Archives For Philippians

Toward the end of his letter to the Philippians, Paul comes right out and says that he wants something about them—and by extension, something about us—to be known to everyone. He wants us to be famous. But for what? It’s probably not what you’re thinking.

“Let your gentleness be known to all men” (Philippians 4:5, NKJV).

It’s such a simple statement, but what does it mean exactly? There is some disagreement as to how the Greek word for “gentleness” out to be translated. “Gentleness” is the translation given by the NKJV, the NIV and the NET Bible. The updated NASB agrees with a slight adjustment: “gentle spirit,” but the older NASB reads, “forbearing spirit.” The KJV says “moderation.” The ESV has “reasonableness.”

So which is it? Each of these gets at the main idea from a slightly different angle. The Greek word means, “not insisting on every right or letter of law or custom, yielding, gentle, kind, courteous, tolerant” (BDAG).

That helps. Paul is telling us to be nice to other people. We should be reasonable. When a difficult situation arises, we need to be gentle, patient, tolerant.

Rockem SockemNeedless to say, this is countercultural. How many people can you think of who are famous for responding to life’s complexity with consistent gentleness? People usually become famous for being shrewd, competitive, talented, assertive, serious. Most of the powerful people in the world are the kind of people you wouldn’t want to cross, people you’d be terrified to accidentally let down. You don’t get to the top by letting people walk all over you.

And yet, Paul says that everyone should know about our forbearance. No one should be afraid of us coming down hard on them. When we have a doctrinal disagreement, no one should expect our words to be sharp or aggressive. When we’ve been hurt, no one should expect us to lash out. When we’ve been wronged, no one should have to brace themselves against our vindictiveness. Everyone should expect a reasonable response from us. We should be known for gentle words, filled with patience, understanding, and love.

Unfortunately, most of our churches are not known for gentleness. If you ask the average person on the street, they’re more likely to describe Christians as judgmental or hypocritical (note the word “critical” embedded there) than to describe us as gentle, reasonable, or forbearing.

And here’s the tricky part. Even if you feel like you conduct yourself with a measure of gentleness, you haven’t followed Paul’s instructions unless “everyone” would describe you this way. It’s one thing to be gentle in certain situations, it’s another for your gentleness to be known to all. And a gentle Spirit, Paul says, is what we are to be famous for.

Being the Right Kind of Light

Mark Beuving —  February 11, 2013 — 1 Comment

Light BulbChristians are called to be lights to the world around them. We hear that often enough in Christian circles, and rightly so. It’s a biblical concept. In this post, I want to explore one biblical admonition to shine as lights and what it actually means to do so—it might surprise you.

Paul says:

“Do all things without grumbling or questioning, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world…” (Philippians 2:14–15)

Though we live in the midst of “a crooked and twisted generation,” Paul calls us to something different. Our world is grossly skewed, but we shine as lights.

So far, this is very familiar. But notice how we are to be different: “Do all things without grumbling and questioning.” This is what sets us apart.

When you hear the familiar Christian calling to let your light shine, is this what comes to your mind?

We tend to view our “shining” in cultural terms. I’m different when I stand out culturally. Maybe it’s something superficial like a t-shirt or bumper sticker. Maybe it’s more behavioral—I don’t drink, cuss, swear, smoke, or chew. Maybe it’s verbal, where your light shines through your public proclamation of the gospel.

T-shirts and bumper stickers aside, there is a real place for each of these things. Paul became “all things to all people” (1 Cor. 9:22), and while there is much disagreement on whether this includes the freedom to cuss, for example, we can all agree that this would include the freedom to abstain from cussing.

In any case, Paul says that our light shines when we refrain from grumbling and questioning. What should make us different is less cultural and more attitudinal.

How do you react when things don’t go your way? How do you respond when your friends and coworkers begin complaining? These aren’t matters of preference. They’re not low priority issues. More is at stake than potentially hurting someone’s feelings or coming across as a whiner.

Paul says that if we do everything without grumbling, we will be “blameless and innocent,” we will be “children of God without blemish,” and we will “shine as lights” in the midst of a “crooked and twisted generation.” That sounds like a big deal.

While we’re busy trying to be different by not drinking, not cussing, and avoiding a handful of other taboos, most of us don’t give a lot of thought to our grumbling level. Paul is not telling us to pursue every potential vice but this one, but passages like this challenge us to give special attention to the words we speak and the attitudes beneath them.