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The Breakthrough Power of Gentleness

Meekness in the Marketplace

Imagine that the CEO or President of the company you work for is putting together a description of the next leader they’re looking for to head the company. Could be Hamilton Southeastern schools. Forum Credit Union. Roche or Eli Lilly. Anthem. Salesforce. 

Here’s the question: What are the odds the job description calls for meekness? And by meekness, I mean gentleness. Society at large doesn’t typically place a premium on meekness, on gentleness. But Jesus does. In fact, he considers it an essential. Welcome to week three in our series through the beatitudes or blessings with which Jesus begins his best-known sermon, the Sermon on the Mount. Each of these blessings, Jesus says, position you for greater happiness. Here’s the one we come to this week. Jesus says…

“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.” – Matthew 5:5

Meek doesn’t mean weak

Because the English word meek sounds like weak, let’s get that out of the way right away: the Greek word translated meek here does not mean week. It is the Greek word praus, which is completely different from the Greek word asthenes, which means week. So meek does not mean weak.

A far better English translation is gentle. Blessed are the gentle, Jesus says, for they will inherit the earth. We’ll get to the inherit the earth part in a minute. Let’s start with what on earth Jesus means when he says you’ll be happier, you’ll be blessed when you learn to treat others gently. Gentleness is not weakness; it’s strength under control.

Gentleness is strength under control.

A thoroughbred learns trust

I had always heard this definition, but a visit to my family in Maine a while back really unlocked gentleness for me. As I pulled into their horse farm, my brother-in-law was working with a thoroughbred mare that had been mistreated by her former owners. Using the horse whisperer approach, he set out to help a powerful mare discover that she could trust his lead. 

At first, she wasn’t having any of it. Lots of snorting and fierce galloping away. But in time she learned that he understood her fear and he was trustworthy. It was amazing to see. That is exactly how the word translated meek here was used in ancient times—to describe a wild horse that learned to control its impulses: not for a second weak, but rather, now its strength was under its own control. 

That’s a gentle person. To be gentle is to know your strength and to direct it for the good of others and for a higher purpose. The gentle person learns not to just ‘feel-it-say-it’ in the heat of the moment and then pick up the pieces of what you just blew up. 

Gentleness is one of the greatest blessings you can bring to those around you. And you’ll be happier if you grow in gentleness. 

Here’s the same promise from other translations:

“God blesses the humble, for they will inherit the whole earth.”  

“Happy are the gentle…” 

“Blessed are those who are free of pride…” 

The world is yours

And that promise that the gentle will inherit the earth? When you really learn what it means to be gentle, the world is yours. It’s no longer driving you. You’re influencing it. You stop getting yanked all over the place by other people’s abrasiveness by responding with gentleness. 

The Message paraphrase puts it well, saying, “That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought.” 

For this week, I want to give you three ways practicing gentleness will reduce stress and increase happiness for you and those around you—in your home, job, church—anywhere. Let’s talk about…

The Breakthrough Power of Gentleness

  • Gentleness disarms critics & defuses conflicts.

If you stand for anything, you’ll get criticized. That’s a given. So, what do you do with those who just want to argue? Try out Proverbs 15:1:

“A gentle answer deflects anger, but harsh words make tempers flare.”

Proverbs 15:1

Raising your voice only makes things worse. Harshness never changes anyone’s mind. But gentleness might. Because it changes the tone. It changes the temperature in the room. So, let’s be really practical. When the other person raises their voice, you lower yours. Maybe you want to write that down: 

When the other person raises their voice, I’m going to lower mine.

This alone will save you a lot of heartache and unhappiness. It makes for a better marriage, better parenting, and a better workplace. When tempers flare, this works: When the other person raises their voice, I’m going to lower mine. I’m going to let gentleness deflect their anger. I’m not going to feed the fire.

If you’re prone to show annoyance fast, here’s a prayer tip: Ask God for tough skin and a tender heart. Ask God to turn your temper into tenderness. Gentleness is what it takes to experience happiness in this sometimes hateful and hurtful world. So, ask God for thicker skin and a gentle heart. This is how Jesus was. 

Here’s another way to say it: Gentleness gives you a fighting chance at doing something other than fighting. That’s worth remembering: 

Gentleness gives me a fighting chance at doing something other than fighting.

