The other night I was reading a book on Christian disciplines. This particular section was about meditating on God’s Word. Meditation isn’t like eastern religions that tell us to empty our minds. No, Biblical meditation is about filling our minds with God’s Word. “This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate in it day and night, that you may observe to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.” (Josh 1:8)
I was drawn to two verses in Philippians. “Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice! Let your gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand.” (Phil 4:4-5) This Scripture should be looked at in context. First, we should realize that Paul is writing this epistle while he is under house arrest, courtesy of the Roman Empire. The church in Philippi had supported his missionary work, and they may have been concerned for his well-being (Phil 1).
Apparently, there was some discord in the church with people acting selfishly, and they needed to focus on the example of Christ (Phil 2). False teachers were also attempting upset their confidence in Christ (and in Paul’s teaching) by teaching that some form of obedience to the Law was necessary for salvation (Phil 3). And, finally, the discord in the church had reached such a point that Paul calls out two women by name and asks them to get along with each other (Phil 4:2). And when he calls them out, he gives them the key to how to unite together, “to be of the same mind in the Lord”. To put each others’ ideas aside (pride), and come together underneath what the Lord says (be humble).
Here was a church facing external pressures and internal problems, and they may have wondered if it was even possible to break out in joyful celebration, but that didn’t stop Paul from strongly encouraging them to “Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice!” He didn’t say when you see a good reason to rejoice; no, he said always. How does Paul expect that we should be able to rejoice always? He was writing from prison and had many beatings while he worked to get the Word of Jesus out, and he rejoiced. He was able (and we can be as well) because “joy is a personal choice to react to life’s uncertainties with faith”–Skip Heitzig.
He strongly emphasized that such an attitude should be constant, not temporary. This echoes the words of the previous chapter, “finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord” (Phil 3:1a). Believers find our joy and hope in God. Joy is part of the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22–23) and is important for every believer. Every believer should seek to rejoice in the Lord despite difficult situations, just as Paul did.
In addition to rejoicing, Paul encouraged his readers to be known for gentleness, patience, and moderation. “Let your gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand.” This is the meaning of the Greek word, epieikes, translated “reasonableness” in the ESV. Christians are not to be seen as easily angered or foolish, but rather as reasonable, wise people who can handle difficulties and disagreements with maturity. This is important in the context of Paul’s request to Euodia and Syntyche to put aside their very public argument.
This particular Scripture cut right to my heart. With all that’s going on today politically, it can be an emotional roller coaster, and showing gentleness is not my strong point. I’m much more of a “bull in a china shop” kind of woman. But God’s Word says over and over again that we are to be gentle:
- “But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy.” (James 3:17)
- “I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” (Eph 4:1-3)
- “Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil” (1 Cor 13:4-5).
- “And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth, and that they may come to their senses and escape the snare of the devil, having been taken captive by him to do his will.” (2 Tim 2:24-26)
It truly is about dying to self so that we are asking for His will to be done and not our own. Ouch — there’s that pride that keeps coming up! We are to remember that the Lord is always with us, and that He expects His church to be unified under His Word. It’s important to note that this is about the unification of Jesus’s church, it’s not about unifying with those who aren’t His heirs, because their father is the devil, and there is no truth in him so there’s no truth in those who follow him (John 8:44). “Let your gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand.” So we must continue to die to self, and unify under God’s Word with other believers.