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The Fruit of the Spirit is Gentleness - Galatians 5:23


Galatians 5:22-26, 19-21, 1:8, 6:1-3; Philippians 2:1-8; Matthew 21:1-11, 12-13, 11:20-30; Isaiah 53:2-3, 7

Apr 01, 2012 12:00 AM

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I’d like to begin to day by asking you to turn with me to Galatians 5 and I want us to read together, in unison, out loud, verses 22 through 26.

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. 24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another. (Galatians 5:22-26 ESV)

The particular Christian attribute we want to consider today is that of gentleness.  Paul’s list of Spiritual fruits in the life of a believer is a description of genuine Christian behavior, as opposed to the behavior of those whose lives are governed by the desires of the flesh.  Unbelievers are characterized by certain unspiritual, ungodly behaviors which we see in verses 19-21:

19 Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, 21 envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these.  I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. (Galatians 5:19-21 ESV)

These two lists characterize, by behavior, the two kinds of people in the world.  And there are only two: Those who will inherit the Kingdom of God and those who will not.  There are those whose lives have been miraculously changed by the grace of God, and those who have not.  The one can be recognized more or less by their Holy Spirit-motivated godly behavior.  The other is recognized by their natural, carnal inclination towards all things ungodly.  Those are the two camps in which everyone lives and dies.

It is right for us to expect Christians to act in a certain manner, to live according to a biblical code of conduct.  Paul calls it “walking by the Spirit.“  The followers of Jesus Christ are expected even by those who do not know Christ, to act like Christ, to live in such a way as to be pleasing to Christ.  Otherwise, the question could legitimately be asked, “Why do you call yourself a Christian?  Why do we not see in you a lifestyle that is compatible with this faith you say you have in this Person you say you follow?”

And I feel compelled to say, that kind of question is not an exercise in judgmentalism.  Often such questions are met with something like, “Who are you to judge me?  Who are you to criticize me for the way I express my spiritual life?  We’re all in different places in the journey, you know!  Who do you think you are?”

I think I’m your brother, but I’m not so sure now.  I think I’m a fellow believer in the LORD Jesus.  And I’m telling you, based upon your own confession of faith, based what I don’t see in your life, and based upon the authority granted to believers in the Scriptures that we should love and exhort and rebuke and encourage and provoke one another to good works, . . . I’m telling you that you need to take another look at your life, “brother”, and step it up a notch or two!  If you’re going to claim the Christian label, then act like one!”

Beloved, that is a legitimate response to someone who says they are a Christian but who looks and acts more like the people who aren’t going to inherit the Kingdom of God than those who are.  We can and should be mindful of each others’ behavior and encourage one another to live godly lives according to how the Scriptures instruct us to live, to exhibit the fruits of the Spirit.  It is true that no one has to live according to my expectations, according to how I or anyone else thinks you and I should live.  But we are responsible as believers to live as followers of Jesus Christ.  Turn with me for a moment to Philippians 2:1-8.

1 So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, 2 complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3 Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. 5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:1-8 ESV).

It is absolutely safe to say the Lord Jesus exhibited all the fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. And He did so perfectly, perpetually, without fail, even to death.  This is how we are to live also.  Concerned not only for ourselves, but for others, and particularly for our brethren.  We are to be obedient to God even to death.  Not proud, not self-promoting, not conceited, not contentious.  We’re to be like Christ.  It’s not a bad thing to ask ourselves in any given situation, “What would Jesus do?’

Our word for today is gentleness.  The fruit of the Spirit is gentleness.  There is a similar term we hear used quite often that is somewhat odd when you think about it.  It is most often heard when a master of ceremonies addresses a crowd of people in order to get their attention and he begins with the phrase, “Ladies and gentlemen”.  We have a good idea why he refers to the adult females in the crowd as ladies.  But why did it become customary to refer to the men as “gentlemen”?  In my mind, it seems more logical to say “Gentle-ladies and men”.  Women naturally tend to be the gentler sex, if I understand gentleness correctly, and men not so much.  So why the word “gentlemen”?

