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But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. 24 Now those who belong to Christ Jesus crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. – Galatians 5:22-24
Human anger does not produce the righteousness God desires. – James 1:20
Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger and give no opportunity to the devil. – Ephesians 4:26-27
“You’re an angry young man,” she said matter-of-factly. I really didn’t know what she meant. I didn’t think I was angry. Years later I began to understand just what this CPE supervisor meant. Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) is an in-the-hospital (or other clinical setting) educational program for those who wish to gain skills in pastoral care. It also happens to offer the participants an opportunity to learn about themselves. I think I was too angry to learn much about myself at that time. You might not have thought it of me. But well-hidden anger turned many of the wheels of my life in those years.
I’m sure I left quite an impression on my fellow CPE participants. But the most long-lasting impact I had was in the quiet moments, praying with patients, listening to their stories, gently handling their hearts. In other words, when the Holy Spirit was most actively influencing my interactions, good things were happening.
I’ve tried being big, strong, gritty, and insistent. I can get my way in some situations. But my way – in that mode – is seldom God’s way. And as I think of God’s desires, I seldom see a reason to employ things other than a gentle spirit. This is especially true in one-on-one encounters. Truth is a strong ally of gentleness. And truth sets us free. Truth with its partner grace saves. And this is the work of the Holy Spirit.
All that said, there are times when gentleness is not called for. Jesus gave us one when he overturned the moneychanger’s tables in the temple courts. Paul gets pretty close when he talks about the circumcision party, suggesting a slip of the knife toward them would be welcome (Galatians 5:12). It’s interesting that this verse is in the same chapter as these verses on the fruit of the Spirit! When it comes time to stand firm, to protect the weak and vulnerable, to prevent harm to another we may need to assert ourselves. It may not be gentle in that moment.
But those are the exception and must not set the rule. For anger gives the devil a foothold. Held to and nurtured it not only gives ulcers, it allows our more base instincts freer reign. Thankfully that angry young man has grown up a bit, and he sees now that a gentle spirit is not only God’s gift, but a powerful tool of blessing to others.