This word is used in reference to the Lord in 2 Corinthians 10:1; “Now I Paul myself intreat you by the meekness and gentleness of Christ…”
There is an incident in John’s gospel which demonstrates the Lord’s gentleness (John 7:53 – 8:11). He was in the temple when a group of scribes and Pharisees brought in a woman, and with brutal indelicacy publicly announced that she had been taken in the act of adultery. They had no business to bring her there, for the Sanhedrin met in the very next section of the temple to the treasury, which is where Jesus was. With total disregard for the woman they brought her in, indicating that she had been taken in the very act. While that shows the cruel indignity inflicted on her, it also puts beyond doubt the question of her guilt. She could not protest her innocence. They brought her, so John tells us, that they might ensnare the Lord Jesus. They were trying to put Him on the horns of a dilemma. The law of Moses stipulated that such a woman should be stoned but the Roman law forbade the taking of a life without Roman authority. In any case, if He were to condemn her to death, the Lord Jesus would have undone, in the eyes of His enemies, some of His reputation for love and mercy. On the other hand, if He set aside the law, how could He maintain that He had come not to destroy the law but to fulfil it? They thought they had Him trapped whichever way He acted.
As the Lord stooped and wrote in the sand every man departed starting with the eldest down to the youngest. That left the pure, spotless Son of God face to face with this sinner woman. What would follow? What would He say? “Jesus was left alone, and the woman, where she was in the midst”. “Woman”, (the same kind, respectful term He used in talking to His mother at Cana and was to use again later from the cross.) It was not, as seems in the English translation, a harsh form of address but rather a word of infinite tenderness. How roughly her accusers treated her and not without some reason but the Lord gently addresses her as, “Woman”. “Where are they? did no man condemn thee?” “No man, Lord”. “Neither do I condemn thee; go thy way; from henceforth sin no more”. “Thee” … surely the word had a special meaning. “If you were caught in the very act, where is the man? You are not the only guilty party”. It is pertinent to ask what would have happened to this woman if the Lord had not exercised such gentleness. Indeed, where would any of us be?
David wrote in Psalm 18:35. “Thy gentleness hath made me great”. He was expressing the typical condescension (Revised Version Margin) of the divine Judge whose refusal to exact the full demands of the law lifts up those who otherwise would be crushed under its condemnation. The introduction to the Psalm indicates that it was written when God had delivered David from the hands of Saul and his enemies. The Lord’s gentleness is evident in His dealing with David after he had deserted the Philistines (1 Samuel 27). He was in their company for 16 months (v.7) and apart from an objection on the part of the Philistine lords he would have been involved in fighting against his own people. The Philistines won that battle and Saul and his sons were killed.
After it, David enquired of the Lord saying, “Shall I go up into any of the cities of Judah? And the LORD said unto him, Go up” (2 Samuel 2:1). This referring of his paths to the Lord is in contrast to what the Scripture says about David’s desertion to the Philistines “David said in his heart, I shall now perish one day by the hand of Saul: there is nothing better for me than that I should escape into the land of the Philistines” (1 Samuel 27:1). But after 16 months of directing his own paths, the Lord graciously and gently leads him again. No wonder David was led to write, “Thy gentleness hath made me great”. What gracious gentleness to accept him back again.
1 Timothy 3:3 requires overseers to be gentle in contrast to being contentious – “not contentious” means disinclined to fight. Some people are verbally “trigger-happy”; they will argue almost without provocation. Trench says of the word translated ‘gentle’ – “retreating from the letter of right better to preserve the spirit of right”. He also says that it is “the spirit which recognizes the impossibility of cleaving to all formal law … that recognizes the danger that ever waits upon the assertion of legal rights, lest they should be pushed into moral wrongs … the spirit which rectifies and redresses the injustice of justice”. A great Greek scholar describes gentleness in action as “pardoning human failings; to look to the law-giver, not to the law; to the intention, not to the action; to the whole not to the part … to remember good rather than evil, and the good that one has received rather than the good that one has done; to bear being injured; to wish to settle a matter by words rather than deeds”.
How grateful we should feel that the Lord has so treated us! And we in turn should show a similar gentleness to others – “We were gentle in the midst of you”, wrote Paul, “as when a nurse cherisheth her own children”. In this, as in so much else, we do well to be imitators of him, as he also was of Christ Jesus.
One with Thyself, may every eye
In us, Thy brethren see
That gentleness and grace that spring
From union, Lord with Thee.