10 Fruit of the Spirit: Gentleness - Bible Study | WednesdayintheWord.com

Gentleness as a fruit of the Spirit is not about being soft or timid. It involves humbly accepting what God gives without self-promotion or ambition.

Key Points

  • Moses illustrates this quality. Despite his significant role, he did not seek personal glory or power.
  • Jesus illustrates this quality in his entry into Jerusalem, foot washing and how he describes his “yoke.”
  • James warns against people who lack this quality becoming teachers.
  • Word: Strong’s G4240.
  • Passages: Numbers 12:1-16; Psalm 27; Luke 14:7-11; Matthew 21:1-5; Matthew 11:28-30; James 3:13-14; Galatians 5:25-6:1; John 12:12-17.

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Series: Fruit of the Spirit

Gentleness as a Fruit of the Spirit

In this series, we are searching for an understanding of the nouns on Paul’s list of the fruit of the Spirit. Today we’ll be talking about gentleness. We’re exploring scripture to see what the Bible says about these concepts and, therefore, what Paul was thinking when he wrote the list.

I have been arguing that the items on this list are not feelings. Rather, they are a lifestyle that results from a profound worldview shift. As the Spirit of God teaches us truth, our perspective changes and that changes how we choose to act, respond and treat each other.

As always, we’ll start by remembering the context in Galatians where we find the list. Paul spends most of his time in Galatians refuting the teaching of the Judaizers and arguing that faith in Jesus is sufficient for salvation. At this point in the letter, he’s arguing that freedom from the law does not mean that we are free to pursue sin.

Paul argues that law keeping only changes us on the outside, producing a fake moral transformation. But once we have faith in Jesus, God gives us his spirit and his spirit changes us from the inside out, producing genuine moral change. The qualities on this list are the result of that change and are examples of the kind of thing that the Spirit produces in us.


Both the English Standard Version of the Bible and the New American Standard Version translate as this fruit as ‘gentleness.’ This Greek word is also translated ‘meekness’ or ‘lowliness.’ We don’t have an English word that exactly captures the meaning of this Greek word. Because we don’t have a one-to-one translation equivalent, this word is often misunderstood.

If you’ve heard my teaching on the Beatitudes from the Gospel of Matthew, this concept of meekness or gentleness will be familiar to you. In the Beatitudes, Jesus says, blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. That word ‘meek’ is the same word as the one in our list. In fact, studying the Beatitudes first challenged me to understand this word.

We’ll going to look at two Old Testament passages. I will cover all the complexities of a word study. Paul and Jesus use this Greek word, but it is often useful to study the Hebrew word that this Greek word translates. That’s where we’re going to start.

Numbers 12:1-16

We’ll be looking at a story about Moses. Let me first place this story in biblical history. God called Abraham, which started the history of the Jewish people. God made promises to Abraham, which his son, Isaac, inherited. Isaac was the father of Jacob. Jacob inherited the promises, and is later renamed Israel. Jacob had 12 sons. Those sons became the patriarchs of the 12 tribes of Israel, who become what we think of as the Jewish people.

After Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, through a series of complicated events, the children of Israel ended up as slaves in the land of Egypt. Eventually they cried out to God to rescue them from the slavery. God heard them and sent the prophet Moses to rescue them from Egypt.

Moses was aided by his brother Aaron, who was a priest, and his sister Miriam, who was a prophetess. After they have left Egypt, at one point in their journey, Miriam and Aaron grow jealous of their brother. That’s the story we’re going to read.

1Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses because of the Cushite woman whom he had married, for he had married a Cushite woman. 2And they said, “Has the LORD indeed spoken only through Moses? Has he not spoken through us also?” And the LORD heard it. 3Now the man Moses was very meek, more than all people who were on the face of the earth. 4And suddenly the LORD said to Moses and to Aaron and Miriam, “Come out, you three, to the tent of meeting.” And the three of them came out. 5And the LORD came down in a pillar of cloud and stood at the entrance of the tent and called Aaron and Miriam, and they both came forward. 6And he said, “Hear my words: If there is a prophet among you, I the LORD make myself known to him in a vision; I speak with him in a dream. 7Not so with my servant Moses. He is faithful in all my house. 8With him I speak mouth to mouth, clearly, and not in riddles, and he beholds the form of the LORD. Why then were you not afraid to speak against my servant Moses?” 9And the anger of the LORD was kindled against them, and he departed. 10When the cloud removed from over the tent, behold, Miriam was leprous, like snow. And Aaron turned toward Miriam, and behold, she was leprous. 11And Aaron said to Moses, “Oh, my lord, do not punish us because we have done foolishly and have sinned. 12Let her not be as one dead, whose flesh is half eaten away when he comes out of his mother’s womb.” 13And Moses cried to the LORD, “O God, please heal her—please.” 14But the LORD said to Moses, “If her father had but spit in her face, should she not be shamed seven days? Let her be shut outside the camp seven days, and after that she may be brought in again.” 15So Miriam was shut outside the camp seven days, and the people did not set out on the march till Miriam was brought in again. 16After that the people set out from Hazeroth, and camped in the wilderness of Paran. -Numbers 12:1-16

