“Let your gentle spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near.” || Philippians 4.5
This remarkable statement from Paul is no dainty piece of religious eloquence, no ostentatious display of flourish. These words were penned by a man who bore in his body, and in his innermost parts, the “brand-marks of the Lord Jesus.” These are the words of war; war against “the world, the flesh, and the devil”; war against our own unbelief, pride, entitlement, and joylessness. These are requiring words, especially when everything around and within beckons us to live in a manner which is antithetical to this kind of gentleness.
Paul was an anomaly in his age, a phenomenon of grace, and so ought the church to be. He experienced- in poignant and painful ways- the searing burns of betrayal, the press of resistance, the chaos of persecution, and a whole host of other sufferings. When everything around him was fractured; when many of the churches he had planted seemed to be crumbling doctrinally, morally, and relationally; when he himself was beaten and imprisoned, surrounded by criminals and the stink of fecal matter and urine, the apostle could yet discern the plumb-line of the faith. “…the Lord is near.”
He called the saints to “rejoice in the Lord always”, and in light of His nearness, to abide in that “gentleness” which characterizes His eternal Kingdom.
“…gentleness here signifies ‘a humble, patient steadfastness, which is able to submit to injustice, disgrace and maltreatment without hatred or malice, trusting God in spite of it all.’ [R. Leivestad]
Within the NT it is Christ who preeminently displayed this ‘gentleness’…” [Peter T. O’ Brien, NIGTC: The Epistle to the Philippians, Eerdmans 1991, p. 487]
The call to gentleness is a call to “look unto Jesus” Himself. It is sandwiched between the “rejoice always” of v. 4 and the “be anxious for nothing” of v. 6. It has to do with surrendering the whole of our hearts, congested and pressed as they are with all kinds of pains, sins, and wounds, to the sovereign hand of the God of creation, who happens also to be the One who is “faithful and true”, the only all-wise, ever-kind Father.
Have we the faith to believe, and the humility to accept, that the crushing experiences of our lives- in stormy circumstances and fractured relationships- are meant among others things to refine us as sons and daughters of God? Are we prepared to accept them as gifts, which in due season, will leave the impress of Christ upon us, that we may increasingly bear His image?
Have we been mistreated or misunderstood? Have we suffered tragedy? Have we known the gut-grinding pangs of betrayal? The entangling cobwebs of suspicion and self-consciousness? The suffocating power of subtle bitternesses and jealousies? Have things tended in appearance toward the fulfillment of our aspirations and just at their peak, come crashing to the earth, dashed to total dismemberment?
Paul experienced all of these and more. The twelve disciples experienced all of these and more. Our precious High Priest was carried by the Spirit through ultimate trial and suffering, and in gentleness He “bore our griefs”, “carried our sorrows”, and was “crushed for our iniquities”. His death bore the same sense of finality that any man’s death bears. His breathing was just as silenced, His heart just as stilled, His skin just as cool to the touch, His frame just as stiffened. But alas! He could not be held in the grave, for though they crucified and pierced His body, though the weight of our sin crushed Him to the last breath, nothing could suspend or upset His gentleness. The man who goes down into death in gentleness will assuredly be raised to newness of life.
Our High Priest “has passed through the heavens”, and He is not a “High Priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses… Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”
To live in the brazenness of our sin, beneath the veil of the variegated lies of the Accuser, is to grope in darkness amidst thorns and thistles. In our bitterness we cannot perceive the Atonement Lamb. In our jealousy we cannot behold His beauty. In our haughtiness His Name loses is preciousness. In our lust for power and recognition from men, His communion is deemed undesirable. When we step outside of the gentleness of Jesus Christ, we are thereby blinded from seeing and hindered from tasting the vital, life-giving power of His nearness. Left to ourselves, we lie down and wither in ever-increasing hardness.
On the other hand, to live in gentleness before the throne of God is like unto living in a spring-time garden. There is freshness on every side, fruit brimming with sweetness. Life-giving fragrances and Spirit-nourishment abound. To be gentle is to be as a child— trusting and resting in the Father of Lights. To be gentle is to count others- even those who have wronged us- as more important than ourselves. To be gentle is to bow low before God’s throne, and to experience the glad release of all our sins and all our depressions— to watch them sink and drown in the sea of His sovereign goodness.
Our gentleness will only be realized and demonstrated to the degree that we are conscious, through faith, of the nearness of Jesus Christ.
That nearness is two-fold:
1. He is near to the broken-hearted; those who trust in His righteousness and treasure His grace. We have come to know His nearness on the basis of the Atonement. We who were “far off have been brought nigh by the blood of Messiah.” In the Gospel we are reminded of the gravity of our own sin, of the wrath that we deserved, and of the inexpressible greatness of His mercy. This brings an increase to our gentleness. His “already” nearness is the awareness of His grace, which enables us to turn from sin, and to increasingly behold and treasure the Lord.
2. His return is near, and He will carry out justice and establish righteousness and mercy in that great Day. The Holy Spirit, who has been given to us as a deposit of the resurrection inheritance to come, quickens us with sobriety and hope with regard to the “at-handness” of His appearing. This reminds us that we will soon receive a “new body” which no longer suffers the propensity to sin. This, along with the sure hope that He will put straight every crooked thing in this fallen world, encourages us to gentleness. And when the God of Gentleness appears in the greatness of His Glory, it will be a Day of trouble for those who clung to ungentle-ness.
He is near by His Spirit now, and His literal, physical return is nearly upon us.
“The Philippians are to adopt an unabrasive spirit under provocation because their Lord is coming to vindicate their cause… The ordinary things of life, which are referred to in these verses, are important in the light of that return, so that the Christian who has this hope does not live thoughtlessly day by day.
…For them to know that the Lord is “near”, in the twofold sense suggested above, namely that He is at hand now and will come quickly, would be a powerful incentive for them to respond to the apostolic injunctions and live in this godly way.” [O’Brien]
The presence of His Spirit now, on the basis of the Gospel, and the future presence of the Son Himself upon His return- these are “powerful incentives” by which we live in a godly manner- rejoicing always, being anxious about nothing, making our requests known to our covenant-keeping God, our very present Friend. They not only encourage us to gentleness, but impart the very gentleness of Jesus Christ to us. This is in accordance with our faith.
The Lord is near, saints. His Spirit fills and surrounds the child of God in this age, and He is coming again to fill the earth with “righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit.” Let your gentleness be known to all. Love your enemy. Forgive your brother. Serve your neighbor. Bring “all things” before your God in prayer.
You cannot change the past. You may not be able to mend every fractured relationship. You cannot change the hearts of men. You will not be able to understand every circumstance or explain every trial. You must relinquish control, and offer up your body- including your soulish anxieties- as a living sacrifice unto God. He will make all things new in a manner that most glorifies His Name, and that precisely is where you find “rest for your soul”, when He becomes “all in all”. Fractured though you be, by your sins and by the sins of others, He will mend you beneath the shadow of His wing. “Underneath it all are the Everlasting Arms”, and when He does the mending, your joy will be full.
The bitterness, fear, self-consciousness, jealousy, envy, arrogance, hardness, depression, self-medication, lust, greed, power-hunger— all of these belong to the old you, and that ‘you’ has died with Christ. Flee from them today. Flee from them now, for He is near. “Repent and believe the Gospel.”
“And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” || Philippians 4.7
[Picture credit goes to Merichakan]