Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Counterfeit Gentleness

With its hard protective shell, coconut has an interesting parallel to gentleness.
By the way, you don't want to park your car under a tree that looks like this.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.

(Galatians 5:22-23)

I have a confession to make. When I started this series about the Fruit of the Spirit, I made a list of the various fruit and what I saw as their counterfeits. From the very beginning, I was anxious to get to this one because it is something I feel very strongly about. Now, it is time to write about it. I still feel strongly, but I have been faced today with a difficult situation to which this post applies. As I write, I will be speaking as much to myself as anyone else.

When we think about the fruit of gentleness, what do we think it means? What pictures run through our minds? Here’s a few to get us thinking.
The flesh of the young green coconut is very tender, and the coconut water inside makes a delicious drink. All this tenderness and deliciousness is protected by the thick outer shell.
When I think of gentleness
  • In biblical terms, I think of the Good Shepherd looking for his lost sheep.
  • I picture a mother tenderly cradling her sleeping infant in her arms.
  • I picture a father leading his small son by the hand as they walk through the park.
  • I picture a mother sitting on the sofa with her arm around her seven-year-old son as they read a book together.
  • I picture a father sitting beside his weeping twelve-year-old daughter, gently stroking her hair back from her face.

These are all good pictures of gentleness. In each, I see one who is stronger tenderly caring for one who is weak or hurting. In the fifth example, I almost described two teenagers, with one comforting the other. On second thought, I don’t think that would necessarily be gentleness in action.  Empathy perhaps. Sympathy is likely. But as the other teen may very well feel as helpless as the weeping one, gentleness may not really be an accurate description.

Gentle Strength

I believe that gentleness as a fruit of the Spirit is characterized by strength and confidence grounded in a healthy, growing relationship with God. When one has a relationship like that, there is no need to lash out in vengeance against people who hurt us or the ones we love. Instead of merely reacting, we can respond in gentleness, calmness, and strength that makes an impact in the word around us.

But get this. A truly gentle person can…and should…respond. This brings me to what I see as the counterfeit of gentleness. Let’s call it weakness. In more colloquial terms, we might call it wimpiness.

Counterfeit “Gentleness”

When something threatens someone who is weaker, some people will hold back, pretend they didn’t see, perhaps hope that someone else who is more forceful will see what is happening and do something about it. Such a person doesn’t want to make waves, even when waves really need to be made. That is not “real deal” gentleness. That is weakness. That is wimpiness.

A person who has counterfeit "gentleness" as part of their character might take a great deal of care not to cause pain or discomfort to the person in the wrong. Sure they will sympathize with the person who was harmed, but they are too “gentle” to take a stand and defend the victim. That is weakness. That is wimpiness.

Gentleness Under Attack

Let’s go back to the four pictures of gentleness at the beginning of this post. Then let’s picture what happens when something threatening comes into the picture.

  • The Good Shepherd, when he finds his lost sheep, sees a wolf closing in for the kill.
  • A mother tenderly cradles her sleeping infant in her arms. She hears a pane of glass break in the basement and realizes a burglar is breaking into the house.
  • A father is leading his small son by the hand as they walk through the park. A ferocious dog races across park toward them.
  • The mother sitting on the sofa with her arm around her seven-year-old son as they read a book together hears her husband’s car screech into the driveway. She can tell by the sound that he is drunk and in a rage.
  • That father sitting beside his weeping twelve-year-old daughter, gently stroking her hair back from her face, hears her story of being sexually assaulted by a trusted relative.

“Real deal” gentleness will be tender and careful with the one who is weak and hurting. “Real deal” gentleness will also be ready to decisively act to protect the victim from the danger.

  • I can’t imagine the Good Shepherd would be terribly concerned with being “gentle” to the wolf that threatens his sheep.
  • The mother who hears a burglar in the house would most certainly try to find a safe place for her baby and herself. She may not be one to have a loaded pistol in the house, but I’d be willing to bet she’d make sure a baseball bat or a heavy vase was handy…and she wouldn’t be all that worried about causing discomfort to the intruder.
  • The father facing a ferocious dog is probably not going to be terribly concerned with the “rights” of the dog that is about to attack his son.

These first three are easy. When animals or an intruder is the threat, our response is pretty simple and straight-forward. But what about the fourth and fifth examples?

What about when we know the person causing the harm? We may truly care for that person. We may want to be gentle with that person and not hurt them. Maybe we hope that they will work through their “problem” and that things will get better.

We may want to avoid making waves. Perhaps we are downright afraid of that person.

And that…is where counterfeit "gentleness" gets its power. Weakness and wimpiness are often motivated by fear. “Real deal” gentleness is courageous. “Real deal” gentleness will act.

The hard, protective shell of the coconut protects the delicate fruit inside until it is ready to be eaten. It is not easy to crack one of these open. "Real deal" gentleness is strong.
  • The mother facing the threat of a drunken, violent husband, if she is acting out of “real deal” gentleness, will do what is needed to protect herself and her child from harm. I’m not being simplistic here. Will it be easy? No. Absolutely not. But courageous gentleness will bring about positive results in the long run, both for herself, her child…and maybe even her husband.
  • The father acting out of “real deal” gentleness will not go find that teacher and beat him to a pulp (although he may want to). He will, however, do what needs to be done to protect his child…and others…from being harmed in the future. And do you know what? His decisive gentleness may be what it takes to stop the perpetrator in his tracks and get him set in a new direction.

Let’s not confuse gentleness with weakness. “Real deal” gentleness is grounded firmly on the Rock that cannot be shaken. “Real deal” gentleness is strong. “Real deal” gentleness is courageous. Is this “real deal” fruit growing in you? In me?

Time for Reflection

  • Do you consider yourself a gentle person? Would “gentle” be a word others would use to describe you?
  • How does your brand of gentleness work out when something threatens one who is weaker than you? Does it keep quiet in fear? Do you act decisively and appropriately to protect the weaker one? Does it make a difference if you have a relationship of some kind with the one bringing the threat?
  • Is your brand of gentleness the “real deal” … or do you have to admit that it would be more accurately called weakness?
  • Ask God to grow the fruit of “real deal” gentleness in your life.


  1. Interesting dissection of the concept. Not sure I could be gentle (and not violent) to anyone who hurts someone I know. But I think maybe over time I could forgive someone.

    I find gentleness is especially needed as a teacher. Kids tell me horrible stories of their childhood almost everyday. I listen, sigh, and tell them they didn't deserve that. And I go home and cry or pray.

    1. My point was not so much that we should "walk on eggshells" around the perpetrator. I see that as counterfeit gentleness. Even as we are gentle with the ones who are hurt, we need to be strong to take action toward those who cause the harm.

      Then, there is the matter of grace and forgiveness...and balancing it all. This is not easy.


Any thoughts on this post? I would love to hear from you.

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