Philippians 4:5&6 “Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything.”
In many years’ time people will reminisce and talk about you. “Remember old Christian?” “Ah, yes . . .” Then what will you hope they’ll say? For what do you want to be remembered? Do you want to be remembered for being a kind man, a good husband and father? Or a blessed mother or wife? Do you want to be remembered for your good looks, for your sporting prowess, for your business skills so that you made a fortune? Or do you want to be remembered for your sense of humour, that you were the life and soul of every gathering, that you made people laugh? Many a minister wants to be remembered for his preaching.
The apostle tells us what should be evident to everyone about every Christian, two characteristics he specifies here, that we were gentle, and that we didn’t worry. Then, between them both, and casting light on both exhortations is this sobering statement, “The Lord is near.” I suppose there is hardly a greater contrast between the ambitions of the world and ourselves than in our answer to this question, “What do you want to be remembered for as a Christian?” “My gentleness . . . and that I wasn’t a person who worried.” I cannot think of a wife who will not daily bless God for a husband who was gentle and never worried.
I belong to a number of movements, to magazines, and publishing houses, and assemblies, and fellowships, and associations. One test to determine how much these groupings are of God is to observe how effectual they are in encouraging Christian gentleness in those who belong to them. How much do they see it as their aim to make people more gracious? Now there are other tests of the usefulness of a movement, but this is quite a significant one, to promote a graciousness in Christians. I think it is often ignored.
1. THE GENTLENESS OF CHRISTIANS SHOULD BE EVIDENT TO ALL.
What is Paul talking about? He is not talking about someone with a quiet personality. This gentleness is rather, a divine grace; a gift of the Spirit of God. There are shy and retiring people, but they may not be gentle people at all, whereas an outgoing man with some evident personality may yet be a man of gentleness. Again, Paul is not talking about being a wimp. He is not referring to what we may call a flabbiness, a vagueness and a lack of conviction and definition. These gentle people are not compromisers; they are not men who, because they believe in nothing in particular themselves, can be indulgent with respect to everybody else. They are not people who want to be in coalition with everybody, who are all things to all men, people who are ready to compromise at all costs. Not at all. Nothing could be further removed from this glorious grace that Paul is referring to here. This gentleness does not mean indifference, vagueness, a nebulous attitude to truth and life,
Rather, this is a heaven-sent disposition of fair-mindedness. It is apparent, for example, when someone is being run down and criticised then the man who is gentle speaks up for him. He puts him in a more favourable light pointing out, “Well, after all, he is having a difficult time,’ or, ‘We don’t know all the facts yet do we?” There is a consideration for others, an attempt to understand them, indeed to help them, and make things easier for them. Maybe the best translation for this word is ‘graciousness’, but there are as many translations as versions of the Bible. It is a many-layered Greek concept.
What Paul is pointing out is that a Christian is characterised by self-control, self-mastery; he is in possession of his own heart and activities. This man doesn’t urge his own rights; he doesn’t retaliate; he won’t be provoked. He is a man with an unabrasive spirit. Not that he is weak and unconcerned to stand his ground, but he knows that in the future the Lord is going to vindicate him – the Lord who is near.
Dr Lloyd-Jones says, “I must be free from that spirit that insists upon the last ounce in every situation. It means the capacity to differentiate between what is really of vital importance and what is not, to stand like a rock by the things that are vital, but to be reasonable about the things that are not. It means not pressing my bargain to the very last drop of blood. It means being prepared, at times, and if necessary, to have less than is due for the sake of the Church and for the sake of others, but above all, for the Lord’s sake. ‘Let your gentleness be evident to all’: not grasping, not so carried away that your whole spirit is involved. In other words, it is not so much what you are doing as the way in which you do it” (D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, “The Life of Peace,” Hodder and Stoughton, London, 1990, pp. 158&158).
George Mitchell of Inverness describes how when he was a milk delivery boy the accelerator of the vehicle which carried the crates of milk from house to house was fitted with something called a ‘governor.’ The driver couldn’t ram his foot down on the pedal so that the engine would roar and there’d be a screech and the smell of burning rubber. That would lead to milk bottles cascading all over the street. The ‘governor’ prevented the driver trying to be Stirling Moss. So it is with every Christian, the word and the Spirit and the influence of Christ govern our tempers and our tongues; they strengthen our graciousness.
