I’m not a Biblical scholar by any means, so when I come across a passage I don’t understand or that intrigues me, I like to figure it out. I’ve read Philippians 4 — one of my favorite chapters in the New Testament — countless times, but a couple of weeks ago when I was reading it, one verse stuck out to me in a way that it never had before:
Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.
Philippians 4:5 (NIV)
This little nugget of exhortation stands between two famous verses: “Rejoice in the Lord” (4:4) and “Do not be anxious about anything…” (4:6), but I don’t hear people talking about this verse that often. Part of that is because, in our modern world, we don’t have a handle on what gentleness really means, especially for men.
Let’s face it, we men receive mixed messages from our culture these days. Some people value the whole concept of the “real man” — the John Wayne archetype of the unemotional man who stands strong and never admits to weakness or vulnerability. On the other side of the coin we find a modern interpretation of manhood that goes to the other extreme — witness the hipster, the “man bun,” and that hideous New York Times article from last year telling us what a modern man is supposed to look like.
But where does the idea of gentleness fit on this continuum for Christian men? I believe it’s a state of being, as opposed to a particular action or set of behaviors. Jim Cohick, an executive with CURE, presents an interesting perspective on the idea of gentleness:
Gentleness has a positive nature, even an optimism. Neither negativity nor pessimism is a motivator for being gentle. Continual rejoicing and its resulting state-of-mind are very complementary to a person exhibiting gentleness. Still, I find it interesting that the logical extension of rejoicing in this literary line of thought is being gentle. It is not any specific act — spiritually, like prayer or worship, or practically, like feeding the hungry or helping the poor — but it is rather the descriptor for how the next action should be conducted. It is more adjective or adverb than noun.
Only the strong have the opportunity to truly be gentle. There is a purposeful restraint for effect that can produce an innate gentleness by virtue of strength.
Cohick goes on to describe a large, strong man exerting the control necessary to hold a tiny baby without crushing it. I think this idea of strength under control is central to the concept of gentleness.
When I think of gentleness in this light, an older man at my church comes to mind right away. Mr. Sid is in his 70s, and he’s a big bear of a man. He’s so big (not obese, but solid and strong) that when he shakes your hand, his hand envelops yours; in fact, when he had heart surgery a few months ago, we joked that a man his size should have two hearts! He looks like the kind of man whose bad side you wouldn’t want to be on.
But Mr. Sid is genuine and kind. He loves the Lord and serves faithfully on the parking team nearly every Sunday at church. He gives to others in surprising ways — a few years ago, he made a massive tire swing for my nieces and installed it himself high in the trees in my parents’ yard. He cares for his wife and family in such a way that he is a prime example of what a Godly husband, father, and grandfather should look like. Simply put, Mr. Sid has placed his considerable strength under control to the point that he is gentle, and everyone around him knows it. He’s the kind of man whom I want to be more like.
I think there’s a reason why the apostle Paul put gentleness and self-control next to each other when he listed the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians. True gentleness depends on self-control, and that’s something we believing men could stand to remember, whether we wear cowboy boots or skinny jeans, whether we work with our hands or in an office. In a world that places an ever-increasing emphasis on confrontation and coarseness, a Christian man can make a bigger impact with his gentleness. We could all stand to make our gentleness evident to all.
Image courtesy of Shutterstock / Alexander Tihonov