Gentleness is not something that we often associate with strength in Western culture. Jesus, Himself, says that He is gentle at heart and humble in Matthew 11:29. We like for power to roar and aggressively exert itself, but if we peer intently into the Law of the Lord, we see a very different picture. Those people who are given the honorable title of wise are meek, gentle and lowly. And the truly wise arguably wield the most power among us.
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Wisdom from Above
But the wisdom from above is first of all pure. It is also peace loving, gentle at all times, and willing to yield to others. (James 3:17)
This simple, forthright text from James has convicted me as I’ve studied wisdom. Honestly, my natural instinct is to portray the opposite of all that he says! If left to my own devices, I am comfortable with strife and roughness, and I never yield if I think that I am right! Ouch, ouch, ouch. I thought of myself as somewhat wise, but now I see I have a lot of room for growth.
James tells us that this meek type of behavior characterizes the wisdom from above; it is godly wisdom. This reminds us that there is an earthly wisdom which James contrasts in verses 14-16. He says that this type of “wisdom” is unspiritual and even demonic. Our human nature is devious and our culture doesn’t help. We can easily convince ourselves that our ambitions are noble (even while they are selfish and self-centered), and that we need to do whatever it takes to get ahead. Our world applauds this “wisdom.”
However, this isn’t wisdom at all. It is pride, yet again, like we discussed last week, and is an attribute of the foolish rather than the wise. Anytime we are putting ourselves first, we can be sure that we are not being wise, at all. We are merely following fleshly impulses endorsed by our worldly culture.
3 Attributes of Godly Wisdom
There is so much in the Word of God exalting meekness, service, and humility, yet our sinful nature most often compels us to act with aggression, selfishness, and pride. We must fight this if we are to be counted among the truly wise! As we pray, the Holy Spirit will enable us to do that which He approves of and blesses.
Do you love peace? I believe most of us would easily answer that we do, in fact, love peace. But do we really? In my own life, though it’s embarrassing to admit, if I look deeply, I can see that sometimes what I actually love is a good fight. It can be exciting! It gets the blood pumping! It keeps things interesting!
Growing up, my home life was filled with strife; it permeated the atmosphere. Most often, it lay just below the surface, but regularly manifested as overt fighting between my parents. There was never a sense of unity and true peace. No, there was not always shouting. But also, there was not a sweet peace that comes from love and unity. Unfortunately, this has affected my own actions and expectations for marriage and home life. We naturally gravitate and default to that which we are most used to.
It was a startling discovery to realize that a virtue, such as peace, could be practiced rather than felt. I know that I need to love peace, to seek it and pursue it, but I have often thought that I had to feel peace in order to practice peace. Stick with me, here!
Can I practice holding my tongue in the interest of peace, even when everything within me cries out to be justified? Yes! Can I choose to meditate on peaceful thoughts when something just happened that makes me feel anything but peaceful? Yes! Can I moderate my tone of voice to discuss a rough topic in a respectful way, even though my body feels tension? Yes, yes, yes! I can do these things. But…it takes practice! And the help of the Holy Spirit.
I want to be wise, and so I also want to love peace.
2. Gentle at All Times
All three of these attributes of wisdom are related to meekness, and so it comes as no surprise that gentleness is also included. Various online entries define gentle as not harsh. While they use other words, as well, such as mild or moderate, I do find it interesting that to be gentle is maybe best understood by knowing what is not gentle.
I tend toward the harsh, if not always on the outside, very often on the inside. Harsh thoughts, harsh beliefs, harsh talking to myself… Our world is harsh; people are often dominated by force. Jesus came and turned the world upside down, not by aggression, but by kindness, meekness, and yes, gentleness.
We need to first disassociate the word “gentle” from the word “weak.” True gentleness is not weakness; in fact, I think that unbridled aggression is much more indicative of weakness. Gentleness is demonstrated by softness, kindness, approachability. It is, yet again, preferring the other’s comfort and ease. You entreat the heart of another by love rather than by fear. You restrain your strong emotions in favor of moderation and self-control. We can be gentle in demeanor, in speech, and in action. Oh, how I want to practice gentleness!
3. Willing to Yield to Others
Well, this may be the hardest of all. To yield to another is to give way, to surrender or to submit. We first have to be willing to yield to God, and I think we understand that. But when it comes to human relationships, yikes! It is hard to do. Especially when you feel justified in a matter or justified to punish someone.
Again, we’re speaking of those whom the Bible labels as wise. The wise man or woman sees the value in the greater whole; they see that yielding in an argument now for the sake of peace overall is the best thing to do. They see the trust that is formed by yielding to another person’s way of doing something, rather than doggedly insisting in their own way. Yielding, as with the other two attributes, is the behavior of someone who is in the practice of exercising self-control and restraint in favor of building up relationships.
It’s a Process
Our character is formed by our habitual behaviors over time. In order for us to change our character – to grow in wisdom – we must change our behaviors again and again until we become gentle peacemakers. The encouraging thing is that we don’t have to run against the tide of our own sinful inclinations by ourselves; the Lord is more than willing to help us! And with His help, as we practice these attributes of wisdom, we will find ourselves becoming wise. And as the Bible says, this is worth more than all of the treasure of the world!