"I therefore, a prisoner of the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love..." - Ephesians 4:1-2
Institutes, Book 3, Chapter 7, Section 4, Part b
"Many people obviously display some gentleness so long as they find everything sweet and pleasant. But just how many are there who will preserve this even tenor of modesty when they are pricked and irritated?
"...Let us then, unremittingly examine our faults and call ourselves back to humility. Thus nothing will remain in us to puff us up - but there will be much occasion to be cast down. On the other hand, we are bidden so to esteem and regard whatever gifts of God we see in other men that we may honor those men in whom they reside. For it would be great depravity on our part to deprive them of that honor which the Lord has bestowed upon them...Thus it will come about that, whatever man we deal with, we shall treat him not only moderately and modestly but also cordially and as a friend. You will never attain true gentleness except by one path: a heart imbued with lowliness and with reverence for others." (3.7.4.b)
Gentleness is a Christian virtue. Paul listed is as a fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:23) and Jesus described himself as "gentle." I don't think that it is a quality that Western culture values, but it is a thoroughly biblical virtue. Perhaps we are taught to think of grandmothers as gentle, but it is not a virtue that we see prized in many other settings. It is probably not a descriptive word that someone would think to use when writing a letter of reference and it is not a word that we would use to advertise political figures. If we are gentle at all, it seldom lasts when our circumstances get difficult.
In this section, Calvin describes the path to gentleness. He views gentleness as an essential Christian quality, but one which we don't come by naturally. In the last section, he concluded that each person has a "kingdom in their own chest." As a result we tend to exaggerate our own importance and overlook the value of others. This makes gentleness very difficult. The path to gentleness found in Ephesians 4:2 is humility. We pursue humility by a rigorous view of our own faults and a charitable view of the faults and gifts of others. It would seem to be our natural tendency to cherish our own abilities as we criticize the faults of others. Calvin turns this on its head. I don't think that he would deny that in the proper place we out to have a sober assessment of our own abilities. We are all gifted and knowing out gifts helps us to know how we fit into the body of Christ (I Cor 12). But in order to counteract our natural self-centeredness, Calvin urges us to pursue the path of gentleness through this one path: "a heart imbued with lowliness and with reverence (for the gifts) of others." We are less likely to error in being too generous as we value the gifts of others.
Do you see "gentleness" as an important quality to have? In what ways could you better cultivate a spirit of gentleness?