I’m not going to cover what’s happening with Miriam in this story. I have a podcast on that passage that looks at this story from Miriam’s perspective. For our purposes today, I want to look at Moses.

Moses is unique among all the prophets of Israel. God took a visual form in front of Moses and spoke to him on several occasions. After they escaped from Egypt, Moses regularly entered the tent of meeting, which you could think of as an early version of the temple. The glory of God would settle on the tent of meeting, and Moses would speak with God. Then Moses would report what God had said. When Moses returned from speaking with God, his face would shine, and people were afraid of him.

God did not speak to his siblings face to face like he did with Moses. Miriam decides God’s not being fair. After all, they’re all prophets, too. They’re just like Moses. Maybe even a little better than their baby brother, because,Moses had this skeleton in his closet. He had married a non-Jewish woman. They didn’t have any closet skeletons, and they want to be seen as equal to Moses.

They’re jealous, and they’re ambitious. God responds promptly.

God makes it very clear that Moses is unique among the prophets because God chose to talk to him directly. In fact, there’s no other prophet like Moses until the Messiah comes. God doesn’t give Moses a dream or a vision that Moses must write down and interpret. When God wants to talk to Moses, Moses can talk back.

I’m telling this story because of the comment in the middle of it.

Now the man Moses was very meek, more than all people who were on the face of the earth. – Numbers 12:3

This word ‘meek’ is the one we’re concerned with. It’s also translated ‘humble,’ ‘gentle,’ or ‘lowly.’ But our English word gentle can be very misleading. It implies somebody who’s soft and squishy, who wouldn’t dare raise their voice or raise their eyes off the floor to make eye contact. But that’s not the idea behind this word.

Moses is a prophet among prophets. There is no other prophet like him. He has a personal relationship with God that no other prophet or person has until the Messiah comes. If anyone on the planet could claim to be important, it was Moses. He could have flaunted his position, and yet he does not push himself forward.

When God first told Moses that He was giving Moses this leadership role, Moses declined and suggested God choose Aaron instead. Moses protested so much he provoked God to anger before accepting the role.

Meekness is that quality of accepting what God has given you and not asking for more. Meekness is not putting yourself forward, not being presumptuous. Moses had did not exalt himself or push himself forward. He accepted whatever God gave.

Psalm 37

This is the Psalm that Jesus quotes in the beatitudes. This word meek is the one we’re concerned with.

1Fret not yourself because of evildoers; be not envious of wrongdoers! 2For they will soon fade like the grass and wither like the green herb. – Psalm 37:1-2

These opening verses give us the theme of the psalm. Don’t fret about or be jealous of the people who reject God. Evildoers reject God and grab for what they want. They trample over those who trust in the Lord. It may look like they’re winning because they’re taking advantage of those who trust God. But don’t be fooled. When God’s judgment comes, they will wither like the grass.

This psalm explores the difference between where we are now and where we will end up. Right now, it may look like the wicked are getting the better into the deal, but those who trust God are the real winners. In the end, the wicked will disappear. The righteous who trust God will be vindicated and live forever.

3Trust in the LORD, and do good; dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness. 4Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart. 5Commit your way to the LORD; trust in him, and he will act. 6He will bring forth your righteousness as the light, and your justice as the noonday. – Psalm 37:3-6

Here’s the flip side from the first two verses. Don’t worry about the wicked who seem to be prospering. Instead, trust in the Lord. The emphasis is on how this story will end. Time is coming when God will change the way things are. The Lord will bring justice. Those who trust Him will be raised up. Those who have opposed Him will be brought low.

