used to describe gentleness is prautes {prah-ot’-ace}. This is a difficult word to define, because there really is no English word that is equivalent to the Greek word.

In order to understand “prautes” we need to look at the definition as it was used by the ancient Greeks. They used the word to describe persons or things which have in them a certain soothing quality; like having a humble and kind demeanor which can calm another person’s anger. Prautes described gentleness of conduct, especially on the part of a person who had it in their power or authority to act otherwise. Most often, the word was used to describe the character in which strength and gentleness were perfectly combined. The Greek definition of gentleness was really “power under control.”

A great illustration of this is elephants. Elephants are amazing creatures. They are so strong that in other countries they are used frequently in the logging industry. But these giants are actually gentle, especially when they are trained and tamed from a young age.

Elephants

The trained elephant illustrates the great value of having both strength and careful gentleness. Specifically, an elephant’s trunk is a great example of strength coupled with precise control. The trunk has more than 40,000 individual muscles and it is strong enough to uproot trees and carry logs. But it is also sensitive and gentle enough to pick leaves from the tip of a branch.

Elephant2

An illustration for the opposite of “prautes” would be a bull in a china shop- out of control and destructive.

bull in a china shop

Another way to explain prautes would be to consider that if you were badly injured and needed someone to carry you, you would want someone who was really strong. You wouldn’t want a person who is clumsy or who might trip while carrying you! But, you’d want a strong person who would also be careful with you. That is gentleness.

Consider God! He is all-powerful, but He never misuses His power. He is gentle with His often unruly children and is the perfect Father who never overreacts.

Meekness

Sometimes people interchange the word gentleness with the word meekness. So let’s talk about meekness for a bit because that really goes hand in hand with gentleness.

Dictionary.com defines meekness as overly submissive or compliant and spiritless. Isn’t that odd?! Our culture is telling us that meekness means we are spirit-less, without spirit. Yet our God tells us that meekness is a FRUIT of the SPIRIT! Biblically, meekness is defined as “enduring injury with patience and without resentment.”

Regardless of which these definitions you go with either 1) overly submissive / spiritless or 2) enduring injury with patience and no resentment – meekness is not a virtue that people consider valuable or even desirable.

But the bible places great value on meekness. In Matthew 5:5, Jesus lists meekness as the primary virtue of one who will inherit the earth. Now that’s a mighty big reward for being meek!

But let’s make an important distinction, because gentleness and meekness are not technically the same thing. You see, gentleness refers mostly to actions and behavior, whereas meekness refers to attitude. Gentleness is the action of power under control. Meekness is the attitude of patience while enduring injury and the attitude of peace not resentment. In fact, it is the attitude of meekness that produces the action of gentleness.

Many people confuse “meek” with “weak.” It’s unfortunate that they rhyme because Godly meekness actually requires strength and courage, especially in the midst of daily frustration and all the darkness that surrounds us in this world.

Every day we could find ourselves in situations that bring conflict with people. It is easy for us in the flesh to react with bitterness or anger.  But when we accept the reality of who we are in Christ and trust the Holy Spirit to lead us, we are able to be meek and gentle, whatever conflicts may arise. We often choose not to be gentle but we are able. This fruit can be cultivated by having a humble opinion of ourselves, along with the inner strength to control our emotions, our tongue and our behavior.

Someone who is walking by the Spirit is going to be a gentle person, even in the most trying circumstances. Not because of weakness or cowardice but because of the strength that Jesus provides. Phil 4:13

Gentleness means following Christ’s example. In Matthew 11:29, Jesus described himself as gentle and humble at heart . This was a fulfillment of a prophecy from Zecharaiah 9:9 which said “Behold, your King is coming to you, gentle, and mounted on a donkey.”  Jesus did not come as a storming conqueror or a battling king on a stallion. But as a King who was meek, gentle, peaceful and gracious. And to punctuate His gentleness, He rode in on a donkey!

