Let your gentleness be known to everyone (Philippians 4:5). So Paul writes, to the believers in Philippi. We read these words of encouragement in one of the readings set in the lectionary for this coming Sunday.
There is no doubt that they are words which hold a relevance and a power, all these centuries later, in our own times. We turn on the news, we read the reports, we hear the arguments swirling around us. Black Lives Matter! Make America Great Again! Release the refugees! Rebuild our economy! And so on they go … Our society—the whole world—is filled with loud, forceful, aggressive assertions: This is what is right!! This should not be so!! This is what we must do!! Those are people you must not believe!!
Now, it is not only high-profile politicians, would-be world leaders, who are experts at talking over the top of one another, shouting their slogans and raising their accusations. Sadly, we find the same kind of macho-aggro posturing and proclaiming in churches, around the world as well as closer to home. That’s not a very good witness to be offering to others.
Paul’s encouragement provides an incentive to us, to find ways of proclaiming our deeply-held beliefs, ways of engaging in constructively and fruitfully with people who hold different opinions from the ones that we hold dear. Life these days in the church—and life these days in the public arena, with political debate and social media interaction—seems always to be challenging us, in the way we think about ideas, and speak with other people about those ideas.
Almost two years ago, in the aftermath of a vigorous, and often rancorous, public debate within the Uniting Church, about an issue that caused great heartache and stimulated unhelpful conversations, I meditated on these words of Paul, and reflected on their relevance for us today. I wrote:
In advocating for gentleness or mildness, Paul encourages a sense of fairness in the way that believers are to engage with others. To be reasonable. To offer generosity in attending carefully to the other. To offer forbearance and patience. The word that he chose (epieikes, in Greek), is found in various places in the literature of his time. It is a word which encouraged an honest and thoughtful engagement between people. It was used by rhetoricians, philosophers, and historians, to indicate a way of engaging constructively, respectfully, openly, with other people. Indeed, the word has, at its root, the short verb eiko, which means, to yield, to give way to, to surrender.
So, Paul instructs the Philippians, at this point, to engage in respectful conversations with each other, in which one party yields to the other party—one party steps back, steps aside, pulls back from their boldness and frankness, stops and listens, ponders and reflects, allows the other party to express their view and to have it heard and registered. And that’s a word with power and relevance for us, today.
You can read the full version of my exploration of gentleness at https://johntsquires.com/2018/11/17/let-your-gentleness-be-known-to-everyone/
Rev Dr John Squires
Secretary to the Presbytery
Secretary to the Pastoral Relations Committee
Canberra Region Presbytery
Uniting Church in Australia
0408 024 642
blogs on ‘An Informed Faith’