JUICY FRUIT SERMON SERIES
OCTOBER 27, 1996
Have you ever experienced one of these situations in your life? After a long day at the office, you come home and you have to cook dinner for your starving family. You walk into the kitchen and you notice that the kitchen sink is full of dirty dishes. You spot your twelve-year-old daughter, sweet and innocent person that she is, and you say, “Honey, would you please clean the dishes?” She responds, “No.”
You’ve been patiently waiting in line at the deli counter of the local grocery store, and just as you step up to place your order, a lady elbows you out of the way and says to you, “It’s my turn!”
Or the man who you thought was Mr. Right, over a romantic dinner, ends your relationship. He hopes that you can forgive him and he would still like to be friends.
Your name is Robby Alamar, and you play second baseman for the Baltimore Orioles. You’re called out on strikes and you don’t like the call, and you’re so mad at the umpire you could spit.
Now, how would you respond to each of those situations? Our natural reaction is to handle those situations with anger. It makes us mad when someone offends us. We want to launch heat-seeking words that are targeted to destroy the offender. We want to be like Rambo: we’re just going to verbally beat them into the ground. Or we’re like Dirty Harry: we don’t get mad, we get even. Most of us in those kinds of situations will lose our temper and will lose control, and we end up making a fool out of ourselves. But the Bible teaches us that there’s another way to respond to those kinds of situations. It’s a revolutionary approach and it’s the antidote to the me-first generation.
We find that characteristic in Galatians 5:23: yes, it’s one of the characteristics of the fruit of the spirit. For many weeks we’ve been talking about the characteristics of the fruit of the spirit, and this morning we’re going to focus on gentleness. The Bible teaches us that in every situation in life, the proper way to respond is to respond in gentleness.
Now, I know what some of you are thinking. “Preston, now, I can buy the kindness and the patience and the joy, but gentleness? Are you telling me that if I go into the office, I’m supposed to be gentle? I won’t have a chance! Are you telling me when I play softball with my softball team, I’m supposed to play gently? They’ll kill me! Preston, there’s no way I can be gentle in the society that we live in today.” But the Bible says, yes, you can. In fact, we’re called as Christians to be gentle.
Now, what does Paul mean when he uses that word gentle? Well, the Greek word that we get our word gentle from means “strength under control.” It’s the word picture of a wild stallion that’s been broken and tamed. You have a powerful animal, yet that animal is gentle enough for you to climb on his back and ride it. So as gentle people, we are people who will respond to all situations under control. We don’t overreact, we don’t say something we’ll regret later, we don’t damage relationships – we think about what we say.
Now, there are two important guidelines for becoming a gentle person. The first thing that we need to understand about gentleness is this: gentleness is a product of the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit in our lives. It is not natural for human beings to be gentle; we all know that. Gentleness that the Bible talks about comes from the Holy Spirit. It’s a gift from God.
The second thing we need to understand about gentleness is that gentleness is a choice. You can choose gentleness. Now, you’ll notice on your outline the first line that I’ve got there. Let me fill in the blanks for you: a gentle person is God-controlled, not others-controlled. A gentle person is God-controlled, not others-controlled. As a believer, you have a choice. You can choose to be God-controlled or you can choose to be others-controlled.
Look at John 15:5. You have the verse right there on your outline. This is Jesus talking, and Jesus says this: “I am the vine, you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit. Apart from me you can do nothing.” Now, here’s the analogy to the Christian life. You as Christians are branches; you’re connected to the vine of Jesus Christ. The vine provides all the nourishment we need. The vine provides the food that we need. Because of the vine, we will bloom. Because of the vine, we can produce fruit. But if we’re not connected to the vine, the branch will die. In fact, the Bible says the branch is worthless: you may as well burn it. So, if you’re God-controlled, you’re connected to the power of the Holy Spirit. You’re connected to Jesus Christ. If you’re others-controlled, you have severed the relationship with God.
