“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God” (Php 4:4-6).
What does it mean that the Lord is near?
I’ve been pondering this lately. Does it mean that the Lord is near relationally, as in “The Lord is close to the broken-hearted” (Ps 34:18)? Does it mean that it’s because the coming of the Lord is near (Jms 5:8)?
It’s really not clear.
At first reading it almost feels like, “Be gentle because the Lord is watching you.” Sort of like dad watching over you if you are a teenager and go to a party. “Be good because I’m watching.”
But that isn’t the spirit of the text. The text is one of rejoicing, hope and life. Having God micromanage you as a disciplinarian is not the flavor at all of this text.
How I’ve Read This Text in the Past
In the past I’ve read the text this way as I’m sure you have too:
Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again, Rejoice.
…….Let your gentleness be evident to all.
……………..The Lord is near.
Do not be anxious about anything…
So basically we rejoice, are gentle, and we do so because the Lord is near. The reason you and I think this is because of where the #5 is placed. Gentleness and the nearness of the Lord are connected. Read this text, pausing at the numbers.
How it’s Possible to Read it Differently
But as you know the verse numbers did not come in the original. They were added about the 1100’s and have been very useful. But at the same they can interpret the text. Read the text this way, again pausing at the numbers:
Do you see how we moved the #5 of the verse, and how it changes everything? It now reads like this:
Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!
……….Let your gentleness be evident to all.
The Lord is near.
……….Do not be anxious….
When we move the number, the Lord’s nearness is the reason why we are not to be anxious. It’s a verse of comfort.
Whereas when the Lord is near is placed after “let your gentleness be evident…,” it has a paternal oversight feel.
I’ve checked in the Greek and there’s nothing overtly obvious to say where “The Lord is near” goes. Maybe it’s just a list of a 4 exhortations in a row, all disconnected from the other. Maybe it does indeed go with the antecedent of “Let your gentleness be evident to all.” But the more I ponder this verse, the more I wonder if it connects to the text following, ‘The Lord is near…so don’t be anxious.’
It does change things for me. Because in it I find His comfort again.
He is near.