Paul is saying let qualities like these be evident in your life, fairness, decency and open-heartedness. A Christian is actually to be known for his balanced and intelligent outlook on life. Think of the Lord Christ: he was no wimp was he? He made a whip of cords and drove out of the temple the money-changers. He said to the soldiers sent to arrest him, “I am,” and the whole company fell to the ground. Yet we all are introduced to him as children with the hymn, “Gentle Jesus, meek and mild.” He was approachable and tender in his disposition, so patient with his muddled and argumentative disciples. Mothers offered him their babies to hold and pray for. He himself noticed children playing in the street. He put a toddler in the midst of his disciples and said beautiful things about the child. He was gracious with the woman caught in adultery. He defended the woman who anointed him with oil, when some of them called her display of love for him a ‘waste’. When people despised tax-collectors he seems to have had a special concern for them: “Zacchaeus . . . come down; for I must stay at your house.” How gently he dealt with them.
There is not an instance of Jesus barging into another’s house. When he needs a donkey to enter Jerusalem, or when he needs an upper room for the Passover he does not commandeer things. He sends his servants to make the arrangements. He never imposes himself or his views in a harsh or belligerent way. He might have commanded a fig tree to wither, but he never did that to a Pharisee. How thoughtful Jesus was for people’s needs. He points out to his disciples that the five thousand men who’ve been listening to him preach are hungry, and he feels such compassion on them, so he personally prepares simple food for them all. When he is hanging on the cross in indescribable pain yet how gracious he is to his mother: “John, please look after her.” “Mother, he’ll be a son to you.” How courteous and tender he was to people in need. Isaiah had prophesied the Messiah would come and how unexpectedly gentle he would be. He wouldn’t break a bruised reed. He wouldn’t quench a smoking flax. However fragile people were, however dim the light of understanding they had, he would protect the weakest evidence of grace.
So, Paul is saying that in the congregation which is the body of Christ there ought to be something of that spirit evident, a noble tenderness, a balanced behaviour, an absence of grasping at one’s rights. Jesus was being manhandled and given a wretched trial with lying witnesses and pressures being brought to bear on the judge to find him guilty. “Don’t you know that I could appeal for twelve legions of angels and they would come to deliver me?” he said to them. But he waived his rights; he had come to die. There were more important matters than getting his rights
I do enjoy reading John Gwyn-Thomas’s comments on these words. He says, “I must confess that when I was preparing this sermon during the week I looked back on my life and I could see ways and times when I had not been as gentle as I ought to have been. I may have been right in principle in what I was thinking and right in what I was doing, but I was wrong in my attitude. I think all of us need to come and face the word of God, let it speak to us and convict us, ask ourselves whether this forbearance is part of us and if not, why not? Because if it is not present, I believe there is something fundamentally wrong with us spiritually. Perhaps our faith is not genuine, and deep down we don’t believe that what has happened to us in Christ is really true. Are we quenching the Spirit, or hiding our light under a bushel? Do we give in to the fear of what others will think and so neglect our opportunities, or do we let sin rule and our old nature be uppermost? It may be that we are intelligent schizophrenics, that we are in a situation where, from the point of view of intelligence, we feel that our lives cannot be influenced by what we believe as Christians, and this is fatal” (John Gwyn-Thomas, “Rejoice . . . Always”, Banner of Truth, Edinburgh, 1989, p.42).
Please notice what Paul says in our text about this Christian grace, that we should let it be evident to all. We are not to put it under a bushel. The Holy Spirit has created this graciousness in us in order that it should be seen by all. Every Christian is called to be ‘a man for others.’ People around us should see the effect of our relationship with Jesus Christ, the way the Lord has impacted us and transformed our whole attitude to other people. What is the evidence that God has touched your life? Let your gentleness be evident to all. We are God’s workmanship: he makes us like this. The apostle is saying to the Philippians, “Let all people see this gentleness.”
This is truly possible for every Christian to be gracious and gentle, and so for you too. It has nothing to do with personality and temperament and everything to do with the grace of God working mightily in us. See the difference between the angry self-righteous Saul of Tarsus and that man here writing these words, “Let your gentleness be evident to all.” The same man, yet not the same man. That old hateful man had died, and Christ was living in this new man, making him a gracious man. This is possible for all of us. It is absolutely essential that our gentleness be known to all. Dr Lloyd-Jones has this illustration: “Attention was being called to the fact that it was the anniversary of the death of that great Christian statesman, William Gladstone. I remember once reading of something that Mrs Gladstone said to John Morgan about her husband. She said, ‘You must remember that he had two sides, the one impetuous, impatient and unrestrainable. The other all self-control, able to dismiss everything but the great central subject, able to put aside what was weakening or disturbing. He achieved this self-mastery and sanity in the struggle from the age of twenty-three or twenty-four, first by the natural power of his character, and secondly by much wrestling in prayer to reach this injunction, “Let your gentleness be evident to all.”‘ And Gladstone did achieve it, this wonderful grace of the Christian character.” (D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones op cit, p.160).
