Three commands in rapid succession. That’s what I notice as I’m reading the first part of Philippians 4 this morning. And though they should carry equal weight, I’m thinking the reality is that the command in the middle is overshadowed by those on either side of it. That it’s like a lesser noticed sapling in the shade of two great elms. On the one side stands “Rejoice in the Lord always” (4:4). On the other, “be anxious for nothing, pray about everything” (4:6). I’m guessing that for most of us who read our bibles, if we haven’t memorized these verses, they are at least very familiar to us.
But what about Paul’s exhortation sandwiched in between these two pillars? What about the command in the shadow?
While the commands that bookend it tell me what to do, the middle command may have an equally far-reaching impact as it tells me how to go about doing it.
Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand.
(Philippians 4:5 ESV)
Your reasonableness. The word is translated “gentleness” in other translations. The NLT renders it, “see that you are considerate in all you do.”
It has the idea of that which is appropriate, of what is suitable for the occasion or circumstance. The word speaks of moderation and a lack of excess–of what is mild or gentle. Think of what is equitable or fair. Or think propriety, and you’re starting to pick up what the apostle is laying down. Think of being even keeled, governed in action by the mind of Christ, and you start sensing how someone conducts themselves when they are rejoicing in the Lord, anxious for nothing, and praying about everything.
And this inner equilibrium is to be “known by everyone.” It is to be part of our persona as followers of Christ. An evidence of the peace of God which passes understanding, a witness to the heart and mind which are guarded in Christ Jesus. It’s that “something you’ve got” that others say they want. Not a fake cool-ness. Not a put on confidence. Not a well calculated act to try and show others we’ve got everything together. Rather, it’s the result of having sought the mind of Christ and of having submitted ourselves to the leading of the Spirit.
As such, we seek to avoid all manner of excess. By the Spirit’s enabling we desire to bring every thought into subjection under the truth of the gospel. In all circumstance we purpose, as much as lies in us, to be imitators of Christ. So that our reasonableness, our gentleness, might be known to everyone.
Why? The Lord is at hand. The Master is coming and will return at an hour we know not. Until then we are His ambassadors and are to be occupied with doing His bidding in His name. Engaged in His work and showing how one labors according to His way. Reflecting something of the light of His character though we are but jars of clay.
And so this command in the shadow emerges as a witness to those we encounter. Not just in what we do, but in how we go about doing it.
By God’s grace. For God’s glory.