In the BBC movie version* of Pride and Prejudice, Mrs. Bennett is running around in a tizzy because a wealthy gentleman has come to call on her eldest daughter in the early morning. Because she is not dressed yet, she says to her mother, “Let Kitty [her younger sister] go down. She’s forwarder than any of us.” To which Mrs. Bennett replies “Oh hang Kitty! What is she to do with it?”
This frequently quoted line in our household describes how I feel about Paul’s statement in verses four and five of Philippians chapter four: “Rejoice in the Lord always. I say it again: Rejoice. Let your gentleness be evident to all.”
Oh hang gentleness! What’s gentleness to do with it? (And rejoicing too, for that matter, but we’ll get to that in another post.) Paul had just finished asking the believers to help two church leaders be of the same mind, i.e. to be Christlike. His jump to gentleness seems so random.
My first observation is that this word, epieikes, is translated differently in almost every version: ‘gentleness’ in the NET and NIV, ‘forbearance’ in the RSV and NAS, ‘gentle spirit’ in the NASB and AMP, ‘graciousness’ in the CSB and HCSB, ‘reasonableness’ in the ESV, ‘moderation’ in the KJV and ‘considerate’ in the NLT.
Secondly, this is not the same word found in the list of the fruit of the spirit in Galatians 5:23. Clarke’s commentary defines epieikes as “mildness, patience, yieldingness, gentleness, moderation, unwillingness to litigate or contend.” It is found in only four other verses:
Titus 3:2 to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and always to be gentle toward everyone.
I Timothy 3:3 not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money
James 3:17 But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.
I Peter 2:18 Slaves, in reverent fear of God submit yourselves to your masters, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh.
I get the idea that I am to be considerate and gracious, reasonable and impartial, not going to extremes as I interact with others, especially when there is conflict. It is the opposite of violent, quarrelsome and harsh.
David Gusak says, “This word describes a person who is really free to let go of his anxieties and all the things that cause him stress, because he knows that the Lord will take up his cause.” Matthew Henry adds, “Do not run into extremes; avoid bigotry and animosity; judge charitably concerning one another.”
So, on further consideration, I propose that gentleness has everything to do with it! While at first this seems out of place—a random thought—Paul knows exactly what I need when I want to put up my hackles and be offended. Paul’s reminder to be gentle (gracious and considerate) will keep me from responding shortly and with irritation when I disagree. And it will guide me as I help others to resolve differences. He knows that a gentle spirit is key to being of the same mind.
How can you let your gentleness be evident?
What does being gracious and considerate look like in your situation?
Father God, teach me to be gracious and considerate. May my gentle spirit be evident as I try to resolve differences with those that I love or participate in helping others work it out. Show me when I am going to extremes instead of being reasonable. Remind me that you have got my back and I can trust you. Help me simply be kind and courteous.
*The actual quote from the book is: “We will be down as soon as we can,” said Jane; “but I dare say Kitty is forwarder than either of us, for she went upstairs half an hour ago.” “Oh! hang Kitty! What has she got to do with it?”