Gentleness & Near – Philippians 4:5

Philippians 4:5 Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near.

We shall look at two words in this verse, the words translated “gentleness” and “near”.

The word translated “gentleness” in our Bibles is epieikes. The word comprises two elements, epi “towards” and eikes, which is a participial form of a verb meaning “to look like”, and which can be understood as “fitting, meet, suitable” with the sense of “reasonable, good, with moderation”. A related word is eikōn, “likeness”, from which we get our word icon. By gentleness is perhaps best understood the moderation and manners of the believing gentleman, a living icon of Christ.

The word for “near” in our passage is engys, which is packed with meaning. It was used by the Jews to denote nearness to God; to make someone near was to bring them to divine service. In its temporal sense it speaks of imminency, something just about to happen. It derives from anchō to squeeze or throttle, a picture of confinement conveying a sense of closeness as intimate as breathing. Sounding deeply in our word engys is its cousin ankálē which means the curve or inner angle of the arm, and by extension, anything closely enfolding. By its etymology the word engys pictures the nearness of being squeezed in the enfolding embrace of the arms – in other words, a hug.

So glimmering just beneath the surface of the words of this verse there arises a fuller message, a picture of the believer’s bearing and conduct: in the divine likeness, let your gentleness be moderate and meet, walking with fitting courtesy such that other people are brought closer into the arms of the Lord who is always on the point of meeting us.

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