Meek or Macho: what is a gentle man?

Yesterday I was finishing up a short series of sermons on the Fruit of the Spirit. I came across this – from Jerry Bridges in The Fruitful Life.

I suspect that of all the character traits of godliness in this study, gentleness will be the least appealing to many male readers. For some reason we seem to have difficulty believing that manliness and gentleness can be part of the same personality. Men often want to see gentleness in their mothers and wives, but not in themselves.

Yet, the fruit of the Spirit is… gentleness.

When I was a small child, I was taught to pray in the words of Charles Wesley’s children’s hymn, Gentle Jesus, meek and mild. It turns out that it was not a favourite of Bible translator JB Philips, who bemoaned the fact that so few words in English rhyme with ‘child’, with the result that we are left with the picture of a mild Jesus. (I suspect John Eldridge could come up with one!)

I dare say that you’d be more likely to get men to turn up at an evening of stock car racing than a seminar on how to become meek and mild!

And I am not sure that mild is the right word to describe Jesus. After all, this was a man who was not afraid to challenge the hypocrisy of the religious leaders who opposed him or to drive the mercenaries out of the Temple. Jesus was no weakling; he was no timid Mr Milquetoast.

Yet he was gentle.

He invited the weary to come to him, to take his yoke, and to learn from him, promising,

I am gentle and lowly in heart and you will find rest for your souls

It is possible to be strong, to be a man of courage and conviction, and yet to be gentle. As an old book title once put it, tough and tender. In fact, those who know suggest that the Greek word for gentle(ness) could be used for young horses who had been broken in. They were as strong as ever, but their strength was under control.

The point of gentleness or meekness is not to emasculate men. Sure, there will be men whose idea of a great men’s ministry activity in church will include noisy or fast cars, hunting in the jungle, or bareback crocodile riding; but those men – as well as the men who prefer a decent book, a classical concert or a visit to an art gallery – cannot simply gloss over gentleness as a Christian virtue.

To be gentle is to be like Jesus. And the fruit of the Spirit is gentleness.


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