But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace… (Galatians 5:22a)
Love and peace are words which indicate things of indescribable value and quality. Today these words are used as synonyms for temporal, physical events such as sexual relationships and the absence of war.
I can think of two other words which are not as unlimited in meaning but where there has been no attempt to change the meaning. In fact, they are largely ignored. This is a time of violent expression and polarization of peoples, nations, and opinions. Even Christians find themselves choosing up sides and thereby refusing to use these words and to practice what they stand for.
The words are gentle and kind. Ephesians 4:31-32 says, "Let all bitterness and wrath and anger, and clamor and evil speaking be put away from you with all malice: And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you."
Wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking are motivated by malice and bitterness. This is a perfect description of a great part of the world today. The forgiveness in verse 32 is motivated by and expressed with kindness and tenderheartedness. This is the kind of forgiveness we have received in Christ. Much of what people call “forgiveness” today is shallow and unreal.
As the opposition to the gospel becomes more violent, the temptation is to “fight fire with fire.” In our desire to witness for Jesus Christ we may sound harsh and we may argue with heat. Such behavior contradicts 2 Timothy 2:23: "But stay away from foolish and ignorant arguments; you know that they end up in quarrels. The Lord’s servant must not quarrel. He must be kind toward all, a good and patient teacher, who is gentle as he corrects his opponents."
In times like this, recognize the temptation for what it is—a temptation. Do not quarrel. Be kind and gentle. When the disciples were not received by a village in Samaria and James and John wanted to call down fire from heaven to consume them, Jesus rebuked them with these words: “Ye know not what manner of Spirit ye are of” (Luke 9:54). Isn’t this a good reminder to us today? Are we Christians as easily recognized by our manner as by our message? This is a day of confrontation, and we must recognize that violence, evil speaking (which includes sarcasm), and putting down our opponents are not becoming to Christians.
How do we sound at business meetings? The grocery store? Neighborhood discussions? The family dinner table? Do we sound like Christians? James wrote in his letter, "But if ye have bitter envying and strife in your hearts, glory not and lie not against the truth. This wisdom descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish. For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work. But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle and easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy" (James 3:14-17 KJV).
Paul made this the basis of his entreaty to the church at Corinth when he wrote, “I, Paul, myself entreat you, by the meekness and gentleness of Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:1). To the believers at Thessalonica he could say that his actions were “gentle among you, like a nurse taking care of her children” (1 Thessalonians 2:7).
May we remind ourselves that this gentleness and kindness comes from one Source alone: "Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 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. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light" (Matthew 11:28-30).