Do you like fences? Do you have one around your house to keep your young children inside the yard, keep the dog confined, or the deer out? Some people like fences for privacy and some for security. Fences protect, restrict, reduce unwanted noises, warn against intrusion, define boundaries, and may provide a retreat. I appreciate barriers because I have found that there is usually a good reason for them, even if it’s just to keep me from intruding on some else’s space. I especially love the fences around dog parks because they allow my pooch to run and play off-leash while I can relax and enjoy myself. Spiritually, the Holy Spirit protects me from my sinful inclinations, as if standing guard at the threshold of my mind and my heart, helping me to enjoy life. “I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that day what has been entrusted to me.” (2 Timothy 1:12) In the same chapter of, two verses later, Paul instructs Timothy, and us to guard ourselves. “By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you.” (1:14) The process of sanctification, by which the fruits of the Spirit come to maturity in us, is one of cooperation with God’s Spirit. It is… “confidence in God that prevents Paul from being ashamed. His boldness arises not from self-confidence but from God-confidence.” (1) We are to define, protect, and secure our faith in Jesus Christ, our free inheritance, with confidence in the Lord. We guard against intruders and distractions from the world, Satan, and our old sin nature. By protecting our faith, we can maintain our peacefulness, humility, and gentleness.
In the letter to the Philippians, Paul instructs his fellow believers and us to rejoice in the Lord. One aspect of spiritual joy is the peace we share with God and others. Let this passage encourage us as we consider the fruit of gentleness one more time: “Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:5-7) The peace of God is the cause of our reasonableness, translated gentleness, or moderation in some Bibles. We can be calm rather than anxious, able to take all our cares to God who guards us before we act. Yet, Paul reminds us that we have even greater protection in three ways, through our practice of reasonableness, calmness, and prayer. These three verses also contain three imperatives for believers: let your reasonableness be known; do not be anxious; and make your requests known to God (in prayer, supplication, thanksgiving). Finally, he gives three descriptions of the Spirit’s work in us: gentleness, relief from anxiety, and accord with him. The Lord is close, peaceful, and watchful. God’s loving and instructive imminence safeguards our gentleness, calmness, and desire to pray with thanksgiving. Won’t we put God’s peace to work through our gentleness, calm, and thankful prayers?
Although the first imperative sounds passive, we have to work at doing it in a high-strung, social media-driven culture. “Let your reasonableness [forbearance, moderation, gentleness] be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand…” (v. 5) It is good news that God gives us reasonableness through the Spirit. Our challenge is to demonstrate it in our relationships. John Gill’s list of possibilities for this “modesty” include: “giving up strict and proper right…and not rigidly insisting on it; putting up with affronts and injuries, and bearing them with patience; and interpreting things in the best sense, and putting the best constructions on words and actions they will bear…exercised towards ‘all men’; not only to believers, the members of the church, by ruling with gentleness, by bearing the infirmities of the weak, and by forgiving offences.” (2) As with all our verbal and non-verbal witnessing, the effect sought is the glory of God, maturity in Christ, and salvation of the elect. “Reasonableness is crucial for maintaining community; it is the disposition that seeks what is best for everyone and not just for oneself. The Lord is at hand emphasizes the fact that Jesus will surely return as judge and will hold people responsible for their deeds (James 5:9).” (3)
I’m sure none of us object to Paul’s teaching. However, putting it into practice is another matter. But he offers the help we need in the next verse: “…do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” (v. 6) “Paul echoes Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 6:25–34) that believers are not to be anxious but are to entrust themselves into the hands of their loving heavenly Father, whose peace will guard them in Christ Jesus.” (4) As we pray, we enter communion with God, Christ, and the Holy Spirit, who unite our wills with God’s. “[And] we must join thanksgivings with prayers and supplications; not only seek supplies of good, but own the mercies we have received. God needs not to be told our wants or desires; he knows them better than we do; but he will have us show that we value the mercy, and feel our dependence on him.” (5) Through our prayers, God’s peace can inhabit us so that gentleness and calmness reign where fear, doubts, fretting, worry, or anxiety were overtaking our minds and hearts. On our American Thanksgiving Holiday today, what could be more appropriate than focusing on thankfulness and prayers of thanksgiving to God.
Putting God’s peace to work through our thankful prayers for ourselves and in our intercession as a priority will yield remarkable gentleness and reasonableness. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (v. 7) “The peace of God, the comfortable sense of being reconciled to God, and having a part in his favor, and the hope of the heavenly blessedness, are a greater good than can be fully expressed. This peace will keep our hearts and minds through Christ Jesus; it will keep us from sinning under troubles, and from sinking under them; keep us calm with inward satisfaction.” (6) Our holiness is crucial to our witness, so we must not detach verse 7 from verse 5, “Let your reasonableness be known to everyone.” As a result of our spiritual maturity, the fruit we bear should attract others who want to know more about us, and hopefully, our faith. The Lord did not redeem us for our comfort and relaxation. He saved us for his glory, best demonstrated in our witness for Christ.
If you’re like me, witnessing is one skill that takes constant improvement. Bridging the interests of others to that of Christ is a skill Jesus demonstrated frequently. He spoke of God’s presence when Nicodemus asked him how he knew God and instructed the Samaritan woman about living water at the well. (7) In this sense, Jesus “fenced” the conversations to focus on his divine nature gently before confronting their erroneous understanding of true religion. We need to learn how to do this since we tend to shrink, avoiding what might become uncomfortable. “When we are equipped by God’s word for every good work, the other people in our life get to enjoy the fruit…When the truth of the gospel is firmly entrenched in our minds, we’ll look for opportunities to share Christ with them.” (8) The more we practice calmly, trusting that God has given us the reasonableness and calmness that we need, the easier it will become. Do I have a teachable spirit, to become more gentle with unbelievers about Christ? Am I repentant of my fear and impatience that leads to harshness? Do I trust the Spirit to work in me to be considerate, generous, and fair in my dealings with others, or am I rigid, exacting, and demanding? Lord, help us to remember that your peace safeguards our gentleness, calmness, and thanksgiving. “Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise. Is anyone among you sick?…the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.” (James 5:13-16) May there be many prayers of thanksgiving today!
Related Scripture: Psalm 145:18; Proverbs 16:3; Isaiah 26:3-4; Matthew 6:25; John 14:27; Colossians 3:15;James 5:8-9.
- English Standard Version Study Bible Notes, 1 Timothy 1:12, (digital edition), Crossway, 2008.
- Gill, John, “John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible,” Philippians 4:5, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/philippians-4.html
- English Standard Version Study Bible Notes, Philippians 4:5, (digital edition), Crossway, 2008.
- English Standard Version Study Bible Notes, Philippians 4:6-7, (digital edition), Crossway, 2008.
- Henry, Matthew, “Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary on the Bible, Philippians 4:2-9, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/mhn/philippians-4.html
- Matthew Henry, Ibid.
- Arthur, Kay, “The Gospel of John, Part 1, Lesson 7,” Precepts Video Series, https://shop.precept.org/products/john-part-1-dvd-lectures-kay.
- Marshall, Glenna, “Everyday Faithfulness,” page 43, Crossway (TGC), 2020.
November 27, 2020