Look to Shock Others with Humility (Philippians 4:5)

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Look to Shock Others with Humility

Standing Firm by showing off the uniqueness of Christ, part 4–Philippians 4:5

Have you ever been impacted by someone’s shocking behavior? A former sergeant in the Marine Corps took a new job as a high school
teacher. Just before the school year started, he injured his back. He was required to wear a plaster cast around the upper part of his body. Fortunately, the cast fit under his shirt and wasn’t noticeable–this turned out to be an incredible advantage for him.

On the first day of class, he found himself assigned to the toughest
students in the school. These challenging students, having already heard the new
teacher was a former Marine, were leery of him and the teacher knew they would be
testing his discipline in the classroom. Walking confidently into the rowdy classroom, the new teacher opened one of the main windows wide.

He then sat down at his desk. As planned, when a strong breeze made his tie flap, he picked up the stapler off his desk and repeatedly stapled his own tie to his chest. The rest of the year went smoothly.

Without misleading others, Christians are to be those who shock others–with intentional, daily choices, reactions to injustice and joyful behavior during trials you demonstrate God’s amazing greatness, which causes others to take notice.

When gathered in a group which is tearing someone to shreds, you will be the one who points out the shredee’s strengths, or the way their downside causes others to be more productive. In a panic, you remain calm and express trust. When attacked for your faith, you choose to graciously serve the attacker.

When men want to talk improperly about their wives, you express how you adore yours or when women want to complain about their husbands, you speak lovingly of yours–why? Because believers who stand firm are those who can shock others with humility. Open your Bibles to Philippians 4–as Paul begins chapter 4, he calls the church in Philippi to stand firm.

This group of believers is being persecuted by Romans, pressured by unsaved Judaizers, pressed by unsaved, Gentile grace-abusers, partitioned by division. A lot is coming against them, so they need to learn how to be stable, steady, firm in their walk with God in their everyday life.

Read what we’ve studied so far in verses 1 to 5, “Therefore, my beloved brethren whom I long to see, my joy and crown, in this way stand firm in the Lord, my beloved. 2 I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to live in harmony in the Lord. 3 Indeed, true companion, I ask you also to help these women who have shared my struggle in the cause of the gospel, together with Clement also and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life. 4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice! 5 Let your gentle spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near.”

#1  Paul commands the Philippians to STAND FIRM

Are you a mature Christian? If you are, then you’ll be steady–trusting in trial, unshakable with injustice, a servant when no one notices, dependable when all others are not, confident in God’s character and reliant upon God’s Word with every direction and with each decision. Mature Christians stand firm.

How do you cultivate mature firmness? Verses 2 through 9 tell us, starting in verses 2 to 3.

#2  When there’s relational tension, you will PURSUE RELATIONAL HARMONY

Ephesians 4:26, you do not allow the sun go down on your anger. You address issues before they cause real damage. Though you dislike conflict, you deal with what must be addressed, because Jesus taught in Matthew 5:23 and 24, “If you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering.” Don’t continue in worship–go find your brother and be reconciled. Then you’re free to worship God.

Love covers a multitude of sins–we can overlook wrongs committed. But when you can’t overlook the wrong in your heart or when it’s deadly to a saint or a danger to the church, then Galatians 6:1, “Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted.”

Those who stand firm address relational tension. Paul commands the elders in Philippi to resolve the divisive issue between two women in verses 2 to 3. And the third way the spiritually mature stand firm is to . . .

#3  MANIFEST GENUINE JOY

Verse 4 teaches when life storms against you, instead of being afraid you rejoice. Instead of complaining, you give thanks. Instead of worrying, you express confidence in God’s loving control. Instead of blaming others, you trust God is at work providentially. Mature Christians are joyful in heart and express their joy by rejoicing.

They not only know God is in complete control, but He is good, all-wise and loves them more than anything. So they stand firm and express inner joy. If all that is not crazy enough, verse 5 tells us mature Christians actually . . .

