We cannot create or manifest spiritual gentleness for ourselves. It is a work of the Spirit in, a fruit of the Spirit which is the revelation of the nature and character of Christ. Our surrender brings us to the place where we can reveal Jesus to the world with greater truth as we draw closer to Him. Prophetically, spiritual gentless brings Jesus into every situation and speaks of the conquering King who is to come.
Let your gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand. (Philippians 4:5)
Spiritual gentleness is one of the fruits of the Spirit, often used interchangeably with meekness. It’s a complex characteristic which covers a range from compassion to humility to forgiveness to surrender. I use the term spiritual gentleness to differentiate that worked in and through us by the Holy Spirit and its worldly equivalent. Spiritual gifts can come only from the Spirit, not from self, but there is a fleshly counterfeit that can often be confusing. How do we recognise what is true compassion and what is worldly sympathy? It comes down to spiritual discernment. Spiritual fruits will always produce spiritual fruits in us and in others. This is the long-term measure of what is of the Spirit and what is of the flesh. But there is another way to discern whether fruit is of the Spirit. True spiritual fruit will always manifest the nature and character of Jesus.
The full meaning of spiritual gentleness.
To really understand this, we need to look at the cross and the example Jesus provided from His prayer time in the Garden of Gethsemane to the moment of His death. There are moments throughout the Gospels where His spiritual gentleness emerge – for example in His prayers to prepare His disciples for what is to come. But it is through the cross that we see the real nature and character of Jesus. It is in these moments that we truly see His servant-heart, which is what true gentleness is all about. This self-effacing response is not limited to gentleness. It infuses and underpins every one of the spiritual fruits, and it’s important to remember that these don’t exist in isolation. While it takes time for the Spirit to form them in us, one fruit will always contain elements of the other and they work together perfectly to manifest Christ.
In Galatians 5, we find a list of the fruits of the Spirit. I believe that spiritual gentleness is second to last on this list for a reason. Most works of God in us are progressive. While there isn’t necessarily a ‘formula’ or ‘recipe’ or however-many-step plan, having some things already in place helps to learn others. Love comes first because it’s the foundation of all and without it, nothing is possible. Love took Jesus to the cross and love draws sinners to the cross. But as the other fruits are lovingly worked in us, something happens. We are transformed into the likeness of the Son of God. The Spirit gives us the ‘new heart’ and ‘new spirit’ God promised in Ezekiel 36: 26. This is the heart and spirit of Jesus, without which true spiritual gentleness is not possible. Gentleness is the manifestation of the nature of Christ.
Spiritual gentleness is defined by surrender.
Our purpose is to live so that the Christ in us is revealed, not us. This truth immediately raises the issue of surrender – of putting self and our own agendas aside. Spiritual gentleness isn’t about revealing Jesus and self in equal parts. It’s the manifestation of the ‘less of me and more of You’ prayer. Thankfully, it’s a process, so we’ll find the Spirit working to release a greater measure of each of the fruits in us slowly and surely. We don’t receive the full measure in one go, but it’s released in response to the measure of our surrender. Self has a propensity to hang on so it takes time to fully let go. The real truth is that it will take us our whole lifetime to do so, and even then, only the grace and power of God will finally achieve what is impossible for us.
Spiritual surrender has none of the negative connotations the world imposes on it. With God, it’s a giving over rather than a giving up. Surrender is to participate in a powerful spiritual exchange – selfishness for selflessness. We receive the all that is Jesus in exchange for the all of us. There’s nothing negative about exchanging a dead, self-centred life for the abundant resurrection life of Christ. But because surrender is slow and we tend to hand on, we receive incrementally in proportion to our degree of surrender. As our role model, Jesus clearly gave all – and His all was a lot bigger than ours. Spiritual gentleness defines the servant-heart of Jesus, which is in turn defined by the full and willing surrender of all to the perfect will and purpose of the Father. Surrender is giving ourselves for others as Jesus did by yielding ourselves to Him.
Spiritual gentleness contains prophetic truth.
Today’s verse might seem confusing until we look at its full prophetic context. Spiritual gentleness is both present prophetic and future prophetic, which is why Paul mentions only this fruit here rather than the entire list. In this context, gentleness includes all the other fruits. The question we must ask here is who is our gentleness? The answer to that is Christ. True spiritual gentleness can only come from Him. It’s not a product of our own ‘personal growth’ but a manifestation of the work of the Spirit. The powerful difference between this and the fleshly counterpart is the presence of Jesus. So when Paul enjoins us let the world see our gentleness, he’s actually saying to let the world see Christ in us. That is the present prophetic – that truth that reveals that when true gentleness is revealed, Jesus is always manifestly present.
Future prophetic points to the second coming of Christ. The impetus is that time is running out. That we must manifest the spiritual gentleness of Jesus in full so all humanity can see Him as He really is. When Jesus comes again, it won’t be as suffering Saviour but as conquering King. At that point, every knee shall bow and every tongue confess, but God desires people to come to Him now. To see Him in full measure and to respond willingly and joyfully, rather than acknowledge Him in the place of judgement – the ‘too late’ place from which there is no return. We are the way Jesus is revealed to the world. Our lives reflect His life, and our gentleness reveals the full measure of His love, compassion, mercy, and grace. The Lord is at hand right now to save, but we must surrender and reveal Him alone.
Spiritual gentleness is a way of life.
We cannot separate the ‘what we do’ aspect of spiritual gentleness from the ‘who we are’ aspect. It’s not something we possess but rather an internal reworking of our character. In other words, we will ultimately do what we are. If Christ is in us, the journey towards His nature is inevitable. We don’t have to work at it or force the issue. The only criteria is that we willingly surrender to the purposes of God in our lives. It’s powerful that the final fruit of the Spirit is self-control. We have to learn to live in all the others before self-control can fully manifest in us. Spiritual gentleness ushers this in, because when we live Jesus, controlling self is so much easier. To ‘live Jesus’ is an incredible privilege and blessing. But we live His servant-heart and gentleness because the conquering King is yet to come.
Lord Jesus, we see Your perfect example of spiritual gentleness as You stood silent before Your accusers and cried out that they be forgiven, even in Your agony. Remind us Gethsemane and of the blessing that we have never yet had to sweat blood to overcome self. Grant us a desire to reveal You in ever-increasing measure, to live Your servant-heart and reveal You to the world while there is still time. Transform us from within by the power of Your Holy Spirit so that we come in love and surrender, worshiping You in all we say and do.