This theme that God will bring about this ironic inversion runs through both the Testaments, but it is especially common in the psalms. Those who think they have everything the world has to offer will lose it. Those who seem to have little because they trust God will be given everything worth having. The truly important thing is where you end up, not where you are right now.

7Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him; fret not yourself over the one who prospers in his way, over the man who carries out evil devices! 8Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath! Fret not yourself; it tends only to evil. 9For the evildoers shall be cut off, but those who wait for the LORD shall inherit the land. 10In just a little while, the wicked will be no more; though you look carefully at his place, he will not be there. 11But the meek shall inherit the land and delight themselves in abundant peace. – Psalm 37:7-11

Evildoers who reject God and are selfishly ambitious will vanish. Right now, they’re stealing, pushing, shoving, and trampling others to get what they want. They resort to evil devices to get their way. They grab and take what is not theirs.

But, by contrast, the people of God wait on the Lord.They acknowledge God is in control. They refuse to break God’s rules or to resort to evil to take something they want. Ultimately they count on the promise of His kingdom.

The ones who seem to be prospering and indulging in these wicked schemes will vanish and lose everything. But the one who waits for the Lord will find rest in the land. The guy who’s scheming to grab all the land will not keep it. It’s not his inheritance. But it will be your inheritance if you trust in God.

The reason I brought us to the psalm is verses 10 and 11. The humble/meek/gentle, are not high because they are ambitious and exalted themselves. The meek do not scheme or steal to get what they want. They don’t demand that God give them more or a higher place, like Miriam and Aaron did.

Instead, they seek only that which God gives them. They put their trust in Him and wait for His promises to be fulfilled, content with whatever He gives them. They do not presumptuously demand what God has withheld.

Luke 14:7-11

Jesus probably had this idea of meekness in mind when he told the parable of the wedding feast. Jesus was at a banquet and He saw people jockeying for places at the best tables.

7Now he told a parable to those who were invited, when he noticed how they chose the places of honor, saying to them, 8“When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in a place of honor, lest someone more distinguished than you be invited by him, 9and he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this person,’ and then you will begin with shame to take the lowest place. 10But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at table with you. 11For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” – Luke 14:7-11

Jesus saw some guests working to get themselves seated at the better tables, and he told this little parable in response. If you grab a seat at the high table, what’s likely to happen? The host will consult his guest list and say, ‘Excuse me. You’re not supposed to be at that table. You’re supposed to be back here at this other table.’ Then you will have to move and be embarrassed in front of everybody.

What should you do instead? Sit in the back. Then when the host consults his list, he’ll say, ‘You’re not supposed to be back there. Come on up here.’ Instead of being embarrassed and humiliated, you will be honored.

Jesus uses that as a picture of the two kinds of attitudes we can take toward life and God. We can try to take the best seat for ourselves, in which case God may say, ‘sorry, that’s not for you.’ Or we can sit in the back, trusting that the host will bring us forward at the proper time. The aggressive, ambitious taker will be humiliated. The person who has gentleness or meekness will be exalted.

Matthew 21:1-9

Jesus himself is an interesting model of this quality of gentleness or meekness. This is a story from when he entered Jerusalem right before the crucifixion.

1Now when they drew near to Jerusalem and came to Bethphage, to the Mount of Olives, then Jesus sent two disciples, 2saying to them, “Go into the village in front of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her. Untie them and bring them to me. 3If anyone says anything to you, you shall say, ‘The Lord needs them,’ and he will send them at once.” 4This took place to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet, saying, 5“Say to the daughter of Zion, ‘Behold, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.’” 6The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them. 7They brought the donkey and the colt and put on them their cloaks, and he sat on them. 8Most of the crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. 9And the crowds that went before him and that followed him were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” – Matthew 21:1-9

Picture what’s going on here. This is the king, the Messiah. He should be riding on a war horse with his sword gleaming in the sunlight and his army of soldiers behind him. But how is he entering Jerusalem? He’s not coming in a blaze of glory. He’s riding a lowly donkey.

But this is not the humility that says “Oh no, I’m just a regular guy. Don’t make a big deal about me.” The people cry out, ‘Hosanna to the son of David, blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord’ and he acknowledges their praise. Luke tells us that some of the Pharisees were outraged by the people shouting. They tell Jesus to make his disciples be quiet.

