March 17, 2019
Norwalk First United Methodist Church
Fruits of the Spirit
First Sunday in Lent
We have been taking a closer look these past couple of months at the Fruits of the Spirit that the Apostle Paul talked about in his letter to the Galatians. He said in Galatians 5:22-23: The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control…If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. These final three fruits, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control reflect the Christian believer’s attitude with himself or herself. And so today, we will look more closely at the Fruit of the Spirit called gentleness.
When I think of gentleness, I think of VDPs. You all know them, Very Draining People. VDPs. They are the kind of people who say things that set you on edge and you’re convinced that they enjoy doing it. They come into your home and say, “Where did you find that wall-paper?” And it is obvious that they’re not asking because they want to go out and buy some for themselves.
Or they’re the kind who come right out and ask, “Oh, how much weight have you gained, dear?” Or they say, “Boy, you sure look tired today.” VDPs are all around us! And why are they like that? I’ve heard their excuses. “It’s not my fault. That’s just the way I am. It’s in my genes. I inherited it from my mother. That’s the way she was, too.”
You see, we live in a “blame game” society where what we do and how we act are never our own fault. Our temperaments, our personalities, how we deal with people are always someone else’s fault. We have forgotten the spirit of gentleness for ourselves and with other people.
At times I just want to shake people like that and ask them, “What about God? What about the Holy Spirit? Why don’t you let Him into your life, to change your attitudes and actions? Allow the Holy Spirit to do his work in you to make you into the kind of person He wants you to be. And when that happens, the Fruits of the Spirit will be evident in your life. Would you pray with me?
So what is this Fruit of the Spirit, gentleness? The Greek language, in which the New Testament was originally written, is a precise and expressive language. Each Greek word has a careful definition and an illustration for it. The Greek definition of gentleness was not weakness but power or strength under control. Think about that, “power under control.”
The Greek word for gentleness was used to describe a soothing wind, a healing medicine, and a colt that had been broken. In each instance, there is “power”: a wind can become a storm; too much medicine can kill; a horse can break loose. But each is power under control. So when you think about gentleness, think about power under control, strength under control, anger under control, or our emotions under God’s control.
In our scripture today, Paul writes that we, as the chosen of God, holy and beloved, should put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. You see, as the chosen of God, we can show others that our faith is genuine when we truly have a desire for holy living. As the holy and beloved of God we need to reflect God’s love in our everyday living.
Now I don’t know about you, but I fail in that holy living from time to time. There are many times that I surely don’t reflect God’s love. In fact, John wrote in 1 John 1:8 this: If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. But as the elect of God, we have to acknowledge that we will have those sinful failures from time to time and continue to steadily progress toward a more godly life. That is what sanctification is all about; each hour, each day, trying to become more and more like Christ Jesus himself.
Each morning after my shower, I go to my closet to try and decide what to wear for the day. I think what I have that day and what clothing it will require. For example, if I have a funeral to officiate, I will be wearing my dress pants, dress shirt, and tie. Or, if I am going to the grocery, I will choose to wear my old khakis, an old shirt, and a sweater. That is how we dress for our physical lives in this world.
But Paul says, we need to dress our spiritual lives as well. To that end, Paul tells us to clothe ourselves with those qualities, like gentleness, that will glorify God. In other words, our Christian wardrobe contains garments that were bought by Christ when he died on the cross, rose on the third day, and ascended into heaven. We should each have a collection of spiritual apparel, tailored by the Holy Spirit, chosen and worn each day for the moment in which we are dealing with God, with other people, or with ourselves. In our spiritual closet, if we are truly living in the Spirit of God, should be compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. And Paul says, beyond all these, we should at all times put on love.
You see, when we put on these spiritual garments from our holy closet we will have a new look, a new behavior that brings praise and acclaim to the head of the church, Jesus Christ. With our holy fashions and our new behaviors, we will display a new life in Christ. Our new spiritual wardrobe is not for special occasions only, but for everyday use, and when it is put on it also “feels’ good.
Thomas Watson, a Puritan preacher and author, once said, “[Gentleness] is a grace whereby we are enabled by the Spirit of God to moderate our passions.” Gentleness is power or strength under control.
There were certainly two people in the Bible who were great models of gentleness, Moses and Jesus. The Bible tells us in Numbers 12:3 that Moses was the most humble or gentle man on the face of the earth. Moses was a gentle leader because of his relationship with God. He may have been a strong leader, but it was because he had humbled himself before God.
