I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
Though the passage above is often used for weddings, Paul is in fact speaking to the church body in its entirety. In other words: this is the calling of those who would follow Christ.
Note how it speaks of gentleness as a key virtue.
The Greek word for gentleness in both Ephesians and Galatians (where the Fruit of the Spirit come from) literally means “not being overly impressed by a sense of one’s self-importance.” Other synonyms include humble, considerate and courteous.
For centuries, the church has been teaching about the “meek and mild” Jesus that is depicted quite rarely in Scripture. It was a way to keep people, especially children, “in their place.” And though meek is listed among the synonyms for gentleness, note that it is not necessary to the main translations.
Instead, gentleness is named as an essential quality for leaders – those who would be in positions of authority within Christ’s body. It is not for anyone, particularly those who lead the people, to be impressed with our own sense of self-importance. Not only are we not to be haughty, but we are also to be humble, considerate, courteous. To sum up these translations: kind.
But this is not just for those who, like Christ, are meant to be the servants of all (ahem, that’s those “in charge”). It is for all Christians, as well.
All of us who would claim Christ as our Lord and Savior are meant to be servants of the world. Humble, never putting on airs. Considering carefully the best way to walk with others through life’s struggles (and taking their voices into account, too). Being courteous in our manner, even when we have to put someone in their place.
For make no mistake, Jesus may have been gentle, but he was not meek, nor mild. He stood up to the religious and political authorities of his time. He flipped tables when people were getting hurt. He broke social conventions that kept the untouchables, women, and children away from resources (including spiritual ones) that they needed. He was remarkably political in seeking better lives for all with whom he came into contact. At every turn, though courteous and humble, compassionate and gentle, he sought to tear down every system, every wall, every way that we humans use to oppress, dominate, subjugate, and terrify others.
So what is the life to which we have been called as those who would follow Jesus Christ? It is living into all that Christ did. Doing it. Every day. It is seeking the better world he sought. Actively. Every moment. And it is bearing with one another in love with humility and compassion. Because every one of us has been unworthy at some point.
Gentleness is not weakness. It is the strength of restraint shown by all who know their own value and the important value of the others with whom we share this early journey.