Gentleness Known – Philippians 4:5

Kevin A. Pierpont
Higgins Lake Baptist Church
4/3/05

This week most of us probably witnessed the death of Terri Schiavo played out in the media. It seems that there is a great division over this issue of whether it was justice or injustice to allow Terri to die.

It is very hard to understand when you hear of her responsiveness to those who interacted with her on a regular basis and when you read the affidavits of those who cared for Terri over the years—it is beyond my imagination how any thinking person could say that she wanted to die.  I personally feel like there was a great injustice done toward Terri. I have feelings that tell me she was not “allowed” to die but was intentionally starved to death and killed.

When it seems like there are those in our country who wish to hasten the death of those who are incapable of caring for themselves; when it seems as though our judges are ruling in ways our founding fathers never intended; if you were moved as I was to cry out to God in sorrow and ask why so much injustice in our world—why such injustice in this great country of ours—how can this be—where are we headed—what’s next? How do we deal with those kinds of thoughts and feelings?

When we feel that there has been a great injustice done toward us or someone we care about it is natural for our first thoughts to be those of wanting to make sure the offender gets what’s coming to them. I know I found myself this week hoping for justice to be brought on the ones who insisted that it was best for Terri to die. It is our natural inclination to look for justice to be done. Don’t you feel like that at times, that you just want somebody to get what’s coming to them?

As Christians how do we deal with those kinds of thoughts and feelings?

Several years ago it came to the attention of the little church we were in at the time that there was a missionary couple with New Tribes Mission in the Philippines, being held hostage by a militant group of Muslims, the Abu Sayyaf Group.

We began to pray for Martin and Gracia Burnham and frequently shared updates with each other from the New Tribes mission agency on their whereabouts. The Burnham’s had been taken hostage while away together celebrating their 18th wedding anniversary. They had left their children with friends for this get-away. We also prayed for their children who had been whisked back to the states after it was discovered their parents had been kidnapped along with several other guests at the hotel where they were staying.

For 17 years the Burnham’s, had served in the Philippines. Martin was a jungle pilot. He delivered mail, supplies and encouragement to other missionaries and transported sick and injured patients to medical facilities. Gracia served in various roles supporting the aviation program and also home-schooled their children—all of which were born in the Philippines.

In the ensuing months some of the hostages were killed, but most were set free. From November 2001, only the Burnhams and one other hostage remained in captivity.

During their 376 days of captivity, they faced near starvation, constant exhaustion, frequent gun battles, coldhearted murder—and intense soul-searching about a God who sometimes seemed to have forgotten them.

On June 7, 2002, in a firefight between the Philippine military and the Abu Sayyaf Group, Martin was killed. Gracia was wounded, but was freed. [1]

This Thursday at home preparing for supper we were listening to a Christian radio station when an interview with Gracia Burnham came on. I want to play for you a short portion of that interview.

We will begin listening at the point in the interview where Gracia is telling of their rescue by the local military. There had been a ransom paid for their release but the Abu Sayyaf had decided it wasn’t enough and they wanted more money. This is where we come into the story. Gracia Burnham is speaking, she’s describing how she advised their captures to take caution to avoid being caught by the military. She’s being interviewed by Greg Wheatley. This is from Moody Broadcasting Network’s program, Primetime America.

(Audio interview portion played here [2])

It is something to hear the testimony of Gracia and to hear her testify of a her love and prayers for her captors. After having been held captive for 376 days, having been nearly starved and severely treated, being separated from her young children for over a year and then losing her husband as a result of been held hostage she was able to say God used that situation to change her heart from one of bitterness, hatred and anger toward their captors to one of love and compassion for them as needy people who needed Christ.

How do we get to a point like that in our faith when we can look at those who use us, mistreat us or misrepresent us with love, with compassion—to view them not with hatred or anger but to look at them as people for whom Christ died. How do we begin to see them not as the enemy but as the ones that Christ would have us minister to for His glory and their salvation? How do we get there?

