Obviously Gentle

(Please read Philippians 4:2-9 in your Bible.  I have based my research on the NIV.  Also, a brief explanation.  This post is twice the usual length because it represents two weeks’ of messages.  Rather than reproduce it in two parts, I’ve put it all in one post.)

Gentleness is a Fruit of the Spirit and evidence of true discipleship.

  1. The principle stated: Evident Gentleness (5).

The biblical standard for gentleness is expressed here in terms of both quality and quantity.

First, “quality.”  What are the qualities that define “gentleness?” GENTLENESS is a virtue that places others before self and emphasizes process over product.  For a gentle person, the ends never justify the means.

I was surprised to read that the Greek word very nearly cannot be translated into English.  It refers to a “sweet reasonableness” or magnaminity.  Greek philosophers said that it was the opposite of “strict justice.”  So, legalism and nitpicking are the enemy of GENTLENESS.

The word is defined as being generous and allowing exceptions to the rules where circumstances merit it.  Gentle people uphold the SPIRIT of the law, by occasionally violating the LETTER; as paradoxical as that sounds.

Harshness, stubbornness, and abrasiveness are the vices that stand in opposition to GENTLENESS.  These vices betray a heart that is not yet touched by the Savior.

Another way GENTLENESS manifests itself is in a person who is not always insisting on their “rights,” who is not exclusively concerned with doing things “right” (as they define it), but in treating people in a loving way.

Unity in the church is not achieved by uniformity.  Persons who insist on doing things exactly the same for all persons and at all times are betraying a spirit of harshness.  Instead, true unity is achieved by being of the same mind – the mind of Christ.  True unity is a grace God gives us, not something we achieve by force or will.

Second, in “quantity;” GENTLENESS is a virtue that is to be universal in scope.  It should be EVIDENT TO ALL, not just one’s family or little circle of friends.  God-given GENTLENESS is offered to all persons all the time because that’s how God has treated every single one of us.

The motive Paul offers here in verse five is preparedness; for THE LORD IS NEAR.     THE LORD is the Gentle Shepherd of Psalm 23.

He is NEAR in terms of proximity; He is nearby, present with His followers at all times.  When we remember He is always watching, we should not assume anything in our homes or even our heads is secret from Him.  So – you can’t fool Jesus; if you are ungentle, He knows it.  And – chances are – everyone else in your life does too.  If you haven’t been confronted about it, that does not mean you’re not guilty of it.

The LORD is also NEAR in terms of time.  His Second Coming can happen at any time. There are at least two consequences in this situation.

One, this means that every moment might be our last opportunity to do to good, to grow in godliness, to show love.  It also means that in the end God wins and we don’t have to go about pushing and punishing; God will take care of it.  His justice is perfect.

Two, even if this were not true, we all have a limited amount of time in this world: life is short.  Wise people will therefore cram life full of good things, godly actions, and avoid the negativity.

  1. The principle applied: Feuding Church Ladies (2-3).

Notice that 2000 years later, no one remembers what they were feuding about.  There are at least two reasons for this.

First, because the true causes of feuds are rarely about the presenting issue.  People complain about things to act out their emotions but mask them by transferring their feelings to another issue.

Second, because feuds are, by nature, exercises of pettiness, the presenting issue is almost always something trivial blown out of proportion.  So when you have a “ten dollar” reaction to a “fifty cent” problem, start asking probing questions to get behind the façade to the real issue.

The real danger with feuds is not the presenting issue, but the divisive effect on the church; the ruination of relationships and progress deterred.  Relational carnage happens because these squabbles never occur in a vacuum; collateral damage is created as the combatants naturally seek allies and draw others into the disagreement.  Others will join in even if they’re not invited; sometimes with good motives.

They were good church ladies.  His reference to their feud is not a slur on their character, but a situation that is impeding the progress of the church and needs to be acted upon by the church to move them to resolution.  There are two clues that tell us how Paul felt about them.

First, because Paul identified them as colleagues in ministry.  He made this point in two phrases.  He wrote that they CONTENDED AT MY SIDE. “Contended” is a word picture of a team of athletes engaged in competition or teams of gladiators fighting in the arena.  Brotherhood is born in battle.  He also referenced  THE REST OF MY FELLOW WORKERS, thus including Euodia and Syntyche.  Paul named Clement specifically, who may have been one of the elders in Ephesus as an example for those persons he saw as collaborators.

Second, he reminded of what’s really important: WHOSE NAMES ARE IN THE BOOK OF LIFE. The BOOK OF LIFE is one of the ways the Bible depicts God’s knowledge of His own people (see Exodus 32:32; Psalms 69:28; 139:16; Revelation 3:5; 15:21+27).  It is a symbol that is meant to give us confidence that God knows us by name, that He has not forgotten us, and assure us that we have a future in heaven.