Now, if you choose to be God-controlled, you can become gentle people. If you’re God-controlled, you allow the verbal blows to just be absorbed. You don’t retaliate in anger when someone offends you. If you’re others-controlled, what you’re admitting is that you’re giving someone else control of your emotions. Have you ever said this: “She makes me so mad!” or “I can’t believe that he did that to me!” When you say that, what you’re saying is that you have given control of your emotions to someone else, and you have taken that control away from God. So if we’re going to be gentle people, we’ve got to be God-controlled people.
Now, when God controls our lives and we’re producing fruit, we’re going to exhibit four characteristics of a gentle person. On your outline I have listed them. The first characteristic of a gentle person is this: a gentle person is understanding, not demanding. A gentle person is understanding, not demanding. Philippians 2:3 says this: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourself.” When you’re a gentle person, you’ll put people ahead of yourself. You don’t have to be number one in every situation. You allow people to be in the spotlight. You stand back and allow other people to do things. You are understanding of other people. How do you treat people who provide a service to you? How to you treat the sales lady at Dillard’s? How do you treat your auto mechanic? How do you treat the person at the gas station?
How many of you have ever been a waiter or a waitress in your lifetime, or you are now? Raise your hand. You deserve a big hand; that’s great. A lot of you have done that. Well, when I was a senior at Texas Tech University, I decided to go to work at the nicest restaurant in Lubbock – and yes, there was one. I was a waiter at that restaurant. I discovered something about being a waiter: it is a terrible job. You know why? It’s not so much the job, but it’s the way people treat you. I was treated rudely. People were just after me all the time, and I’m talking about guys that I knew at school! Guys that I hung around with during the day would come into the restaurant, and all of a sudden I was “the help.” They would be rude and they would be impatient; they’d act like they didn’t know me. Well, after years of psychoanalysis from that job, I think I figured out why people treat waiters and waitresses so rudely. It’s because so few of us control our lives – other people control our lives – that when we get the opportunity to yank somebody’s string, we do it. Unfortunately, it’s the people who serve us. Those are the people that we treat rudely. I’ve learned over the years that the secret to great service is to respect that service provider with dignity. It’s to be understanding of them, to put myself in their place.
Today, thousands of you, Christians from all over the Metroplex, will go and eat in restaurants, and waiters and waitresses will be providing a service to you. They’re going to know that you came from church. There’s just something about you. You just look like you’ve been at church. Maybe you’ve prayed before the meal, or you’ve been talking about the church and they hear that you’re going to a church. But you know what? You damage Christianity by the way you treat them at the restaurant. What kind of message do you send to those people when you’re rude to them, when you’re impatient with them, when you short them of their tip? Gentle people are understanding, not demanding.
The second characteristic of a gentle person is that a gentle person forgives, not judges. A gentle person forgives, not judges. Proverbs 17:9 says, “He who covers over an offense promotes love, but whoever repeats the matter separates close friends.” When someone disappoints you, when someone makes a mistake, how do you treat them? Well, my natural reaction is to say, “I told you so!” Isn’t it yours? You say, “You know, if you would have listened to me, you wouldn’t have married that slob five years ago! I told you not to do it.” Gentle people will forget the offense. They won’t judge people. Too many of us have that I-told-you-so attitude, and what we like to do is keep bringing up the offense year after year after year. We just want them to think about it all the time. It gives us power, doesn’t it? But a gentle person forgives.
Booker T. Washington, the great African-American educator, understood this concept of gentleness. Back in 1881, he founded the Tuscakey Institute, which was a great institute for African-Americans learning trades in our country, one of the first of its kind in the South. One day Booker T. Washington was walking down the street, and it was a very hot day. A lady, a white woman across the street, saw Booker T. Washington and she summoned him to chop wood for her. She didn’t know who he was. She said, “I want you to chop my wood.” Now, how would you react in that situation? You would scream bloody murder. “Who do you think you are, lady? Don’t you know who I am? How could you be that racist?”
