When we say something is “at hand” we mean it is near or within reach. When we say this in the context of time we mean something is soon to be, or about to happen. This idiom jumped out at me as I was reading Philippians chapter four. “Let your gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand” (Philippians 4:5).
We could understand Paul’s seemingly out of place insertion of this idiom in a couple of ways. One way is that we should be known for our gentleness because Jesus is near. He sees how we behave and that should make us careful to be gentle. We should be ever conscious of the Lord’s presence and let that truth effect our character.
Another way to understand this verse is that Paul is reminding us of the soon return of our Lord Jesus. If we take the meaning of “at hand” this way, we could view the entire context of chapter four in light of it. These verses tell us to “rejoice in the Lord always,” “let your gentleness be known,” “be anxious for nothing,” and to “meditate on these things.” We could add after each of those admonitions “because the Lord is returning soon.”
Our Lord is nearby. Also, He is coming soon! In the letter of James he said, “you also be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand” (James 5:8). Peter said, “But the end of all things is at hand; therefore be serious and watchful in your prayers” (1 Peter 4:7).
It is true that we should live daily believing in the imminent return of our Lord Jesus. We will behave differently and enjoy our life in Christ more fully when we keep in mind “the Lord is at hand.” However, the expectation of His coming is not just some ploy to make us behave. It is true. The Lord is at hand. He is coming! Any day now, we will be caught up together to meet the Lord in the air. The book of the Revelation of Jesus Christ ends this way. “[Jesus] He who testifies to these things says, ‘Surely I am coming quickly.’ Amen. Even so. Come Lord Jesus!” (Revelation 22:20).