Living Reasonably in an Unreasonable Age
by Don Bailey
Before my call to pastoral ministry, I worked in a family garden center business. There I witnessed firsthand the growth of the modern consumer mentality. In the 1980s, large garden center chain stores had adopted the 100 percent money-back guarantee for a customer’s dead plant. Soon, our small family business met with more demanding and unreasonable customers. A man would approach our storefront with a dead azalea and a soured countenance. “Do you think,” I might ask, “that while you were in the Bahamas, your plant might have suffered a lack of water?” The angry retort would invariably follow, “You sold me a bad plant, and I want a new one!” Truthfully, we had always given another plant to such a customer in the past. But the former gift of grace became the customer’s right of entitlement.
When the Apostle Paul writes to the Philippians in 4:5, “Let your reasonableness be known to everyone,” he entreats believers to lay down selfish entitlement attitudes. The word translated “reasonable” is sometimes rendered “gentle” or “moderate.” This does not mean moderate in passion for God’s honor and the cause of Christ. Nor does it mean gentle as a doormat when civic rights are assaulted. Remember Paul’s assertion of his rights as a Roman citizen in Acts 22? Instead, the Apostle urges that we lay aside the notion that we need to exercise our advantages to the detriment of others. Unreasonableness leads to the kind of personal friction he addresses in this epistle between Euodia and Syntyche (Phil. 4:2–3).
How might Christians live reasonably before all men in this increasingly unreasonable age? To begin with, we should continually cast our gaze upon the Lord Jesus Christ. The Apostle Paul soars with this thought in Philippians 2:5–11: how truly amazing it is that the very Son of God, with all of the rights of deity, did not press His divine rights in His humanity. But being born in the likeness of men, he took on the form of a servant, and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross.
This same Jesus was so confident of His own authority that He washed the feet of His disciples (John 13:1–11). He did this as a living demonstration of this divine reasonableness that serves others before demanding service (Mark 10:45). In doing so, He impressed upon His disciples that His kingdom is not one of lording authority over others for personal aggrandizement (Matt. 20:25; Mark 10:42; Luke 22:25).
Unless we continually place our faith in the person of Jesus Christ as He is presented in the Gospels, we will never make sense of laying aside our consumer mentality in our families, churches, and greater community. We must know—and remind ourselves—that Jesus experienced death and hell for our sakes before we will give up the self-seeking advantage of this world. We will live as new creations of a different sort than our pagan neighbors only when the fuel of our gospel imaginations remind us that our feet were dangling singed over the fires of hell, and that we have been liberated from the futile ways handed down by our forefathers (1 Peter 1:18).
Living reasonably before all men begins at home. The Apostle Paul follows his exhortation to believers to make known our reasonableness with these words: “The Lord is at hand” (Phil. 4:5). Commentators debate whether Paul had in mind primarily the temporal nearness of the Lord in His imminent return or the omnipresence of the Lord as a reminder that He is close in His abiding presence. Both are undoubtedly true and certainly not mutually exclusive.
Yet we should also think pastorally in application. The Lord’s sanctifying work shines brightest before those nearest us. We who have been bought with a price should make known our reasonableness to husbands and wives, parents and children, coworkers and neighbors. When a husband seeks the honor of Christ ahead of his own wife’s submission, his wife will more likely respect him. We will make known the sacrificial nature of Jesus when we bear burdens with those who share our pew in worship. Likewise, the consistent thread of New Testament instruction on how to live before an unbelieving world stresses the down-toearth duties of prayer, love, good deeds, wisdom, tranquility, hard work, and sacrifice (Col. 4:5; 1 Thess. 4:11; 1 Peter 2:12, 14–15).
An adage I heard in seminary with respect to preaching the gospel is apt in applying Philippians 4:5 to our everyday lives: “If you aim at everyone, you speak to no one. Aim at someone, and you speak to everyone.” It is far easier and more glamorous to aim at changing the world than serving those at hand. Ask, “Where am I over-pressing my sense of need at the expense of others?”
Repent daily. Protect the weak. Sacrifice comfort. Forgive neighbors. Love enemies. Practice generosity. When we believers relinquish our perceived “due” and find rest in the grand privileges we possess as sons and daughters of God, the light of the gospel beams brightly before a desperate and dark world.