Gentleness & Self-Control in the Spirit

girl sitting in the sunset

We should be living in such a way that we are living by the Spirit as opposed to living by the flesh. In Galatians 5, Paul treats these two ways of life as mutually exclusive, and Paul describes the fruit our lives will bear if we re living spiritually. These qualities we’ve been talking about are all parts of that fruit we bear by Spirit living. These qualities are purposeful and intentional behaviors that differentiate Christ-centered living from world-centered living. Included in this fruit are the qualities of meekness and self-control.

Meekness and Gentleness

We sometimes get the wrong thing in our mind when we think about gentleness or meekness. We associate meekness with timidity or with shyness. Today, we use the word as a negative character quality, but that’s not what Christ or Paul had in mind when calling on us to be meek. Instead, they are calling on us to have a quiet strength that we are capable of holding under control, even under provocation.

James 1:19-21 calls on us to receive God’s word with meekness. It’s a central component to our ability to be faithful. Furthermore, Peter writes that we should be able to convey our hope to others in meekness in I Peter 3:15, and James 3:13 tells us we should be living in meekness and wisdom. Our examples should be gentle. Teaching others should be approached with gentleness.

This gentleness does not mean compromise. II Timothy 2:24-25 says that we should not be quarrelsome but that we should instead be able to teach and correct with gentleness. This gets reinforced in Galatians 6:1. We can take a soft approach when standing firm in the truth, and this requires self-control. If we are going to stand firm in the truth under pressure while remaining gentle and meek, we have to develop self-control.


The last item listed in the qualities of spiritual fruit is self-control. These qualities begin with love and end with self-control. Love cascades through all of these qualities, and they all require a foundation of self-control. This is a capacity to restrain our own impulses so we might serve God and others. Whether we’re talking about faithfulness, patience, forgiveness, or any other quality of Spirit living, we require self-control. By contrast, the items Paul lists in Galatians as defining worldly living demonstrate a lack of control.

True self-control requires crucifying self. Romans 12:2 tells us we should be transformed from this world through God’s renewal. Galatians 5:16 then says walking by the spirit denies the desires of the flesh, and Philippians 2:13 says God works in us when we allow the Spirit to live in us. This leads us to living by His word and for His work. Self-control in the Spirit allows us to overcome the sinful and self-destructive behaviors that can consume a life without control.

When Paul says, in Galatians 5:13, that we are called to freedom, we are freed from the bonds created by worldly living, but we can’t grow this self-control by ourselves. We have to accept help from others. As we rejoice together and we sorrow together, we should also be helping each other grow. Ephesians 4:15-16 tells us we are to work together to grow in maturity and be more like Christ. Self-control has to be self-contained, but it does not have to grow alone.


Self-control takes a great deal of inner strength, and it takes that same strength to reign in our impulses and emotions that could taint our teaching efforts. Meekness is not weakness; it is strength tempered by gentleness. Self-control does not mean I am in control. It means I let God have control over me. When I can find that center and give over control of my life to God, then I have a foundation upon which the qualities of Spirit living can be built.

lesson by Dawson Guyer