in my recreational reading this morning, i was breezing through philippians (don’t you just love philippians?) and i read, “let your moderation be known to all. the lord is near.” a strange sensation (kinda’ like when a stray hair tickles the inside of your nose) began to buzz in the back of my brain when i remembered that i had recently argued in this very space that moderation is a symptom of a weak character, questionable morals, and sundry horrendous communicable diseases (https://randymorgan.wordpress.com/2008/03/13/the-banality-of-balance/). it has long been my contention that there was nothing “moderate” about jesus–he was a total radical. but is paul suggesting here that we moderate our passion? was there an error in my theology (god forbid!)? was the lord trying to take me down a peg (an almost daily occurence, by the way)? time to do a little research.
the greek word translated “moderation” is epieikes (i’ve often wondered why lexicons pretend that the cyrillic alphabet translates into english words…sorry, i digress) and it means “gentle; considerate; appropriate.” when i began to run the references (a phrase preachers use to convince parishoners that they spend a great deal of time in intellectual pursuit) i came across the following uses of epieikes:
(titus 3:1-2) “remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good, to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and to show true humility toward all men.”
(james 3:17) “but the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.”
(1 timothy 3:2-3) “now the overseer must be above reproach, the husband of but one wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money.”
(2 corinthians 10:1) “by the meekness and gentleness of Christ, I appeal to you…”
do you see the picture developing here? scripture is calling followers of jesus (especially church leaders) to put on a divine characteristic, one totally out of the realm of human ability: to be as considerate as jesus in our dealings with others. i am still convinced that when it came to walking out god’s plan, jesus was a wild man…nothing, but nothing could dissuade him. conversely, when it came to demonstrating god’s character, nothing could disquiet him. he faced the terrors of god’s wrath (the “cup”) and the pressures of pouring his life into dim-witted disciples, yet he never panicked. he emanated love continually. he was gentle. he was considerate. he lived epieikes.
i say i want to be like jesus, and i really think i do. so why is it, then, that i get a bad attitude in traffic? why am i surprised when people act like people? why am i so concerned about what people think of me? because the beast within me called “self” has not been put to death absolutely. he growls and demands my attention and, rather than let him starve to death, i throw him a morsel. as a result, i care more about me than others. people around me see impatience and moodiness, with occasional gusts to surliness. in short, i look nothing like jesus.
maybe paul is not saying that i “must” be considerate because the lord is near. maybe he is saying i “can” be considerate because the lord is near.