The apostle Paul offers these closing instructions and encouragements as he nears the end of his letter to the Philippians: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand” (Philippians 4:4–5, ESV).
Remaining full of joy by continually rejoicing in the Lord was part of Paul’s program for standing firm and staying faithful to the Lord. Joy was one of the key themes of his letter to the Philippians (Philippians 1:4–6, 23-26; 2:1–2, 17–18). Paul saw the peaceful, reasonable treatment of one another as a practical way to maintain joy in the church. “Reasonableness” is translated from the Greek word epieikēs, which means “gentleness, kindness, an attitude of lenience, yielding.” Jesus exemplified gentleness and meekness in His relationships with all people (Matthew 11:29; 21:5; Luke 23:34; 2 Corinthians 10:1; 1 Peter 2:23).
In Philippians 4:2–3, Paul speaks of a disagreement between Euodia and Syntyche, two women who had labored with Paul in his ministry of sharing the gospel. This division was robbing the church of joy. The relationship needed to be mended through the gentle, considerate yielding of rights one to the other. Earlier in the letter, Paul had urged the Philippians, “Then make me truly happy by agreeing wholeheartedly with each other, loving one another, and working together with one mind and purpose. Don’t be selfish. . . . Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too” (Philippians 2:2–4, NLT).
What motive does Paul give the Philippians for letting their reasonableness and gentleness be shown and known to everyone? He reminds them that “the Lord is at hand.” This turn of phrase is a reference to the day of Jesus Christ’s return. Paul had mentioned the nearness of Christ’s coming several times in this letter (Philippians 1:6, 10; 2:16). The original Greek phrase translated “the Lord is at hand” (ho kurios eggus) is dubbed “the Apostle’s watchword” by some commentators. A similar term in Aramaic is maranatha, which can be translated “our Lord cometh.” The New Living Translation renders Philippians 4:5 as “Let everyone see that you are considerate in all you do. Remember, the Lord is coming soon.”
The early believers lived with a looming sense of urgency, believing the Lord’s return was imminent. They took Christ’s teaching on the subject to heart: “So you, too, must keep watch! For you don’t know what day your Lord is coming. Understand this: If a homeowner knew exactly when a burglar was coming, he would keep watch and not permit his house to be broken into. You also must be ready all the time, for the Son of Man will come when least expected” (Matthew 24:42–44, NLT). The apostle Peter taught extensively about the day of the Lord’s return (2 Peter 3:1–13). James encouraged believers to have patience and courage, “for the coming of the Lord is at hand” (James 5:8, NLT).
The Lord is at hand means the Lord is nearby. He is always close to us, both in time and in space. When John the Baptist began to preach, preparing the way for the coming of the Lord, He said, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 3:2, ESV). Jesus Himself repeated these words (Matthew 4:17; 10:7; Mark 1:13).
God is not far away or separated from our reality here on earth. God asked, “Am I a God at hand, declares the Lord, and not a God far away? Can a man hide himself in secret places so that I cannot see him? declares the Lord. Do I not fill heaven and earth? declares the Lord” (Jeremiah 23:23–24, ESV). God is always near, close by, and available to us (Deuteronomy 4:7; Psalm 34:18; 119:151). David sang, “The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth” (Psalm 145:18). Knowing Jesus our Lord is close at hand and ever-present is a powerful encouragement through difficult times. It is also a compelling incentive to godly living in light of His approaching return. Maranatha!