Galatians 5:22-23 – ‘But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.’
Notice in the verse above, it mentions the ‘fruit’ (singular) of the Spirit rather than ‘fruits’ (plural) of the Spirit. This would imply that there aren’t nine separate fruits we can pick and choose from—we can’t decide to be better at some but not bother with the others. Each quality is a part of one fruit; the fruit of the Spirit. The fruit of the Spirit is the outcome of life in the Spirit. The term ‘fruit’ is a word to describe the development and growth of a born-again Christian which stems from an analogy of Jesus in John 15:1-17. Jesus that he is the True Vine and we are the branches. If the branches do not bear good fruit, they shall be cut off and thrown into the fire.
Those who profess Christ as Lord are identified by their fruit. Of course, some will be better than others at certain qualities. Some are more self-controlled, while others are better at being patient, some are far more kind, and so on. We need, by the grace of God and the help of the Holy Spirit to become more Christ-like each day by developing these qualities. Holiness is the ultimate goal of the Christian life. We were saved to be a holy people. We are being prepared for the day when God will restore all things.
The Lord Jesus Christ never lacked in any of these qualities. He is impeccable (cannot sin), immutable (cannot change) and perfect in every way. What we lack, he makes up for. Our sin died with him and his righteousness is counted as ours, but that’s not all, before our glorification in Heaven, we need continual sanctification on earth. As we progress in the process of being sanctified, each quality of the fruit of the Spirit should be improving.
I want to focus on just one quality of the fruit of the Spirit in this article: the virtue of gentleness. Gentleness is vital for effective evangelism and is very underrated. Gentleness is boldness without harshness, courage without violence, anger without hatred, disagreeing without arguing, concern without sarcasm, listening patiently and showing sympathy without being patronising. If someone is gentle, you know the motivation for doing good is done in humility and sensitivity.
Proverbs 15:1 – “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”
Being a gentle Christian does not mean you have to be a coward, tolerate sin, avoid controversy and compromise the gospel just in case you offend someone. It means that you communicate gospel truths with love, compassion and a real care for another person’s soul. The gospel is naturally offensive at first because the message brings condemnation upon the sinner, but it quickly gives hope because Jesus was condemned in the place of sinners. The gospel is simple and clear to understand, it remains the same and is very controversial as it challenges the worldview of secular culture and society. I still remember something the principal of the Bible college I attended said: “The gospel is a never-changing message to an ever-changing world.” Therefore, there is no compromising when it comes to sharing the gospel message. It cannot be watered-down, so how do we communicate such a powerful and controversial message gently?
What we must do when we communicate the gospel is to avoid being harsh. Harshness can seem arrogant, ignorant, bitter, and nasty. Someone once wrongly told me, “It doesn’t matter how you communicate the truth, the truth is still the truth regardless of how people feel.” This is ludicrous. Yes, the gospel is the truth and remains true no-matter-what, but there are ways to communicate the gospel wrongly and ways to communicate it correctly.
Being harsh, stubborn and impatient with those who disagree with you will make you communicate the gospel ineffectively. But gentleness helps you to communicate the gospel correctly and effectively. It is possible to be both gentle and bold in our evangelism without being harsh. Being gentle with people will help you to evangelise more effectively because people will be more prepared to listen to you. People can have real and serious life issues either caused by their sin or just because we live in a fallen world and bad things happen. So, by speaking gently with people, we hope to gain their trust and respect which might earn you the opportunity to speak. You may need to be honest, confront their sin and tell them something that might hurt their feelings, but gentleness doesn’t prevent you from doing this. Rather, it helps you to do it lovingly. Gentleness will allow you to be more approachable by being a better helper, leader and friend.
Here are 3 ways we can improve the gentleness in our evangelism:
1. Pray beforehand
Ask God to help you to be gentle. Praying for gentleness before entering into an evangelistic conversation proves that you’re dependant upon your need for God to work through you. If you don’t pray, there is an element of arrogance in assuming you don’t need the Lord—that you are gentle enough by yourself. Arrogance and self-dependance will usually be obvious in your mannerisms, words and method of presenting the Gospel. So, pray. Pray hard.
Prepare yourself, if you can, before entering into an evangelistic conversation. Who is the person you’re talking to? What do we know about their presuppositions? Where are they from? Are we likely to encounter a culture-clash? Are they a Muslim, Hindu, an atheist or do they adhere to another belief? Be sensitive to the person so that your gentleness may be obvious. Our aim should be to understand the other person’s worldview so well that we could communicate it back to them better than they can explain it to us. This requires a lot of patience and a lot of gentleness. It’s sometimes difficult to stay quiet when we have so much to say, but that’s is why it’s so important to plan and prepare yourself – to be mindful of your conduct.
Evangelising is no simple task. Knowing yourself is crucial for the task of evangelism. Are you a good listener or do you tend to cut across when someone else is speaking? Are you prepared to listen or do you always have something to say? Do you actually want to learn about the person you’re talking to, or are you just wanting to get your point across? If you are not a good listener, it’s very likely you are quite forceful and not very gentle in your presentation.
If you want to know what you’re really like as a listener, evangelist and communicator, invite someone who knows you well to be honest with you. Open yourself up to criticism so that you can correct your weaknesses and faults. Christians need to be teachable – students of the word and always striving to be better evangelists. We’re often more concerned about what we should say instead of how we should behave. We should spend as much time asking God to develop our godly character as we spend asking God to give us the right words to say when we evangelise to non-Christians.
The pitfall of many Christians is to be too critical of themselves after a conversation with a non-Christian (“I should have said this”, “I shouldn’t have said that”, “Why didn’t I think about saying this?”). Don’t do this too much. God does not need us to have a PhD in evangelism to be able to bring someone to the Lord Jesus Christ in repentance and faith. He is not concerned with our abilities, he is concerned with our hearts and our obedience. Take every opportunity to share the Gospel with people in obedience to him – he will bless your obedience, not your abilities necessarily. However, we should still aspire to improve our evangelistic abilities because that too is being obedient. As we grow in obedience, as we read the word and as we grow in our faith, our evangelistic abilities will inevitably improve. Be concerned with your godly character, and communicate what you can with a gentle spirit.
As I am writing this, I am becoming more and more convicted of my own harshness with others. I concede that I do not claim to have mastered the quality of gentleness, neither am I an example of how to be a gentle person. I constantly fail in this area and constantly have to be reminded of the need to be gentle with others regardless of how harsh someone may be towards me.
Our prime example of gentleness, of course, is Jesus Christ, and our goal is to be like him – our greatest friend who laid down his life for us (John 15:13). Honouring God is our privilege and duty. Remember, if you have prayed today, you have already experienced his gentleness as he faithfully (another quality of the fruit of the Spirit) listened to you. If you haven’t prayed today, you are also experiencing his gentleness because he is patient (another quality of the fruit of the Spirit) with you. He listens to everything you utter in your prayers and knows the extent of all your problems. He is the Master of gentleness.
Written by: Gwydion Emlyn, Pastor of Caerwent Baptist.