Friday 2 December 2022

Glad for Grace

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

—Philippians 4:4-7

As someone who is not overly prone to rejoicing, I am grateful that Paul in his letter to the church in Philippi reminds us not once, but twice, about our capacity and opportunity to do so. With his very next words, he even suggests that through such rejoicing our “gentleness” will become known to everyone. What an interesting claim to make for someone who was accused of “disturbing the city” during his first visit there! (Acts 16:20)

What might Paul have had in mind by gentleness, I wonder? In his first letter to Timothy (3:3), he contrasts gentleness with pugnacious violence. So, we know what gentleness is not. That in itself is important to keep in mind in our age of polarization and mutual suspicion, in which an ever-growing number of people feel no qualms about launching the vilest attacks against strangers under the cover of digital anonymity.

In contrast, Paul draws rejoicing and gentleness into intimate proximity. Our Lord is near, he tells us, and that is cause for rejoicing! Our gentleness will be known to everyone as the expression of our gladness for God’s grace (the Greek words for rejoicing/gladness and grace are cognate). Our Messiah’s nearness, Paul says, even has the power to melt away all our anxiety, as we put all our needs before God with hearts full of thanksgiving.

Grace continues to abound in the final verse, where Paul assures us that God’s peace, which passes all understanding, will guard our hearts and minds. Most philosophers today don’t do too well with the notion of anything ‘passing understanding,’ preferring instead to assume that, through the application of human reason and intellect, we can put the ground under our own feet. Yet, as the reformational philosophical tradition teaches, placing ultimate trust in our own rational capacity (itself a good gift from our Maker) will not lead to peace, but only more anxiety. Ultimately, we are to open ourselves to, and rest in, the peace of God. From that orientation, everything else flows.

I wish you God’s peace this Advent season, friends, as together we raise our expectation for the arrival of the coming Messiah. Rejoice! And again I say, rejoice!


Ron Kuipers