There’s an odd little verse in Matthew’s Gospel. Describing John the Baptist’s ministry and the persecution of prophets, Jesus says, “From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force,” (Matt. 11).
Does he really mean that the strongest and most ruthless can grab hold of the Kingdom of God?!
No; in fact, it’s the opposite. Jesus isn’t saying that they successfully capture it, only that they are trying the hardest, through strength and might to seize it for themselves. Ironically, they want something that cannot be taken; it can only be received. Given and inherited.
Gentleness, as it’s listed in the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5) is the same word (though a different part of speech) as the people of God that Jesus calls “the meek” in the sermon on the mount: “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.”
We live in a world of power, maneuvering, and seizure, but God – who has infinite strength and authority – uses his power to serve and care.
Biblical gentleness is not an absence or denial of strength. Gentleness is strength that is quietly restrained, controlled, measured, properly directed and employed in love and service to others. Jesus’ own gentleness threads that needle perfectly. His gentleness is on display when he pushes hard on the self-righteous in order to defend and exalt the tender and vulnerable. He humbles the proud in order to make room for the outcast. This blend and use of tenderness and strength is gentleness. Without violating his own holy and gentle character, he can call one of his own disciples “Satan” to pushing against Peter’s desire for power over meekness. And then, this same Savior, can restore and commission him for ministry following Peter’s denials.
Gentleness is something that Christ gives to his people by the work of his Spirit, and in so doing, he makes us more like himself.
Later the in Matthew 11, Jesus continues the discussion of the kingdom and force vs. gentleness: “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”
“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” - Philippians 2
“Blessed are the meek [or ‘the gentle ones’] for they shall inherit the earth.” - Matthew 5