Epi-eik-es: Gentle, Moderate, Patient

November 6, 2023

Epi-eik-es: Gentle, Moderate, Patient

In Philippians 4:5, we find the instruction “Let your moderation be known unto all men. The Lord is at hand.” These words are part of a letter written by Paul the Apostle to believers in Philippi, a Roman colony on the Greek mainland in the province of Macedonia. Paul had visited this city on his second missionary journey. It was there he met Lydia, a wealthy woman of faith. It was also in Philippi that the imprisonment of Paul and Silas led to the conversion of a jailer and his family. These individuals were the basis of a small group of believers in this mostly Gentile city. In his epistle, Paul was explaining how to live in a manner pleasing to the God they had begun serving, and this verse about moderation was one of the instructions he gave.

Moderation defined

The word translated as moderation in Philippians is the Greek word epieikes. It is derived from a couple of root words whose meanings suggest “to point toward, resemble, or to be like.” The same word is translated as gentle and patient elsewhere in God’s Word. Putting these thoughts together, we get an idea of the quality of life that the Apostle said a Christian should exemplify. In essence, he was telling these early believers, “The life you live should point toward the Lord Jesus and resemble Him.”

Some have suggested that the word moderation in this text could also be understood to mean “sweet reasonableness.” I like that! When we become Christians, a change happens that begins to make us sweet and reasonable. We live in a world where tension and extremism are common, but Christians live differently. God has transformed us out of the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of His dear Son, so our lives are filled with moderation, gentleness, and patience.

The word epieikes in Scripture

There are four other Scriptures in which the word epieikes occurs, and each offers more insight about this quality. In James 3:17, the Apostle James stated, “But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle [epieikes] and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy.” Saved individuals are people of peace. They are not the center of controversy. They are not always looking for challenges. They are living lives of gentleness, day in and day out.

Another example is in one of Paul’s other writings, where he outlined to two young pastors the qualifications for those called to the ministry. He stated in 1 Timothy 3:3 that church leaders should not be given to wine, not strikers, not greedy, but “patient” [epieikes]. He was telling the younger man, “This is what your life as a leader needs to embody.”

The third instance of epieikes was when Paul told Titus, another young pastor, that he was to “speak evil of no man, to be no brawlers, but gentle [epieikes], shewing all meekness unto all men” (Titus 3:2-3). Why? Paul explained, “For we ourselves also were sometimes foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving divers lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful, and hating one another.” Paul’s was telling Titus, “You are different than you used to be, so be patient with others.”

With the fourth occurrence, the Apostle Peter was admonishing servants specifically, but his words have a broader application. He said, “Servants, be subject to your masters with all fear; not only to the good and gentle [epieikes], but also to the froward” (1 Peter 2:18). Notice that he told the servants how they should respond when they are treated properly, but also when they are not treated properly. Then he added, “For this is thankworthy, if a man for conscience toward God endure grief, suffering wrongfully. For what glory is it, if, when ye be buffeted for your faults, ye shall take it patiently? but if, when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God” (1 Peter 2:19-20). Moderation suffers injustice patiently. This is a challenging concept in cultures like ours in America that deeply value justice, freedom, and personal rights. However, we must be careful not to get so fixated on our rights that we forget that our rights are not the most important thing. God’s will is the most important thing!

We know this from the example of Jesus, who said, as He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, “Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me.” Jesus could have called ten legions of angels to deliver Him from death on the Cross, but He said, “Not my will, but thine be done.” No wonder in this same epistle to the Philippians, Paul said, “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: but made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross” (Philippians 2:5-8). When we think about rights, let’s remember that Jesus gave up His rights so that we could enter Glory! Our lives as Christians need to embody the example of Christ.

It is evident that Paul, Peter, and James all understood that believers should live in a way that points to Christ and resembles Him. In our day as well, moderation should be infused into every part of our existence: our homes, our families, our church, our schooling, our employment, our entertainment, our friendships. There should be no area of life in which God’s influence and authority is excluded.

Moderation in the home

Let us consider first how moderation—a gentle, patient spirit—is exemplified in the family. In 1 Peter 3:7, we read that husbands are to give honor to their wives, remembering that their wives are heirs together with them of the grace of life. In the same chapter, Peter stated that wives should cooperate voluntarily with their husbands, working together in unity with them.

Together, the two of them are to teach their children the ways of God. In Deuteronomy 11:18-19, God told the people of Israel, “Therefore shall ye lay up these my words in your heart and in your soul, and bind them for a sign upon your hand, that they may be as frontlets between your eyes. And ye shall teach them your children, speaking of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, when thou liest down, and when thou risest up.”  

As parents, we want to live for the Lord and teach our children to value what God values. Living moderately means understanding that not every activity, form of entertainment, or media choice is beneficial. There are options available that certainly would not point toward Christ nor help us resemble His loving, gentle, and sacrificial character.