I believe as we look at Philippians 4:5 today we’ll see that God does want us to live that way—He does want us to have an attitude of love toward those who are hard to get along with. And I think we’ll see how it’s possible to live that way.

Philippians 4:5 – Let your gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand.

As we saw back in verse 2 of Philippians 4 there were those in the church who were having a hard time getting along with one another. I think it was certainly possible that those outside the church were aware of some of the difficulty. And as we come to verse 5 I think Paul is pointing out that not only are those in the church to get along with each other but those in the church are to get along with those outside the church as well.

As we come to this passage today I think we see how timely and applicable to our lives God’s Word is. Who among us has not experienced difficulty with others? Who among us has not been misunderstood, or misrepresented or mistreated? And who among us has not struggled with that and found it difficult to have a Christ like attitude in those circumstances toward those individual?

I know we need this teaching as much as the Philippian believers needed it. So I want you first to see the importance of a gentle spirit.

The Importance of Gentle Spirit

Look at what Paul says, Let your gentleness be known to all men.

What is this gentleness? The NASB translates this as a gentle spirit. The word gentle means being thoughtful of the rights and feelings of others, being considerate, dealing fairly and equally with all concerned, not being stiff and rigid with others. We could say its graciousness in the face of injustice and mistreatment.

Graciousness—a gentle spirit is not something that comes naturally to most of us, is it? Is this something that comes naturally for you?

When we are mistreated or looked down on by others this is not easy is it? I would say this is quite unnatural. But for the cause of Christ—for the advancement of the Gospel—to bring Glory to God with our lives—it is required of those who name the name of Jesus Christ to let your gentleness be known.

How do you bring Glory to God when you are opposed? Let your gentleness be known.

How do you bring Glory to God when your neighbor won’t give you the time of day over something that happened five years ago? Let your gentleness be known.

How do you bring Glory to God when someone lies about you? Let your gentleness be known.

How do you bring Glory to God when your faith in Jesus Christ is rejected by those you care for? Let your gentleness be known.

This is how others will know Christ has done a real work in you—when you let your gentleness be known.

This takes time. The idea here I believe is one of having a gracious attitude over a period of time so that others will learn of your reasonable, gracious attitude and as a result your life will glorify God.

And who should know of your gentle spirit? Who should witness your gracious attitude? A select few? Only other Christians? Only those who treat you well? Only those who agree with you?

Look at those three little words in the middle of the verse. It says, to all men.

Let’s look at Luke 6:27-36.

Luke 6:27 “But I say to you who hear: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, and pray for those who spitefully use you. 29 To him who strikes you on the one cheek, offer the other also. And from him who takes away your cloak, do not withhold your tunic either. 30 Give to everyone who asks of you. And from him who takes away your goods do not ask them back. 31 And just as you want men to do to you, you also do to them likewise. 32 “But if you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. 33 And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. 34 And if you lend to those from whom you hope to receive back, what credit is that to you? For even sinners lend to sinners to receive as much back. 35 But love your enemies, do good, and lend, hoping for nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High. For He is kind to the unthankful and evil. 36 Therefore be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful.

Jesus says here, so what if you treat well those who treat you well—big deal—that’s easy—you treat those well who mistreat you—that’s meaningful—that’s not so easy. You love your enemy. You do good to them. You lend to them expecting nothing in return for your kindness.

God’s wisdom from His Word is so good for us. Think of the fruits of the spirit we read about in Galatians 5:22-23. Verse 22, But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace… We like the love, joy and peace part don’t we? But what about the longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control…

That’s a bit harder to swallow isn’t it? You mean I have to be longsuffering—I have to put up with this mistreatment? I have to be kind and good, faithful and gentle in the face of those who mistreat me? I have to exercise self-control? Verse 24 goes even further.

24 And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.

Are you Christ’s? Are you his follower? If so you put behind you all your self-centered passions and desires and you crucify the flesh—you are Christ’s, you are to live for God’s glory not your own satisfaction.

