The pop icon with the most remarkable lip-to-face ratio, Mick Jagger, encapsulated the sine qua non of Ecclesiastes with the characteristic pithiness of enduring poetry: “I can’t get no [obligatory guitar lead interlude] satisfaction.” And in one of the most elastically generous half-rhymes in the Presley corpus, “A little less conversation, a little more action / All this aggravation ain’t satisfaction in me.” I am half way through preaching Solomon’s pensive, apparently cynical magnum opus, and I’m resolute in my determination to not slit my wrists. Last night’s sermon was the mid-term review—chapter 6 of 12. Basically our emo author is waxing glumly about life, the universe, and everything and how nothing in this sunburned existence brings happiness or fulfillment.
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Over the last two weeks, we’ve been considering Paul’s command to “let your gentle spirit be known to all men” (Philippians 4:5). We considered five characteristics of that gentleness, and then took some time to consider the scope of that command, noting that we are not only to be gentle with fellow Christians, but also with those who are enemies of the Gospel.
And we ended last time asking how could possibly do that? let our gentle and forbearing spirit be evident to all people—even those that would take advantage of us?
And we can be so thankful that Paul seems to never lay upon the shoulders of the people of God a divine imperative without also laying under our feet a divine indicative upon which we can stand. In Philippians 4:4 he didn’t merely command us to “Rejoice always,” but to “Rejoice in the Lord always.” The Lord Himself is to be the source, sphere, object, and ground of our rejoicing. Well here also in verse 5, he doesn’t merely command us, “Let your gentle spirit be made known to all men,” but also adds, “the Lord is near.”
So, how is it that we can patiently endure the ill-treatment of a hostile and perverse generation, and consistently repay evil with good? How can we subject ourselves to the attacks of the enemies of Christ and His Gospel without becoming defensive and asserting our rights? Paul says, “The Lord is near.” This is the ground of our gentleness.
Let your gentle spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near.
– Philippians 4:5 –
This passage of Scripture comes in a list of brief commands that Paul means to demonstrate as the means of remaining spiritually steadfast (cf. Phil 4:1). That list is usually read through very quickly, and this command to be gentle often doesn’t enjoy the extended meditation that it deserves.
But the word is packed with meaning, so much so that the translators have always had a hard time translating the Greek word, epieikes. The verse at the top is the New American Standard Update. The older NAS has, “Let your forbearance,” or “your forbearing spirit be made known to all men.” The ESV says, “Let your reasonableness be known to everyone.” The HCSB has, “Let your graciousness be known to everyone.”
The commentators don’t help either, as their lists are even longer: gentleness, graciousness, forbearance, patience, sweet reasonableness, mildness, leniency, yieldedness, kindness, charitableness, considerateness, magnanimity, bigheartedness, generosity. In some measure, all of these concepts are at play in this one word. I thought it would be beneficial to select a number of them and amplify them a bit, so that we can gain a firm grasp on the nature of this duty to which we are called, but which is often easy to overlook. So here are five characteristics of the gentleness that is to dominate our demeanor as followers of Christ.
If you are not Superman, whose vascular system is exponentially energized by photosynthesis of a yellow sun, or a Duracell Bunny, who can pummel a drum for ten hours from four AA batteries, you need to put some thought into how to charge your body.
This may seem as obvious as a gleaming golden arch, but many Christians view sanctification as merely a spiritual pursuit. We err as Plato did, drawing too sharp a distinction between spiritual wellbeing and physical succour. After all, didn’t Paul tut-tut disparagingly at treadmills and jump ropes when he pointed out that, “Bodily training profits little, while godliness profits in every way, for it holds promise for this life and the life to come” (1 Tim 4:8)?
Well, yes, if you have to choose between being eternally godly, or fighting fit, then remember that your body will one day fuel the secret subterranean lives of creatures that you now temporarily outweigh.
But most of us do not have to choose between the two. We could benefit from mastering our memory verses, while working a Stairmaster.
Linda Lou Taylor only got married once…for love.
It was in 1957. Linda was sixteen and she married 31 year old George Scott, whom she loved deeply. The marriage lasted seven years, ending in a regrettable divorce. After that Linda gave up on the idea of marrying for love, and instead began to marry, it seems, for sport. She wed and divorced with a dizzying frequency.
She tied the slip-knot in rapid succession, collecting a string of ex-husbands form all walks of life, including a plumber, a preacher, a bartender, a musician. To add valuable rare items to her collection of erstwhile hubbies, she married a one-eyed convict, two homeless guys, and two gay men.
She creatively upped her matrimonial stats by “committing” to one fellow, Jack Gourly, on three separate occasions. Her shortest marriage lasted a mere 36 hours. It seems her goal was to immortalize her hubby-hobby with a dubious entry in the Guinness Book of World Records as the “most married woman.”
She accomplished this notoriety by wedding Mr. Glynn Wolfe in her 23rd wedding. The marriage was unabashedly performed solely for the publicity of getting into Guinness. You may ask yourself, what kind of man would marry a woman just to help her get into a record book? Good question. The motive was hardly difficult to discern, as that wedding happened to secure for 87 year old Mr Wolfe his own record as “most married man,” when Linda became his 29th bride.
He died a year later, and Linda, age 63, has been single for ten years now, but she told a journalist that she’s on the prowl for husband #24.
Personally, I rankle at the recurring spectacle of those who degrade the sanctity of marriage with such reckless abandon. But it does remind me of another far-fetched story of serial marriages. One that was not trying to mock the sanctity of marriage, but rather to mock—of all things— the doctrine resurrection.
And Jesus answered them, saying, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it to life eternal. If anyone serves Me, he must follow Me; and where I am, there My servant will be also; if anyone serves Me, the Father will honor him.”
- John 12:23–26 -
Jesus is acknowledging that the time for His crucifixion is near. We learn from the next verse (which we’ll look at in a minute) that He was troubled. And that’s not terribly surprising. It’s not that He’s just going to die an agonizing and ignominious death at the hands of those who have perverted His Father’s holy Law, and have subjugated His people under a yoke of slavery that no one in history has been able to bear (Ac 15:10). That would be enough to trouble any of us, certainly.
But Jesus’ trouble went deeper than that.