39And some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples.” 40He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.” Luke 19:39-40

Jesus responds, it won’t do any good for me to tell them to be quiet. If they shut up, the very stones would cry out Hosanna in the highest. He is the long awaited Messiah. He knows it and acknowledges it. The crowds are right to shout his praise and proclaim him as the king of the world.

Yet Jesus doesn’t take this role before God gives it to him. He doesn’t shrink from the cross because he knows the cross is the path to his coronation. He arrives as a king who is meek. He’s doesn’t make a big deal of himself. He doesn’t hide from his role. He accepts everything God gives him when God gives it.

Matthew 11:28-30

28Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” – Matthew 11;28-30

This word ‘gentle’ is the word we’re looking at. ‘Take my yoke upon you’ is the language of discipleship. The farmer yokes the oxen because he is their master. The yoke limits their freedom. The yoke keeps the oxen together. The oxen must follow the farmer’s commands. With the yoke on them, they must do the will of the farmer. The imagery of the yoke is the imagery of submission to a master.

Take my yoke means submit to me. It is right to submit to Jesus because he is our Lord and Savior. But why can you trust him and submit yourself like that?

Because he is lowly and humble of heart. He is gentle in the way he handles his authority and power. He does not exercise his authority for his own benefit. He does not let his power corrupt him. By definition, power means we have the ability to get what we want.

But we can take the yoke of Jesus because he is gentle. He will not harm us or enslave us for selfish purposes. Jesus will not use his power and authority for his own benefit. Instead, he does only what God has called him to do. He is not personally ambitious. He waited for God to exalt him. He did not exalt himself. He will not use his kingship for his own benefit.

James 3:13-14

13Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. 14But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. – James 3:13-14

James says the leaders should be those who lead in the gentleness of wisdom. This is the same idea we’ve been talking about. It’s the humility, the meekness of accepting whatever God has for you and not trying to lord it over others.

Some are battling for power and trying to build their own little fiefdoms in the church. Their selfish ambition marks them as people who shouldn’t be leading anybody. By contrast, those who are wise demonstrate that wisdom in meekness. They don’t seek their own gain at the expense of the people that they’re teaching or leading. Instead, they trust God.

Lowliness is not just an attitude that we have towards God. It is also an attitude that we have toward each other.

Galatians 5:25-6:1

25If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. 26Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another. 1Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. – Galatians 5:25-6:1

In Galatians, Paul is arguing against legalists who fight over who keeps the law best. Legalism leads to provoking each other, envying one another over who keeps the law right. Paul says, line up with the Spirit instead. The Spirit calls us to be gentle or lowly, not to demonstrate our superior religious life.

Paul moves the discussion beyond a difference of opinion over how kosher is kosher. Paul says, even if your brother is caught in a flat-out sin, what attitude ought you to take toward him? You restore him in a spirit of gentleness or loneliness, looking to yourself lest you to be tempted. We are to see our neighbors as equals. We are no better than them. We are all sinners in need of the same grace of God. We don’t have to fight for our share. We are no better than anyone else, and God will work it all out.

John 13:12-17

12When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them, “Do you understand what I have done to you? 13You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. 14If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. 16Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them. – John 13:12-17

Jesus takes the humble job of the lowest household servants and washes the feet of his disciples. Then he says, Do you know what I have done? If we want to measure by position, power and authority, Jesus was the most exalted person in the room. He is their Lord and master, and he washed the dirt off their feet.

What should the apostles learn? When they step into the role of apostle, how should they treat others? When they hold the highest position of authority in the church, how should they handle that authority? They are not to lord it over their fellow believers. They are take this attitude of serving, teaching and leading the church, using their authority as a servant.

We all must learn to walk that line. On the one hand, the Spirit of God teaches us to be meek, gentle people who are willing to trust God and serve others. At the same time, we are followers of a great king who has taught us truth, and that truth is not negotiable.

In one sense, we want to be among the lowliest of people. Yet, in another sense, we want to be prepared to stand firm on what is right and true. We want to stand on the rock of the gospel and not be knocked off. Yet while we stand on that rock, we remember we are sinners in need of mercy. We know that even our Master served others. Wee are called to serve, not exalt ourselves.

Copyright © 2024 · Krisan Marotta, WednesdayintheWord

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Season 24, episode 10

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