The Message paraphrase says it this way: “A gentle response defuses anger, but a sharp tongue kindles a temper-fire.”

You get the image of a bomb squad there: gentleness can defuse that bomb that’s about to blow up trust or respect. When a family member or coworker is worked up, a gentle response defuses anger. 

A gentle cop?

When Jay Kesler was president of Taylor University, he was in the same church as a state trooper who was awarded the “Outstanding Trooper” award. Jay asked how he was chosen, and the trooper explained that the governor pointed out that in 15 years as a trooper, this guy had never roughed anyone up or used excessive force. Then the governor asked him how he did it despite the kind of stuff troopers have to deal with?

Here’s what he said: ” First, if I’m called to break up a fight at a tavern, I never say to myself, There’s a drunk. I always say to myself, there’s a man—someone’s husband, someone’s son, someone’s neighbor—who got drunk. So I always try to think of him as a man, not a crime. Secondly, the Bible says that a soft answer turns away wrath. So whenever I walk up to the window of an automobile, I always speak a little lower than the person I’m speaking to.”

There it is: strength under control. Genuine gentleness deescalates. When the other person raises their voice, I’m going to lower mine. 

Handling hecklers

Wade Boggs was a baseball Hall-of-Fame third baseman who used to hate playing at Yankee Stadium. Not because of the Yankees, but because of one obnoxious fan, yes, just one.

The guy had a box seat close to the field, and when the Red Sox were in town, he would torment Boggs by shouting obscenities and insults. And apparently this guy had just the right recipe for getting under Boggs’ skin.

One day before the game began, as Wade Boggs was warming up, that fan began his routine, yelling, “Boggs, you stink” and variations that shall not be named in a church sermon.  

Well on that day, Wade Boggs decided he’d had enough. He walked directly over to the man, who was sitting in the stands with his friends, and called over, “Hey fella, are you the guy who’s always yelling at me?” The man said, “Yeah, it’s me. What are you going to do about it?”

Wade Boggs took a new baseball out of his pocket, autographed it, tossed it to the man, and went back to the field to continue his pre-game routine.

Listen, true story: that man never yelled at Wade Boggs again; in fact, he became one of Wade’s biggest fans. And Wade? He eventually joined the Yankees, with whom he won his only World Series title!

“A gentle answer deflects anger, but harsh words make tempers flare.” Gentleness gives you a fighting chance at doing something other than fighting. Try it.

Let’s keep moving. Second…

  • Gentleness is attractive & persuasive.

“Through patience a ruler can be persuaded,and gentle words can break a bone.”

Proverb 25:15

What a powerful image! No one likes a pushy sales rep. No one likes to feel pushed! The way to win others over is through patient gentleness. Give it time. 

Another translation reads, gentle speech breaks down rigid defenses. When you want to help someone change their view, the hard sell never works: insisting, nagging and threatening only work short-term. What does work because it’s the real deal…is gentleness. 

Water gently wears down solid rock

All of us have been at a state park or Grand Canyon or the like and you’ve come across places where water has been dripping or running gently over a lip onto boulders below. And in that solid rock you can see impressions that were patiently, gently smoothed into that rock. That’s the image here. If mere water can change stone, how much more your gentle demeanor can make its way past defenses and persuade. Gentleness breaks through. “Through patience a ruler can be persuaded, and gentle words can break a bone.”

On we go. If you’re taking notes, third…

  • Gentleness communicates respect & love.

Here are two examples of the gentleness conveying love and respect in the home. 

“Husbands, love your wives and never treat them harshly.”

Colossians 3:19

“Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger by the way you treat them. Rather, bring them up with the discipline and instruction that comes from the Lord.”

Ephesians 6:4

Every marriage includes conflict. And part of parenting is discipline. But if you want a happy home, you have to be a gentler partner and parent. Because if winning an argument means losing love or respect, it’s not worth it. You can’t win an enemy in an argument. You can’t win a child’s respect by screaming at them. You can only win the love and respect of those who you’re gentle with.

Again, it’s only when you’re gentle that you have a fighting chance at something other than fighting.