He is the King of kings. He is the Son of GOD. If anyone has the power and authority to lord his kingship over us, it would be Him. But instead He came to serve, to teach by example and to die for others. Let those of us who claim to be Jesus’ disciples seek to emulate His example.

Now, I don’t mean to imply that there is never a place for anger in a gentle person. But a person who displays “prautes” is angry on the right grounds, against the right persons, in the right manner, at the right moment, and for the right length of time.

This is what Matthew 21:12 looked like when Jesus went into the temple and began driving out those who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves, and would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts. Basically, those people had turned God’s holy place of worship into a flea market! You can bet Jesus was not happy about it!

However, He displayed His anger through his “prautes” filter. He had every right to be angry. He addressed the right people – those in the temple doing the wrong things. In the right manner and in that very moment he used scripture to teach them. He said, “Is it not written: ‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations’? But you have made it ‘a den of robbers.’ And he did it for the right length of time. Not harboring resentment or holding a grudge, just moving on to fulfill God’s plan for Him.

Gentleness is a form of self-control which the Spirit alone can give and it manifests itself in a submissive spirit toward both God and our fellow-man. Gentleness is that virtuous quality by which we treat everyone, even people who offend us, with courtesy. (2 Timothy 2:24-25)

Gentleness means rebuking  a sister without bitterness. (Galations 6:10)

Gentleness means we can face the truth when others rebuke us, without resentment and we can make an argument without being intolerant of another’s opinion. (1 Peter 3:15) Gentleness means we can be angry about a situation and sin not because of it.

Gentleness means submitting to the master much like the elephant submits to his master. The fruit of gentleness means that we have been tamed. That we have allowed ourselves to be dominated, controlled by the will of another.

Gentleness means bowing the soul. Another Old Testament word for gentleness is “anah” {aw-naw} which literally means to bow down. This word was used to describe a mature, ripened stalk of wheat with its head bent low and bowed down.

As wheat grows, the young sprouts ambitiously shoot up high because in their immaturity, no grain (or fruit) has yet formed.

young sprouts

But as time passes and as maturity sets in, so much fruit grows that the heavy stalk bends and its head sinks lower and lower. In fact, the lower the head, the greater the amount of fruit.  That is the kind of Christian we should want to be: mature and full of fruit because we have grown past our immature arrogance and pride and have learned to bow our heads.

heavy wheat

Gentleness means putting on a gentle spirit. In 1 Peter 3:3-5 we are advised that our beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. Rather, our beauty should come from the inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight. Because this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to adorn themselves.

Years ago, there was a movie called Shallow Hal. In this movie Hal only dated women who were physically beautiful. However, one day, through a fateful encounter, he ended up being hypnotized into recognizing only the inner beauty of women. Soon after, Hal met a girl who wasn’t necessarily outwardly beautiful but because he was hypnotized, he only saw her as a vision of loveliness because of who she was on the inside. And throughout the movie, when he runs into the outwardly “beautiful” women he used to date, he also only sees what their inner beauty is like and often times, it was an ugly mess.

Now, I’m not saying that you shouldn’t be beautiful, fashionable or physically fit! But let’s be careful about how much time we are devoting to outward appearances. We live in a culture, especially here in Southern California, where looks are everything! But the bible cautions us very clearly that rather than being obsessed with our external appearance, we are to be concerned with our internal condition, the condition of our heart which should be primarily gentle and quiet.

Ignoring our internal condition won’t necessarily lead to an immediate problem, but like a weed, it will pop up where you least expect it can choke out our fruit.

A couple of years ago I became estranged from a friend I had known for over 20 years. This woman was always fashionable and was the first with the latest trends, hair styles and accessories. Everything always looked the perfect. Even her family life and house were designed to appear perfect in every way.

But her attention to detail of her outward appearance was a merely a distraction from her internal condition which was not doing well at all. She was ignoring her inner self and had lost sight of what God holds valuable, which by the way, is not designer sunglasses and fancy sports cars. She was buying into the lies of the enemy and was always looking to adorn life with things of the world that either fade or change quickly with the latest trends.

