I’ve been struggling with how to say these things for some time now. I have intentionally refrained from writing much this year, because there has just been so much noise and I didn’t want to add to that noise. But I cannot remain silent any longer. It is past time for me to warn my brothers and sisters, whom I love dearly, that the reputation of the church is suffering irreparable harm. I want to encourage every follower of Jesus to consider seriously these words from Philippians 4:5, “Let your reasonableness be known to everyone.”
What Does “Reasonableness” Mean?
The Greek word translated “reasonableness” is “epieikes” and it means, “not insisting on every right of letter of law or custom, yielding, gentle, kind, courteous, tolerant” (BDAG Greek-English Lexicon). Stop and consider that for a second. People with the reputation of “reasonableness” are known for:
- not insisting on every right
Have you ever said about someone, “We don’t always agree, but I’ve always found him to be very reasonable”? Or how about simply, “She is just so easy to get along with”? These are the kinds of things people say about those who possess the quality of “reasonableness.” It’s the kind of person who will listen to you, respect your position, not try to shove their perspective “down your throat,” and even be willing to change their mind when they discover they are wrong. It is the kind of person who can engage in kind, courteous, and respectful conversation.
This word is often contrasted with “quarrelsome” (1 Timothy 3:3; Titus 3:2). People who are known for their “reasonableness” are not quarrelsome people. James used this word when he wrote, “The wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle (“epieikes”), open to reason, full of mercy, and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace” (James 3:17-18).
Are you beginning to see what Paul meant when he wrote, “Let your reasonableness be known to everyone”? It means Christians should be the kind of people about whom “everyone” says, “I don’t always agree with Christians, but they sure are easy to get along with.”
Practical Examples of “Reasonableness”
Are these the sorts of things “everyone” says about Christians? Do they find us to be, on the whole, “reasonable” people? Do they think of us as “gentle, kind, courteous”? Do we have a reputation for “not insisting on every right”? Consider how we portray ourselves on social media. Consider how 2020 has exposed a lack of “reasonableness” within American Christianity.
When conversations about racial inequality and injustice arose this year, our reasonableness should have been evident to everyone. But rather than “reasonableness,” many Christians responded defensively, dismissively, and argumentatively. When our brothers, sisters, and neighbors of color wanted to talk about how their lives matter, we deflected the conversation to things like “Marxism,” because it was easier to condemn some organization we read about online than to listen to what was being said by people we claim are our “friends.” Rather than listening and responding with empathy, kindness, and respect to the people right in front of us, we chose to focus on the things we saw on television or heard from political pundits.
When a pandemic started sweeping across the world (claiming the lives of 1.64 million people to date), Christians should have asked, “How can we help?” We should have been the most willing to do whatever it took to “flatten the curve” and “stop the spread.” But instead, many scoffed, called it a conspiracy, spread false information, and refused to listen to anything that challenged their narrative. Brothers, sisters, and neighbors are suffering in hospitals across the world, but many of us are still stubbornly refusing to display a spirit of “reasonableness” about it.
And finally, when election season rolls around every few years, Christians should have their “reasonableness” on full display for the world to see. We should never be guilty of spreading lies, rumors, or slander. We should speak well of people, even people we disagree with politically. We should be kind and considerate about the positions we take and be willing to listen to people who take other positions. How much of that sort of Christian “reasonableness” have we seen this political cycle?
I realize these are generalizations and there are, of course, countless exceptions to these rather negative observations. I have seen wonderful “reasonableness” from many. Every time I witness someone having a reasonable conversation about politics, race, the pandemic, or any other controversial topic, it is like a breath of fresh air; but it is a breath of fresh air because it is so rare. Paul didn’t think “reasonableness” should be a rare thing for Christians, but a quality that “everyone” knew about Christians.
We don’t have to agree on everything, but we do have to have to discuss things gently, kindly, respectfully, and reasonably.
What is at Stake by Being Unreasonable?
Whether you like it or not, your reputation and my reputation are tied to the reputation of the entire church. We are all “the body of Christ and individually members of it” (1 Corinthians 12:27). Every word you say, every deed you do, and every social media post you make is a tile in the mosaic of Christian identity. You are helping to shape the answer to the question, “What sort of people are Christians?”
Typically we behave “unreasonably” because we think it is the only way to get what we want or maintain what we have. We are scared that our rights, freedoms, or customs might be changed or taken away completely. We think that if we are kind, courteous, and gentle, those in power will walk all over us and take advantage of us. But we seem to be forgetting two things:
First, the way of the cross. The way of the cross is victory through defeat, victory through self-sacrifice. We win not by seizing power, but by surrendering it (Philippians 2:1-11). We must become gentle, reasonable, meek, kind, and easy to get along with even if that means we are taken advantage of or walked all over. This is what it looks like to follow a crucified King.
Second, we are hurting the cause of Christ by being unyielding, defensive, rude, quarrelsome, and argumentative. Not only are we losing credibility with the unbelieving world, but we are losing credibility with many of our own young people. If we want to be taken seriously, if we want to have a voice in the conversation, if we want people to seriously consider the way of Jesus, our reasonableness must be known to everyone.
There is so much more I could say on this, but I will stop here. I just hope and pray we will stop before we say, do, or post anything and ask ourselves whether or not it is in keeping with a reputation of reasonableness.
I love you and God loves you,