“Let your reasonableness become known to all men. The Lord is near.”—PHILIPPIANS 4:5.
1. Why is it a challenge to be reasonable in today’s world?
“THE reasonable man”—English journalist Sir Alan Patrick Herbert dubbed him a mythical figure. Indeed, it may seem at times that there are no reasonable people left in this strife-torn world. The Bible foretold that in these critical “last days,” people would be “fierce,” “headstrong,” and “not open to any agreement”—in other words, anything but reasonable. (2 Timothy 3:1-5) Nonetheless, true Christians hold reasonableness in high esteem, knowing that it is a mark of divine wisdom. (James 3:17) We do not feel that it is impossible to be reasonable in an unreasonable world. Rather, we implicitly embrace the challenge in the apostle Paul’s inspired counsel found at Philippians 4:5: “Let your reasonableness become known to all men.”
2. How do the apostle Paul’s words at Philippians 4:5 help us to determine whether we are reasonable?
2 Note how Paul’s words help us to test whether we are reasonable. It is not so much a question of how we see ourselves; it is a question of how others see us, of how we are known. Phillips’ translation renders this verse: “Have a reputation for being reasonable.” Each of us might well ask, ‘How am I known? Do I have a reputation for being reasonable, yielding, and gentle? Or am I known as being rigid, harsh, or headstrong?’
3. (a) What does the Greek word translated “reasonable” mean, and why is this quality appealing? (b) How might a Christian learn to be more reasonable?
3 Our reputation in this regard will simply reflect the degree to which we imitate Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 11:1) When here on earth, Jesus perfectly reflected his Father’s supreme example of reasonableness. (John 14:9) In fact, when Paul wrote of “the mildness and kindness of the Christ,” the Greek word he used for kindness (e·pi·ei·kiʹas) also means “reasonableness” or, literally, “yieldingness.” (2 Corinthians 10:1) The Expositor’s Bible Commentary calls this “one of the great words of character description in the N[ew] T[estament].” It describes a quality so appealing that one scholar renders the word “sweet reasonableness.” Let us, therefore, discuss three ways in which Jesus, like his Father, Jehovah, demonstrated reasonableness. We may thus learn how to become more reasonable ourselves.—1 Peter 2:21.
“Ready to Forgive”
4. How did Jesus show himself “ready to forgive”?
4 Like his Father, Jesus showed reasonableness by being “ready to forgive” over and over again. (Psalm 86:5) Consider the time when Peter, a close companion, denied Jesus three times on the night of Jesus’ arrest and trial. Jesus himself had earlier stated: “Whoever disowns me before men, I will also disown him before my Father.” (Matthew 10:33) Did Jesus rigidly and mercilessly apply this rule to Peter? No; after His resurrection, Jesus paid Peter a personal visit, no doubt to comfort and reassure this repentant, brokenhearted apostle. (Luke 24:34; 1 Corinthians 15:5) Shortly thereafter, Jesus permitted Peter to have great responsibility. (Acts 2:1-41) Here was sweet reasonableness at its very best! Is it not comforting to think that Jehovah has appointed Jesus as Judge over all mankind?—Isaiah 11:1-4; John 5:22.
5. (a) What reputation should the elders have among the sheep? (b) What material might elders review before handling judicial cases, and why?
5 When elders act as judges in the congregation, they endeavor to follow Jesus’ reasonable example. They do not want the sheep to fear them as punishers. Rather, they seek to imitate Jesus so that the sheep will feel safe with them as loving shepherds. In judicial cases, they make every effort to be reasonable, ready to forgive. Before handling such a matter, some elders have found it helpful to review the July 1, 1992, Watchtower articles “Jehovah, the Impartial ‘Judge of All the Earth’” and “Elders, Judge With Righteousness.” They thus bear in mind the summary of Jehovah’s way of judging: “Firmness where necessary, mercy where possible.” It is not an error to lean toward mercy in judgment when there is a reasonable basis for doing so. (Matthew 12:7) It is a grave error to be harsh or merciless. (Ezekiel 34:4) Elders thus avoid erring by actively seeking the most loving, merciful course possible within the bounds of justice.—Compare Matthew 23:23; James 2:13.
Flexibility in the Face of Changing Circumstances
6. How did Jesus display reasonableness in dealing with the Gentile woman whose daughter was demonized?
6 Like Jehovah, Jesus proved himself quick to alter course or adapt to new situations as they arose. On one occasion a Gentile woman begged him to cure her badly demonized daughter. In three different ways, Jesus initially indicated that he was not going to help her—first, by refraining from answering her; second, by stating directly that he was sent forth, not to the Gentiles, but to the Jews; and third, by giving an illustration that kindly made the same point. However, the woman persisted through all of this, giving evidence of extraordinary faith. In the light of this exceptional circumstance, Jesus could see that this was no time to enforce a general rule; it was time to bend in response to higher principles.* Thus, Jesus did exactly what he had three times indicated he would not do. He cured the woman’s daughter!—Matthew 15:21-28.
