The eighth of nine "fruit (-s) of the spirit" listed in Galatians 5:22-23 is the virtue of gentleness. The term is translated meekness in both the King James and American Standard versions of the Bible, and is the greek term praiotes. The term is evocative of peace and humility, and is certainly an attribute worthy of our attainment as God's children.
Though more commentary than definition, Vine gives us some interesting insight into the term:
"The meaning of praiotes is not readily expressed in English, for the terms meekness, mildness, commonly used, suggest weakness and pusillanimity to a greater or less extent, whereas praiotes does nothing of the kind. Nevertheless, it is difficult to find a rendering less open to objection than 'meekness;' 'gentleness' has been suggested, but as praiotes describes a condition of mind and heart, and as 'gentleness' is appropriate rather to actions, this word is no better than that used in both English Versions. It must be clearly understood, therefore, that the meekness manifested by the Lord and commended to the believer is the fruit of power. The common assumption is that when a man is meek it is because he cannot help himself; but the Lord was 'meek' because he had the infinite resources of God at His command. Described negatively, meekness is the opposite to self-assertiveness and self-interest; it is equanimity of spirit that is neither elated nor cast down, simply because it is not occupied with self at all." (Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, Volume III, pg. 56).
There are several good lessons which can be derived from this quote regarding our term:
Thayer: gentleness, mildness, meekness (A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, pg. 535)
The Expositors' Greek Testament: Meekness is the outcome of true humility, the bearing towards others which results from a lowly estimate of ourselves. (Volume III, pg. 188)
Wuest: Meekness (praiotes) is that temper of spirit in which we accept God's dealings with us as good, without disputing or resisting them. The meek man will not fight against God, and more or less struggle or contend with Him. Meekness is also shown towards our fellow-man who mistreats us, insults us, treats us with injustice, in that the one who is being injured endures patiently and without any spirit of retaliation the provocations that are imposed upon him. The meek man will not withdraw himself from the burdens which other men's sins may impose upon him. (Word Studies in the Greek New Testament, Volume III, Studies in the Vocabulary of the Greek New Testament, page 109)
Galatians 5 is not the only list of Christian attributes which includes gentleness. The apostle Paul indicates that praiotes is a part of the walk worthy of a Christian. In Ephesians 4:1-3 he wrote, "I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace."
In Colossians 3:12-13, Paul indicated that praiotes ought to be characteristic of the elect of God. "Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do."
Finally, in 1 Timothy 6:11, Paul exhorted his son in the faith to pursue praiotes, and other virtues, rather than being characterized by a love of money, greed and "harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition." He wrote, "But you, O man of God, flee these things and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, gentleness."
As the lists are inventoried (including Galatians 5), praiotes is seen to accompany love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, self-control, lowliness, unity, tender mercies, humility, forbearance, righteousness, godliness and patience. Truly a child of God who has attained such virtue is mature and strong.
The gentleness which Paul enjoins serves the Christian well in all areas of his life. It is put to good use in the husband/wife relationship, parent/child relationship, employer/employee rela- tionship, and in the interaction between friends. Wuest, in his comments regarding the term, noted "The meek man will not withdraw himself from the burdens which other men's sins may impose upon him" (ibid.). No Christian attribute contributes more to the maintenance and growth of any relationship than praiotes. If one can forget self, and react with quietness and gentleness regardless of any provocation, he can literally get along with just about anyone.
One area of a Christian's life where Paul indicated this gentleness is needed is in dealing with controversy. Especially brethren who are caught in any trespass. Notice the following three passages, in which Paul enjoined gentleness:
Galatians 6:1-2, "Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted. Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ."
Titus 3:1-2, "Remind them to be subject to rulers and authorities, to obey, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to be peaceable, gentle, showing all humility to all men."
2 Timothy 2:23-26, "But avoid foolish and ignorant disputes, knowing that they generate strife. And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth, and that they may come to their senses and escape the snare of the devil, having been taken captive by him to do his will."
The 'meekness', 'gentleness', 'humility' which the term praiotes evokes should not be equated with any weakness. The man of God must boldly defend truth, and at times the admonition of error must be sharp. Remember, our Lord (who is our prime example in praiotes) both gently corrected the adulterous woman (cf. John 8), and ran the moneychangers out of the temple (cf. John 2).
Perhaps the apostle Paul, whose writings have been exclusively examined in this article, serves to illustrate properly the spirit of gentleness. In dealing with the rebellious fornicator of 1 Corinthians 5, he wrote, "In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when you are gathered together, along with my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus" (vss. 4-5). This was the appropriate action, and was not in any way an indication of a lack of gentleness. Paul did what he did because at that time, in that circumstance, that was the appropriate action. Later, upon the repentance of the brother in sin, Paul wrote, "This punishment which was inflicted by the majority is sufficient for such a man, so that, on the contrary, you ought rather to forgive and comfort him, lest perhaps such a one be swallowed up with too much sorrow. Therefore I urge you to reaffirm your love to him" (2 Corinthians 2:6-8). Such instructions reveal Paul's commitment to gentleness.
Gentleness deserves it place in the lists of Christian virtues. Paul rightly points out that "against such there is no law." A meek, gentle, humble person is walking "worthy of the calling with which you were called", and justly has his place in the "the elect of God, holy and beloved."
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