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Gentleness, which can be defined as a mildness of manners or disposition, is often lacking in our modern world. It is a trait we all should cultivate, but it should not be confused with weakness or a lack of resolve.
Ours is an age too often marked by hostility, malice and cutthroat competition, rather than compassion and reasonableness.
‘Gentleness’ is a manifestation of God’s Spirit (Galatians 5:22) and consists in kindness, consideration and amiability in our reactions towards others. The Greek word for gentleness is epieikes, and can be translated as “graciousness,” “courtesy” or “moderation.”
The example of Elijah shows godly gentleness doesn’t come naturally. As a prophet of God he boldly denounced sin, seeming to fear no one. On one occasion he called fire down from heaven in a magnificent display of his (and God’s) disapproval of lawlessness. He then proceeded to lead a band of men to execute hundreds of pagan prophets who were devotees of the wicked Queen Jezebel and engaging in human sacrifice (1 Kings 18:36-40).
When Jezebel heard about Elijah slaughtering the heathen priests, she ordered his arrest and execution. As a result of this threat the normally resolute man of God flees for his life and, after 40 days on the run, finds himself at Mount Horeb (Sinai) where he seeks refuge in a cave (1 Kings 19:1-8).
God asks Elijah why he fled, and Elijah bitterly replies that although he was “very zealous” for the truth, his only reward was the threat of a death sentence (1 Kings 19:9-10).
God then reveals His power to Elijah in three different ways. Firstly, a fierce wind rips boulders loose from the mountain. Then a mighty quake shakes the land, and thirdly a fire suddenly flares. After this display of His power, God then speaks to Elijah in a “still small voice,” showing him, as the Expositor’s Bible Commentary notes: “Even God does not always operate in the realm of the spectacular!” (Vol. 4, p. 150).
God apparently wanted to teach Elijah there is a time to act strongly and loudly, but other times call for a gentler approach and Elijah needed to trust God, even though his life had been threatened and it appeared God was not intervening.
The disciples of Jesus Christ learned this same lesson. Like Elijah, they mistakenly thought ferocity was the ideal behaviour for a servant of God and, as He had with Elijah, God intervened through Jesus Christ to show them they were wrong.
When the disciples were traveling to Jerusalem, they tried to find lodging in a Samaritan city, but the Samaritans refused to allow Jews to enter (Luke 9:51-53). Because they felt snubbed, James and John wanted to duplicate Elijah’s miracle of destruction by fire. But Jesus “... turned and rebuked them,” letting them know their attitude was not right because the “Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them” (Luke 9:54-56).
When treated unfairly or unkindly it is very easy to react in the same way, adversely affecting relationships and setting the wrong example as a Christian. In what is referred to as the Sermon on the Mount Jesus tells us: “Blessed are the poor in spirit . . . Blessed are the meek . . . Blessed are the merciful . . . Blessed are the pure in heart . . . Blessed are the peacemakers” (Matthew 5:1-9).
The Apostle Paul, formerly the violent and persecuting Saul of Tarsus, also eventually learned the gentleness of God, just as Elijah did, and he exhorts Christians to “Let your gentleness be known to all men” (Philippians 4:5).
The Good News magazine