#4  SHOCK OTHERS

Christ-like expressions of untamed humility does not mean stapling a tie to your chest, but it does mean putting Christ on display to all men in a surprising manner. Before you read verse 5 again, let me warn you, the translation from Greek to English is very difficult. What do I mean?

NASB says, “Let your gentle spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near.”

ESV says, “Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand.”

NKJV says, “Let your gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand.”

AV says, “Let your moderation be known to all men.”

The Great Reformer Tyndale says, “Let your softness be known to all men.”

After studying the Greek text and reading over thirty commentaries, I discovered four major principles in this verse and came up with an outline to help you embrace what Paul is saying here. Do you see how verse 5 breaks down?

The MEANING to be SOWN—“Let your GENTLE SPIRIT

2  The MESSAGE to be KNOWN—“Let your gentle spirit BE KNOWN

3  The MASSES to be SHOWN—“Let your gentle spirit be known TO ALL MEN

4  The MOTIVE to be OWNED—“THE LORD IS NEAR

So . . . what is?

#1  The MEANING to be SOWN  “Let your gentle spirit

This Greek word epieikes (epi a case) or gentle spirit, is difficult to translate. It’s outrageous how many different ways commentators have tried to get this Greek word into English. Yet in spite of the difficulty of translating the word into English, its meaning is deep and commands every believer to pursue a unique opportunity.

Students, this is for you to shock friends at school, adults to blow them away at work, spouses towards each other, and Christian in ministry and community, and especially surprise those who are lost in need of salvation.

Epieikes has a higher, richer, fuller, more profound meaning than any English word can convey. It cannot be translated fully with any one word, even though we try. Listen to how this single word in Greek is translated by different scholars–mercy, contentment, gentleness, generosity, goodwill toward others, patience, forbearance, sweet reasonableness, friendliness, leniency, bigheartedness, moderation and forbearance.

As Bible scholars wrestle with Paul’s intended meaning in verse 5, in order for us English readers to understand what Paul meant, they have also attempted to describe the meaning of, “Let your gentle spirit be known to all men.” By developing descriptive phrases instead of a single word, like humility and mercy towards the faults and failures of others. They’d say what Paul meant to communicate by “gentle spirit” in verse 5 was . . .

A charity towards the weaknesses of others

Someone who submits to injustice or mistreatment

A person who does not retaliate with hatred or bitterness

A unique individual who does not demand his rights

Enduring mistreatment without bitterness or vengeance

Being satisfied with less than what one is due

Let it be known to all men that my translation is this—“The shocking graciousness of an untamed humility.”

The Greeks themselves explained this Greek word for a gentle spirit, epieikes (epi a case), as a “justice; and something better than justice”. Bible writers used this word in verse 5 to describe a situation when strict justice actually seemed unjust or harsh. What did they mean?

Imagine a teacher who grades a test with an 85% score, but is harder on this student, actually making the grade a low B, finding ways to mark it down to 80%, because this student comes from a great home, perfect environment, every advantage and the errors on the test are there simply because the student is lazy.

Now to understand epieikiea, this same teacher grades the same test from another student stretching their 65% grade to a passable low C, 70%, because this student comes from a poor home, an uncaring mother, with no place to study, battling with constant sickness because he is caring for his eight younger siblings. That’s part of the meaning of epieikiea–something better than justice.

Paul is saying in verse 5, “Stand firm” by letting your “gentle spirit” show–untamed humility. Now think through this MEANING to be SOWN. Mankind abused and maligned Jesus, and He deserved none of it. Peter then tells us how Jesus responded.

For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps: 22 ‘Who committed no sin, Nor was deceit found in His mouth’; 23 who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously” (1 Peter 2:21 to 23).

That’s epieikes (epi a case)–a gracious, giving, patient, humbleness . . . the shocking graciousness of an untamed humility. This word is an intense combination of humility, graciousness, selflessness and mission which will help you live stable in spite of unjust circumstances and become influential for Christ in the worst situations.

This kind of gracious humility runs counter to the cult of self-love–a focus on self-love, self-esteem and self-fulfillment leads only to greater instability and results in the anxiety of verse 6. But when you focus on demonstrating a gracious, forgiving, untamed humility to others, you can’t be knocked off balance by injustice, unfair treatment, slander or humiliation.

