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.
Jesus’ food was to do the will of His Father (John 4:34). He had come down from heaven, not to accomplish some sort of independent, personal agenda, but to carry out the will of the One who had sent Him (John 6:38). And that total, loving, delightful allegiance to His Father doesn’t stay in the realm of the theoretical. Jesus’ obedient submission to His Father’s will doesn’t keep Him on Easy Street. He had received a commandment from His Father to lay His life down (John 10:18), and He was intent on continuing His obedience.
To the Point of Death
Philippians 2:8 says that Jesus “humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death.” Surely, as the eternal Son of the Father, Christ had always, from eternity, obeyed His Father and experienced the joy and the fellowship of that obedience. But in His incarnation, obedience to the Father meant greater and greater opposition from all those who were around Him, until they eventually would kill Him.
Here is humility shining like the sun in its full strength. “How can it be, that Thou, My God, shouldst die for me?” The Author of Life humbly submits to death. The One who is without sin humbly submits to sin’s curse. The One who has life within Himself (John 1:4; 5:26)—the One who gives life to whomever He wishes (John 5:21), humbly releases His grip on His own life in submission to the Father and in love for those whom His Father has given Him. “’Tis mystery all: Th’immortal dies!”
Anyone who’s ever played Bible trivia knows that Methuselah lived longer than anyone else. He died at the ripe old age of 969. But have you ever wondered why?
Putting aside all of the environmental factors of a pre-Flood world (where lifetimes lasted a lot longer than they do today), I’m convinced the answer has more to do with the character of God than the physical constitution or health consciousness of Methuselah.
When Methuselah was born, the text of Genesis 5 indicates that his father Enoch began to walk with God in earnest (Gen. 5:21–22). Many commentators believe that it was during the time of Methuselah’s birth that God revealed to Enoch the reality of the coming Flood—which is why Enoch spent the next three centuries warning the world around him of God’s impending retribution (Jude 14-15). Continue Reading…
Alphonse Gabriel Capone was born in Brooklyn New York in 1899. He was one of nine children of an Italian barber. By all accounts Al Capone was a naughty kid. He was expelled from his Catholic school at age fourteen for punching a nun in the face. He then joined a gang. At age nineteen married his pregnant girlfriend (to make an honest woman out of her?) and in search of gainful employment moved to gangsters paradise: Chicago. To describe his career as gainful would be to describe the ocean as moist.
Capone wrested control a vast racketeering syndicate that generated $100 million a year, mostly by smuggling voluminous quantities of booze past the Prohibition police, and then having ladies (the type not hired primarily for their education or personality) serve said liquor to other authorities in his lucrative speakeasy empire.
Al Capone’s crimes were legion. The checkered list includes:
-Bootlegging, i.e. smuggling and selling alcohol.
-Bribery, blackmail, extortion, intimidation, assault & battery, i.e. making people an offer they couldn’t refuse.
-Racketeering, i.e. a catch-all description of the vicissitudinous world of organized crime.
-Conspiracy to commit murder, attempted murder, and when he got it right—murder.
And yet he was never arrested for any of it! He was so legally wriggly, so resiliently rich, and so perniciously powerful that he simply buried any accusation; often literally. Witnesses mysteriously developed amnesia, or decided to try walking on water in concrete shoes. Cops clumsily misplaced evidence, though in the search for it fortuitously stumbled upon loads of extra cash they had forgotten they had. Judges made technical errors on arrest warrants, which put a debilitating cramp in the long arm of the law.
But all that was before the incorruptible agent Elliot Ness and his cohort of Untouchables got on the case.
In 1931, Ness co-ordinated the arrested of the slippery kingpin, and charged him with the one crime Capone considered so small (in comparison with his murders and bootlegging operations), that he hadn’t even bothered to cover his tracks: the crime of tax evasion.
Capone had been making $100 million a year illegally, but the only thing they could prove for certain was that he didn’t pay taxes on those earnings. Capone was convicted of three counts of tax evasion and two counts of failing to file tax returns. This was enough for the courts to put him away for eleven years.
Christians who know their Bibles are already aware that there is only one person who takes death and taxes more seriously than the government, and that is God.
You can complete a form. Maybe there’s a phone number to call. Or in some cases, you might even be able to make an appointment with a real live individual. In business and government services, it’s a mark of sound practice to provide people with a means of filing complaints. But what are Christians to do with their complaints over another Christian – or even an entire church? What we find, as with most things, is the Church is called to practices quite different from that of a business or government agency.
Complaints in the Church?