Last week, we considered Paul’s command for God’s people to be characterized by a gentle, forbearing, gracious spirit. There were five key features of that Gospel-shaped gentleness that is to dominate our demeanor as followers of Christ. And I focused the application of those features almost exclusively on how gentleness is to manifest itself in the life of the church. And that’s vitally important.
But Paul casts a wider scope than the family of God concerning on this command. Philippians 4:5 says, “Let your gentle spiritbe known to all men.” And so this reasonable flexibility, this temperate gentleness, this patient forbearance, this willing surrender of our own rights, and this happy contentment is to be made manifest not only to your family; not only to a certain group of Christian friends who are very easy for you to get along with; not even only to your fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. But your gentle spirit is to be made evident and manifest to all people. And if that’s the case, that means we are to manifest this gentleness in all the spheres of our life before unbelievers. Let’s consider a few of those.
First and foremost, we are to let our gentle spirit be evident to our families. Many of us come from families in which not every member of the household is a follower of Christ. And all of us have extended family members that don’t yet believe in Jesus. If you have young children, you have a built-in, in-house mission field. But especially those who labor to follow Christ in an unequally yoked marriage, or those who have grown children who are unbelievers, it is extremely vital to let your gentle spirit be made manifest to them.
To be sure, your holy life is not sufficient to win sinners to Christ. Faith comes by hearing, Paul says, and hearing by the word—the message—about Christ (Rom 10:17). Your life, no matter how holy and chaste and praiseworthy, is not the Gospel. However, there is no greater way to undermine your own preaching of the Gospel to your family than to un-say with your lives what you say with your lips. And so all of the flexibility, all of the gentle demeanor, all of the patience and surrender and contentment—all of that must be consciously aimed at them. After all, we want to make it plain to them that the Gospel has the power not only to justify, but also to sanctify; that it’s not just talk, but that Christ really has the power to transform sinners’ lives. And your life is exhibit A.
We also need to manifest gentleness before unbelievers in our workplaces. You may be working under an unreasonable employer. The Apostle Peter’s admonition to servants is apposite to you: “Servants,” (and we could insert, “and employees”), “be submissive to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and gentle, but also to those who are unreasonable. For this findsfavor, if for the sake of conscience toward God a person bears up under”—or patiently forbears—“sorrows when suffering unjustly” (1 Pet 2:18–20). For those employers who are not “good and gentle,” they are to learn gentleness by the example they see in their employees who name the name of Christ.
And your co-workers—those who can’t stand the fact that they have to work with someone so archaic and xenophobic as to believe that the only way to get to heaven and avoid the punishment of hell is to believe in Jesus Christ alone for salvation. They can’t stand the fact that they have to work with someone so bigoted and narrow-minded as to deny homosexuals the same “right” to “marriage” as heterosexuals enjoy.
But here’s the thing: they expect narrow-minded bigots to be inflexible, harsh, aggressive, and always insisting upon their own way. But when they see people who stand immovable upon their convictions on the one hand, but on the other hand respond to trials with joy and thanksgiving (Jas 1:2), who when they are reviled don’t revile in return (Rom 12:14; cf. 1 Pet 2:23), who turn the other cheek (Matt 5:39) and even repay evil with good (Rom 12:17)—when they see those people, they have no idea what to do with them! These are bigots! Narrow-minded exclusivists! And yet they’re gentle, pliable, patient, always in control of their temper, content even amidst mistreatment. Now there’s a way to shine like stars in the darkness of the night sky (Phil 2:15). There’s a way to adorn the doctrine of God our Savior in every respect (Tit 2:10).
And though there are numerous other arenas of life in which this applies—the way we interact with our neighbors, with repair men who providentially have occasion to meet us in our homes, with cashiers at the supermarket—I’ll mention just one more for the sake of time and space.
Thirdly, we need to consider the need for gentleness in our contending for the faith. As we take the Gospel to our friends and neighbors, and as we labor in the fight for truth against false doctrine, we must indeed contend for the faith, but we need never be contentious for the faith. I’ve failed at this more times than I can number. But as I meditate upon this passage, I can’t think of anything more incongruous than a follower of Christ dealing harshly with someone he hopes to see saved by the Gospel.
Martyn Lloyd-Jones laments, “How difficult it is to differentiate between holy zeal or righteous indignation, and the mere expression of a harsh, critical, judgmental spirit.” We need to search our hearts and examine our lives, friends. Let your gentle spirit—not your critical spirit—be made known to all men—let gentleness be your reputation, not criticism—especially before those whom you mean to win to Christ.
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Now, you may say, “Wait a minute. If I’m gentle with all people, especially to those who don’t belong to the household of faith, who are hostile to Christ and who would love nothing more than to make life difficult for me—if I patiently endure ill-treatment from them, they’re going to learn fast that they can go on abusing me without fear of retaliation! I’ve got to stick up for myself! I don’t want to be a doormat!”
That’s not lost on the Apostle Paul. He was very much aware of the Philippians’ situation as they labored under opposition and through conflict with the hostile pagan world (cf. 1:27–30). But it is precisely those hostile neighbors that Paul has in mind as he pens this command. They are watching the way these Christians respond to the pressures that they bring upon them. Fully cognizant of this hostile environment, Paul commands the people of God to be marked not only by a constant joyfulness, but by an eminent and demonstrable gentleness to all people—inside and outside the church—even and especially when we are mistreated by them.
But how? How are we supposed to let our gentle and forbearing spirit be evident to all people—even those that would take advantage of us? We’ll look into the ground of our gentleness next week.