Booker T. Washington took off his jacket, he chopped the lady’s wood, and he delivered it to her home, never once telling her who he was. Some days later, the lady discovered who she had asked to chop wood, and she came to Booker T. Washington’s office. She apologized profusely; she was embarrassed by the whole thing. Now, Booker T. Washington could have been bitter over that incident, but he said this to that woman. He said, “Lady, don’t worry about it. I delight in doing favors for my friends.” Now that is a gentle person. That is someone who understands forgiveness.
As gentle people, we need to be careful about judging others. Think about what God’s done for you: the Bible says that God has separated our sin as far as the east is from the west. In fact, when God looks at you, if you’re a believer in Jesus Christ, God sees Jesus in you, his righteousness. He doesn’t even see your sin. So we need to be careful about judging others. We should do what God has done for us, and that is to forgive the offense, not judge others.
The third characteristic of a gentle person is that a gentle person is tender without surrender. A gentle person is tender without surrender. Look at Proverbs 15:1, and today I’m going to dub this the Jerry-Barry-Jimmy verse. “A gentle answer turns away wrath,” see, they haven’t talked bad about each other all week and that’s smart. “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word ends up in the locker room.” No, that’s not what it says. “But a harsh word stirs up anger.” A gentle person is careful about what they say and how they say it. Parents, this is a critical part of parenting. It’s one of the hardest things for me as a parent. But as parents, we need to be careful about how we respond to our kids when they smart off to us, when they ignore us, when they’re obnoxious, when we want to strangle them. We have to be careful.
If you’re like me – here’s what happens in my house. If I ask one of my children to do something and they smart off to me, I get mad. My anger just grows. I tell them again, “You do that,” and they say, “No, Dad, I’m not going to do it.” Boy, I really – I mean, the anger grows, the frustration grows. If I’m not careful, there’s going to come a point when I just explode. You know, my kids are just laughing at me then. They think, “Man, look at Dad! He’s gone nuts!” That’s not the way to respond to your children.
As parents, we have three choices. When our kids offend us, which they do all the time, we can do one of three things. We can react in fear. Many of you are so afraid of overturning the apple cart at your house that you’re willing to keep peace at any cost. You just retreat in fear when your kids offend you. Others of you are on the opposite extreme. You’re just in a blind rage, and if they don’t do what you say, you just want to beat them. Many of us do. It’s one of the causes of abuse in America today: parents in blind anger. But the Bible says the proper choice in dealing with your children, and in all situations, is to respond in gentleness. Parents, we’re to set the rules, we’re to stand firm, we’re not to give up, but yet we’re to respond to our children in gentleness.
I’ve learned this lesson by watching my wife, who teaches first grade. I went over to the school the other day to eat lunch with my ten-year-old, and I stopped by to visit my wife. As usual in the first grade classroom, there was some kid in trouble. Now, my wife has learned that you can’t just yell and scream at a first grader. It does no good. Yelling at children doesn’t work; I’ve tried it for twelve years. It doesn’t work. But what I notice my wife does, is that when a kid is in trouble, she will get down, kind of eye-level with that kid, and she will respond to that kid directly, clearly. The kid has every notion of what’s wrong. She does not step back from the child, but she is very clear with the child. She lets the kid know what he did wrong. When she’s finished with the child, he understands. But she’s done it in a gentle way. She’s done it clearly, she’s done it directly. We as parents need to adopt what the teachers already know: how to deal with your children. We have to respond with tenderness, not surrender.
Ephesians 6 says this: “Dads, don’t provoke your children.” That word picture is like a dad who’s got a big stick, and is just kind of poking his child to rile him up – you know, like you do with a rattlesnake or a dog. You know, you just poke, poke, poke. The Bible says don’t do that; that’s provoking anger. Parents, we need to respond to our children with tenderness, without surrender.
The fourth characteristic of a gentle person is that a gentle person is teachable, not unreachable. A gentle person is teachable, not unreachable. James 1:19 says, “My dear brothers, take note of this. Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry.” A gentle person gets into the habit of listening to others when they try to correct us, when they want to give us constructive criticism. How are you, how do you respond, when somebody corrects you? Do you take it, or do you retaliate in anger?
