READ: Numbers 19-20
THINK: Philippians 4 contains a number of well-known verses that I hear quoted fairly often in the church. Verse 4: Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Verses 6-7: Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Verse 8: Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.
These are all really great passages to memorize and take to heart so it’s no wonder that they’re quoted often. But there is another verse, a verse sandwiched between all of these great ones, that I have rarely heard. In fact, it was one that I had skipped over and failed to notice for most of my life until re-reading Philippians 4 very recently. Verse 5 says, “Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.” I read it and it hit me like a ton of bricks!
My gentleness reflects God’s presence and God’s love to those around me. My lack of gentleness, well, I wish I could say that it doesn’t reflect God’s presence or that it demonstrates to those around me that I’m not following him well. But I don’t think that’s what Paul is saying here. And I am certain that’s not the lesson we learn from Moses in Numbers 20. See, I think it’s very clear that those of us who have been called by God and have been saved according to his purpose always reflect God to those around us. In fact, that’s what the word Christian originally meant – “Little Christs.” No matter what, whether we like it or not, those of us who claim Christ represent him to our world. Especially those of us who are leaders in any capacity. And we’ll never be perfect, but here’s my question today: Are you conscious of the way you’re representing Jesus to those around you? Is your gentleness so evident to all that they see you and know God is near?
The punishment that God gives Moses in chapter 20 may seem harsh at first reading. Here’s Moses, grieving the death of his sister, and then the jerky Israelites come to him and complain and whine and say they wish they were dead like his sister is and accuse him of being a murderer who brought them to the desert to die – as opposed to a liberator who freed them from hundreds of years of slavery but that’s just details right? And this feels, to Moses, like the 8 millionth time they’ve complained in the 4 decades he’s been leading them around (4 decades, by the way, caused by their own faithlessness and complaining). So Moses goes to God and asks what to do. And God tells him to speak to the rock and water will be provided.
And then the story takes a dark turn. Instead of speaking to the rock, Moses speaks to the people of Israel. Harshly. He yells at them for being grumbling whiners. And basically says, sarcastically “Shall we (read: Aaron & Me) bring you water from this rock you stupid jerks?” And then he strikes the rock twice with his staff. And water flows, because God is faithful even when we’re not. But something terrible has happened, and this is why Moses was dealt with so severely. In his lack of gentleness he reflected God wrongly to the Israelites! He gave them a really insufficient and inappropriate picture of who God was and how God wanted to deal with them.
First, God was not angry with the people. They were thirsty! They could have asked in a nicer way, but God wanted to give them water because they needed it and God loves providing for the needs of his people. Moses reflected the idea that God was angry and begrudging and that the people should be ashamed of asking for their needs. And also, importantly, Moses reflected the idea that God is insufficient. God instructed him to speak to the rock so that the entire assembly would know that God is all-powerful and that he is completely sufficient and that he is worthy of all their trust. Moses treated the situation as though he needed to do something, as though God somehow required his help. And he reflected this notion to the people by his actions. God held Moses accountable because, as this nation was being shaped into the people that God created and called them to be, it was critically important that they not misunderstand exactly who he was!
We all have our desert moments. We have all been frustrated and angry and burnt out. And thankfully God extends grace to us – as he did to Moses by not striking him dead for so egregiously misrepresenting him to the entire nation. But we need to be careful. We need to remember that who we are and how we interact with people reflects, always, the God we serve. We need to strive to let our gentleness be evident to all so that they will see that God is near and turn towards his love. If we don’t, we send the wrong message about who God is and we turn away from the gospel those people who most desperately need it.
PRAY: Ask God to help you be gentle today! Ask him to help you cultivate a life of gentleness and love so that he might shine through you to those living in the darkness of this world.
This passage has always been confusing and frustrating for me – but this brings so much clarification! I learned so much!