Gentleness covers two similar ideas: 1) Humility – not being overly impressed by a sense of one’s own importance. 2) Constraint – making allowances despite facts that may suggest otherwise; withholding due judgement; withholding force.
35 You have also given me the shield of Your salvation; Your right hand has held me up, Your gentleness has made me great.
In Psalm 18, David is declaring how God has made him successful in war. In the verses following this one, he explains how that he has shown his enemies no mercy and has stood on their necks. Yet, in the middle of all this, David proclaims God’s gentleness to him as a key to his success. This kind of seems out of place at first.
To get some perspective, we must understand the world in which David lived. His world was brutal. We still see this world on our TVs. Massive violence in countries torn by civil war. In those settings, if you do not fight, you do not survive. Unfortunately, this violent state is not as unnatural to humans as we would like to believe.
Civil war is the ultimate expression of selfish human desire let off the hook. We experience tastes of this violence in our everyday lives on a much smaller, more civilized scale. But human selfishness is with us all nonetheless.
How does God lead us up out of our own self-centeredness and selfishness?
For David, He began by not giving him what he deserved. David survived his own acts of murder and betrayal of a loyal officer by placing himself at the mercy of God. Later, one of David’s sons betrayed him. David survived because he depended on God’s mercy.
In both these cases, and perhaps many others, God showed David gentleness by holding back what David deserved. God only showed this mercy when David acknowledged God’s right to judge him and his own guilt.
While survival for David and Israel meant that they had to meet their enemies and fight; God begins to bring us up from violence by showing us clemency, gentleness when we turn to Him in faith. David in turn showed gentleness to descendants of the man who tried to kill him. David made Saul’s grandson a guest in his own house and protected him.
While on the one hand, David still had to function in the world for survival; on the other hand, he was able to extend the gentleness of God to those within his kingdom.
God shows His great gentleness to us every day by loving us and seeking us while we stand condemned for rejecting Him.
6 For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.
7 (For rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person perhaps someone might possibly dare to die.)
8 But God demonstrates his own love for us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
Recently, someone criticized a candidate for public office because the candidate declared that people without Christ are condemned. That person would be right to be concerned that we Christians would hold such a view if we believed that this condemnation justified condescension of aggressive behavior; however, this should not be true of us.
We as Christian should understand that we too are the condemned. We can escape wrath through God’s love and gentleness. As a result, we are to share that gentleness with those around us. If God’s own example of gentleness is not enough, Paul gives us a good comparison in Thessalonians:
1 Thessalonians 2:7
7 But we were gentle among you, just as a nursing mother cherishes her own children.
We are instructed to show gentleness in situations that we might feel do not warrant gentleness:
1 Brothers, if someone is caught in any wrongdoing, you who are spiritual should restore such a person with a gentle spirit, watching out for yourselves so you also won’t be tempted.
2 Timothy 2:24–25
24 The Lord’s slave must not quarrel, but must be gentle to everyone, able to teach, and patient,
25 instructing his opponents with gentleness. Perhaps God will grant them repentance leading them to the knowledge of the truth.
1 For every high priest taken from men is appointed in service to God for the people, to offer both gifts and sacrifices for sins.
2 He is able to deal gently with those who are ignorant and are going astray, since he is also subject to weakness.
The believer has many motivations for showing gentleness:
- You are a servant of God who has already shown you gentleness.
- You have no guarantee that you won’t slip up and need correction later.
- If you are gentle with unbelievers, you just might win them over to belief in Christ.