Oh—how do we live like that? Verse 25 points to the answer.

25 If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.

If you are Christ’s, you are not alone. If you are Christ’s, the Holy Spirit lives in you and he lives in you so that you can live for Him.

The Possibility of a gentle spirit

And here’s how it’s possible for us to have a gentle spirit in the face of adversity. The Lord is at hand. Look at Philippians 4:5 again. The Lord is at hand—that is, as the NASB puts it—the Lord is near.

How can we live with a gracious attitude when there seems to be no justice? How can we treat others with gentleness and love and respect in spite of their mistreatment of us? How can we show the love of God to those who are so unlovable?

You need to understand that it’s not all you. It’s not all you! You are not alone in this making known your gentle spirit. And it’s only possible because you aren’t alone.

If you have trusted Christ as Lord and Savior, God the Holy Spirit lives in you and you are not left all alone to just create this gentle spirit of your own making.

I think that we need understand the twofold reality of the Lord being near.

1. The Lord is near to give us strength and encouragement when we need it. Can’t your God supply all your needs? Matthew 6:25 says He can.

Matthew 6:25 “Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?

Hebrews 13:5 & 6 – Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” 6 So we may boldly say: “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear. What can man do to me?”

The second reality of the Lord being near is that;

2. The Lord is near to help keep us in check when we think we don’t need Him. I think it’s safe to say that we’re all guilty of mistreating others at one time or another. This gentle spirit isn’t a part of us just because we are Christians. It doesn’t come just because we have the Holy Spirit. It’s possible to quench the Holy Spirit in our lives. And we could be guilty of mistreating others.

Not only is the Lord near to give us strength and encouragement in trying circumstances, but He is also near to witness and grieve over our sin. When we mistreat others—when we don’t have the gentle spirit we should—the Lord is near to admonish and convict us of sin. And He does His convicting work in us so that we will confess our sin and return to fellowship with Him so that we will be ready for Him to do His work in and through us.

There’s another truth we need to grasp and it is this; God will vindicate our cause. God will make things right. It may not be on our timetable—it will be in His time and to best fit His purposes—but God will do justice. Besides He does justice much better than we do. Remember what the Holy Spirit teaches us in Romans 12:17-19.

Romans 12:17 Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men. 18 If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men. 19 Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord.

Where does a love like that come from? How does an individual find that kind of gentle spirit to deal out to others, love in return for their hatred and mistreatment?

It is only found through leaving it all in God’s hands. We’re going to get into this in detail in our next study, Lord willing, but look at verse 6.

Philippians 4:6 Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God;

Are we to waste our days concerning ourselves with what we can do to make things right? Are we to twiddle our thumbs and fret and stew over injustice? Are we to waste away our time trying to figure out how to help God fix an injustice? No. But what too often happens is that we go with what’s natural instead of giving it to God?

It is then that you and I must realize that God will do justice—it is also then that you and I must understand how undeserving of God’s grace we are. It is in the midst of a week like the one we’ve just come through that you and I must realize that we need to pray for those who stole the life from Terri—you and I must pray for those who kept hostage and mistreated Martin and Gracia Burnham for over a year—we must pray for their conversion—pray for their salvation and pray that we’ll have a gentle spirit in return.

A gracious attitude—a gentle spirit toward others—is not easy or natural. But what a powerful witness for Christ it will be when instead of doing what any “reasonable” person would say was our “right” to do in response to mistreatment that they see us respond in a way that’s so unnatural, but so Christ like. That is a powerful witness for the cause of Christ.

We may need to work at this showing of a gentle spirit. Let’s ask God for his help.

1 From the Martin and Gracia Burnham Foundation, Biography page, http://www.graciaburnham.org/index.asp?sec=1_1

2 Moody Broadcasting Network, Primetime America, Audio Archive for Thursday 03/31/2005, Track 3 [http://www.mbn.org/ContentStore/ProgAudioArchives/2005-03-31_track-03_PrimeTimeAmerica.asx]