Gentleness on the job

“Requirement for the job: must be a person characterised by gentleness”.

Chances are that’s a job description that you’ve never encountered before. On the contrary, a requirement of many workplaces today is that employees do the exact opposite. Offices run on people who refuse to take no for an answer, who throw their weight around, and so “get things done”. Gentleness in the workplace can seem entirely out of place.

And yet gentleness is to be a defining characteristic of the Christian person. It is evidence that someone is living by the Spirit (Galatians 5:23). We are to pursue it (1 Timothy 6:11), and clothe ourselves in it (Colossians 3:12).

And this gentleness is not only to be directed towards those colleagues that we like, but also those who oppose us (2 Timothy 2:25). We are to “be gentle toward everyone” (Titus 3:2). It’s to shape our interactions with unbelievers when they ask us about the hope that we have (1 Peter 3:15).

But what exactly is gentleness? In the New Testament the word that is often translated as “gentleness” (πραΰτητος) is in some cases translated as humility. [1] And in at least two cases humility and gentleness are seen as inseparable (2 Corinthians 10:1; Ephesians 4:2). Gentleness then is what humility looks like. It is perhaps the defining characteristic of a humble person. And if humility is at the heart of the Christian faith (Philippians 2:5-11) then gentleness will be at the centre of the Christian person. On the contrary, you can’t be a proud person and also be gentle.

However this doesn’t mean that a gentle person will never be firm. Paul can write to the Corinthians “By the humility and gentleness of Christ I urge you” (2 Corinthians 10:1). But it will perhaps mean that when we put forward an opinion strongly that we do so with a willingness to be persuaded otherwise. We will take no for an answer. We won’t fight for our way to the bitter end.

Of course the ultimate example of what gentleness looks like is Jesus, our gentle Saviour, whose way is one of gentleness (Matthew 11:29). The one who arrives to a king’s welcome in Jerusalem “gentle and riding on a donkey” (Matthew 21:5). If you want to know what gentleness looks like then look again to Jesus.

So be a person characterised by strong opinions in the office. Make your thoughts on a subject known. But be prepared to back down from your opinions. Don’t push to secure a deal regardless of the cost. Speak tenderly, even when in leadership. “Be completely humble and gentle” (Ephesians 4:2). And so, display to your colleagues something of what true authority and power looks like. Display something of the King of kings and Lord of lords (Revelation 19:16), who nevertheless is characterised by gentleness.

 

[1] See for example James 1:21; 3:13 in the NIV.

Image courtesy: assets.entrepreneur.com

 

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