In a sense, this gracious word is a warning to not be unduly hot, intense, legalistic or chewed up inside over unimportant matters. Don’t misunderstand–Paul is not talking about being accepting of errant doctrine. Paul is not talking about compromising the truth of God’s Word. Nor is Paul talking about compromising normal, moral behavior either.

Paul is not talking about accepting selfishness, approving of homosexuality, being tolerant of fornication, nor about embracing pride. We’re not to be conformed to this world, but be transformed. Paul is encouraging Christ followers to bend their attitudes towards others, to not make issues, to not be offended, to not embrace the role of the victim, and overall to avoid having an inflexible personality.

You’re to listen, care, and be patient with others–even tolerate immaturity and overlook weaknesses so God might strengthen those believers in His time. Paul said the same thing to spiritual leaders in 1 Thessalonians 5:14, “We urge you, brethren, admonish the unruly, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with everyone.”

This quality is what God meant when he told dads to not provoke their children in Ephesians 6:4, “And you, fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord.” Children often rebel against their parents and their parents’ faith. Often it is because fathers have been too harsh and unbending–they have provoked their children.

Though we must uphold truth, we do live by grace. Though we take sin seriously, we also thank God for His forgiveness. There must be consequences, but also a gracious humility expressed in our parental responsibilities.

I’ll never forget when I was in trouble with the police for racing around in my car at 16–I also forgot my license at home. I thought my dad was going to lay into me, but he came home from the police station laughing and said, “I thought they arrested you–ha ha ha.” (I went, “Huh? Huh? Huh?”) He joked about my car compromise, because he knew I was repentant and felt stupid. His response shocked me and taught me more than any lecture, discipline or consequence could at that moment. “Let your gentle spirit”–Let the MEANING to be SOWN in our hearts.

What is Paul asking for? The “gentle spirit” of verse 5 is the ability to shock people with an untamed humility in the midst of any crisis or trial. As Paul writes these very words–as he writes verse 5, he is, at this moment, chained to a soldier under house arrest. This was not always a civilized and just situation.

I imagine a Praetorian being weary of Paul and his religion. There might have been moments where the guard yanked on the chain binding the guard to his prisoner, making it painful and uncomfortable for Paul. In a worst case, the guard might have hit Paul with the links and knocked Paul down. This is all speculative, but I imagine Paul might have responded by asking that same Praetorian that very day, “How is your younger son? I heard you talking to Flavius and understand your boy has been sick. I’ve been praying for him every day since I heard.”

That is a shockingly humble spirit. You say, “Paul would never do that.” Actually, he already did–in Philippi in Acts 16. He had been wrongfully accused, then publically beaten, jailed–then, to make it more unjust and even more painful, he was put in stocks. So what do Paul and Titus decide to do? Sing praise to the Lord.

Even when escape is possible because of an earthquake, Paul shockingly stays put. The jailer and his family respond by submitting to Christ in salvation. What happened? Humanly, that family was shocked by an untamed humility. Shock others by reacting to a trial, injustice, or unfairness with a manifestation of giving selfless humility.

This is the kind of soft, untamed humility that was necessary to resolve the conflict between Euodia and Syntyche in verses 2 and 3. And this quality will cause you to stand firm when life gets unfair. (Now don’t panic, point number one is long and the others are much shorter.) This is the kind of behavior the Lord wants you to show off to the world.

#2  The MESSAGE to be KNOWN  “Let your gentle spirit be known

Let your shocking, untamed humility “be known”. The word order in the Greek is as follows. “The gentle, of you, let be known, to all men.” And what you must know is this–the main verb in this verse, the only verb in this verse is “let be known”. This is the point of this verse. This is the emphasis. I’m reading over thirty commentaries and most of them miss this point.

Paul is telling you, as you stand firm and grow into a godly man or godly woman, you’re commanded to have this quality of untamed humility be made known. Why? You glorify God by showing off His attributes and this shocking humility is one of the attributes of Christ. Paul already reminded us, this untamed humility is exactly what Christ was like.

