Sunday, June 12, 2011

The Fruit Named ‘Gentleness’

“By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things.”

~Galatians 5:22-23 (NRSV).

Against some things we find it incredibly difficult to let go. The list that the Apostle Paul provides in the preceding verses to those above (verses 19-21) is a good sample of those things in life we find it hard to let go of — unless we have the Spirit alive and throbbing with effect within us, which is usually a temporary condition.

Staying spiritually sound is obviously a prayerful effort of resting in God’s grace.

Specifically Gentleness (and Not Being a ‘doormat’)

Let’s take the issue of gentleness in the balance of not being a doormat, for good instance. Most people see the sense in being gentle but don’t want such vulnerability taken advantage of.

In the context of the Fruit of the Spirit passage, “gentleness” means meekness or forbearance.[1]

It’s hard to differentiate this “meekness” or “forbearance” from that of being a doormat. It also depends what constitutes being a doormat. If we’ve truly placed ourselves (our flesh) on God’s altar of sacrifice, our ideas of being occasionally treated as a doormat will have changed somewhat. Human beings do occasionally inflict pain on one another; we’ll more readily accept that. Where we must depart, though, is when it becomes violence or abuse; then we’re to extricate ourselves or at least prepare ourselves for that.

But, what about gentleness? Can we be gentle and still avoid being a doormat?

Well our success depends on how shrewd and assertive we are. Recall that Jesus said:

“See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.”

~Matthew 10:16 (NRSV).

Some of the people in our worlds might be those wolves, as we’re the sheep; sent from the hand of Jesus. Innocence is gentleness. But to counteract this forbearing meekness we need to also be wise as serpents. That means it’s not only acceptable, but commendable, to assert — in gentle ways — action to respond to being treated like a doormat.

Jesus was never a doormat in ways that he meekly gave way to others beyond his very own God-anointed will. Jesus’ meekness always served the greater will of God.

Do we see the difference?

Meekness (or being a doormat) can actually benefit the kingdom of God in certain circumstances; but it must occur in forbearing (or strong, assertive, chosen) ways. God is the one providing the inner strength to bear up but, again, not in situations like abuse or neglect.

We’re called to be assertively meek.

Grace – the Higher Law

A law above the law; this is what we need.

When we achieve the Fruit of the Spirit suddenly we’ve realised — that very moment — that we’re no longer pinned to the world. We’ve sprung above it! We’re a law a cut above the law, for we’ve reached God’s standards of grace. The trick then is maintaining it.

Grace has a lot to say about our perceptions of being that doormat.

Perhaps we can picture grace as standing in the other person’s shoes and willing to forgive whatever they dish out. It doesn’t mean, however, that we have to stay around for more of the kicking.

We forgive as we shake the dust from our feet.

© 2011 S. J. Wickham.

Graphic Credit: Kerry Sanders.

[1] Wesley J. Perschbacher (Ed.), The New Analytical Greek Lexicon (Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 1990), p. 342.

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