“Let your gentle spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near.” -Phil. 4.5
This is a unique verse, and it opens up a panoramic view of the apostolic heart of Paul. What is this “gentle spirit” that he is encouraging, and why does he tell us that the Lord is near in this context?
Philippians is Paul’s great call to a life of rejoicing in the midst of trial, and he was writing to a church that was facing great opposition from persecutors. He repeatedly exhorts the saints to rejoice in the midst of the suffering, and this verse provides for us a concentrated stream of thought from the apostle along these lines.
What is a “gentle spirit” then? To be sure, it is not cowardice, shyness, or any attempt at looking humble or sounding modest. A “gentle spirit” is not something that can be conjured by a self-conscious attempt at meekness. This “gentle spirit” imperative, following Paul’s exhortation to “rejoice in the Lord always,” must be the God-breathed result of delighting in Him in the midst of great pressure and trial.
Anyone can look gentle and meek in a contrived way when men are watching and some religious reward is at stake. But when the rubber hits the road, when the turbulence of life picks up, when the ground begins to shake beneath our feet, the depth of our foundations in God is revealed for what it actually is. It takes a certain kind of soul to demonstrate the gentleness and kindness of God Himself in an atmosphere that is inhospitable and difficult, but this is the privilege and calling of every saint. This “gentle spirit” is not something calculated and performed, but rather received and demonstrated, through the very life of Jesus Himself.
The “gentle spirit” Paul speaks of denotes a disposition that can hardly be rendered in translation by a single word. It is your quite specifically grounded benevolence, gentleness, considerateness, openness, vitality, and at the same time moderation that must be manifest to all men. Luther’s “lenity” well expresses the source of this disposition: Christians are men who have been made lenis, lenient, mellow, “beaten to pulp,” as opposed to the nonrecipients of grace, who can still be stiff and bristly.
(Epistle to the Philippians, Karl Barth; WJK Publications, 2002; p. 121)
It is not in the flighty and jolly moments of positive religious experience that this is proven out, but rather in the hum-drum, grinding, pressing moments of day-to-day life. Our “gentle spirit” is not mainly displayed from a pulpit, at a conference, or at some overt spiritual function. It is in the way we approach others from our innermost being. Have we a tinge of self-righteousness toward them? Have we a hint of superiority toward them? Have we a smidgeon of stiffness or coldness toward them?
What about our spouses or children? Have we a bit of disdain or bitterness toward them? Have we a shade of impatience or anxiety regarding them? Have we any hardness, brashness, or brazenness toward them?
Paul called the church to rejoice in the Lord always, and to allow the gentle and kind Spirit of Jesus Himself to flow through our lives and unto others in an effectual way. It will not happen in some magical and automatic way without our cooperation, for He is looking for co-laborers. We’ve got to allow the Potter to “beat to a pulp” all our anxiety, arrogance, and self-glorification, until we are wrung out souls, ready to be revivified and powered by His own resurrection life. Then shall His own gentleness and kindness flow from us, in the high places and in the low places.
He follows this call with that most striking note, “The Lord is near.”
Paul’s thought is two-fold here:
1. The Lord is near, literally at hand, and as the great coming Judge, He will not be pleased if we have walked in our own stiff-hearted dispositions. He calls us to a higher reality, namely His own gentleness, and if we have treated others unjustly or been hard-hearted toward them, it will not be well for us on the day of His return. “…. to the extent that you did it to one of the least of these…. “
2. Secondly, and most encouraging for the believer, is that the Lord, who is our great help, is not only near in the sense of His soon coming. For the soul that has been redeemed and transformed through the Gospel, He is as near as the inner-man. He is near to us in every plight and every challenge, and He is fervent and eager in His desire to walk us through the tumultuous seasons of life. We do not need to remain in a place of stiffness, arrogance, or brashness towards others. We need only to cry out to Him, and He will break up the hardened ground of our hearts, oil the dry places, and make us tender and loving and gentle towards all men. His own vibrant love and kindness will flow through us like a mighty rushing river.
So turn from your self and unto the Chief Shepherd. He is near to you, dear saint, and His gentle Spirit is ever and always our great good.
Posted in Scripture Tagged with: demons, God, Karl Barth, Paul, Philippians, Reality, righteousness, suffering, the Gospel
“The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.” -1 Tim. 1.15
The phrase “peccator justus” is Latin for, “justified sinner.” I am not a Latin expert, or anything close to one actually, but the two words are reverberating through my mind and heart as I type today. Here is the reason why:
On December 9th, 1968 a man named Karl Barth- a Swiss/German theologian- was working on writing a lecture. Barth was probably the most well-known theologian of the 20th century. He was a controversial man, who was known to challenge the categories of both Liberal and Evangelical theologians, and to shake the dusty definitions of God that had crippled the world of theology. He resisted the Nazi Regime’s falsely concocted version of Scripture and Church, personally mailing his statement to Hitler himself, for which reason he lost his esteemed position as a professor in Germany at the University of Bonn. The beloved Evangelical scholar F.F. Bruce noted that Barth’s 1919 commentary on Romans fell “like a bombshell on the theologians’ playground, and we are still feeling its reverberations today.”
He challenged the entire landscape of 20th century theology, jolting systems of thought and calling scholars and pastors to let God be God over their labors and studies. He said that we needed to recover the “Godness of God,” and to hear Paul’s spirit beneath the surface of the NT texts. He hand-wrote over 20,000 pages of theology over the course of 50-plus years in theological work. I may not agree with all of his theological conclusions, nor all of the decisions he made over the course of many years in pastoral ministry, theological labors, and authorship. But I really appreciate the man, and so much of what the Lord brought to the Church through him. The fruit of his labors goes on in the lives of many believers who have never heard his name and who are not likely to ever read one of his books.
