Rethinking a Gentle Spirit for Women

My mother would tell you that I came out of the womb kicking and screaming. I was a headstrong, willful and independent little girl. Then I was saved at the age of 9, and God began to transform my heart. And now, at the age of 39, I am still being transformed.

Topics: Gender | Sanctification

My mother would tell you that I came out of the womb kicking and screaming. I was a headstrong, willful and independent little girl. Then I was saved at the age of 9, and God began to transform my heart. And now, at the age of 39, I am still being transformed. But, in that, did the Holy Spirit rid me of my independence and strong will? Did He want me to stop speaking my mind and pursuing my dreams?

The Bible tells us as women that our beauty should not be based on outward appearance but on “the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious” (1 Pet. 3:3-4). But what specifically does it mean to have a gentle spirit? Does it mean that someone like me, who doesn’t seem to fit the typical mold of “gentle,” needs to change?

When we think of a woman who is gentle, we tend to envision someone who is seen and not heard. But, in doing that, we are allowing our cultural understanding to define what the Bible means instead of allowing the Bible to define our cultural understanding. Let’s look at Peter’s words more carefully.

The Greek word for “gentle” in 1 Peter 3 is praus, meaning mildness of disposition, gentleness of spirit, meekness. This may seem like our cultural definition hasn’t changed, but read this: “Meekness toward God is that disposition of spirit in which we accept His dealings with us as good, and therefore without disputing or resisting. In the Old Testament, the meek are those wholly relying on God rather than their own strength to defend them against injustice” (Olive Tree).

It turns out the definition of gentleness has more to do with complete trust in God than in a personality trait or outward disposition. A woman who is gentle understands at the deepest level that God is in control. She doesn’t have to be anxious about her circumstances because she knows He defends, protects and loves her.

This word “gentle” occurs in other places in the New Testament. In Matthew 11:29, Jesus says we can come to Him and find rest because He is “gentle and lowly in heart.” Again, He reminds us that He is God and we are not. We can fully trust Him to handle our fears, our burdens and our fatigue. In His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus blesses the meek (same Greek word) and tells them they will inherit the earth. In Matthew 21:5, Jesus quotes a prophecy spoken in Zechariah 9:9: “Say to the daughter of Zion, ‘Behold, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey…’” The word “humble” comes from the same Greek word, praus. The King of the universe comes into Jerusalem in a state of humbleness, meekness and gentleness. He fits our definition perfectly. He trusts God to handle injustice. He knows He will be crucified within a week, but He enters the city with a disposition of absolute confidence in God’s goodness.

Galatians 5:23 even includes gentleness in the fruit of the Spirit, reminding us that gentleness characterizes both godly men and godly women. So when Peter speaks specifically to women about the need for gentleness, exhorting us to have gentle and quiet spirits, he is warning women particularly against seeking beauty in outward appearance. Gentleness for women means trusting God for the things in life that can lead to fear, including the fear that comes with comparison. When our outward appearance—whether physical beauty or social behaviors—begins to consume our thoughts, we are trusting in ourselves to produce attraction, friendship, respect and approval. But, in God’s sight, the woman who trusts Him fully and rests in Him is precious.

So how do we develop a disposition of biblical gentleness? There is no simple formula for trusting God fully, but we have the ability to position ourselves in a way that will grow our belief that He is trustworthy. As we experience trials in life, the Lord affords us opportunities to trust Him more (James 1:3-4). We are called to remember His goodness and steadfast love.

Meditate on His goodness each day. Worship Him for who He is and remind yourself continually that He controls all things. Beg Him to give you a discerning heart to understand when you are falling into distrust and fear. He is faithful to turn our hearts toward Him and remind us of truth.