When Gentleness appears on the list of the Fruits of the Spirit, I usually wonder what kind of implications it has. Gentleness like non-violence? Gentleness like a calm and stoic demeanor? Gentleness like powerlessness? Gentleness like compassion? Gentleness like beauty and sophistication?
When we use definitions like Aristotle’s (like I did in my video) we get the implication that Gentleness is an individual cultivation, when in Paul’s writing, Gentleness is a community cultivation – more of a team effort vs. individual effort. That helps in my own mind to frame Gentleness. What does it look like when we as the collective body of the church cultivate and produce the fruit of Gentleness? How do we gear up and get ready to collectively show our Gentleness to the world?
The first step is to acknowledge that expressing gentleness will by default involve other people. Being gentle within your own mind and keeping a rational mind (Aristotle) is not enough for our greater Christian virtue and bearing fruit. The second step is determining who are the other people involved. The answer, which hopefully at this point is obvious, is the greater world. Maybe we can even think back to John’s Gospel where God so loved ‘the world.’ Our outward expression of gentleness is reserved for all people of the world, whether they are living in our homes or people without homes at all.
Paul points out through all these fruits of the spirit that they are not optional extras that we can tag onto our personal repertoire of positive character traits, they are essential in expressing our belonging in the Christian community and the actions the entire Christian community can be depended upon to take up.
Take this story as a closing thought…
We had a weird mix of kids in Cabin 19, certainly not the most athletic, intelligent, socially skilled, or even skilled at all. The summer camp kids that were not the misfit cabin, but not really the standout cabin either. What did we really have to offer in tribe-wide competitions? What competitive advantage did we have against head-to-head matches with other cabins with stronger kids? After all it is a classic boys camp in the mountains, a sense of competition and victory was a big part of what distinguished activities each week. One thing that we cultivated as co-counselors of this cabin of 14-year-olds was day-in and day-out was a sense of love and respect for one another. We practiced gentleness with them. Making them acknowledge the value of one another, even though there was plenty to make fun of between all their faults and awkwardness. What it did was make us more competitive, more reliant on each other strengths, a more cohesive group, and ultimately… the winners of the ‘Cabin of the Week’ each week of camp. Those boys found gentleness gave them a collective strength that made them able to beat out the stronger, more skilled, and even older cabins. Gentleness expressed to one another builds up the body, making it stronger than it was before.