John MacArthur has some very insightful comments on the verse in Philippians 4:5 – Let your forbearing / reasonable / content / gracious / gentle spirit be evident to all men, the Lord is near”.
“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice! 5 Let your gentle spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near.”
The second thing we talked about, the second principle, if we are to be firm in the Lord, is not only to cultivate peace in the fellowship of love but secondly to maintain a spirit of joy. Verse 4: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say rejoice.” This, too, is directly related to spiritual stability, cultivating an attitude of joy, maintaining a spirit of joy, incessant joy, independent joy in the sense that it doesn’t depend upon circumstances. Please notice “rejoice in the Lord,” not in your circumstances. You can’t always rejoice in your circumstances, but you can always rejoice in the Lord, in your privileged union with Him, that’s the idea. That’s a joy no circumstance can touch. So to be spiritually stable requires maintaining the habit of constantly expressing joyful wonder when contemplating an eternal, unchanging, enriching relationship with God through the living Lord Jesus Christ. Great truth. As long as I contemplate the Lord and what He’s done for me and is doing for me and has planned to do for me, I find my joy there.
By the way, that is a command. It is no less a sin not to rejoice then not to repent or not to do anything else God commands you to do. We rejoice in the Lord. You remember in Luke 24 the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, Jesus met with them, talked with them out of the Scriptures, describing the things about Himself. Finally they came into the house and in the breaking of bread, He revealed Himself to them, and it says their hearts burned within them. What is that? That’s the burning heart that is the result of a relationship with the living Lord. It was in the joy of His presence that they experienced the burning heart. Stable people are people who bring peace to situations, who create in the fellowship of love a unity, who are a stabilizing influence in discord, and the spiritually stable are those who in the ebb and flow and rise and fall of circumstances in life always maintain joy. Joy is at the heart of stability.
Let’s go to the third principle. Spiritual stability also requires learning to accept less than you might think you’re due. Learning to accept less than you might think you are due. Verse 5: “Let your forbearing spirit be known to all men.” Now, that’s a very, very important statement and a very important element in this matter of spiritual stability. It is really speaking about contentment. It could read, “Let your contentment be known to all men.” In fact, I suppose that for every translation of this text, there is probably a different word used here because this is one of those almost untranslatable Greek terms – epieiks. It’s practically untranslatable if you’re talking about translating it one word for one word. It means more than any one English word can capture.
If you’ve studied it long enough, you get the feeling of what this word means. For example, it has the sense of sweet reasonableness, that you are responsive to an appeal, that there’s a gentleness about you when someone asks you something, you’re sweetly reasonable about it. It also could be translated big-heartedness. Not only are you sweetly reasonable but it goes beyond that, you are very generous. It could be translated good will. Since you only wish good or will good on others, you tend to almost bend beyond what would be expected to grant them good.
Some have suggested it could be translated friendliness. That seems a little bit thin when compared to the others. Some have chosen the word “magnanimity,” let your magnanimity be known to all men. In other words, your over-generosity. Some have suggested it means charity toward faults of others. Some have said mercy toward failures of others. Some have said the best word is leniency. Some have said it should be indulgence. Let your indulgence be known to all men, not your personal indulgence in sin but your ability to indulge all of the failures of others and not be personally offended or unkind or bitter, retaliatory, or vengeful. It is a kind of patience which is able to submit to injustice, disgrace, mistreatment without hatred, without malice, without retaliation, without bitterness, without vengeance.
Now, if you add all that up – at the risk of standing against a lot of better Bible scholars than myself in the translation process – I would suggest the best word I can think of is graciousness. Graciousness. Let your graciousness be known to all men. Certainly in sweet reasonableness, there is grace. Certainly in big-heartedness, there is grace. Certainly in good will, there is grace. Certainly in forbearing, there is grace. Certainly in friendliness, magnanimity, charity, mercy, leniency, indulgence, you’re demonstrating graciousness, and that word probably in a Christian sense embodies it.
But there’s another element to it that we have to go into to understand it. It is the graciousness of humility, which basically says you may have offended me, you may have mistreated me, you may have misjudged me, worse than that you may have misrepresented me, you may have maltreated me, you may have not given me what I deserve, you may have given me what I do not deserve, you may have ruined my reputation with some, you may have acted in hostility against me unjustly, I may be the recipient of your inequity, injustice, and mistreatment, but I humbly and graciously accept it. That’s what it means, and again, isn’t that exactly what the grace of God is like? You may have hated Me. You may have been My enemies, God could say. You may have shaken your fist in My face. You may have blasphemed Me. You may have mistreated Me, misjudged Me, you may have done all of that, and I still reach out to you in love. Boy, when you have that kind of an attitude, you’re a stable person. Spiritual stability belongs to the humbly gracious – let’s use that phrase. Let your humble graciousness be known to all men.
