Hymon epieikes gnostoheto pasin, ho kyrios engys
“Let your gentleness be known to all. The Lord is near” Philippians 4:5
I have been thinking and praying a lot about how do I as a Christian, a member of Christ’s body, and a leader within that body, navigate what looks to be an unpredictable, tumultuous chapter in history. I keep going back, examining by own character, and asking Christ that His presence would form my character as the means of navigating the future. I read the New Testament letters and see the issues facing the early church. I read both church history and contemporary writers. All this reading causes me to lean into the Anabaptist side of my Baptist thought.
I write this morning after witnessing the events of yesterday, January 6, in the nation’s capital. One short verse settled into a grieving heart: Philippians 4:5. As a prisoner of the state, Paul writes both a thank you note and plea for peace to the church at Philippi. The Spirit chooses the word “epieikes,” meaning gentleness, but also meaning reasonableness, moderation, fairness, fortitude, and mildness. Paul plainly addresses Christian character that is meant to be known or apparent (gnostoheto) to all people (pasin). This epieikes Paul speaks of reflects the presence of Christ and maturing Christian character as reflecting Christ. It really sounds so simple and so difficult. We as individuals and Christ’s body are meant to have a radically different character in this world of evils. As followers of Christ, in confidence we can be gentle, reasonable, and good, because in the next short sentence we read “God is near.” Because God is near, we can have confidence, even peace, in allowing ourselves as individuals and Christ’s Body to be “epieikes” to all. This counter-culturally Holy Spirit formed character is part of our timeless foundation, or compass, that directs our future.
For maybe a decade now, I have worried, knowing I shouldn’t worry, that too often in our current history, the Christian “voice” devolves into being just another angry voice in a pluralistic sea of angry voices, no different from the myriad of angry, even raging, voices around us. And this witness of Christian character, “epieikes” is lost. Somehow rather than being a counter-culture, we assimilate into a prevailing culture, and Christians become undistinguishable in a culture of chaos, anger, injustice, and immorality. But I hear Christ saying you can be “gentle”, be really different, because I am near. You can hold this current context lightly and faithfully, because I (meaning Christ) have “overcome the world.”
I worry when I hear many Christians speak about political things. My worries run across the political spectrum, so I offer no partisan observation, but observe that Christians spanning different political ideologies, often end up using similar theocratic language to describe our nation. Although a nation state can be moral and just and work for the common good, reflecting the character of the Kingdom, it will never be the Kingdom that stands beyond all time and history, encompassing all who kneel at Christ's throne.
Maybe when we confuse the two, nation and Kingdom, our Christian character is compromised or eclipsed or takes flight. We possibly mistake that engaging in the bad, and even in the good, is salvation itself. Rather than doing good as reflecting the reign of Christ, we believe political ends in and of themselves are salvific rather than a potential reflection of the Christ we know; the Savior we desire to make apparent via our whole character to a bent and broken world.
“Let your gentleness be known to all.” But how??? Because God is near.
In Jesus name,
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