Joy and Gentleness

Play-Doh

Philippians 4:4-5 “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.”

A theme of joy pervades this entire letter to the Philippians. But immediately before Paul wrote this admonition to joy, gentleness, prayer, and peace, he addressed a problem between two women in the church at Philippi. Somehow these two ladies, Euodia and Syntyche, had gotten crossways with each other. He wants them to settle the issue and get along with each other. Then they can work together again. He asks the rest of the congregation to help them in this.

To this end Paul breaks in with this command: “Rejoice in the Lord always.” He expects that, with hostility giving way to joy, other changes will begin to appear as well.

The first fruit he expects joy to produce is “gentleness. There is more to this than meets the eye. “Gentleness” is about the best one-word translation for Paul’s Greek word in this sentence, if we are not going to use a whole paragraph. But since we have a moment to examine it here, I will give you the paragraph. People in positions of power (think of judges or kings) can often afford to show a measure of leniency and moderation. They can offer a controlled response to those below them. Just because those in high position enjoy personal security, and others can do little to hurt them, they are able to be gracious, calm, and generous. Neither fear nor force drives them to act. The sense of confidence their noble identity gives them, makes it possible. It is the way Christ our King has treated us.

We lose this sense of gentleness when we forget we are God’s children. We are royalty in his family. We possess utter safety and security under his protection. We have no reason to feel threatened and insecure. But if we do, protecting our now fragile self-image becomes more important than loving and serving others. We let them get to us and hurt us. We stop acting nobly in kindness and love. We behave more like the riffraff in the city jail—brawling, posturing, and competing.

No doubt Euodia and Syntyche slipped into this kind of behavior. They forgot who they were. Gentleness gave way to scratching and clawing. No doubt you and I have been involved the same kinds of clashes at church. Don’t overlook how spiritually dangerous this can be. In Galatians 5 Paul lists the kinds of sins that prevent people from inheriting the kingdom of God. We easily agree that sexual immorality, idolatry, drunkenness, orgies will do so. But he also includes discord, jealousy, envy, and fits of rage. They are the polar opposite of gentleness, and just as dangerous to our souls as the more “flagrant” sins he lists.

Paul’s solution? “Rejoice in the Lord always!” Joy will make a difference. This isn’t a manufactured peppiness. It isn’t the same as pasting an artificial smile on our faces. This positive and happy expression comes “in the Lord.” In the Lord all our sins are forgiven because Jesus paid for every one of them at the cross. The joy of relief replaces our guilt. In the Lord I already possess my own little piece of heaven. Jesus’ resurrection guarantees eternal life. The joy of that hope replaces our fear. It makes it possible to rejoice in the Lord all the time.

In the Lord I learn that I am not merely a spiritual survivor rescued from disaster. In the Lord we belong to the nobility of heaven. All things in heaven and on earth must serve us, even if they don’t seem to in the moment. We occupy a secure and privileged position. Our joy in who we are by grace, in whom God has made us, inspires our gentleness, even if others aren’t being so gentle with us.

“Let your gentleness be evident to all,” Paul concludes. By that he does not mean “put on a show for everyone to see.” He doesn’t want them to see it as though they were distant spectators watching through binoculars from the upper decks of the stadium. He wants all of them–all of them–to experience this gentleness from us. Let them see it making their own lives more pleasant. Let them feel it like a child getting to know Play-Doh by squeezing it through his own fingers.

How long could Euodia and Syntyche extend their grudge match while squeezing joy and gentleness through their fingers? How long can we maintain grievances when our joy and gentleness are evident to all? Nothing does a better job of burying the hatchet. When grace fills our hearts with godly joy, others will see it in our gentle lives.

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