My wife’s father, who has gone to be with the Lord, had a saying that our family still rehearses. When our children were young teens and facing choices about actions and activities, Grandpa would say, “Well, where does it lead?” He said that so often that they began to repeat the same words to each other! And while they said them a little humorously, Grandpa’s saying had taught them that choices matter. They learned that the question is not always just, “Is what you are doing okay?” It actually is, “What is the trajectory? What direction is it headed?”

When unbelievers come into the church, we want them to feel the oneness of spirit and gentleness of Christ that draws them to salvation.

Moderation in the church

Moderation in church and worship is based on commitment to Christ and each other. While our relationship with Christ is individual, we live in community with our fellow believers, and gentle, moderate behavior will help maintain harmony. We are not striving for uniformity but unity, and that comes about through a decision to subject our wills, rights, and purposes to one another for the good of the body of Christ.

Paul told two sisters in the church at Philippi, “Be of the same mind in the Lord” (Philippians 4:2). It did not matter which one of those two sisters was right. What mattered was that they served God in unity! If there is friction in the church, why would any observer want to be a part of the church? They would rightly assess that the church has the same problems that exist everywhere else! When unbelievers come into the church, we want them to feel the oneness of spirit and gentleness of Christ that draws them to salvation.

Moderation should be exemplified by faithfulness in worship and in God’s service. We do not come to church out of duty. We are debtors to God. We owe Him everything! That fact alone should instill in us a desire to worship and inspire us to be faithfully in our places in God’s house.

It is true that we can worship anywhere, and we also know that because of age, disability, and school or employment requirements, we cannot always be present in church services. However, we can be sure that if we miss one, we will miss something of value. Thomas, one of the Lord’s disciples, was not present when Jesus first appeared to His followers after His resurrection. We have no explanation as to why he was not there, and it does not matter. What we do know is that he missed seeing his risen Lord! And when we are not in the house of God during a service, we too miss something.

Someone asked me once why we should come to church. My spontaneous answer was that we ought to come to worship and have fellowship and learn from God’s Word. Also, we come because there are children and fellow believers who are depending on us. Finally, we come because the Word of God instructs us to. In Hebrews 10:24-25 we read, “And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.” Notice that the writer did not say to consider yourself, but to consider one another! God says to be in church, so let’s be there when possible.

Moderation in the workplace and classroom

How do we live moderately in the workplace? If we are employees, we are to perform our duties in an honorable, ethical way, with a purpose to serve diligently. We are to obey those in authority over us. Jesus told the Roman soldiers to be content with their wages (see Luke 3:14). In the same discourse, He told the Publicans to be honest in their dealings and not collect more taxes than were due.

Employers are instructed to give just wages (Colossians 4:1) and treat those they employ with impartiality and without harshness (see Ephesians 6:9). The point is, contentment, honesty, fairness, and integrity are part of moderate living in the workplace.

Many of these concepts apply to the classroom as well. If you are a student, you should tend to your studies with diligence and integrity. Is that just so you can earn a degree or receive acclaim for graduating at the top of your class? No! You live that way so God will be glorified by your life.

Colossians 3:17 sums up our responsibility, whatever our role in life: “And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him.” Our faith should not only be evident in church; it should be obvious to the world around us. Family members, business associates, classmates, and all with whom we associate should see our moderate, godly lifestyle and notice the difference.

There are two other reasons why we should live this kind of moderate life. The first is that the Lord is coming; our opening text in Philippians stated, “The Lord is at hand.” But perhaps even more importantly, the Lord is here! He is at work in the world around us and He wants to work through us. He has placed us in the environment we find ourselves in, and He wants us to shine as lights for Him.

Moderation in a challenging culture

Throughout the Word of God, we find that God’s people were taught to live moderate lives in challenging cultures. In the Book of Jeremiah, God told the Israelites who were to be taken into captivity that once they were in Babylon, they should build houses, raise their children, and pray for the peace of the city where they resided. They were to live moderate, peaceable lives even in the land of their enemies.

Daniel and the three Hebrew children are shining examples in their stand against the culture of Babylon. Typically, we honor Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego for refusing to bow to Nebuchadnezzar’s idol on the plain of Dura. However, the three of them were living faithful lives long before that event. When they were new arrivals in Babylon, they purposed not to defile themselves by eating of the king’s meat. When it was offered to them, they did not argue or make demands. They simply requested to eat pulse instead. And God blessed them and gave them the favor of the officials over them.

Daniel stood true to God while serving in four political administrations in Babylon. The presidents and princes he worked with saw the difference and knew the only way they could trip him up was by the fact that he prayed all the time. The king also knew Daniel’s character, and when Daniel faced the lion’s den for his stand, the king told him, “Thy God whom thou servest continually, he will deliver thee” (Daniel 6:16). Daniel’s eighty years of consistent, moderate, godly living had paid off.

May God help each one of us to consistently and faithfully embrace the gentleness and meekness exemplified by Christ, and live lives of moderation that point unbelievers toward Him.

apostolic faith magazine