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Gentle, Humble, and Patient

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This week’s post is written by Bob Wille. Bob is an ordained elder at Faith Church who serves and teaches in our men’s ministry. He is a deep thinker and gifted writer who recently shared with me some thoughts he has reflecting on in his stage of life. I believe that his thoughts and perspective could help us all, so I am delighted he agreed to share his thoughts in this post. Thanks, Bob – Pastor Brian 

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What kind of person do you want to become? How do you want to be remembered after your journey here on earth is finished? 

This year I will celebrate my 48th birthday as a Christian. I was 20 years old when the Holy Spirit drew me into the Kingdom. And now I’m starting to use terms like “home stretch” and “final quarter” to describe my journey here. My picture of heaven is coming into focus. And the question of what kind of person I will be on the day I come face-to-face with my Master is starting to be all-consuming. 

What kind of people must we be on that wonderful day? Jesus tells us: “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:29, NIV). 

Most of our translations read “gentle and humble.” The King James and the old American Standard versions say “meek and lowly”; I like that. I’m not sure that any translation has ever really improved on it. But no matter what translation you prefer, this is the only place in the Gospels where Jesus says anything about his own character and his heart. And by saying “Take my yoke upon you,” Jesus calls us to discipleship – to become like him in his gentleness and humility. 

So what does it look like to become “gentle and humble” like Jesus? Let’s take a closer look at these two words. 

The Greek word translated “gentle” is “praus” (rhymes with mouse). This is my favorite Greek word. It means, “Not being impressed by a sense of one’s self-importance” – gentle, humble, courteous, considerate, meek “in the older favorable sense,” as my Greek dictionary puts it.(1) When Jesus says “Blessed are the meek…” (Matthew 5:5), it’s the same word. It represents a cluster of character traits that we naturally find attractive in other people. To me, it speaks of an attitude, even a strategy, of caring how our words and actions affect others. 

The word translated “humble” is “tapeinos” (TOP-ay-nos). It means lowly, humble, unpretentious, unassuming. In older Greek literature, it referred to things that were “low-lying” or “near the ground,” but also being under something or someone, and so it came to characterize servants. It also refers to a character trait that is the exact opposite of pride and arrogance. My Greek dictionary mentions a man named Agesilaus who was called “tapeinos” because he didn’t let success or status “go to his head.”(2) 

This is Jesus, “praus” and “tapeinos.” He is King of heaven and earth. He’s Emmanuel, God with us; and he’s one of us. And he calls us to become like him.

Alexander Strauch, an author of numerous books on church leadership, writes “Jesus tells us who he is as a person: he is gentle and humble. Too many religious leaders, however, are not gentle nor are they humble. They are controlling and proud. They use people to satisfy their fat egos. But Jesus is refreshingly different. He truly loves people, selflessly serving and giving his life for them. He expects his followers—especially the elders who lead his people—to be humble and gentle like himself.”(3) 

Paul, Peter, and James all follow Jesus by using these same words to tell Christians what kind of people they must become. In addition, Paul and James include another word: “makrothymia” (MAK-ro-THEE-me-uh) which may sound like a big disease, but means “patience.” My Greek dictionary defines this as both a “state of remaining tranquil while awaiting an outcome,” and a “state of being able to bear up under provocation.”(4) 

Let’s see how Paul uses these words in three of his letters. 

Galatians 5:22-23 (ESV) 
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.”  

What we need to see here is that patience and gentleness are two segments of the Spiritual fruit. We get off track whenever we speak of “spiritual fruits.” This isn’t the fruit bowl at the continental breakfast. This is one fruit and so these qualities are a “package deal.” They are core qualities, and the Christian is called to display all of them. 

Ephesians 4:1-2 (ESV) 
“I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love,…” 

Colossians 3:12-13 (NIV) 
“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another…” 

In these two letters, Paul uses the same three words, in the same order. Then he instructs the saints to bear with each other in love and forgiveness. This is his way of telling them how, in time, they (and we) will become humble, gentle, and patient. In teaching them to be patient, it seems to me that Paul was using “makrothymia” in the second sense of bearing up under provocation. This should be a broad clue to all of us. This side of heaven, there will always be those who “push our buttons” and test our patience. But do we do the same to others? I used to respond like a landmine to anything I disagreed with. I wasn’t good at listening; I was only good at reacting. But the Holy Spirit has been changing me, making me wait and process what others say before I respond (hopefully in love). We should strive to be people who others actually enjoy, not merely put up with. 

Why does Paul group these words like this? Again, because they’re a “package deal,” an unbreakable set. Humility, gentleness, and patience form the foundation of a truly Christian life, a life that reflects the glory of the Master. These qualities are at the very core of the fruit of the Spirit, and without that core, the other segments of the fruit cannot develop. I don’t think it’s too much to insist that those who profess to be Christians must display these qualities for their profession to be believable.

What kind of person do you want to become? None of us are yet what we should be. But until that wonderful day when we meet our Master face-to-face, we must resolve to grow in gentleness, humility, and patience. Let us ask God to help us examine ourselves daily, and to change us. If we do, we may be confident that the Holy Spirit will work in us and transform us into the image of our gentle and humble (and patient) Savior. 

1) Frederick W. Danker, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature; 2000; p. 861. 
2) Danker, p. 989 
3) Alexander Strauch, Biblical Eldership: An Urgent Call to Restore Biblical Church Leadership, 1995; p. 87 
4) Danker, p. 612 

Questions about the Bible or theology? Email them to Pastor Brian at Theology@WeAreFaith.org. You can also request to receive weekly emails with our blog posts by filling out the information on the right side.

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