How Gentleness and Joy Bear Witness to a Broken World

Richard Averbeck of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School calls Grant Osborne “one of the premier New Testament commentators of our day.” This exegetical expertise is on display in the Osborne New Testament Commentaries. The next volume in this acclaimed series is Philippians Verse by Verse. In this volume, Osborne unpacks this Pauline letter with straightforward clarity. Pastors and students alike are sure to benefit from the insightful exegesis and relevant application of the text.

In this excerpt, Osborne tackles Philippians 4:4–7, a particularly weighty section of his closing exhortations. The Apostle Paul calls the Philippian church to be set apart by their joy and gentleness in all situations—a message the modern church should take to heart in the face of today’s divisive rhetoric.

We must recognize once again that while Paul was penning these words he likely was chained to a Roman guard, awaiting word as to whether he would live or die. Another time he was in prison, in Philippi itself, he and Silas had been beaten severely and chained to a filthy wall, yet they had responded not with groans and curses but with hymns and praise songs (Acts 16:22–25). In any and every situation, the presence and involvement of the Triune Godhead calls for joy, because the Lord is in charge and is overseeing each circumstance to bring about good in the end (Rom 8:28). It is not our situation but the presence of God that determines the joy we feel. Like Paul, we are called to greet all the vicissitudes of life not with a weary sigh (though sometimes we just can’t help it!) or an angry shout, but with songs of joy—for no matter the situation, we are “in the Lord,” and all will be right in the end.

The mark of a Christian

Gentleness couples with joy as the marks that set apart a Christian from the denizens of this world. Notice that our gentleness should be “evident to all”—non-Christians as well as Christians. When word gets out, Paul is implying, all those around us will be drawn to Christ. At my local church, I serve on a committee that focuses on congregational care. Ever since we made this ministry an emphasis 10 or so years ago, we have become known as a caring church; every area of ministry has been affected positively by this ministry of caring for all in our congregation who are needy.

The Greek word translated as “gentleness” (epieikēs) is an interesting, multi-faceted term. In the context of how we treat others it means to be kind and gentle, while in relationships it is to be courteous and tolerant, and in legal situations it connotes leniency. When others make demands or mistreat an individual, the gentle person does not demand equity in return but willingly accepts the lesser portion and bears up under persecution, manifesting a long-suffering attitude and returning good to those who are doing evil. This injunction would have had profound meaning for the beleaguered Philippians, and it fits well the example of Christ in 1 Peter 2:23: “When they hurled insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.” A Christian who follows this model will invariably make a huge impact on those around him.

God will right all wrongs

At first glance it seems strange that Paul adds the assuring note “the Lord is near.” But given the strong eschatological cast of Philippians this makes good sense. Paul is asking these Christians to demonstrate their gentleness and goodness in an evil world, to become known for their steadfast resilience and loving nature, even to those who hated them. The truth of the Lord’s imminent return is a reminder that God will right all wrongs, vindicate his persecuted people, and bring them to final victory. In other words, it will all be worth it, for he will turn our suffering to glory.

Frequently in the New Testament, a passage of admonition segues into a reminder that the end is coming soon (for example, Rom 13:12; 1 Cor 16:22; Heb 10:25, 37; Jas 5:8; 1 Pet 4:7). This is both a promise and a warning—a promise that our future glory will be worth our present hardship and a warning that God expects us to live in light of Christ’s return and will hold us accountable for how we live. God’s people are to be loving; as such, we do our part to rescue the perishing and usher in God’s final kingdom.

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Philippians Verse by Verse is will be released in early August. Pre-order it today!