“Gentlemen” is complimentary.  It is a word that ascribes a certain amount of respectability to men.  The term “ladies” assumes a certain degree of honor as opposed to simply calling the adult females in the audience simply “women”.  The word “gentlemen” originally referred  to one’s heritage.  It is related to the word “gentry”, a reference to those of more noble birth, not a commoner or a peasant.

On the one hand, the word “gentleman” is not appropriate to describe the Lord Jesus.  He was born into an obscure family, in an obscure place, presumably the son of a carpenter and a peasant girl.  There was nothing special about Him at all.  No one would have confused Him with the respectable, classy, upper-crust, “gentry” of the day.

But on the other hand, the term “gentleman” is a perfect description of who Christ really is.  Originally, the word “gentle” literally meant “well-born”, "high-born, noble, of good family"   Who could be higher-born or more noble, or of a better family than the Son of God?  He is quite literally the epitome of the perfect Gentleman.

In the more common use of the word (not including the phrase “Gentlemen’s Club”), true gentlemen are recognized by their exceptional behavior.  According to J.R. Vernon, writing in the "Contemporary Review" of 1869, here is what a gentleman should look like:

The Gentleman is always truthful and sincere; will not agree for the sake of complaisance [i.e. compliance] or out of weakness; will not pass over that of which he disapproves.  He has a clear soul, and a fearless, straightforward tongue.  On the other hand he is not blunt and rude.  His truth is courteous; his courtesy, truthful; never a humbug, yet, where he truthfully can, he prefers to say pleasant things.

That is a gentleman and the practical definition of the word “gentle”.  It is one of the fruits of the Spirit, a characteristic of Christians, but not exclusively.  Everyone is capable of being gentle with others.  But Christians are gentle as a way of life, as an expression of the presence of the Holy Spirit living within them.  A person who may never have been described as gentle prior to conversion, finds that after his conversion he has this new ability, a compulsion to treat others with loving, truthful, straightforward but not blunt or rude, honesty and kindness.

If you are oblivious to dates and holidays like I am, you may not realize that today is Palm Sunday.  Kathy pointed it out to me earlier this week.  I realize I should know such things without having to be told.  Sadly, when she said this Sunday was Palm Sunday, my response was something like, “Oh.”  She also pointed out something very interesting in regard to this word “gentle”in our text, Galatians 5:23.  A related Greek word is also used in another very timely and familiar text: Matthew 21.

1 Now when they drew near to Jerusalem and came to Bethphage, to the Mount of Olives, then Jesus sent two disciples, 2 saying 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. 3 If anyone says anything to you, you shall say, 'The Lord needs them,' and he will send them at once." 4 This 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, and on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.'"

6 The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them. 7 They brought the donkey and the colt and put on them their cloaks, and he sat on them. 8 Most of the crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. 9 And 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!" 10 And when he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred up, saying, "Who is this?" 11 And the crowds said, "This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee." (Matthew 21:1-11, ESV).

This is not the way kings act.  This is not the way proud men act, who demand the respect of everyone.  And what may be most amazing in all of this is the fact that it is God, the second Person of the Trinity, the Creator of all that is, the Person to whom all obedience and all love is owed, entering Jerusalem humblyGently.  Not a conquering king on a tall, white steed with armor glistening in the sun, with the blood of his foes staining his garments, and with his foot upon the necks of his enemies.  Rather, this Son of David, this prophet from Nazareth (“Can anything good come from Nazareth?”) rides into the city on a young donkey, a mere foal.  This is humility and gentleness at its greatest, if one can actually use the word “great” to describe gentleness.

And then, once this greatest of all gentlemen entered Jerusalem, He went to the Temple and drove out all who sold and bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons.  He said to them, "It is written, 'My house shall be called a house of prayer,' but you make it a den of robbers." (Matthew 21:12-13 ESV).  In other words, gentleness does not equal wimpiness.  The Gentleman Jesus overturned the tables of the robbers of the Temple in His zeal for the truth.

