“Let your gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is near.”
Paul writes that we are to let our ejpieikh/ß (epieikes) be known to all men (or all people). English translations tend to vary in how they render this word, because depending on context it can mean a variety of things. In principle, though, ejpieikh/ß (epieikes) is the idea that we are not to be overbearing. We are not to be known as bullies or people that demand their own way. Instead, we are to be gentle, mild, meek, and even tolerant (at least in the Biblical sense of the term, for tolerance today is often confused with blind-acceptance of any idea without exercising discernment).
Jesus set the standard for Christian leadership by contrasting the leadership of the Gentiles to the leadership of those who are in the Kingdom of God (see Matthew 20:25-28). He says that the Gentiles take their power and lord it over others. In other words, the gentiles see power as an end unto itself and they use that power to keep themselves overtop of the people (sorry, can’t resist, but sounds a lot like Washington, D.C. today, doesn’t it? Aren’t our politicians supposed to be “civil servants”?). Instead, Jesus teaches, that those who will be great in the Kingdom must be servants of all — those in authority using that authority in humble service is the model that Jesus set, that we are called to strive for in our lives, and is the way we demonstrate our gentleness.
Of course, it is easy to knock the government which has embraced a very secular model in our day and age, but let us never forget that the church in many sectors of our culture has also embraced this secular model of the gentiles. Many pastors use their authority to bully their congregations into getting their way. Many church leaders use their influence as well in the same fashion. And many influential people in the church use their standing to bully the official leadership. And we then wonder why people often discount the church as just a bunch of hypocrites…go figure.
We must understand, though, that being gentle does not mean compromising what is right. It means that when we are right, we don’t bully those around us with that truth. We humbly present the truth for what it is and offer a reasoned defense of what he hold to be true…with humility and gentleness (though Peter uses a different term for being gentle in 1 Peter 3:16).
As we think through this, the notion of gentleness may seem to stand in contrast to the many, very militant, commands given in scripture to tear down the arguments of those who lift their thoughts against the knowledge of God (2 Corinthians 10:4-6). Yet, while we see a contrast, the Bible places both side by side in harmony. And that is because ejpieikh/ß (epieikes) is about an attitude that we take toward mankind while the tearing down is the work we do toward those establishments that raise themselves against the work of God. Thus, we can still tear down the strongholds of the devil in our world and in people’s mind while still being gentle about it in our demeanor.
Paul gives a reason for this attitude… “for the Lord is near.” The term, ejggu/ß (engus) is a marker that speaks of nearness, but the nearness can either refer to nearness in time or nearness in space. The question is, based on the context, which it happens to be. Realistically, either can fit the context. The scripture is filled with the sense that Jesus’ return is imminent. Of course, that is a notion that some people struggle with, but again, for the believer, we are to live with a sense that Jesus is coming soon…but that “soonness” is a matter of God’s timing and not man’s. Thus, Paul could be writing that we are to have a reputation of gentleness amongst men because it will aide our “winsomeness” as we share the Gospel.”
As I read this, I prefer to understand this as a matter of nearness in space. In other words, Jesus is physically near to us as a church and thus we are to behave like he is in our midst. This would also be consistent with the language about prayers and supplications that will follow these verses…we are not anxious because the Lord is with us — he is not a distant and unhearing God.