You don’t demand your rights. You get into that kind of mentality, and you will become an unstable person. The philosophical mindset of our day behind, say, the contemporary psychology that’s infiltrated not only our country but the church, the philosophical mindset is primarily the mindset of existentialism, and existentialism basically says, bottom line, every man has a right to do whatever feels good. That’s existentialism. By the way, existentialism is a reaction to humanism. Humanism made man a machine. Humanism says we’re nothing but biological machines and we really don’t have choice and we really don’t have solutions to problems, we just function like an animal and really a reaction to the humanistic, that’s a materialistic humanism. Materialism says man is a machine. In reaction to materialistic humanism came existentialism, which says I don’t buy that, man, I’ve got dignity, I’m somebody, and so existentialism says you are somebody and you ought to feel good about who you are and you ought to do whatever feels good.
And so we talk about human dignity as a reaction to materialistic humanism, and we talk about the fact that man ought to be whatever he wants to be and do whatever he wants to do, and whatever feels good, you ought to do it. And therefore, what you get is massive self-centered pride and ego. With everyone wanting to react to materialistic humanism philosophically, even if they don’t see it as that, and be someone and be who they are and that’s who I am and I have a right to what feels good to me, that’s what existentialism says, that’s the only value in existentialism is do what feels good, and the only rule is if what feels good to you hurts me, you can’t do it. But if it doesn’t hurt me, what’s the difference?
That’s why you have homosexuals saying, “Why is homosexuality against the law? It doesn’t hurt anybody.” See, that’s existentialism. That’s philosophical existentialism. If it doesn’t hurt anybody, what’s the difference? If it feels good to me and doesn’t hurt you, then forget it. Well, AIDS has shot that argument down. Could end up destroying a whole generation of people. Sin always eventually hurts somebody else.
But when you have a world of basically pragmatic existentialists like we do, and that’s the kind of world we live in, absolutely the kind of world we live in, what does Burger King say? Have it your way. I’ll tell you what, I’ve been to Burger King a lot of times. I have never yet had it my way. You know what my way is? I get the hamburger, I don’t pay, that’s my way. They’re not giving it to me my way, I pay every time, that’s their way, not my way. The bottom line: existentialism doesn’t work. It doesn’t even work at Burger King, let alone in philosophy. But that’s what’s the mindset of our day. You’ve got to feel good about yourself, elevate yourself, love yourself, develop yourself, and that kind of thinking is in the church to an incredible degree.
I was listening to a tape today of a friend, Dr. Paul Brownback, and in this tape he was saying – I hate to say this, but he said, “I believe this is true, that if you and I went into a Christian bookstore” – Christian bookstore – “and we pulled off the Christian books that are being written today and took highlight pens and I highlighted everything that came out of Carl Rogers’ self-love theory and you highlighted everything in those books that came out of the teaching of Paul, I would run out of highlighters before you would.” That’s how insidious this is and how far into the church it’s come, the cult of self-love, which means whatever feels good to me, whatever satisfies me, whatever builds me up, whatever gets me over my inferiority complex, whatever gives me a better self-image, whatever gives me better self-esteem, that’s what I do. On the other hand, what Paul says is be humble, gracious, don’t demand anything, give charity to those who are committing crimes against you, give mercy toward the failures of others, you’ll be a stable person. You see, you cultivate all that self stuff and you don’t create stability; you give them a never-ending trail to greater and greater instability and unfulfillment. Tragic. We are to be characterized by the right virtues.
Spiritual stability comes when I have no demands for myself. Then if I get something, fine. If I don’t, fine. If I’m treated a certain way, fine. If I’m treated this way, fine. Doesn’t really matter to me – I’m not concerned about me. That’s what makes Paul say – and he’s the living illustration of all of this as we shall see in the next session – “In whatsoever state I am, therewith to be” – what? – “absolutely content.” Why? Because Paul’s not the issue. I’m not an issue so I can have a forbearing spirit. I can have a gracious, big-hearted, magnanimous, humble, charitable spirit. That’s stability. Boy, you can’t get knocked off your pins. Some people live and die in that revolving door of listening to what everybody says about him and taking in personally every single thing that ever happens in their life and filtering it through their little ego process, and if its wounded them in any way, they’re in immediate instability, anxiety.
You can’t be knocked off balance by inequity, injustice, unfair treatment, lies, humiliation if you’re not the issue – if you’re not the issue. That’s humility, humble graciousness. So spiritual stability belongs to those who cultivate peace in the fellowship of love, those who maintain joy, and those who do not demand what they might be due but are graciously humble.
John MacArthur, Spiritual Stability, Part 3, Humility and Faith”, comments on Philippians 4:4-5 (sermon from 1989)