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THE WITNESS OF A STABLE LIFE
by Michael Gowens

"Let your moderation be known to all men. The Lord is at hand." Philippians 4:5


Whether we realize it or not, the unbelieving world around us forms its opinion of our Lord based on what it sees in us. The believer's behavior, language, and general attitude conveys a message to the watching world that is either consistent or inconsistent with his claim to follow Jesus Christ. Witnessing, in other words, is a matter of the walk as well as the talk. Consistent discipleship, in the warp and woof of daily life, is a powerful testimony to the world that the Lord Jesus Christ is real and that He has the ability to bring order and stability to life.

Silent, or perhaps I should say 'non-verbal', witnessing also takes another form. The Christian also witnesses to the world by the manner in which he reacts to problems and difficulties in his life. Others watch us to see if our God is sufficient to sustain us in the midst of affliction. The king asked "Daniel, O Daniel, servant of the living God, is thy God, whom thou servest continually, able to deliver thee from the lions?" (Dan. 6:20). Again, whether we realize it or not, the way that we respond to troubles suggests an unmistakable answer to this question in the minds of those who observe us. If we react in swoons of depression and anxiety, the concept of a personal God degenerates in the minds of the onlookers (albeit, imperceptibly) into a religious abstraction. If we respond in spiritual stability and triumphant faith, the skeptic is now forced to deal with a kind of realism, at least at an intellectual level, that is quite inexplicable to him. Whatever our response, we cannot escape the fact that the attitudes we manifest, the deportment we exhibit, and the words we communicate in times of crisis send a silent message to those outside the Christian community concerning the credibility of our faith.

The question "How should a believer respond when he encounters difficulties?" is the implied question in Philippians 4:1-9. Paul answers that he should "stand fast" (v. 1). He should be joyful, not depressed (v. 4), prayerful, not anxious (v. 6), thankful, not resentful (v. 6), and obedient, not rebellious (v. 9). In a word, he should demonstrate "moderation" (v. 5).

I must admit that initially, I thought verse five was out of place in the context: "Let your moderation be known to all men. The Lord is at hand." It seemed to be disconnected and remote from the flow of thought in the passage. I have since come to see that this verse is crucial to the synthesizing of the context. I suggest that rather than being "out of place," it is the key verse in the passage, the hinge on which the whole thought turns. Paul is concerned to teach the Philippians that their response to problems, whether in stability or defeat, is a demonstration of their faith to the world: "Let your moderation be known to all men."

What does he mean by "moderation?" The Greek word expresses more than any single English word will convey. For that reason, commentators and linguistic scholars differ widely on the correct interpretation. Some suggest it means "forbearance." Others say it means "gentleness." Still others say, "humility, magnanimity, sweet reasonableness, graciousness, tolerance, contentment, kindness, meekness" or some other concept. May I suggest that the word really describes a dynamic, not a single concept. It expresses at least three distinct thoughts that, when put together as a unit, form a dynamic of responding to problems in a manner that will witness to others of the sufficiency of God's grace in Jesus Christ.

BALANCE & STABILITY: The word "moderation" speaks, first, of spiritual balance and stability, like a "moderator" brings balance to two opposing sides in a discussion. "Let people see you respond to your problems," Paul means, "even those that blindside you, with spiritual stability. Keep your spiritual equilibrium by trusting your adequate God. Don't give in to despair or the nervous fear of anxiety." Spiritual stability is the ability to maintain calm inner peace and composure, regardless of circumstances, to resist becoming overwhelmed by stress, and to rise above feelings. How one responds to problems, be they daily tribulations, worldly enticements, Satan's temptations, financial pressures, debilitating illnesses, or unpleasant persecutions, is a testimony to others.

SELF-CONTROL: Not only does the word refer to balance, but a balance that demonstrates itself in the ability to control oneself. "Moderation" means self-control or self-restraint. What is the natural tendency when one is blindsided by trouble? How would you be prone to react if someone said something harsh and unkind to you? The most natural reaction is to demand one's own rights, to assert oneself, to defend oneself. Most people "fly off the handle," or "fall to pieces," or "blow up," or "lose control." The verbal assault bruises the ego. The victim feels violated, hurt, and offended. He may either retreat within himself and nurse his wounds in self-pity, or he may retaliate in an agressive display of self-will and self-protection. The Christian, on the contrary, must demonstrate self-control, not self-assertiveness. He must respond in self-forgetfulness, not self-interest and self-absorption, for self-denial is the essence of discipleship (Mt. 16:24). Self-denial, the ability to say "no" to self, is the product of self-control. Concerning self-control, Solomon said, "He that hath no rule over his own spirit is like a city broken down, without walls" (Pro. 25:28) and "He that is slow to anger is better than the mighty; and he that ruleth his spirit than he that taketh a city" (Pro. 16:32). The believer does not have to victimized by his emotions. He does not have to give into his natural proclivity to self-pity, or self-defense, or self-justification. He demonstrates spiritual stability by restraining these emotions.

MAGNANIMITY: Thirdly, the word "moderation" suggests magnanimity, big heartedness, and gracious forbearance. In other words, moderation is a matter of responding to problems, not in self-interest, but in humility that rises above the insult or injury and demonstrates graciousness and kindness to the offender. The Christian should demonstrate strength under control, such strength that he is able to actually "bless them that curse him and pray for them that despitefully use him." The individual who can respond with such selfless magnanimity and such humble graciousness to conflict is a powerful testimony to the world of the stabilizing power of Christ in the lives of those who put their trust in Him.

Synthesizing all three thoughts, Paul's imperative, "Let your moderation be known to all men," means, "Witness to the world the sufficiency of your God by maintaining your spiritual balance in adversity, through an attitude of graciousness and humility, not self-will." That is spiritual stability.

Someone wonders, "How is such stability developed? How can I learn to respond to problems in this way?" By praying about everything that worries you (v. 6), filling your mind with the objective truths of God's word instead of the subjective fancies of emotion (v. 8), and living in obedience to the truth that you know even though you may not have all the answers (v. 9). In a word, stability is a matter of faith, and faith is essentially "God-centered thinking." Spiritual stability is a product of the way one thinks about God. "Rejoice" in your God, Paul commands (v. 4). "Think on things that are true, just, lovely, and virtuous" (v. 8) by immersing your mind in the word of God (Ps. 1:1-3).

"But," someone else objects, "if I refuse to assert my own will and defend my own rights, then others will take advantage of me. I don't have the strength to stand firm." Paul answers, "The Lord is at hand." He is near. Remembering that simple but profound fact is both the incentive to trust Him and the means by which the believer will be equipped to stand fast. What will be the result when the believer responds to problems in Christian moderation? In his own heart, God's peace will abide (v. 7). In the world, the name of Jesus Christ will be glorified through the unique and unconventional example of one who dared to trust God and obey His word and found Him sufficient to sustain him in times of trial.

"Almighty God, forgive us for our little faith, our selfish concern, and our ambivalent hearts. We thank Thee for Thy sufficient grace which is able to make us stand. Help us to grow in understanding of who Thou art, and to develop such a close walk with Thee that we will become spiritually stable, unmoved by error, persecution, or tribulation. And so, use us as witnesses to the watching world whereby others will be encouraged to lean on Thee and honor Thy name. In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we make our prayer, Amen."