7. In what ways might parents show reasonableness, and why?
7 Are we likewise known for our willingness to bend when appropriate? Parents frequently need to show such reasonableness. Since each child is unique, methods that work with one may be inappropriate for another. Furthermore, as children grow, their needs change. Should the hour of a curfew be adjusted? Would the family study benefit from a livelier format? When a parent overreacts to some minor transgression, is he or she willing to be humble and set matters right? Parents who are yielding in such ways avoid needlessly irritating their children and alienating them from Jehovah.—Ephesians 6:4.
8. How might congregation elders take the lead in adapting to the needs of the territory?
8 Elders too need to adapt as new circumstances arise, while never compromising specific laws of God. In overseeing the preaching work, are you alert to changes in the territory? As life-styles in the neighborhood change, perhaps evening witnessing, street witnessing, or telephone witnessing should be promoted. Adapting in such ways helps us fulfill our preaching commission more effectively. (Matthew 28:19, 20; 1 Corinthians 9:26) Paul also made a point of adapting to all types of people in his ministry. Do we do the same, for example, by learning enough about local religions and cultures to be able to help people?—1 Corinthians 9:19-23.
9. Why should an elder not insist on always handling problems the way he did in the past?
9 As these last days grow ever more critical, shepherds may also need to adapt to the bewildering complexity and unpleasantness of some of the problems now facing their flock. (2 Timothy 3:1) Elders, this is no time for rigidity! Surely an elder would not insist on dealing with problems as he has in the past if his methods have become ineffective or if “the faithful and discreet slave” has seen fit to publish new material on such subjects. (Matthew 24:45; compare Ecclesiastes 7:10; 1 Corinthians 7:31.) One faithful elder sincerely tried to help a depressed sister who was badly in need of a good listener. However, he took a rather dismissive view of her depression and offered her simplistic solutions. Then the Watch Tower Society published some Bible-based information that addressed her very problem. The elder made sure to speak with her again, this time applying the new material and showing empathy for her plight. (Compare 1 Thessalonians 5:14, 15.) What a fine example of reasonableness!
10. (a) How should elders show a yielding attitude toward one another and toward the body of elders as a whole? (b) How should the elder body view those who show themselves unreasonable?
10 Elders also need to show a yielding attitude toward one another. When the body of elders meets, how important that no one elder dominate the proceedings! (Luke 9:48) The one who is presiding particularly needs restraint in this regard. And when one or two elders disagree with a decision of the overall body of elders, they will not insist on having their own way. Rather, as long as no Scriptural principle is being violated, they will yield, remembering that reasonableness is required of elders. (1 Timothy 3:2, 3) On the other hand, the body of elders should keep in mind that Paul chastised the Corinthian congregation for ‘putting up with unreasonable persons’ who presented themselves as “superfine apostles.” (2 Corinthians 11:5, 19, 20) So they should be willing to counsel a fellow elder who behaves in a stubborn, unreasonable manner, but they themselves should be mild and kind in doing so.—Galatians 6:1.
Reasonableness in the Exercise of Authority
11. What contrast was there between how the Jewish religious leaders in Jesus’ day exercised authority and how Jesus did?
11 When Jesus walked the earth, his reasonableness truly shone through in the way he wielded his God-granted authority. How different he was from the religious leaders of his day! Consider an example. God’s law had ordered that no work, not even the gathering of wood, be done on the Sabbath. (Exodus 20:10; Numbers 15:32-36) The religious leaders wanted to control just how people applied that law. So they took it upon themselves to decree exactly what a person could lift on the Sabbath. They ruled: nothing heavier than two dried figs. They even issued a prohibition on sandals shod with nails, claiming that lifting the extra weight of the nails would constitute work! It is said that, all in all, the rabbis added 39 rules to God’s law about the Sabbath and then made endless additions to those rules. Jesus, on the other hand, did not seek to control people through shame by laying down endless restrictive rules or by setting rigid, unreachable standards.—Matthew 23:2-4; John 7:47-49.
12. Why can we say that Jesus did not waver when it came to Jehovah’s righteous standards?
12 Are we to assume, then, that Jesus did not firmly uphold God’s righteous standards? He certainly did! He understood that laws are most effective when humans take to heart the principles behind those laws. While the Pharisees were caught up in trying to control people with countless rules, Jesus sought to reach hearts. For example, he well knew that there is no yielding when it comes to such divine laws as “flee from fornication.” (1 Corinthians 6:18) So Jesus warned people about the thoughts that could lead to immorality. (Matthew 5:28) Such teaching took far more wisdom and discernment than simply laying down rigid, formulaic rules.