Perhaps you are troubled by one particularly difficult person, maybe he is your neighbour, or perhaps she is taking the same course at university as yourself, or he could be your boss, or perhaps this person is in your family, one of your in-laws. You must ask yourself are you helping them or hindering them. Are you praying for them? Are you conveying something to them of the fact that we believe we are people made in the image of God, and that we have received the wonderful mercy of God in Jesus Christ? There was a man who owed a money-lender a vast sum of money, and he had no hope of repaying it, but his creditor discharged him of any obligation to repay him a single penny. The slate was wiped clean and the debt forgotten. That person was you, for you were in debt to God, but you were forgiven by God’s grace through Jesus Christ. But that man then bumped into someone who owed him a paltry sum, and as soon as he saw him he turned nasty. He grabbed him by the throat and demanded his money there and then, and when the poor man couldn’t pay him he had him thrown into prison. He took his own forgiveness for granted, and then was mean-eyed and harsh to anyone who was in debt to him. What a judgment came on that man! He had been forgiven grave offences, but he couldn’t forgive petty slights. What torment that man will have to endure in the world to come!
This Lord is near, says Paul. He knows us; he sees how we live; he weighs us in the balances. Vengeance is his. He will repay. If we claim to be partakers of the divine nature, indwelt by the Holy Spirit, joined to the Lord Jesus Christ then how does it show in our lives? Is our gentleness and graciousness evident to all? Or are we hearers of the word only, and not doers? Faith without works is dead.
2. DO NOT BE ANXIOUS ABOUT ANYTHING.
That is the second exhortation Paul gives us. The people of the true and living God are to be men and women of graciousness, but then also utterly free from anxiety. In other words, they are not to be characterised by neurotic anxiety. Paul is warning of the danger of a fretful state of mind which can bear little relation to the importance of what is happening. Christians are not to be characterised by an obsessive preoccupation with the mere details of life. We shouldn’t have distracted minds, torn between things that matter and things that are trivial. This is very common in the world about us. When people have nothing to do they drift to worryings and chasing imaginations, and in that state they are useless. They don’t want to talk to others. They don’t appear to be listening in conversations. Their minds are chasing problems. Their testimony is destroyed. They are of no value to others and they have lost the joy of the Lord. It is almost a hallmark of our civilisation that people get obsessed with what might possibly happen. Some of the justification for the Iraq war has been what future horrors might occur in London. “Do not be anxious about anything,” Paul commands. Let’s analyse what is he talking about?
i] Christians should not be anxious about trivia.
The Lord Christ in the Sermon on the Mount discusses anxiety: the folly of worry is Jesus’ theme in the second half of Matthew chapter six (Matt.6:25ff). Why are you, the children of an all-powerful heavenly Father who loves you so much, worrying about something as trivial as food? But millions do; they are obsessed with whether they will have enough money to put bread on the table. Will they have cash in old age to go to the grocer, or to buy clothes? What if they were to be dressed in rags? What shame! So they lie awake and fret. The Saviour confronts them: “Are you not much more valuable than birds?” he asks, and yet God never fails to feed sparrows. Aren’t we more significant than a muddy field? Yet God clothes it with grass and flowers and makes it verdant. Maybe we can understand people without God, clinging utterly alone to this tiny planet, without any knowledge of the purpose of life, becoming frantic, but God’s children, distrusting their Father’ s provision? Shame on us! My God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus, the apostle tells the Philippian church. Your worry is a mark of the smallness of your faith. Put the kingdom of God always in first place in your life. In other words, give his reign of grace over your life the priority in all your decisions and values and then God will take care of the rest. They will all be added unto you. No one who gave up anything in the interests of the kingdom has suffered loss. No Christian can ever say, “God owes me something.” He is no man’s debtor. He gives, and gives, and gives again and again to us.
ii] Christians shouldn’t be anxious about things over which we have no control.