Back to December 9th of ’68. Barth was 82 year of age, and by this time he “spoke of his death remarkably often and even wanted to talk about the details of his funeral.” Being the thinker, theologian, and pastor that he was, Barth had reflected on the reality of death and eternity very long and very hard for many decades. When he visited the U.S. in 1962, he was put on the cover of TIME magazine in painted form, standing in front of Jesus’ empty tomb with his own words as a banner above: “The goal of the human life is not death, but resurrection.”
Now he was aged, and even seemed to sense that his days were drawing to a close. In some of his last letters written, he made these awesome statements:
Looking back, I have no serious complaints about anyone or anything: except my own failures today, yesterday, the day before yesterday and the day before that- I mean my failures in real gratitude. Perhaps I still have bitter days ahead, and certainly my death will come sooner or later. One thing remains, for me to remember and impress upon myself…. ‘Do not forget the good that He has done!’
… How do I know whether I shall die easily or with difficulty? I only know that my dying, too, is part of my life… And then- this is the destination, the limit and the goal for all of us- I shall no longer ‘be’, but I shall be made manifest before the judgment seat of Christ, in and with my whole ‘being,’ with all the real good and the real evil that I have thought, said and done, with all the bitterness that I have suffered and all the beauty that I have enjoyed. There I shall only be able to stand as the failure that I doubtless was in all things, but… by virtue of His promise, as a peccator justus. And as that I shall be able to stand. Then… in the light of grace, all that is now dark will become very clear.
It’s remarkable how tender and sensitive to mercy a man becomes when he is on the edge of eternity. All of a sudden, the grudges we have held, the suspicions we have harbored, the fears which have ruled us, the possessions we’ve coveted, and the self-righteousness we’ve carried, all become utter vanity before the reality of standing face to face with the God of all creation. Before the Light of His unveiled glory, every one of us have marks of the intensest soul-stains, and we realize that all of our boasting has no merit whatsoever- all of our religious and social facades are exposed for the falsities that they are, and we are moved to cry out for the reality of mercy.
Barth was interrupted from writing his lecture by the phone calls of two friends. One of them, a man named Eduard Thurneysen, had “remained faithful to him over sixty years. They talked about the gloomy world situation. Then Barth said, ‘But keep your chin up! Never mind! He will reign!‘”
These would become his last recorded words.
“… Barth did not go back to his draft which he had left in the middle of a sentence, but put it aside until the next day. However, he did not live that long. He died peacefully some time in the middle of the night. He lay there as though asleep, with his hands gently folded from his evening prayers. So his wife found him the next morning, while in the background a record was playing the Mozart with which she had wanted to waken him.”
Interestingly enough, before he breathed his last “he had been writing a few sentences of the draft for his lecture in which he was saying that in the church it is always important to listen to the Fathers who have gone before in the faith. For ‘God is not a God of the dead but of the living. In him they all live.'”
If we would walk with a greater consciousness of the fragility and preciousness of life, and the reality of death, we would become in a more concentrated manner, a people of mercy. We all fall under the category of ‘peccator.’ We have sinned, and worse, our souls actually consist of the substance of iniquity and wickedness. Sin is not only a litany of things we’ve committed, it’s a part of our very fiber and nature as humans. Yet death approaches for each one of us, and immediately following the breathing of our last breath, we encounter the One Who made heaven and earth. As Barth said, “I only know that my dying, too, is part of my life…” The only hope that any of us have is in the cross of Jesus Christ. Only He has the power to yank us from the category of sinner (peccator), and to place us within the glorious family of those who have been justified and transformed by the power of His indestructible life (peccator justus)!
When Christ has transformed our hearts, we can face the adversities of life, and the shakings and tumblings of the Kingdoms of this world in the same vein that Barth encouraged:
“… keep your chin up! Never mind! He will reign!“
He will reign, saints, and no matter what befalls the nations in these last days, however dim your vision is at present, there is a vital and eternal hope for those who have repented and believed the Son of God. He will reign, and the proof is in your own justification before the throne of God. Rejoice, then, in so great a salvation! Let your heart send streams of enraptured gratitude to the Savior!
There will come a day when the saints will inherit the manifested reality of resurrected and glorified bodies. The propensity for sin, the pulls of temptation, the stubborn presence of pride and self-consciousness, fatigue and sickness will once and for all be removed from our experience. Our fallibility and dim sights will be totally submerged in the Light of His wonderful perfections. Glorious day!
Until then, we turn to Him day by day, that His likeness and glory might rise in our present experience. We’ve been justified by the power of a Blood which speaks better than the blood of Abel. We have a radically opened access to righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. One day, our justification before God will be manifested in full, but until that day dawns, let us receive the Spirit of Holiness in increasing measure. Let us go from glory to glory and from faith to faith, hastening the day of His return, and letting our newfound light shine before men. As A.W. Tozer once stated:
What God is seeking is a people in the earth who will trust him now as completely as they know they must at the final day.
“… keep your chin up! Never mind! He will reign!“
(All Barth quotes taken from Karl Barth: His Life from Letters and Autobiographical Texts, Eberhard Busch; Fortress Press, 1975, pp. 497-499; Tozer quote from an audio message)
Posted in The Kingdom of God Tagged with: F.F. Bruce, Germany, Karl Barth, Paul, theologians, theology, time magazine