The Bible speaks of two different kinds of wisdom, one that is of the world and one that is of God. In his epistle, James gives us a list of characteristics that describe “the wisdom that is from above.” he says that it “is first pure, then peaceful,” two characteristics we talked about in posts titled “Pure Wisdom” and “Peaceful Wisdom.”The next characteristic on this list is “gentle.”
Intelligent people often have a reputation for having a cutting wit and a low tolerance for those who don’t see things their way. Wisdom doesn’t act like that. It is gentle in a fitting, proper, and unassertive way
There are several Greek words you can translate as “gentleness.” The one James uses is epieikes. This word has to do with legal fairness and indicates moderation, clemency, and equable dealings with others. It involves being “lenient, yielding, and unassertive.” The closely related word epieikei expresses “the virtue that rectifies and redresses the severity of a sentence.”
This type of gentleness is about actively choosing equity and justice in our dealings with others, even when you could assert your legal rights against them. Gentleness keeps us from “the danger that ever lurks upon the assertion of legal rights lest they be pushed to immoral limits” (Spiros’ Zodhiates’ The Complete WordStudy Dictonary: New Testament, entries 1932 and 1933).
This definition reminds me of how God balances mercy and justice. He is the great Lawgiver who highly values righteous justice and judgement, yet He is also a merciful God who delights in exercising loving kindness. Yahweh is the source of true wisdom and He perfectly embodies the gentleness facet of the “wisdom from above.”
We must be gentle
God is the ultimate example of someone choosing not to push their legal rights to the limit but to instead show gentleness. Humanity broke his laws and rejected Him again and again. Even His chosen people, Israel, would not keep covenant with Him. But instead of abandoning us to judgement and death, He chose to satisfy the claims of justice on us by dying in our place. No surprise, then, that Paul speaks of “the humility and gentleness” of Christ (2 Cor. 10:1) and tells people to follow His example.
Remind them to be in subjection to rulers and to authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, not to be contentious, to be gentle, showing all humility toward all men. (Titus 3:1-2, WEB)
This is what Paul told Titus to teach his congregation. Elsewhere, Paul emphasized that teachers and leaders in particular must have Christ’s sort of gentleness — “The Lord’s servant must not quarrel, but be gentle toward all” (2 Tim. 2:24, see also 1 Tim. 3:2-3). Gentleness isn’t optional for those following the Lord. It’s something we must learn as we learn His wisdom.
Use gentleness with all
When we exercise Godly wisdom, we also express God’s gentleness. The wise do not use their wisdom in an unkind or brutal way. Gentle wisdom softens anger. It heals and comforts instead of crushing another’s spirit (Prov. 15:1-4). It follows the example of Jesus Christ.
Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart; and you will find rest for your souls. (Matt. 11:29, WEB)
The word Jesus uses here isn’t epieikes, but it carries a similar meaning of gentle, meek, mild, and humble. Gentleness is one of the fruits of the spirit, and it is is exercised by our Lord. To follow His example, we must apply our hearts to gentleness as well as to wisdom.
Let your gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand. (Phil. 4:5, WEB)
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