The Lord Jesus sets before us a person of diminutive growth (Matt.6:27). His short stature gets him down. He feels he is being discriminated against in many ways because of his lack of inches, and he frets about it. He frets for Wales! Does all that energy succeed in adding an inch to his stature? Not an inch. He is still the same height, after all his worrying. Another man is worrying that he might die before he gets a penny from his pension. All his worry doesn’t succeed in prolonging his life by a day. That is one precise hallmark of neurotic anxiety. It is an obsession with things which we cannot control, over which we have no power whatsoever. Imagine a pregnant mother who starts to worry whether there might be something wrong with the child in her womb. She is thinking, “Maybe it’s not developing properly.” There is hardly anything she can do about it. Think of a 16 year old boy who has completed his school-leaving exams and is now waiting for the results, and he worries for two months whether he will get the grades to go to university. His papers are all safe far away in some examiner’s home, and his worrying cannot alter them or affect in any way how his examiner is going to judge his work.
The Lord Jesus asks us why we are preoccupied with things which we cannot control. Look at all the psychological and spiritual energy being expended to no effect at all. People worry about their children’s IQ They get anxious every time they hear distant thunder that lightning may strike their homes. We have no control at all over such things. The Lord Jesus tells us that before we start worrying we are to say to ourselves something like this: “Now if I worry about this is anything going to change?’ We have to learn to trust in our heavenly Father. We have to say to ourselves, “Why are you cast down O my soul? It is beyond your control. You can do nothing about these things, so live by faith in God.”
iii] Christians shouldn’t be anxious about problems that have not yet materialised.
The Lord Jesus says, “Do not worry about tomorrow” (Matt. 6:34). All of us think about tomorrow, and everything that may happen, and all the possibilities: “My daughter’s husband may leave her. My own husband may be made redundant. I may never marry. I might become paraplegic. There may be a third world war. The sky may fall, or Aberystwyth might be hit by an asteroid.” I may make appalling discoveries about my health or about the state of members of our congregation. I can dwell on so much that might happen tomorrow. I can become obsessed with such bleak possibilities so that I get neurotic or depressed.
Then the Lord Jesus stands right in front of me and he says to me these words, “Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own” (Matt. 6:34). Now we never have ‘tomorrow’ do we? We only have today. Tomorrow is something that is in our thoughts and plans, and so the Lord Jesus tells us this: let the great ‘tomorrow’ do its own worrying. You have that blend of joys and sorrows, challenges and decisions, that God sets before you today, and he gives you sufficient grace to handle them today. “Each day has enough trouble of its own,” (Matt. 6:34) says the Lord Jesus. In other words he is presenting to us a Christian who has a voracious appetite for anxiety. He wants God to tell him today all the troubles and cares that are going to come to him for the rest of the decade. God says that he is not going to tell us. You have enough cares today without being told what crosses and losses lie in the future. You are not going to know, and there is no way of knowing. You may guess and you will inevitably be wrong. But the worst thing of all is this, that you will get the worries, but you will not get the grace to accept them and triumph in them. God never send us naked trials; he always clothes them in his all sufficient grace.
There will be time enough when the troubles come, and strength enough when they come, and wisdom enough, and comfort enough, and friends enough. You will be able to take proper measures. You will be enabled to act as a child of the King of heaven should act. Of course we can pre-plan, and we can take measures if anything is inevitable. I have little envelopes in my study that some members of the church gave me years ago with details of their funeral services, what hymns they want sung, and who they would like to take part. That is not worrying; that is preplanning, and talking about it will not bring it a day earlier. My concern is that sometimes we are worrying about wild possibilities, that is all. There are thousands of poor men and women sitting in churches across the nation today and their present is mortgaged, their today is a strain because of worry. We have to say to ourselves, “That is tomorrow, not today. So I give to that ‘tomorrow’ the unhappy task of worrying about its own troubles. Today is the day the Lord has made and I can be glad and rejoice in today, because of the wonderful grace of the Lord Jesus Christ.”
iv] The Christian should not be anxious about anything God has promised to take care of.
That is why this commandment of Paul in our text is so categorical: “Do not be anxious about anything” (v.6). There is nothing at all God gives us permission to worry about – absolutely nothing. Make no exceptions where God makes none. Can you imagine the Lord Jesus worrying about himself, and his mother, and his friends, and the cross, and dying, and Jerusalem, and the growth of his movement, and all his people? It is unthinkable. He was trusting completely in his all-loving Father who works all things according to the counsel of his own will. It would have been a sin for Jesus to worry about such things. It is also a sin for us to be anxious, as much a sin as not loving our neighbours, because God is going to take care of everything to our entire satisfaction. It has been my experience looking back and my hope looking forward that things are going to work out far better than our fears would allow.