Hold your tongue and crochet a doll

The story is told of a couple who had been married for 60 years. Throughout their life together they had shared everything. They loved each other deeply. They hadn’t kept any secrets from one another, except for a small shoebox that the wife kept in the top shelf of her closet. When they got married, she put the box there and asked her husband never to look inside of it and never to ask questions about its contents. 

For 60 years the man honored his wife’s request. In fact, he forgot about the box until a day when his wife grew gravely ill, and the doctors were sure she had no way of recovering. So the man, putting his wife’s affairs into order, remembered that box in the top of her closet, got it down, and brought it to her at the hospital. He asked her if perhaps now they might be able to open it. She agreed. They opened the box, and inside were two crocheted dolls and a roll of money that totaled $450,000. The man was astonished.

The woman told her husband that the day before they were married, her grandmother told her that if she and her husband were ever to get into an argument with one another, they should work hard to reconcile. “But if you’re ever unable to resolve an argument,” her Grandma advised, “hold your tongue and crochet a doll.”

The man was touched by this because there were only two crocheted dolls in the box. He was amazed that over 60 years of marriage, they apparently had had only two conversations that they were unable to reconcile. Tears came to his eyes, and he grew even more deeply in love with this woman. Then he asked about the roll of money. “What’s with this?” he asked. His wife explained, “Well, every time I crocheted a doll, I sold it to a local craft fair for five dollars.”

That’s the power of gentleness! 

  • Gentleness disarms critics & defuses conflicts. 
  • Gentleness is attractive & persuasive. 
  • And gentleness communicates love and respect.

Gentleness in the real world

One more true story. Years back at Taylor University, they were excited that an African student, Sam, was going to be enrolling, before it was common for international students to come to the U.S. The school felt honored to have him as a student. When Sam arrived on campus, Taylor’s President took him on a campus tour, including showing him all the dorms. When the tour was over, the President asked Sam where he would like to live. Here’s how Sam replied: “If there is a room that no one wants, give that room to me.” If there is a room that no one wants, give that room to me. 

That President had welcomed thousands of young men and women to the campus, and only Sam had ever made such a request. “If there is a room that no one wants, give that room to me.” That, friends, is meekness; gentle, self-controlled strength. In a moment, that young man won the respect and admiration of the school’s top leader. In a moment, he became an inspirational example and challenge to selfishness and a ‘me first’ mindset among his peers. 

  • Gentleness says if there is a job that no one wants to do, I’ll do that job.
  • Gentleness says if there’s one more piece of meat at the dinner table but I know someone else in the family is just a slow eater, I’ll leave it for them.
  • When we’re back in the YMCA, gentleness says if someone has to come set up for church on Saturday night or early Sunday morning, count me in. 
  • If someone needs to volunteer in children’s ministry, put me on the schedule. 
  • If someone needs to warmly welcome folks as they come in on Sunday mornings, count on me.

This kind of gentleness doesn’t come naturally to us. But it’s good, it’s like Jesus, and it’s what the Holy Spirit wants to grow in us. Next week is Palm Sunday: on that day, Jesus rode into Jerusalem meekly, riding not a war horse but a lowly donkey. When he was betrayed and pushed through a series of sham trials, he responded gently. When he went to the cross, he was thinking of others—of all who would come into God’s Kingdom through the example of such a gentle Savior.

This is who we follow, friends—the One who is so gentle toward us, his strength under control. And this is how we are to follow Jesus in our dealings with one another: gently. Let’s pray.

Lord Jesus, we bow in astonishment at your restraint for others’ good, stunning gentleness. We dare ask you to make us more like you in gentleness. Give us thick skin and tender hearts. Chip away any brittleness that makes us want to win arguments instead of win people. Deliver us from that, we pray.

I ask your blessing on each family relationship among those watching today. Empower us in our families to be gentle and receive your blessing. When cursed, give us the strength to bless. When someone starts to pick a fight, give us the self-control to respond with gentleness. 

We thank and praise you for going to the cross as the One who turns aside God’s wrath, taking away sin. We believe, Lord. Our trust is in you as our Savior, and our desire is to follow you as Lord, until the day you come to take us home to be with you. Until then, keep us in step with you.

Hear our prayer, Lord, and receive our praise! Amen!