Moses exemplified power under control. He returned to Egypt after forty years tending the sheep and goats in the wilderness to spend time with the Hebrew leaders building trust and confidence. He opened the Red Sea and moved the Hebrew people forward to the Promised Land. He modeled power under control when he would sit all day settling disputes among the people. Moses was a man of gentleness, power under control. He was the chosen of God, holy and beloved because of his relationship with God.
Without a doubt, Jesus was certainly the model of gentleness, power under control. Jesus gave each of us this invitation: “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”
If we look closely at the life of Jesus, we will see strength and power under control. Jesus did and said only what God told him to do and say. Jesus was obedient to God. He, like Moses, had humbled himself before God.
Numerous times the Gospel writers tell us that Jesus had compassion for the crowds. He gave of himself for others. He taught his followers. He healed the sick, cast out demons, comforted the mourning, and raised the dead back to life. Jesus was a gentle man.
But hear this; Jesus was no push-over. He came face-to-face with the religious leaders of his day. He sparred with them frequently about the interpretation of the Law. He drove moneychangers and those selling sacrificial animals out of the Temple courtyard with a whip. He commanded demons to leave. Jesus was power and strength under control.
In his gentleness, his humbleness, Jesus stood silently before Pontius Pilate. He allowed Roman soldiers to beat him. He was nailed to a cross. Why didn’t he fight back? Because Jesus’ will was the will of his Father. He prayed that all of that would not happen to him, but it was God’s will. Jesus’ power under control saved you and me and gave us new life.
There are certainly many others who are great models of gentleness: King David, the Apostles Peter, Paul, and James. The father of the Protestant Reformation, Martin Luther. The founder of Methodism, John Wesley, and the little woman who transformed the lives of countless thousands, Mother Teresa. What made each of these people demonstrate the Fruit of the Spirit gentleness? It was their power and strength under control, an attitude that could only come from within, but not without God. Whatever they did was done putting on love, love for God and love for other people. As Paul said in our scripture, love is the perfect bond of unity.
Violet Slaughter’s father died in 1969. Before he died he gave her an antique pitcher and wash basin that before the turn of the century used to be found in guest bedrooms. The pitcher would be full of water and the guest would pour water into the basin to wash off at night before going to bed.
It was Violet’s most prized possession because it came from her parents’ home. And it became even more precious to her after her father died. She kept it on display in a very special spot in her home.
One day guests came to visit, and they brought with them an unruly dog that jumped around a lot. As the dog ran unsupervised through the home, it wrapped its leash around the little table on which this pitcher and basin were displayed, causing the pitcher and basin to fall and break.
It was a tragedy to Violet. Her husband said, “I watched as she took the dust pan and picked up every piece of that broken basin and pitcher. She kept all the pieces. And every evening, she would bring out the ceramic glue and glue pieces back together again.”
That’s what God says we need to do as individuals and as a church. In our gentleness, we need to mend hearts and minds for Christ. We need to realize how gentle God has been with us, how many times He could have condemned us, how many times He could have punished us. But in gentleness, again and again, He reaches out and takes us in His arms and holds us close to His heart. We need to do the same.
It is important and essential for us to exhibit the Fruits of the Spirit in our lives, and that includes gentleness. It’s a harsh and cruel world out there and somehow people need to see that Jesus makes a difference. Our community needs to see that this church makes a difference. The world needs to see that the United Methodist Church makes a difference.
As we have learned from our examples today, we receive gentleness when we submit to Jesus as the Lord and Master of our lives. Paul said, “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful…[for]…whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus.
We receive gentleness when we depend upon the Holy Spirit to cultivate gentleness in our lives. We cannot depend on our own natural ability to cultivate this fruit. Rather, we must depend on the Holy Spirit to change our disposition and attitude. We need to seek to be filled by the Holy Spirit by spending time in worship, prayer, and communion with God. Paul said, “Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom…”
And lastly, we receive gentleness when we practice gentleness in our relationships with others. All of us should exercise gentleness toward the children, the elderly, the poor and the sick among us. Jesus loved the little children. He held them in His arms and blessed them. He befriended the strangers and ministered to the poor and needy. Shouldn’t we do the same?
Brothers and sisters in Christ, Gentleness is the blessing for the Christian who is controlled and directed by God while finding strength and power from Him. So when you think about gentleness, think about power under control, anger under control, emotions under control, desires under control, interests under control – all under the control of God, as we give thanks through Jesus to God the Father.