If we are worrying it is not because we have more ‘vision’ than other Christians, or more ‘sensitivity’, or more ‘concern’ than others. It is basically this – “O you of little faith” (Matt. 6:30). Your heavenly Father knows what your needs are. He knows you need food to survive, and you can’t walk around in rags. God knows there are other things that you personally need to live your life. Christ has promised that you are going to enjoy abundant life. You are behaving as if he were not going to keep his word. You are acting as though our Father didn’t know what your daily needs were. God says he is going to provide for us. Then we say, “Yes, that’s OK for those super-Christians who can tell their stories about the envelopes mysteriously appearing on the morning that the bill was due, for exactly the amount they had to pay. For people like that God provides, not for me.” You are wrong. It is for you, for all his children. He does not discriminate; he is a God utterly without partiality. He loves every one of his children with the same love as he loves his blessed and adorable Son. Can you imagine that there is a single day when the Father forgets about his Son? Can you think there is an hour when he ignores him? Not one minute. He loves you with that same love. That is, he loves the most backsliding Christian in the world – and maybe that one is you, or maybe he is me – with the same love as he loves Jesus Christ. You cannot believe it, but it is true. I will give you a proof text. It is John 17:23, “You sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”
God feeds each bird of the air, and he looks after every living thing. His love has made it a beautiful world. How much more will he provide for you. How often we are guilty of worrying about things which God says he is going to take care of. There are the great words of the apostle Peter which go in tandem with our text. Listen to them “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you” (I Pet. 5:7). Let me tell you again Jay Adams’ story of a little guy who was a terrible worrier. He was known throughout his town for the burden of worries which every day he carried. He walked around with his head bowed carrying his weight of anxiety. He had no joy in life and everyone pitied him. Then one day an old friend bumped into him and was overwhelmed by the change in him that he saw immediately. The furrows had gone from his brow. He was walking erect. There was a sparkle in his eye and a spring to his step. The transformation was extraordinary and almost miraculous. “Man, you look well,” his friend said to him. “What’s happened to you? You look a new man.” “Yes, I am,” he said. “What’s happened is this. I’ve found a man who now does all my worrying for me.” “Incredible,” said his friend. “How much does he charge of that?” “Thirty pounds an hour,” he said. “Thirty pounds an hour? How can you afford that?” “That’s his worry,” he said.
The story, of course, points to this great loving Saviour who invites every single Christian to come and cast his anxiety upon him. He assures us that he loves us deeply, and he hates to see us burdened with a weight of cares that he is far more capable of dealing with than we are. He can cope with them and we can’t, so we hand them over to him. He knows our breaking point. He has made up his mind that our faith will not fail. With every trial he will make a way of deliverance that we can endure them. So you can see the point of those four simple words with which this exhortation begins. “The Lord is near. Do not be anxious.” The Lord is near so do not be anxious about anything because he is always near. When Daniel was thrown into the den of lions the Lord was with him and closed the mouths of every hungry lion. When the three Israelites were thrown into the burning fiery furnace the Son of God was walking in the flames with them. “Lo I am with you always,” he says. So with this great trial and the possibility of much worrying the Almighty one who cares for us is with us.
So there are all the duties we have to perform – six days shalt thou labour. We have to exercise foresight and then take all the suitable steps. All such things we have to do each day, and as we do them we trust the Lord for the trivial things, for the things over which we have no control, for the problems that may never materialise, for those things he has promised he will take care of to our utmost satisfaction. It is all a matter of trusting God, believing what he has said when he promises us something, that he will keep his word. So I must say to myself, “I have done what God told me to do. I have cast my burden on the Lord and now I refuse to be distracted by worrying about it. He will take care of all my needs.”
Very often our obsessions are for things for which God has made no promises. He has not said that every Christian will get rich, or never know a day’s illness, or live a very long life, or that we will all marry and that we will have children, or that all our children will be converted, or that we will see days of revival. God nowhere promises every Christian such things. When old men start saying things like that they are entering their second childhood. But God promises every single Christian that all things will work for our good, that he will make all grace always abound to us, grace that will be sufficient for every trial. He has promised us that nothing is able to separate us from his love, and nothing can pluck us out of his hands. He has promised he will supply all our needs richly. Not a distant God but the Lord who is near us covenants and promises such things to you and to me.
I have to put my life under those promises and I will not be anxious about anything. There is absolutely nothing about which I have the right to worry. I cannot think of anything that can justify the child of God responding to it by worrying. So let us declare our lives worry-free lives. Let us declare our homes worry-free homes. Let us declare our churches worry-free congregations. Worry is going to have no place in our lives. We will not be anxious about trivia, and about things we are not able to control, and about problems that may not materialise, and about everything God has told us he is going to take care of all that.
23 March 2003 GEOFF THOMAS