We’ve already looked at how the presenting issue may not be THE issue. Therefore, one way of resolving conflicts is to drain away the emotions that make molehills look like mountains.  To regain a truthful perspective, we need to look at the big picture.  Here’s the best example; we’re all going to be in heaven; the rest is temporary and trivial, so dial down the “emo.”

Paul hinted there were problems of this sort in the Philippian church in 2:14, where he commanded them to DO EVERYTHING WITHOUT COMPLAINING OR ARGUING.  That is one of God’s standards for church life.

In very emotional language, Paul begs Euodia and Syntyche to reconcile.  He plead with them to simply AGREE.  That should not be as difficult as it may seem in deep feuds.  The biblical standard for church relationships is to be so close and so frequently in agreement that it could be said that we share one mind: the mind of Christ!  (See 1 Corinthians 2:16; Acts 4:32; Romans 15:5-6; 1 Corinthians 1:10; 2 Corinthians 13:11.)

We know nothing about these ladies or their feud and I believe that’s what God wanted.  Though Paul specifically named them, we are not to focus on their situation, but instead see it as a universal example of how God’s standard is to be enacted in our church.  The bad actors and miserable situations that we experience should be resolved to achieve God’s standards.

Paul wisely sought the help of a third party to help end the bickering and reconcile the two church ladies.  An alternate reading may be footnoted in your Bible names this mediator as Syzygus, which means “the Unifier.”  As is frequently the case in the Bible, we can’t say with certainty that word is a title or a name.

  1. The principle extended: Virtues and Practices Joined to Gentleness (4, 6-9).

Because August is the month of the Spiritual Fruit of Gentleness, we are emphasizing it as we interpret this passage.  In truth, all virtues overlap one another and share one another’s attitudes and actions.

Verse four develops the virtue of JOY.  I WILL SAY IT AGAIN: REJOICE! Paul wrote.  Philippians is the “Book of Joy.”  It uses that word more frequently than any other book in the Bible except Psalms, Proverbs, and Isaiah, which are all much longer books.  Joy is a virtue and it fits with gentleness because gentle people are not engaged in a 24/7 mission to find faults in others, a mission that results in making one’s self miserable and others too.

Note it is REJOICE IN THE LORD.  The prevalence of joy is one indicator of genuine faith.  True followers of Jesus are marked by cheerfulness because they have received God’s grace and in turn, extend it to others.  REJOICE clearly refers to an emotional experience that is grounded in God, not the empty-headed or mean-spirited or obscene kind of merriment that the world can provide.

In verse six we are instructed to annihilate anxiety by the practice of prayer.  Anxiety robs us of JOY and works against GENTLENESS because it makes self the object of our attention again.  Even if we think we’re anxious for others, anxiety is not manifest in legitimate concerns.

Anxiety is carrying unreasonable burdens of care for self or others.  It can be an excuse to justify our being bossy, a busybody, a gossip, or any kind of sin. Oddly, it can also provide an opportunity for someone else to be bossy, a busybody, to gossip to you.  Don’t give them that opportunity!

Look at the scope of Paul’s command – there are no exceptions – DO NOT BE ANXIOUS ABOUT ANYTHING.  Stop making excuses for your anxiety, that only puts worry on “life-support” and keeps it working on you.

The antidote to anxiety is not an exercise of will or positive thinking, for those things keep the emphasis on self.  We’ve got to get our minds off ourselves and on the LORD instead.  One way to do that is by prayer.  Turning to God in prayer is NOT a means of avoiding responsibility or making light of things that really are serious.  Instead, it is a faithful and reasonable act when we remember that God is greater than all our troubles: see Psalm 54:22; 1 Peter 5:7; 1 Corinthians 7:32.

God can handle all the things that cause you to be anxious; dump them all on Him, trust Him, and move on to something more pleasant or to a place where your sense of responsibility will do someone some good.  Turn off anxiety by being assured that God hears and answers your prayers.  Always.

Stop trying to be God or manage God, for that is the way of anxiety. Instead, accept His will and His timing with the absolute assurance that He is acting in your own best interests.  It will turn out better than you can think or imagine (Ephesians 3:20-21).  As Hebrews 11:6 says, God rewards those who earnestly seek Him.  Prayer relieves anxiety to the degree that we release our problems (real and imagined) into God’s care.

I think Paul uses three different words for prayer not because we’re to see them as three different forms of prayer, but so that we will see that all prayers are to be done WITH THANKSGIVING.  You can define PRAYER, PETITION, and REQUESTS in such a way as to emphasize their differences, but that serves this point, too: all prayer is to include THANKSGIVING.  This principle is true of all experiences of life, but especially prayer.

If we go to complain, list grievances, expand divisions, emphasize things that seem large because of our anxiety, we are not doing God’s work.  Whether we’re talking about business meetings or prayer meetings, THANKSGIVING and other acts of positivity are a necessity, not an add-on (see Romans 1:21).  To thank God is to give Him glory and to give Him glory is to make Him known, to bring our focus to His presence among us.  All good begins here.

