The apostle Paul was able to write to the Philippian church, "for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am." (Phil 4:11) Can you say this at this moment in your life? In his letter to the early church, James, the half-brother of Jesus, wrote: "the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable..." (James 3:17)
This article expounds the Greek terms, epieikes and prautes, as they are used by James to describe seeing our lives from God's point of view.
In James 3:17, regarding the term epieikes, translated "gentle," W. E. Vines states: "it expresses that considerateness that looks "humanely and reasonably at the facts of a case." (from Vine's Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words, Copyright © 1985, Thomas Nelson Publishers.) Previously James referred to "the gentleness of wisdom" (James 3:13). Here the term, "gentleness," is prautes.
After years of studying prautes in the various contexts in which it occurs, I conclude that the expanded meaning is: "An outward gentleness based upon and inner strength that comes from a right relationship with God and being at peace with what He is doing in my life."
One time, in a Bible study I was leading, I gave this definition and a women spoke up and said, "pastor, I was with you until the last part, 'being at peace with what He is doing in my life.'"
Are you struggling with what is taking place in your life right now? Do you struggle being content? Read on.
In the Fulness of time
He made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His kind intention which He purposed in Him with a view to an administration suitable to the fulness of the times, that is, the summing up of all things in Christ, things in the heavens and things upon the earth.[i]
In the context of this verse, Paul is not referring to the duration of time, nor a fix time, but the appropriateness of time. This is perhaps one of the most perplexing aspect of life under the sun. Solomon, poetically expressed it this way:
There is an appointed time for everything. And there is a time for every event under heaven
A time to give birth, and a time to die; A time to plant, and a time to uproot what is planted.
A time to kill, and a time to heal; A time to tear down, and a time to build up.
A time to weep, and a time to laugh; A time to mourn, and a time to dance.
A time to throw stones, and a time to gather stones; A time to embrace, and a time to shun embracing.
A time to search, and a time to give up as lost; A time to keep, and a time to throw away.
A time to tear apart, and a time to sew together; A time to be silent, and a time to speak.
A time to love, and a time to hate; A time for war, and a time for peace.[ii]
Solomon contrasts this with a different dimension of life when he continues:
I have seen the task which God has given the sons of men with which to occupy themselves. He has made everything appropriate in its time. He has also set eternity in their heart, yet so that man will not find out the work which God has done from the beginning even to the end.[iii]
In God’s eternal plan for man, He has shared His attribute of a dimension of existence which we are unable to comprehend in any moment in time because, as His created beings, there are other attributes of His essence which He has chosen not to share with us such as, aseity, omniscience, omnipotence, etc. In this way, man was created to make choices and to not know the results of the choices he makes. Many conclude that the ability to make choices means that we can determine the results. In other words, man has free will. But this is a mistake. Only God knows the results of the choices we make. This distinction is referred to as the difference between communicable versus incommunicable attributes, i.e., the attributes God shares with man and those He does not.
Unlike other living creatures, man can look ahead and envision what he would like to accomplish in life. However, he does not have the ability to determine in advance the fulfillment of that vision.
In this twentieth year of the twenty-first century, the world has experienced the full import of this truth with its political and social upheavals. Many have lost jobs, their homes, their businesses, even their lives due to events beyond their control with the pandemic, political gridlock, and riots in the streets of our nation.
No one could have foreseen these events. There were warning signs. Looking back to the writings and speeches of many, it seems as if some envisioned the possibilities but only God knew exactly what He had in store for each of us. Some draw the conclusion that because of the warning signs, each of us are somehow culpable for the mistakes made in not heeding warnings. In philosophical terms, this is called existentialism. With it comes angst, also known as cognitive dissonance. However, this philosophy is humanistic and godless. Paul describes it as, “having no hope and without God in the world”[iv]
Man was created to have fellowship with God. This included the sense of His presence. A moment-by-moment enjoyment of His presence and trust in His love and grace. But because of the fall, this fellowship was broken and man lost the sense of well-being and enjoyment of this relationship.
The remainder of the book of Ecclesiastes describes the futility that comes with this loss of the sense of eternity. All human effort seems useless. We plan. We strive. We hope. We expect. But in the end, apart from God, we are but mere beasts.