In her life, it got to the point that despite Godly counsel and pleading from many close friends, she walked away from a perfectly fine husband and 2 young children because they were cramping the lifestyle she wanted.

I wish this story had a happy ending. Maybe it will someday. But I can tell you that to watch her walk away from the Lord and her family to pursue selfish desires and temporal treasures has been devastating for me as her friend. I can only imagine the horror that her husband and children have had to endure all for the sake of outward appearances.

Ladies, don’t ignore or neglect your inner condition.  Remember the value that God places on the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit.

Lastly, gentleness means “putting up with stuff”. It means bearing with tranquility the disturbances that others create. In this instance, the others I’m referring to are our children. When it comes to correcting or “pruning” our children, gentleness means using a scalpel instead of a hatchet.  Gentleness is knowing when an understanding hug will be more effective than stern words or  a time-out.

Brand the image of Jesus and His suffering onto your mind and your heart. And as you “put up with stuff” you will cultivate the fruit of God’s gentleness.

Jesus Brand

In the past several months, I have been dealing with some minor health issues that haven’t seemed to be resolving. There would be days when I was in pain the likes I’ve never felt before and on one of those days I had started to consider the fact that I might really be dealing with something serious.

And I instantly went to the place of, what if it’s serious enough that I might be dying? How different would my life look? How would it change the way I interact with my family ? How would my priorities change? What do I stress about now that wouldn’t even matter if I knew my time was limited?

Well the truth is, I’m feeling better. But in reality, I am dying.  In fact, not to sound morbid but each day, we are all one step closer to our physical death. So why don’t we act like our time here on earth is brief?

Ask your mentor moms how fast their children grew up. Ask your parents and grandparents how fast the stages of their lives have gone by. Our time is precious, time flies, we only have our kids in our care but for a moment.

How will you be more gentle in this short amount of time you have with them?

Let’s pray

Father God,

Thank you for being gentle with us. Thank you for sending your precious Son, the King of kings, to show us how to be gentle. May we submit to your will as you tame our wild hearts. Strip us of our immaturity and grow in us a plentiful harvest of fruit as we bow our heads down to you Lord.

As daughters of the king may we not lord our authority over those whose care you have entrusted to us but instead may we be gentle and humble in heart like Jesus.

In Jesus name we pray.

Comments

  1. Jyl Fearn says

    Thank you so much for your insight and research you did on gentleness! It was so encouraging and helpful for my everyday dealings with my kids and others <3    with love,   Jyl 

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  2. Tabetha says

    Hi, Josie!

    Thank you for sharing this article. I know you are really pointing us back to the Bible, and to Christ, but, boy, I thank God for you!

    I wanted to mention a connection I made in your article regarding inner and outer beauty – Several years ago, I was thinking about the time when Jesus turned over the money changers’ tables in the temple. Jesus said that the money changers were making God’s house a house of merchandise when it was supposed to be a house of prayer for the nations. At the time I was realizing that our bodies are now the temple of the Holy Spirit, and I wondered about the connection to the idea of people (Believers) making their bodies houses of merchandise. Compared to life during Jesus’ time, even the poor in our nation have access to so many bodily merchandise: Fashionable clothing and accessories, makeup and cosmetics, soaps, shampoos, body lotions, shaving tools and creams, etc. etc. etc. Of course, God will see to it that we have clothing and food! But haven’t our bodies become houses of merchandise rather than houses of prayer for the nations?

    This really stood out to me (as an aside from the main point of the article, which I really needed to hear).

    I want to put in a special request (prayer) to God for your health, Josie. I know you said you’ve recovered from whatever health issue that you had and that was a couple of years ago, but I believe that the Lord wants to heal you and wants you to be healthy and whole. In Jesus’s name I claim healing and anointing over the works of Josie and her ministry to encourage and bring in the Kingdom of God. Thank you, Lord! Amen

    Thanks again, Josie! This was a great article!

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