I was reading Philippians 4 the other morning, and this particular verse caught my attention.
Let your gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand.Philippians 4:5 (WEB)
I was struck by the idea that our gentleness as Christians was somehow connected to the Lord being “at hand,” that is, that His coming was near. Setting aside what it means for the Lord’s return to be “near,” why would our gentleness be a factor?
Looking up verse 5 in other translations revealed something interesting. The word translated as “gentleness” in the World English Bible (above) is rendered in a number of different ways.
For example, it is:
- “Reasonableness” in the ESV
- “patient mind” in the Geneva Bible
- “Gentle attitude” in the Good News translation
- “Gracious attitude” in the ISV
- “Moderation” in the KJV
- “Considerate in all you do” in the NLT
- “forbearance” in the RSV
So you see there is something of a range here. It likely means that this word is rather difficult to translate, and the translators had a few different ideas of how it could be rendered in the context of Philippians 4.
Gentle or gentleness comes up fairly frequently, but that is somewhat distinct from reasonable, moderate, considerate or gracious.
What are the lessons for us then, and what is it we think Paul is getting at?
Well, firstly, it shows the value in having different translations to hand or decent Bible software. While we may have a favourite translation for reading or studying, there is clear benefit in looking at other versions to get a fuller picture of what the original text was saying.
Crucially though, Paul is making a point we must not ignore. I think we can sum it up by saying that we are to be very aware of Christ’s return sooner or later, and so, we must live in a way that encourages others to seek and to find Him.
Why would gentleness be important for our witness? We might think of the word gentle to mean delicate, soft or to treat carefully. While it may not be much of a compliment to say that a Christian is “soft” in our modern vernacular, think of it more as the opposite of being hard, harsh or sharp. If in your normal, everyday setting, you are known for giving sharp answers or harsh words, then that could certainly damage your witness for Christ.
Remember the proverb:
A gentle answer turns away wrath,
but a harsh word stirs up anger.Proverbs 15:1 (WEB)
I wonder how many arguments (in the world and my own life) that could have been avoided if answers were given gently, and not harshly. What damage have harsh words, spoken in anger, done that can never be reversed? What relationships might have been restored had gentleness been displayed by one side or the other?
Gentleness is not weakness. Gentleness shows restraint and care for others. Lord, make me a gentle man!
Gentleness is not weakness. Gentleness shows restraint and care for others. Lord, make me a gentle man!Tweet
How about patience? How might that strengthen our case for Christ?
If it is not obvious, then look at the opposite once again. Being impatient with people is no way to win them over.
I recall a recent incident where we dropped off an item at a business and arranged for them to call when they had completed the work they were doing. They sent a message when they were ready, but we did not see it until a little while later. They were quickly on the phone demanding to know where we were and why we had not picked up said item. The business had other appointments arranged, and were impatient despite it not really being our fault at all. The opportunity did not arise, but had it done, I might have reminded them who the customer was in this scenario! Needless to say, I would be reluctant to spend my money with them again!
Impatience does not make a good impression. It does not value the person on the other end, and instead shows that you care far more about your own situation or schedule. Patience on the other hand shows that you value the effort of the person, and that although it may be taking longer than you would like, you are trying to see the best in that person and recognising their own circumstances.
I have said it before, but patience is not just waiting, but waiting well. Showing a good attitude while you are having to wait is a Fruit of the Spirit, and often can only be achieved with the Spirit’s help. When all others are erupting in impatient fury, you can be steadfast and stable, drawing on Christ’s strength, and others will ask what is different about you.
Consideration is, as you might expect, not dissimilar to patience or gentleness. That is why it is connected and translated in those other Bible versions we looked at above.
To be considerate of someone, is to think of them first. Rather than thinking only of ourselves and what we want, we try to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes.
He sat down, and called the twelve; and he said to them, “If any man wants to be first, he shall be last of all, and servant of all.”Mark 9:35 (WEB)
Putting ourselves last is not the world’s way of doing things. The world says that if you put yourself last, you’ll never get ahead! It encourages us to go for what we want, beat everyone else to the punch, and don’t worry about who you trample on along the way.
That is not Jesus’ way.
We are to put others ahead of ourselves. We must prefer others’ needs to our own, and by doing so, we are being considerate. Considerate does not mean we can never have things we want, or go for goals, but it does mean there are certain lines we won’t cross. Being considerate of others means we don’t just take, we look around first and think what others might need.
Practically, we might:
- Not take the last cake at the buffet if it means someone else misses out,
- Allow someone else to go ahead of us in the queue
- Offer our seat to someone standing on the train or bus
- Offer to pick someone up, even if it’s out of your way, when their car is out of action.
These are a few minor examples. If you can think of more, do share them below in the comments.
In the verse prior to the one we have focussed on today, Paul encourages us to rejoice always. Similarly, in the following verse (verse 6), he tells us to be anxious for nothing, but by prayer and petition to make our wants known to the Lord. Both verses 4 and 6 are very familiar, and I’m in no doubt you’ve read blog posts or heard sermons based on them.
It is much less likely, I would wager, you’ve heard teaching on verse 5.
In conclusion, the way we act has a tremendous impact on our witness. If we act badly, few will want to know this Jesus we claim to follow. But if we act well, with gentleness, patience and consideration, they will certainly want to know more about Him.
How will you act today? Remember, the Lord is at hand!