Summary: Treating others with gentleness begins with understanding that God uses gentleness with us, and then moves to our being gentle with ourselves. Gentleness does shape the behavior of others.
Why is it that some situations cause us to lose our tempers? Why do we sometimes lose all sense of reason and just get angry all over? Why is it that when we are trying to get someone else to do what we want them to do, we can barely control our rage?
A few weeks ago I introduced you to our new puppy. I told you about her curiosity. I described how she would not leave anything alone, but seemed to feel a need to nibble at everything from houseplants to shoestrings to newspapers. As a tiny ball of fluff, she was curiosity in the flesh.
Today let me bring you up to date with Chloe, as we have named her. Chloe has moved out of the curiosity stage, and through the playful stage, and is now in the pest stage. This puppy is now a total pest, pure and simple.
What that means is that she will come at you to get your attention and absolutely will not give up until she gets exactly what she wants, If I put her in the basement, she will whine and weep at the top step forever. If I am trying to read the newspaper, she will lap at my elbow until I am awash in saliva. And nothing deters her. She is a pest.
To tell the truth, I feel like slapping that animal to kingdom come. I feel a surge out there in my foot; it wants to kick this hound. Now don’t call the SPCA; I have resisted thus far. But I surely haven’t resisted yelling at her or grabbing her up and shutting her behind closed doors. My way of dealing with the pest is either to punish her or to withdraw from her.
But Chloe is a pest to someone else besides me. Chloe is a pest to Scruffy. Scruffy, you see, is our old dog. And sometimes Scruffy cannot get a moment’s peace from Chloe. They are a sight to behold. Chloe nips at Scruffy’s legs, she nibbles at Scruffy’s ears, she climbs on Scruffy’s back and even runs at lightning speed from across the room and tackles Scruffy. She is a pest, do you hear me?! It is almost too much to take when she angles her head around and opens her jaws and begins to gnaw on Scruffy’s chin. This puppy is a pest. She is pest to both of our old dogs, the four-legged one and the two-legged one.
But Scruffy deals with the pest with a curious combination of patience and resolve, Scruffy defends herself against all this nibbling and snapping, but she never presses the advantage. She weighs a lot more than Chloe, but she never slams the puppy to the floor. She has adult teeth rather than little puppy teeth, but she never inflicts injury on the pest. It’s as though she is enduring what must be endured in order finally to teach the little monster how to behave.
In other words, one old dog, the two-legged one, loses it with the pest. The other old dog, the four-legged one, has mastered the art of gentleness.
I leave it to you to determine which one of us is the more spiritually mature! But let’s spend some time thinking about gentleness. The fruits of the Spirit include gentleness. And Paul goes on in this Galatian letter to tell us what we must do with pests! "My friends, if anyone is detected in a transgression, you who have received the Spirit should restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness" ... "in a spirit of gentleness!”
I’ve raised some questions. I’ve asked why we can’t control our anger, I’ve wondered why some of us can be gentle and some of us cannot. We’ve been reminded that gentleness is one of the fruits of the Spirit.
The thesis of my message this morning is that if we can see how God deals gently with us, despite our failures, then we will be empowered to deal gently first with ourselves and then with others. Let me say it again: God deals gently with our failures. That means we can learn to deal gently with our own failures. And it means that we will ultimately learn to be gentle with those who disappoint us.
Actually, the best way to communicate this message is simply to use the words of Paul himself, from another of his letters: "Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.”
So first, we must recognize that God’s way is to deal gently with us. God’s way of relating to us is gentleness.
Now I’ve been using this word "gentleness", and I have vet to define it or describe it. "Gentleness" means a light touch with a firm purpose. A light touch but with a firm purpose.