“Let your reasonableness be known to everyone.” (Philippians 4:5)
The Greek term translated in the ESV “reasonableness” is epieikes and it is one of those words that is richer in meaning than any single English word can fully convey. So you have a variety of words in the different conservative English translations such as:
- “softness” (Tyndale)
- moderation (KJV)
- gentleness or gentle spirit (NET, NASB, NIV, NKJV)
- forbearing spirit (ISV)
John MacArthur suggests,
Sweet reasonableness, generosity, goodwill, friendliness, magnanimity, charity toward the faults of others, mercy toward the failures of others, indulgence of the failures of others, leniency, bigheartedness, moderation, forbearance, and gentleness are some of the attempts to capture the rich meaning of epieikēs. Perhaps the best corresponding English word is graciousness—the graciousness of humility; the humble graciousness that produces the patience to endure injustice, disgrace, and mistreatment without retaliation, bitterness, or vengeance. It is contentment.”
So, here is a word is the opposite of contentiousness. It is word is a synonym with such words in the Greek that describe “patience under adversity” [hupomeno] and “patience with antagonistic people” [makrothumia]. This latter word often translated “long-suffering” “is a that quality of self-restraint in the face of provocation which does not hastily retaliate or promptly punish. “It is the opposite of anger and is associated with mercy, and is often used of God”, one Bible commentator adds.
This “gracious humility” or “humble, patient steadfastness which is able to submit to injustice, disgrace, or maltreatment without hatred or malice” is to be known to everyone. It is like one of the characteristics of love in 1 Corinthians 13: love seeks not his own. Or as one person has said, “Reasonableness means that you learn to accept less than you think you deserve.”
However, it is not being a wimp or like a wet washcloth either. Rather it is simply keeping yourself in the background and not drawing attention to your rights and demands.
The greatest opponent we face to “reasonableness” or “gracious humility” is ourselves. Selfishness kills gentleness. A. W. Tozer explains, “The self-sins are these: self-righteousness, self-pity, self-confidence, self-sufficiency, self-admiration, self-love and a host of others like them. They dwell too deep within us and are too much apart of our natures to come to our attention till the light of God is focused upon them.”
You know the rallying cry in our culture for years is that we need to teach children and everyone how to have better self-esteem. But where has all the teaching and promotion of self-esteem really lead to? Increased instability and anxiety. Paul is calling for the exact opposite of self-love and self-actualization and self-fulfillment. He is calling for gracious humility and self-denial. That is the meaning of “reasonableness.”