13. (a) Why should elders avoid creating inflexible laws and rules? (b) What are some areas wherein it is important to respect the conscience of the individual?
13 Responsible brothers today are equally interested in reaching hearts. Thus, they avoid laying down arbitrary, inflexible rules or turning their personal viewpoints and opinions into law. (Compare Daniel 6:7-16.) From time to time, kindly reminders on such matters as dress and grooming may be appropriate and timely, but an elder may jeopardize his reputation as a reasonable man if he harps on such matters or tries to impose what are primarily reflections of his personal taste. Really, all in the congregation should avoid trying to control others.—Compare 2 Corinthians 1:24; Philippians 2:12.
14. How did Jesus show that he was reasonable as to what he expected of others?
14 Elders may want to examine themselves on another score: ‘Am I reasonable in what I expect of others?’ Jesus certainly was. He consistently showed his followers that he expected no more than their whole-souled efforts and that he valued these highly. He praised the poor widow for giving her coins of small value. (Mark 12:42, 43) He rebuked his disciples when they criticized Mary’s costly contribution, saying: “Let her alone. . . . She did what she could.” (Mark 14:6, 8) He was reasonable even when his followers failed him. For instance, even though he urged his three closest apostles to stay awake and keep watch with him on the night of his arrest, they let him down by falling asleep repeatedly. Yet, he remarked sympathetically: “The spirit, of course, is eager, but the flesh is weak.”—Mark 14:34-38.
15, 16. (a) Why should elders be careful not to pressure or browbeat the flock? (b) How did one faithful sister come to adjust what she expected of others?
15 True, Jesus encouraged his followers to ‘exert themselves vigorously.’ (Luke 13:24) But never did he pressure them into doing so! He inspired them, set an example, took the lead, and sought to reach their hearts. He trusted in the power of Jehovah’s spirit to do the rest. Elders today should likewise encourage the flock to serve Jehovah wholeheartedly but should avoid browbeating them with guilt or shame, implying that what they currently do in service to Jehovah is in some way insufficient or unacceptable. A rigid, driving “do more, do more, do more!” approach may dishearten those who are doing all they can. How sad it would be if an elder built a reputation for being “hard to please”—a far cry from reasonableness!—1 Peter 2:18.
16 All of us should be reasonable in what we expect of others! One sister, after she and her husband left their missionary assignment to care for her ailing mother, wrote: “These times are truly difficult for us publishers out here in the congregations. Having been in circuit and district work, sheltered from many such pressures, we were suddenly and painfully made aware of this. I used to say to myself, for instance, ‘Why doesn’t that sister offer the correct literature this month? Doesn’t she read the Kingdom Ministry?’ Now I know why. For some it is all they can do to get out [in service].” How much better it is to commend our brothers for what they do than to judge them for what they do not do!
17. How did Jesus set an example for us as to reasonableness?
17 Consider a final example of how Jesus wields his authority in a reasonable way. Like his Father, Jesus does not jealously guard his authority. He too is a master delegator, appointing his faithful slave class to care for “all his belongings” here on the earth. (Matthew 24:45-47) And he does not fear listening to the ideas of others. He often asked his listeners: “What do you think?” (Matthew 17:25; 18:12; 21:28; 22:42) So it should be among all of Christ’s followers today. No amount of authority should render them unwilling to listen. Parents, listen! Husbands, listen! Elders, listen!
18. (a) How might we find out if we have a reputation for reasonableness? (b) What might all of us do well to resolve?
18 Decidedly, each of us wants to “have a reputation for being reasonable.” (Philippians 4:5, Phillips) But how do we know if we have such a reputation? Well, when Jesus was curious as to what people were saying about him, he asked his trusted associates. (Matthew 16:13) Why not follow his example? You could ask someone you can count on for candor whether you have a reputation for being a reasonable, yielding person. Surely there is much all of us can do to imitate more closely Jesus’ perfect example of reasonableness! Especially if we wield a measure of authority over others, let us always follow the example of Jehovah and Jesus, always wielding it in a reasonable way, ever ready to forgive, bend, or yield when appropriate. Indeed, may every one of us strive to “be reasonable”!—Titus 3:2.
The book New Testament Words comments: “The man who is epieikēs [reasonable] knows that there are times when a thing may be legally completely justified and yet morally completely wrong. The man who is epieikēs knows when to relax the law under the compulsion of a force that is higher and greater than law.”
How Would You Answer?
□ Why should Christians want to be reasonable?
□ How can elders imitate Jesus in being ready to forgive?
□ Why should we strive to be flexible as Jesus was?
□ How can we demonstrate reasonableness in the way we exercise authority?
□ How might we examine ourselves as to whether we are really reasonable?
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Jesus readily forgave repentant Peter
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When a woman showed extraordinary faith, Jesus saw that it was no time to enforce a general rule
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