I believe it was C. S. Lewis who once said that “humility is not thinking less of yourself, it is thinking of yourself less.” In a world where the individual self reigns sovereign, this is a profound challenge. I’d imagine that most of us think about ourselves far more often than we consider others.
Paul describes “gentleness” as the fruit of the Spirit in our lives, which has a direct tie to our consideration of others. To be gentle, one must be humble. If one is not humble, they will be self-absorbed and consider themselves superior to others. When you view others as inferior, it will manifest in actions that are aggressive, bitter, and angry.
As we search the Bible for the archetype of gentleness, the example of a shepherd should come to the forefront of our minds. The imagery of shepherding is interwoven in the scriptures as a metaphor for provision, protection, and guidance. More often than not, we tend to focus on the actions of shepherding—that is, leading the flocks through harsh environments, protecting them from predators. However, if we consider the motivation behind these actions, we come to see that a shepherd leads and protects the flock because he cares for them. Isaiah provides a good picture of a caring shepherd:
He tends his flock like a shepherd:
He gathers the lambs in his arms
and carries them close to his heart;
he gently leads those that have young rest (Isaiah 40:11).
In the ancient world, Bedouin shepherds knew every member of their flocks in terms of their birth circumstances, history of health, eating habits, and other idiosyncrasies. To know each member of the flock requires time and attention. A true shepherd demonstrates both strength and tender compassion. When Isaiah speaks of a shepherd who carries the flock close to his heart, we are given this imagery of tender reassurance, encouragement, and hope. Notice that the shepherd gently leads the flock by paying attention to their needs, and in doing so, aims to refresh the weary who are downtrodden from the wilderness of everyday life.
As we reflect on our own relationships in an effort to cultivate gentleness, it is important that we assess our disposition towards others. Are we gentle and self-forgetful, that is, placing the needs of others over our own? Or are we self-absorbed in such a way that we become bitter and angry when others’ needs get in the way of our own agendas?
Consider for a moment those whom God has placed around you. Who is burdened and needs support? Who is down and needs encouragement? Someone should come to mind. And your initial thought might be, “But, that will require a lot of time and energy on my part.” The good news is, because gentleness is from the Spirit, God will empower you to exercise His gift if you seek His help in prayer. As you finish reading this devotional, spend a few minutes asking God to soften your heart toward those He has placed on your mind. Ask Him to provide practical ways for you to serve them, and thus, walk in the Spirit of gentleness. In doing this, you will live according to God’s will and be conformed to the image of Christ, the Good Shepherd.
Written by Matt Capps