Gentleness doesn’t mean we should just keep our opinions or anything else we may have to say to ourselves to avoid conflict, especially when that conflict concerns the Gospel.  Paul is a prime example of this.  Was Paul being gentle when he said, “even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed”? (Galatians 1:8 ESV).

Look with me at Matthew 11 please.  Jesus is speaking to the crowds and in verse 20 we read,

20 Then he began to denounce the cities where most of his mighty works had been done, because they did not repent. 21 "Woe to you, Chorazin!  Woe to you, Bethsaida!  For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. 22 But I tell you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you. 23 And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven?  You will be brought down to Hades.  For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. 24 But I tell you that it will be more tolerable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom than for you." (Matthew 11:20-24 ESV)

Now that’s real preaching!  That’s the way it’s supposed to be done!  We need to just tell it like it is and if the pagans are offended, then that’s just tough.  Right!?  We need more of the kind of preaching like Jesus preached and less of this wimpy, limp, politically correct, seeker sensitive nonsense!  We should be seeker INsensitive!  Right!?  Well, . . . look at the next verses:

25 At that time Jesus declared, "I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; 26 yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. 27 All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. 28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light." (Matthew 11:25-30 ESV)

How can Jesus pronounce judgments and condemnation and woe on entire cities in one breath, and say “Learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly” in the next breath?  Because, like Paul, confronting error and warning people of their need to repent is not contrary to gentleness.

Beloved, we are living in a day when it is considered unkind and intolerant and ungentlemanly to confront anyone about anything of a moral or spiritual nature.  Rather, we are instructed to be open and flexible and tolerant and inviting and accepting and nonjudgmental and sensitive and feeling and brainless.  We’re told there is no such thing as truth, or that our truth is no more true than someone else’s contrary truth, that we must not have any convictions about anything, that we must do away with our black/white, right/wrong, good/evil, saved/lost kind of thinking.  But that is something we simply cannot abide as Christians.

And to hold our ground while pointing out error is not the equivalent of being unkind or unfeeling.  We must hold our ground while at the same time being humble and gentle about it.  We’re never in a position to be haughty or proud or conceited or belligerent or rude or self-promoting.  Jesus did not conduct himself in that manner, nor did Paul, nor should we.  And Paul warns us of such in the very next chapter of Galatians, chapter 6.

1 Brothers, 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. 2 Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. 3 For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. (Galatians 6:1-3 ESV)

A number of years ago people used a phrase to describe someone who was proud.  People would say, “He thinks he’s all that!”  Listen, Jesus really IS “all that”!  And HE was gentle and humble in His dealings with people, with sinners whose sins were all against Him.  But the King of Glory humbly and gently rode into Jerusalem on the foal of a donkey.  He grew up in Nazareth, of all places.  The Scriptures even tell us He wasn’t much to look at.  He wasn’t a movie star.

He had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him. 3 He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. (Isaiah 53:2-3 ESV).

Gentle, humble, lowly.  Not pretentious, not proud, not gruff or impatient.  Not easily angered, not quick to find fault, not critical or argumentative or rude or boisterous or un-gentlemanly.  The Lord Jesus perfectly and completely exemplified every grace, every godly characteristic, every fruit of the Spirit for us to see and emulate.  When we look at Him, we can see the epitome of all those fruits lived out before our eyes.  The Lord Jesus was the incarnation of gentleness.

7 He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth. (Isaiah 53:7 ESV).

Does a spirit of gentleness characterize us?  Does this humble and gentle attitude that was Christ’s describe us?  And do we dare forget just how kindly and gently Jesus has dealt with us?  That even when we were His enemies, He gently and patiently worked in our hearts through the Holy Spirit to bring us to our senses and bring us to Himself?

Of all people, we who look to Christ as our example in everything, ought to know what it means to be humble and kind and gentle towards one another and towards others.  The fruit of the Spirit is gentleness.


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