Imagine being able to watch the apostle Paul in action. How did he treat people, especially those who often failed? In 1 Thessalonians 2:7, Paul gives us a glimpse of how he treated others: “We were gentle among you, like a mother caring for her little children.”
Gentleness is a strong hand with a soft touch. It is a tender, compassionate approach toward others’ weaknesses and limitations. A gentle person still speaks truth, sometimes even painful truth, but in doing so guards his tone so the truth can be well received.
Puritan leader Jonathan Edwards called gentleness “the Christian spirit.” Edwards said, “All who are truly godly and are real disciples of Christ have a gentle spirit in them.”
The Bible goes out of its way to demonstrate Jesus’ gentleness. In fact, the Old Testament depicts the Messiah as unusually gentle, telling us that Jesus would not break a “bruised reed” or snuff out a “smoldering wick” (Isaiah 42:3). In the Gospels, Jesus affirmed His gentleness: “I am gentle and humble in heart” (Matthew 11:29). And the apostles often reminded the early church of Jesus’ gentleness: “By the meekness and gentleness of Christ, I appeal to you” (2 Corinthians 10:1).
Unfortunately, too many people equate gentle with weak. Unless you would call the heroic apostle Paul, the fiery Puritan Jonathan Edwards and the almighty Christ “weak” individuals, it is clearly a misunderstanding to assume weakness has anything to do with gentleness.
In fact, the reverse is true.
When my daughter was young, she used to love to squeeze my hand as hard as she could, trying to make it hurt. She could squeeze with all her might, but it never hurt. She didn’t need to be gentle because she lacked the power to cause me any pain. Then, just for fun, I’d give her hand a tight little squeeze until she yelped.
It’s the strong hand, not the weak one, that must learn to be gentle.
- Gentleness is a strong hand with a soft touch.
- A gentle person speaks the truth in a way others can receive.
- True followers of Christ are distinguished by gentleness.
Family Memory Verse
“Let your gentleness be evident to all.”
For a more in-depth look at gentleness, read these Bible passages:
- Proverbs 15:1
- Proverbs 25:15
- Ephesians 4:2
- Colossians 3:12
- 1 Peter 3:15
Bring out the first-aid kit (a few bandages and cotton balls) for a make-believe boo-boo mending. Explain that you’re going to pretend you have a scrape on your finger. (You can draw it on with a marker or pen.) Let your child use a soft cotton ball to clean your “wound,” and then help him apply a bandage. Give hints or suggestions when needed, and compliment your first-aid helper when he’s finished. Talk about how gentleness is important, especially when someone is hurting. Ask your preschooler how it feels when his brother, sister or playmate is not gentle with him.
Together, come up with other times when you would want to be gentle. This might be when petting a kitty, hugging a baby, touching a flower or playing with siblings and friends. Explain that each time he is gentle, he is showing how Jesus cares for others.
Take an uncooked egg for each of your children, and write his or her name on it. Then place the egg in its own Ziploc bag. Assign each child’s egg to a sibling. Explain that these eggs are fragile and must be handled gently. The children should carry their assigned egg with them during the next hour or two. They can carry it in their hands, a shirt or coat pocket or in another way, but they must not set the egg down.
Let life go on as usual. Don’t remind anyone about his or her egg. As the children carry the eggs, at first they will probably be careful, but they may eventually forget about their eggs and get careless. Even if the eggs do not crack, your children will find it difficult to be mindful of their eggs for the entire time.
Afterward, check on the eggs. Explain that these fragile eggs are like people’s feelings. Sometimes we can accidentally say something that hurts a sibling’s feelings. Or we can be reckless with our words and crush others. Gentleness means treating each person with care, similar to how we needed to care for the eggs. Explain that when we get busy with everyday life, we may find it hard to be careful with our words all the time. But we can ask God to help us be gentle and mindful of others.
Use this activity to help illustrate the effectiveness of gentleness. You’ll need some balloons, a bit of dish soap and a (very) sharp bamboo skewer.
Use your fingers to lightly coat the skewer in dish soap. Then blow up a balloon, not inflating it too much. You should be able to dent
the side of it with your finger. Now ask if your tweens think it’s possible to put the skewer through the balloon without popping it. They’ll likely say, “No way.”
Tell your kids that, with a gentle approach, it’s possible to keep the balloon intact. Starting at the balloon’s top (where the color is darkest), slowly spin the skewer as you gently push on the balloon. Keep spinning and gently pressing until the skewer goes into the balloon. Carefully push the skewer to the opposite side, next to the knot. Spin the skewer again, gently pushing it through to the outside of the balloon.
If the balloon pops, try again. When successful, let your kids skewer a balloon, too.
- How were you able to skewer a balloon without it popping?
- What would have happened if you used all your strength to force the skewer through?
Explain that gentleness is sometimes more effective than sheer strength. This is especially true in our relationships. By using a gentle approach with others, we can talk more easily about difficult things with people. Read Philippians 4:5.
- How can you show gentleness to your siblings? Your friends?
- If you had to speak a difficult truth to a friend, what approach would best preserve your friendship?
Time With Your Teen
With 150 teens and leaders on a trip to Six Flags, I walked into the hotel lobby to pick up 37 room keys. I discovered that the hotel had lost our confirmation and didn’t have any rooms reserved for us. A mistake had been made, and the hotel staff now seemed unwilling to help.
In that moment I had a decision to make. My response to the hotel staff would either distinguish me as a Christ follower, or it would show me to be just another demanding customer. And 150 team members were watching.
I quickly reminded myself that “a gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Proverbs 15:1). As I calculated my response, I recognized the moment for what it was — an opportunity to demonstrate the power of gentleness.
You can help teens understand how gentleness works by explaining a concept I call “the glass door.” This door represents any person or relationship that stands between us and what we want. How we attempt to get through that door will determine the outcome. If we’re careless, we may still get what we want, but we’ll cause a lot of damage in the process.
As you discuss gentleness with your teen, point out that gentleness can only be shown by those who are strong. This concept makes gentleness more attractive.
Teens need to understand that gentleness is essential for maintaining healthy relationships. Ask your teen to share about a recent conflict he may have had with a friend or family member. Then have your teen assess whether he handled it with gentleness. Discuss together what actions or attitudes can shatter “the glass door” of relationships. You might mention such “glass busters” as anger, selfishness, pride and careless words. Ask your teen to help you draft a list of gentleness guidelines that could help to avoid shattering family relationships. Jot them down and post them somewhere they can be easily referenced.
So what happened at the hotel that night? I opted to be firm yet gentle, and sure enough, my response “turned away wrath.” The issue was resolved with gentleness — and the teens slept in all the available hotel suites.