Sometimes verses scream at you. Philippians 4:5 is one of them.
“Let your reasonableness be known to everyone.”
Reasonableness: the idea that we’re gentle, kind, courteous, and tolerant to everyone, not just those with whom we agree, but those with whom we disagree. It’s “a balanced, intelligent, decent outlook” (New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology). Not just to believers, but to unbelievers too.
It follows the command to rejoice always (Philippians 4:4Open in Logos Bible Software (if available)). That means that Christians are to be known for two qualities: joy and a kind disposition to everyone. This applies at all times, even when mistreated and hated. J. Gnilka observes that this command “prevents the church from being too preoccupied with its own interests.” We can’t control how others react to us, but our presence should be one of winsome, reasonable joy no matter what’s happening around us.
“There should be in the whole of our sentiments and demeanor, a diffidence which inclines us to suspect ourselves, and a candor which disposes us to make all due allowance for others,” writes Charles Simeon. We’re prone to divide and label others enemies, and to call “forth against each other … bitterest invectives.” Paul shows us a better way: to agree in the Lord, rejoice, be reasonable, pray, and think about what’s true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and worthy of praise.
A Needed Word
I’ve sensed a growing stridency among some in the past year. I get the reasons why. We’re all on edge. It’s easy to issue declarations, write caustic posts, question motives, and take issue with others. It’s a problem.
I sense in my own life the same desire: to decry those people who are (in my estimation) fighting about the wrong things in wrong ways.
And that’s just the point. I’m no better than they are. It’s hard for me to condemn others when I sense the same impulse in myself. That’s why what Charles Simeon wrote about suspecting ourselves and making allowance for others is so valuable.
Don’t get me wrong. We need to discuss issues. We should care about the truth. There’s a time for taking a stand. But in all of this, we should cultivate a healthy distrust of our own motives, and a willingness to assume the best of others even when we have a hard time understanding.
Reasonableness in Action
Admit your own weaknesses. Distrust yourself, at least a little. Consider the possibility that you could be wrong.
Hang out with people who disagree with you. Affirm the areas where you agree. Try to learn from them. Choose the most charitable interpretation of their words and actions. “Argue as if you’re right, but listen as if you’re wrong (and be willing to change your mind)” (Adam Grant).
In all of this, maintain your joy. It will take a lot of prayer, which is where Paul goes next in this passage. But with God’s help, it’s possible.
In this shrill and polarized age, I long for this in my life and in the life of the church. “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand.” (Philippians 4:4-5O)