I said to myself concerning the sons of men, "God has surely tested them in order for them to see that they are but beasts." For the fate of the sons of men and the fate of beasts is the same. As one dies so dies the other; indeed, they all have the same breath and there is no advantage for man over beast, for all is vanity. All go to the same place. All came from the dust and all return to the dust.[v]
In this season of my life, I am only beginning to understand what Solomon meant by his epistle to his son:
Rejoice, young man, during your childhood, and let your heart be pleasant during the days of young manhood. And follow the impulses of your heart and the desires of your eyes. Yet know that God will bring you to judgment for all these things. So, remove vexation from your heart and put away pain from your body, because childhood and the prime of life are fleeting.[vi]
In a short time, I will be seventy-eight years old. God has given me an opportunity to reflect on my life as Solomon reflected on his and to consider what I would leave to my son and daughter more than anything else under the sun. It is this perspective of life so that they would heed Solomon’s message to his son:
Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come and the years draw near when you will say, "I have no delight in them"[vii]
Looking back over the years, I envisioned what I wanted to do with my life and made plans and worked to fulfill those visions. By God’s grace, some of my plans have been fulfilled. Many have not. Life did not turn out as I expected. Because of events that took place, some due to choices I made, some due to choices others made, but mostly unexpected events such as Covid-19. In the end, only what God intended happened.
As I write, I reflect on some of the life-changing events, I have been in more auto accidents than I care to remember, a few due to my own carelessness, but the most due to the carelessness of others. Once I experienced total heart block where the upper part of my heart quit working. What would have been fatal in the past, by God’s grace, I have now been kept alive for eighteen years by pacemakers. I am a cancer patient. Again, by God’s grace, I am in remission but must continue regular checkups because this type of cancer can return at any time. Five years ago, my heart stopped completely. The exact cause is unknown but extenuating health issues, diabetes and plugged arteries, were contributing factors. With three stints inserted to keep the arteries open and careful monitoring of my diabetes, I continue to enjoy life under the sun.
Last year I experienced another near-death experience. I fell and broke my neck. Once again, God’s grace provided expert medical treatment. With two rods in my neck and months of rehabilitation, I have been able to recover from most of the damage to my neck and from the severe damage to my spinal cord. Life is indeed tenuous under the sun.
But this tomb of reflection is not about how fragile our earthly vessels are. Yes. It is important to consider and take care of our bodies. But Paul says, “bodily discipline is only of little profit”[viii] What I want to consider is how God has fulfilled so many of my visions in ways that I was not able to comprehend because, with eternity in my heart, I chose long ago to follow Christ as the Lord of my life. This one decision guided all other decisions so that, instead of disappointment or even angst, I rejoice in each outcome. What could be regret is praise to the Lord. What transpired was a life of pain, heartache, and disappointment along the way, but fulfillment and joy in retrospect.
Many times, I was not able to do what I wanted to do. For example, my training in woodworking as an undergraduate gave me a desire to use my skills to build objects. But lack of money prevented me from acquiring the tools to use those skills. When I had the tools, lack of space and time prevented me from using them. Finally, when I had the tools, the time, and the space, my choices and the choices of others together with physical limitations due to health issues resulted in a complete change of life circumstances so that the use of tools, time, and space were lost, no long to be replaced.
This is only one small example of changes as the seasons of my life changed. Is this cause for regret? Only if I was living for myself and not to please my Lord. Looking back from this point of time, I can honestly say, “no regrets.” Solomon expressed it this way:
Yet know that God will bring you to judgment for all these things.[ix]
Paul expressed it in another way:
In this case, moreover, it is required of stewards that one be found trustworthy. But to me it is a very small thing that I should be examined by you, or by any human court; in fact, I do not even examine myself. For I am conscious of nothing against myself, yet I am not by this acquitted; but the one who examines me is the Lord.[x]
By this I mean, my choice to follow Christ was a commitment to live in the light of His Word step-by-step. Those times, and there have been many, when I failed, His love and care for me continued and continues. It is a joy to see what He has done in my life and to have the expectation that He will continue as long as this body of mine draws breath. I consider each moment I have left to be the fulness of time for me. I have many things I want to accomplish if God wills. All the events, experiences, visions fulfilled, and even those not fulfilled but resulted in different outcomes, have led me to this fulness of time. I am enjoying God’s fulness.
Come now, you who say, "Today or tomorrow, we shall go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit." Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. Instead, you ought to say, "If the Lord wills, we shall live and also do this or that."[xi]
For this reason, I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man; so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fulness of God.[xii]
When we understand the fulness of time from God's perspective, then, and only then, are we able to enjoy God's fulness.
[i] Eph 1:9-10.
[ii] Eccl 3:1-8.
[iii] Eccl 3:10-11
[iv] Eph 2:12.
[v] Eccl 3:18-20.
[vi] Eccl 11:9-10.
[vii] Eccl 12:1.
[viii] 1 Tim 4:8.
[ix] Eccl 11:9.
[x] 1 Cor 4:2-4.
[xi] James 4:13-15.
[xii] Eph 3:14-19.