In verse seven, Paul sets forth the virtue of peace.  A result of prayer is the elimination of worry.  Into that emotional/spiritual vacuum rushes God’s PEACE.

PEACE is tranquility, calmness, serenity that is not based on circumstances or emotions – which swiftly change – but on the unchanging character and purpose of God.  This isn’t worldly peace, but THE PEACE OF GOD.  It is not peace with God, for that is assumed; that is a prerequisite of discipleship.  It is PEACE from GOD, an act of grace that is positive and positively other-worldly.

Godly peace is so wonderful it TRANSCENDS ALL UNDERSTANDING.  It is not reasonable or explainable in any typical worldly sense.  It exists in spite of experience, circumstances, and the ill will of Satan and his human accomplices.

It has a stabilizing effect; God’s peace will GUARD YOUR HEARTS AND MINDS IN CHRIST JESUS.   As they lived in a imperial colony city, the Philippians would’ve understood and appreciated this word GUARD, as they were a protected city; a garrison of Roman legionnaires were tasked with keeping them safe.  This is the picture this word is meant to give a feeling of being projected.

But it’s fair to ask; GUARD YOUR HEARTS from what?

– From what has happened. Your past does not have to determine your present or future.  You do not need to feel anxiety that what has happened before will happen again.

– From what is happening. We’ve all experience the shock of unexpected and unwanted things intruding on us suddenly.  God’s peace will proof us against the present if we will make it a matter of thanksgiving and prayer.

– From what will happen; say nothing of what we fear may happen. Prayer puts God in charge of the future and trusts He knows how to make it good.

By HEART, Paul refers to the place from which our thoughts, emotions, and moral decisions come.  Modern science tells us all that happens in the brain.  The battle for your soul is fought between your ears, so naturally that is the very place that should be characterized by PEACE.

MINDS might have been understood by Paul’s readers as describing our character, the ways that we typically behave.  Character is the accumulation of all the decisions we’ve made.  We need a GUARD there so we will make good decisions and continually improve our character.

Verse eight develops the benefits of the practice of positive thinking.  Given Paul’s reference to HEARTS AND MINDS in v. 7, he naturally turns to our thinking in v. 8.  Positive thinking means to focus our attention on God and the good things that surround Him.  Paul lists a few representative examples of God’s good things, the things that should dominate our conscious thoughts.

Truth = everything of God is true; everything untrue is of Satan; sincerity doesn’t enter into the picture.

Nobility is another Greek term that cannot be adequately translated with a single English word.  It takes in “honest, honorable, venerable, worthy of respect or reverence, esteemed, majestic.”

Righteousness is also justice.  To be just, each of us must give God and other people what they are due.  It is fulfilling our obligations, satisfying our duty, keeping responsibilities.

Purity is a comprehensive term that takes in moral and religious dimensions, being free from sin in motive, word and deed.

Loveliness includes everything that prompts a loving reaction; things that are “amiable, attractive, winsome.”

Admirability refers to one’s reputation; especially anything that is “gracious, kindly, auspicious, winning, attractive.”  Living an admirable life means giving people more reasons to like you (positivity) than reasons to be offended by you (negativity).

Excellence includes all virtue.  It is a word that is comprehensive in all things good and moral.

Praiseworthiness: Paul elsewhere uses this word in reference to praising God (see Romans 2:29; 1 Corinthians 4:5), but here it is a conduct of life that makes everybody happy, having universal approval.

We’re to do two things with this information: First, THINK on these things.  The word THINK means to “reckon, calculate, evaluate, take into account, ponder, dwell on, reflect upon.”  We are to consider these virtues fully.

Second, this is not to be just an exercise of brains, as Paul ends with the words PUT IT INTO PRACTICE.  These virtues are not just to be admired at a distance and put on a shelf as trophies, they are to be increasingly part of our character, increasingly manifest in the decisions we make.

In verse nine we learn that we can receive peace by following our leaders. This is a case of Paul taking the theoretical ethical discussion and putting in into concrete, personal terms: “Inasmuch as you have seen these things in me, practice them.”  In 1 Corinthians 11:1 & Philippians 3:17 Paul urged his readers to follow his example as he followed the example set by Jesus.

He also reminds them to stay faithful to the faith as they LEARNED it from him.  False teachers would inevitably come in behind him, sowing seeds of doubt and division.  The easiest way to resist them was to stick with what they already knew to be true. (See Acts 20:20-21.)

They were also to stick with what they had RECEIVED from him – the ways of ordering church life and the specific practices that Paul instituted from the founding of the church until that time.

PEACE is the result of following our leaders.  THE GOD OF PEACE WILL BE WITH YOU means that God wants His people to be at PEACE.  Knowing our nature, He knows that PEACE is only possibly in submission to godly leaders.

People who place self-interest ahead of the good of the church often manifest this sin in rebellion against established leaders.  We all know that in any situation where the “leaders” outnumber the followers, confusion and division are rife.

This reference to the presence of God and His peace forms the benediction to six of Paul’s letters.

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