The first time I ever preached, which was three years ago, after the service I asked my wife, “How do you think I did?” What she didn’t realize was that I didn’t want a response. I was just trying to be polite. And my wife gave me two or three constructive criticisms about my preaching. It ticked me off. What does she know? She’s never stood up here and done this! She’s never had to prepare a message. She’s never faced the pressure of preaching. How in the world does she know what she’s talking about? But you know what I discovered? She was right. She gave me two or three points that were very helpful to me in speaking.
As gentle people, we’re teachable. We’re like sponges. We’re open to what others suggest. How do you act in the office? Are you teachable, or are you a know-it-all? One thing I’ve learned about know-it-alls is that you may know it all, but you’re alone all the time. No one likes a know-it-all. Gentle people admit that they don’t know it all. They’re open. They want people to give them criticism, and that’s not easy. It’s not easy to admit that we don’t know everything. But a gentle person is teachable.
See, James tells us how we do that: when someone gives us correction, we’re quick to listen to them. We want to hear what they have to say, because it may be helpful to us. When we’re quick to listen, then what happens is that we’re slow to respond. We’re slow to anger. We’re busy listening; that’s how we learn. One of my favorite sayings – my dad taught me this years ago – says that when we stop learning, we stop growing. A gentle person is teachable, not unreachable.
Did you get those characteristics? A gentle person is understanding, a gentle person is forgiving, a gentle person is tender, and a gentle person is teachable. One of the great illustrations of gentleness in the Bible can be found in the book of 1 Kings in the Old Testament, chapter 19. In that chapter we learn about a prophet by the name of Elijah. Being a prophet in the Old Testament was not a good job. It was kind of like being a waiter. Everybody treated you rudely. When you came into the room, nine times out of ten you had something bad to say about God’s judgment and God’s destruction, so people didn’t want anything to do with you. Well, Elijah was just discouraged. He was just disgusted with the nation of Israel. They wouldn’t listen. One day he falls on the ground and he looks up to heaven and he says, “God, kill me now!” Let me give you a word of advice over here; this is nothing to do with the sermon: be careful what you pray for, okay?
Thank goodness God did not take Elijah’s life. God said this: He said, “Elijah, I want you to go to a cave that I have prepared for you, and I will come later.” So here’s Elijah making his way to the cave on the mountaintop, and I’m sure what Elijah was thinking was, “Oh, my goodness, I have really messed up now. God has sent me to the woodshed and He’s going to deal with me.” So Elijah makes his way to the cave, and then finally God comes and God calls to him. He said, “Elijah, come out of the cave.” Elijah stands on the mountaintop. The Bible says that God sends a massive windstorm, and I’m sure Elijah was thinking, “Oh, my gosh, God is so mad at me He’s going to blow me off this mountain!” But God was not in the windstorm. The Bible says that God then sent an earthquake, and it shook the mountaintop. I’m sure Elijah thought, “Oh, my goodness, this is it. God’s going to knock me off this mountaintop.” But God was not in the earthquake. Then God sends a fire on the mountain, but Elijah couldn’t find God in the fire. The Bible says that then God spoke in a gentle whisper. That’s where Elijah found God: in the gentle whisper. God taught Elijah a valuable lesson that day. God could have blown him off the mountaintop in anger. God could have knocked him to his knees because of his disobedience. God could have torched him because of his lack of faith. But when Elijah was at his lowest point, God responded to him in gentleness.
God is calling you, and God is calling me, today, to be gentle people. Have you noticed our society lately? Would you characterize our society as gentle? No. It’s violent, it’s selfish, it’s going down the road of destruction. So God is telling us as believers, “I want you to be out there. I want you to model me. I want you to be a person of gentleness.” Today at the restaurant, today when you’re hanging out with somebody watching the football game, tomorrow at the office, tomorrow at school, look at these characteristics, think about them, practice and practice them in your life. It’s amazing how people will respond back to you. When you treat people gently, they will treat you gently.