In Philippians 2:6 to 8, “He … did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant… 8 … He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death.” Christ humbled himself. Jesus told us this is what He is like in Matthew 11:29, “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” Christ is humble.

And here in Philippians 4:5, Paul says show this Christ-like quality off, put it on display, let it be known! Let the world see untamed, gracious humility–when you’re sick, under trial, or treated unjustly–show Christ off. “Let it be known” is not a suggestion–it is a command–a command which is directed at your everyday life.

This week at school, at a restaurant–a command which tells you wherever you are, whenever the Lord wills, make this known. God’s Word is so exact–this command points to a reality. The verb is passive, which means when God creates the opportunity, when God directs the circumstances, when God initiates the harsh, difficult, unjust, unfair situation now imposed upon you—“let it be known.”

In other words, when God opens the door, step through the door with untamed humility. This verb known is not knowledge of facts, but knowledge gained from experience. This is intimate knowledge, personal knowledge, knowledge of relationship. So Paul tells the Philippians to make this gracious, untamed humility personally known.

Do not keep this to yourself. Do not keep this humble graciousness locked in your heart. This is for people to see, for others to experience, for brothers and sisters to marvel at. Let it find expression in your conduct when God gives you a window to show it. This is not extra—no, this is a command to glorify God. To stand firm, we are to put Christ on display in a shocking manner. You and I are commanded to make this untamed humility personally known–to whom?

#3  The MASSES to be SHOWN  “be known to all men

This is not merely for Church and community group–this quality is not merely for believers, but for all men. The verb “be known” is third person plural, which means everyone. Then Paul adds the word all to emphasize the need to show humility to all. Paul makes it clear our gracious humility should be demonstrated to those inside and outside the Church–towards both believers and unbelievers.

Not just to those we love. Not just to those whom we respect. But everyone, including strangers, crazy drivers, contentious people who cut in lines, IRS agents, cranky store cashiers, bossy bosses, whining children, and spouses who come home riding on broomsticks! The secret to happiness as a believer and to stand firm is not to confine yourself behind the walls of your own meditation. It is not to isolate yourself in your home with your family. You can’t be happy as a believer without striving to be a blessing to others.

How do you do it? You can’t, but Christ can through you. So-called pseudo-Christians can’t demonstrate God’s humility, because they don’t know God. But those of you who’ve seen your self-centered, all about me, get out of my way pride . . . those who realize your actions, words, thoughts and motives are filled with sinful vomit . . . those who know of Christ’s mercy, grace and love by paying for your sins as God’s enemy.

You have been born again, indwelt with God’s Spirit and given a new nature. Your tank is already full, you’re “complete in Christ,” (Colossians 1:28), “given every spiritual blessing,” (Ephesians 1:3), God provided you with “everything for life and godliness,” (2 Peter 1:3), His love has been shed abroad in your heart and His peace has been given to you.

It is no longer I who live but Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:20), as you depend on the Holy Spirit in obedience to God’s Word, you have the ability to show off Christ’s untamed humility–especially when God opens the door of injustice, harshness, persecution or intense trial.

So how tolerant/humble are you to injustice, unfairness, and providential circumstances? Do you immediately stomp on others when you’re treated badly? Do you immediately defend yourself when you’ve been judged wrongly? Do you immediately point out what’s been done to you unjustly? Or are you patiently humble and graciously forgiving?

Let me share my failures with you. After study, Holy Spirit conviction and personal reflection, I’ve identified my own scale of tolerance. Just how tolerant am I? I share this to help you. How willing am I to show epieikiea? What is Mueller’s tolerance scale? Ready? When it comes to Christians, I have grown graciously humble with other believers who . . .

1 battle under providential circumstances when bad things happen to them—also, I’m patient with those who . . .

2 struggle because of their own weaknesses–then, I am a little less patient with those who . . .

3 writhe under their own immaturity–then I begin to struggle with those who . . .

4 suffer because of their own irresponsibility–and I have absolutely no epieikiea with those who . . .

