The Lord is at Hand

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.

Gentleness

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!

Patience

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.

Considerate

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.

Christ said:

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.

Conclusion

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!

The Isolation Test

Every Christian can act like one when they are home alone. But when we are trapped in the same four walls with our close family, not able to go out as we wish, it can be a lot harder to be a good witness for Christ. 

How are you coping with the Isolation Test?

I’m not quite sure how long we have been in lockdown now, but I know it has been over a month since I was last in a moving vehicle. I have not left the house since the weekend, and then only to walk our two dogs around the village where I live. My four children are fed up with being cooped up and all they want to do is run around.

For us, the sounds of children bickering about their latest make-believe game may be grating, but for those who live alone it would be a welcome noise.

How are you coping with the extended lockdown period? I call it the “Isolation Test”. And some days I’ve not doing a great job of passing it!

I saw on the news this morning that a charity in the UK are saying that as many as 1 in 6 relationships could break down as a result of this extended lockdown period. Those couples who thought they were in good shape have been shaken or broken by this strange time. We all need space at times, and even our closest friend or spouse can be a source of irritation if we indulge our selfish side.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

1 Corinthians 13:4-7 (NIVUK)

Paul has some very challenging words to say about love in these verses. Love is not easy, and especially so right now.

Love is patient

They say that patience is a virtue. I say it is a critical Fruit of the Spirit which we all need to live a successful Christian walk. You cannot defeat a patient person.

My own patience has been somewhat lacking in recent days. Working from home with childcare and all social events cancelled has made it much harder to bear this fruit. Yet, we are in a very blessed position compared to many, and my focus should be on that fact and not on what I feel I am missing out on.

It is all too easy to fall into the temptation to be impatient. Impatient with children. Impatient with spouses. Impatient with technology, supermarket staff or social media. We all need a healthy dose of patience right now, and we can only find it in walking close with the Lord.

Love is kind

Kindness is another fruit we need right now. It is so easy to forget others and focus on our own circumstances. Alongside all of the bad news stories we hear, I’m so pleased to hear of other stories of kindness. Kindness to key workers. Kindness to neighbours. Kindness to those in desperate need.

Be kind to those you live with. They are likely finding it just as difficult as you are. Go the extra mile and do it even when you really don’t feel like it. Ask God to give you ideas about innovative kindness.

Love is not self-seeking

Love is not self-seeking. This statement alone stops me in my tracks. Love – God’s kind of love – is not about serving ourselves. Love is outward facing. It focuses on other people and sometimes doesn’t even consider itself.

When I lose my temper, it is nearly always because something or someone is getting in the way of what “I” want to do. While this is understandable at times, it is very humbling for me. I clearly have a long way to go in crucifying my flesh and dealing with my pride. I tend to fail the isolation test when I don’t put others before myself. I am guessing that I am not alone in this.

Selfishness is an ugly thing, and one we do not like to talk about or focus on. Yet it is something which affects us all to some degree. The more we deal with our selfishness and pride, the more loving we will be.

How do we do that though?

Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.

Matthew 16:24 (NIVUK)


 

Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.

Galatians 5:24 (NIVUK)

Crucifying the flesh means putting it to death. It means that each and every day we deny its desires and wants, and we put love first. Every time we feel that temper rise, we deny it and put the needs of others first. It is hard, but will only get harder if we choose not to do it. Likewise, the more we do it, the easier it will become.

There are no miracles or shortcuts to cure selfishness. It is a step-by-step, day-by-day process. We will only conquer it by consistently putting it down over and over again. And we will all have to do that for the rest of our lives.

Testing times

There is much more we could say about the words from 1 Corinthians on love. In fact, we could do a whole series of studies on it. For today, suffice it to say that passing the Isolation Test will be in no small part to do with how loving we can be to others.

It is an extremely hard time for many people, and so I do not write this to condemn you or make you feel worse than you perhaps already do. I have found it hard to be a good witness during the last few weeks, but that conviction drives me onward to want to do better.

I cannot behave better just because I want to, as my own strength of will isn’t enough and is too easily swayed by circumstances. I need the guiding hand of God to bring about lasting change in my life. I must renew my mind in His Word and allow Him to do the work of crucifying the flesh. Every moment of every day i must surrender to Him. It’s not easy, but God loves us.

I pray that you are able to not just survive this time of social distancing and isolation, but that you can bless others while you do.

We are all different (POW#13)

Pearl of Wisdom #13

Not everyone does things in the same way that you do

Don’t you just love it when someone says, “I wouldn’t have done it like that…” just AFTER you finish doing a task?

You often see it in a working environment; when one employee tries to explain something to another. It seems a simple and straightforward task to the person that knows, and they just can’t understand why it’s such a mystery to the one learning.

The truth is that we are all different. What I find easy, you may find hard; and vice versa. Likewise, you may need to explain something to me several times before I get it, but someone else may grasp it on the first attempt.

Is one better than the other? No – it’s just different.

We need to understand and consciously remember that not everyone is like us. It is extremely arrogant to look down on someone else who can’t do what we can. If you look hard enough, there will certainly be things they can do that you cannot.

We must stop judging one another, and learn to work with each other. We all have different strengths and weaknesses, and God put us together so we can work together – not against each other.

Be patient with other people this week, as they will no doubt have to be patient with you!

Pearl of Wisdom #2

Patience is not the ability to wait, but rather the ability to wait well.

As I stepped on to the train platform, I saw an unusual number of people waiting. I immediately realised there was a delay of some kind. Looking at the boards, I saw that I had a 20-25 minute wait on my hands.

Standing at the edge of the platform, I looked up and down. Some people were huffing and puffing, others were criticising the lonely member of staff about the delay. Some read the newspaper, and others just got angry.

Every single person had to wait the exact same length of time for the train to arrive.

Waiting is not an option in such situations, but how we wait is. Patience is not about waiting, but how we conduct ourselves while we do so. How well do you wait?

Every blessing!