Different cultures have different expressions of politeness. Languages other than English often have a formal you and informal you to distinguish between polite or casual conversation. Using the wrong you is a social error! Asian cultures have extensive hierarchies of politeness based on the relationship between the speakers. Americans sometimes find Germans rude because they don’t make small talk; Germans find Americans superficial because they say things they don’t mean like “How are you?” and “Have a nice day!”
Our passage today contains familiar verses in Philippians, and we must be careful not to read them as Paul’s list of pleasantries, a polite list of final thoughts. Paul continued to make his case for how the Philippian church should live “worthy of the gospel of Christ” (1:27).
Evidence of unity, humility, and maturity will be found through the qualities of joy, gentleness, and peace (cf. Gal. 5:22–23). Rejoicing is active, not passive, and focused on the Lord, not circumstances (v. 4). Gentleness, which might also be translated as “forbearance,” is the opposite of a self-seeking attitude. A church characterized by a gentle spirit will be noticed by the world, because seeking the good of others instead of self runs contrary to our natural impulses. The only way to achieve such gentleness is by remembering our present strength and our future goal: the Lord is near to sustain us, and the Lord is near in the time of His return (v. 5).
Peace comes from praying. The church at Philippi had many reasons to be anxious; they were persecuted, poor, and concerned about Paul. Rather than worry, they could actively present their petitions, praise, and thanksgiving to God. The peace of God that we receive from a posture of prayer cannot be rationalized away or understood apart from the work of the Lord. It transforms our worries and provides the strength to stand firm in Christ Jesus (v. 7).
Apply the Word
We must be rejoicing, praying people if we are to have joy, gentleness, and peace. In addition to your personal times of prayer, seek to gather with others for some corporate rejoicing and praying. Your church might hold midweek prayer services or other designated times for praise. Perhaps your Sunday school class or small group can dedicate time to prayer and rejoicing. These disciplines—corporately as well as individually—help to shape us into mature Christians with the fruit of the Spirit “evident to all” (v. 5).