5 agonize because of their own intentional, defiant choices

Yet Paul has a different scale–a more gracious one. Paul says let this humility “be known to all men.” Show this humility even to Euodia and Syntyche who are wrecking the church in Philippi. That’s powerful. Why should I?

#4 The MOTIVE to be OWNED  “The Lord is near.”

The Lord is near” is more accurate than the Lord is at hand. The concept of nearness either means time or space.

1  The nearness of the Lord’s return, or TIME

If the Rapture is in Paul’s mind, which fits the broad context of 3:20, being a citizen of Heaven eagerly waiting for a Savior–this life is a breath. Breathe out on a cold morning and watch how long the vapor lasts—not long. Your life as a Christian–no matter how bad it is on Earth, will be glorious, perfect joy when Christ returns. The Lord is near in time–or it means . . .

2  The nearness of the Lord’s presence, or SPACE

If Christ’s, or omnipresence is in Paul’s mind, then this fits the immediate context of God being present in the midst of His people experiencing injustice and persecution. Aren’t you glad the Lord is close to His people and hears their cries? Psalm 119:151a, “You are near, O Lord.”

In the midst of the storm, you can be calm and not panic. In the midst of injustice, you can love others who hate you and hurt you. Why? “The Lord is near.” In Hebrews 13:5 Jesus said, “I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you.”

I am encouraged by the fact we have a team at FBC–pastors and elders who are all committed to the same doctrine and same direction. When they’re not around, I tend to become a little more uncertain. I lean hard on my super smart and amazingly wise wife. She never knows specifics or names, but she often helps me think through situations. When she is gone, I am a little more uncertain.

For some of you, it’s a friend, parent, spouse or shepherd. But for every believer, “the Lord is near.” The very fact that “the Lord is near” dramatically affects verse 6. Since Christ is near, I can, verse 6, “Be anxious for nothing.” And the ability to put Christ on display in a shockingly humble manner comes from the truth that the Lord Jesus Christ is near.

No matter Paul’s exact meaning, when unjust trials hit, He is coming back soon and He is close by to carry you through–Amen? There are many obvious responses–let me highlight just three.

1  You must BOW to Christ in salvation

Just because you have had a pretty good life doesn’t mean God doesn’t exist. It means God has been gracious to you, patient with you, prodding you to respond. But the moment He returns or you die, your opportunity to escape judgment and Hell is over. You’re only hope is to believe Christ is God, who was born a man, lived a perfect life, then offered Himself to be punished in your place for your sins, which God hates.

Christ rose from the dead to give you life now and eternal life forever, but only if you turn from your sin in repentance and depend on Christ by faith, exchanging all that you are for all that He is. Only Christ is the way, the truth and the life.

2  You desperately need to KNOW God’s character

The mature are those who know this life is not about them. You will never be happy if you live your life insisting on getting what you’re due. A mature believer is one who knows it’s far better to suffer wrong than to inflict wrong.

Christ was lenient with you–you deserved Hell, but you received a new life. He suffered for you and bore the wrath which was to be poured out on you for all eternity in Hell. Christ received injustice, hate, persecution, harshness, blame, and a ruined reputation all for you.

If He was that generous to you, that lenient over your failures, can you not now demonstrate that same kind of untamed gracious humility to others who treat you badly? You can, and you will, if you remember God’s character.

3  You should want to SHOCK others with God’s character–look for the moments

In order for the Philippians to stand firm under persecution and difficulty, Paul commands them to demonstrate the shocking graciousness of an untamed humility. He tells them, when God gives you the opportunity, walk through that door. Jesus warned us in John 15:20, “’A slave is not greater than his master. If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you.’”

So what should we do? Read aloud what Jesus said in Mark 13:11. “When they arrest you and hand you over, do not worry beforehand about what you are to say, but say whatever is given you in that hour; for it is not you who speak, but it is the Holy Spirit.”

How are we to act? Jesus says, Matthew 5:44, “’I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.’” And Paul says in Philippians 4:5, “Let your gentle spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near.” Let’s pray.

About Chris Mueller

Chris is the teaching pastor at Faith Bible Church - Murrieta.

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