What Are You Thinking?: Part 2

4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. 5 Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; 6 do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. 

8 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. 9 What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me — practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you. (Philippians 4:4-9)

I have enjoyed thinking about and studying through Philippians 4:8 over the last couple of weeks. I have enjoyed that very much, it has been helpful to me in my life in a variety of ways. At the same time I have often caught myself not thinking in ways consistent with Philippians 4:8. We know that Philippians 4:8 is about thinking, our thinking, how we as believers ought to think. Along with my personal time of meditation, studying, thinking on this verse, I’ve also enjoyed spending time discussing it with other people. For instance, last Tuesday evening with the small group that I am a part of, we were able to talk about Philippians 4:8 as a group and the challenges that we face regarding right thinking according to this verse, the things we should focus on. The truth there for me has been that what we know is not enough. What we read from a passage, or hear in a sermon, or even discuss with other people, it can’t stop there. The Scripture is meant to be lived. It is the living Word of God, and it is in living out this Word where we most often find our challenges. God can faithfully help us with that, and He does. Many times He helps us as we open up with other people, having honest conversation regarding God’s Word. I’m thankful for those conversations.

Michael mentioned the CCEF conference we attended this weekend in Frisco. The theme of the conference was, “Not Alone.” And we’re not alone. A lot of the emphasis was on the dangers of isolation. When we isolate ourselves from other people, that means something. So we ask what it means. God did not create us to be isolated individuals. He died for us, for His church, a corporate body of people, and He intends that we live in each other’s lives, that we help one another, have these conversations, and learn how to apply Scripture in particular ways as God brings circumstances to us.

It’s been helpful not just to read Philippians 4:8, or study it and preach it, but also to have conversations about the verse and understand better how we can live out the truths we’re reading. That has been tremendously beneficial for me, and I hope it is for you as well to have similar discussions, to lead you into a deeper worship and praise, focusing on the person and presence of God during that time. In fact, Scripture tells us in Hebrews 10:24 that we are to “stir up one another to love and good works.” You can’t do that on your own. You need involvement with people. And in Hebrews 10:25, to “encourage one another.” I hope you are getting stirred up in your interactions with one another, and especially in your small group time as we all have opportunity to give praise to God through testimony of that stirring, of how God is working to help us live out passages such as Philippians 4:8.

Part of this encouragement and stirring up may be regarding a consistency of obedience to passages like Philippians 4:8. With this passage, what I mean is an encouragement to live according to these truths about how we are to think and act as a matter of our ongoing walk through life. How are we to think? We are to think on whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, any excellence, and anything worthy of praise.

But when are we to think in these ways? Always. That is in part the encouragement we need and that we can get from each other. The truth is, I don’t always want to think in these ways, and so I may need you to remind me to think in these ways in times when I don’t want to. We can have each other in that way to remind us how God wants us, even expects us to think these ways in all of life, in all circumstances.

Our problem may be that when facing a crisis, we may go to God’s Word and look for a quick solution. Like, “I am not really at peace right now, something bad is happening. I want and need peace, so I see Philippians 4:7-9 as a solution to a lack of peace.” And we determine in that moment, “I’m going to think in these ways, the ways I’ve been instructed to think. Now I’m going to think in these ways, because there’s a crisis, and I’m not at peace.” We do that, when we’ve not been thinking in these ways at all until that moment. We find ourselves in trouble, so we turn to this kind of thinking. 

I’m not saying that is a bad thing. In moments of crisis we should go to God’s Word and determine how we need to live, how to think, how to relate to God. In the time of crisis we should say, “I want to live out Philippians 4:8, I want my mind to be focused rightly on what is pleasing to God.” But what about the rest of the time, when I’m not in a crisis? What about the moments before I realized there was a crisis entering my world? What was going on in my mind then? Could it be that we are guilty at times of choosing to live God’s way when we get in a bind, but perhaps we are not so motivated when there is no obvious crisis? I could be wrong, but I think that may be a common tendency for many believers.

When God gave us Philippians 4:8, He did not intend it to be just a formula to apply simply during a crisis, but a way of life to be followed before, during, and after a crisis. If I am thinking according to Philippians 4:8 and doing according to Philippians 4:9, prior to the knowledge of a difficult situation, prior to the knowledge of something really hard that’s about to hit me, if I’m already doing that, then I will more likely have greater success continuing down that good road of thinking and doing as I endure what God has sent my way. The alternative is to live life my own way, ignoring passages like Philippians 4:8-9, and when hard times come, try to grab hold of God’s Word, sort of like a life raft, to be saved by it. That doesn’t work very well generally, because God is not meant to be that alone. We are not meant to live one way – our way – through most of life, and then try and rely on God when it’s convenient to do so.

The Bible describes us, believers, as “in Christ.” We are to abide in Christ. Life is to be in Christ, life is to be about abiding in Christ. Not reaching out to Him on a whim, simply in troubled times. We are to “abide” and “dwell” and “be in” Christ. These are all words that indicate not a moment of running to Him, but a digging in with Him, living with Him, staying with Him, continually, life with Him, in Him. You say, “Where do you get that?” Well, it flows through the Bible. But in our passage this morning in particular we see two things that point to this ongoing lifestyle of biblical thinking and acting, not just a jumping in and out with Christ. It’s a thinking, living, and depending on Him, no matter if our circumstances are good or bad.

Two things I want to show you. Where it says, “think about these things” in our passage, the command to think requires that we give careful thought to, consider, and ponder. It is not like a thought comes to mind then flees, but that we dwell on something. In fact, some English translations like the NASB translate this as “dwell” instead of “think.” This word to think or dwell on is to keep a mental record of or to hold a view in our minds. It is to maintain these thoughts, not just to think on them or think this way on occasion. D.A. Carson says of this, “Developing a Christian mind and character requires a lifetime of discerning and disciplined thought about all the things that are excellent and praiseworthy.” You see the time emphasis in what he’s saying, a lifetime of discerning and thinking on what is praiseworthy and excellent.

You can evaluate your own life, but for some of us we may even say that our thinking becomes totally out of character in a crisis. What I mean is that in a crisis, all of the sudden we are thinking about God, when the truth is that most of the time, when there is no crisis, our minds are elsewhere. This ought not be the case.

Also, at the end of verse 9 we see this same push to remain constant in our actions regarding this Christian life, not just adjusting our way of being because of a pending crisis.

What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you. (Philippians 4:9)

Again, the emphasis here is on a continual, ongoing, consistent walk in Christ, in good or bad, not just something to put on in times. Paul says to practice these things. To practice indicates ongoing activity. 

How do we prepare for challenges in life? Think rightly and act rightly, in Christ, as a way of life. Not just thinking “Christianly” or acting “Christianly” when forced to do so out of fear, anxiety, panic, or pain. Begin now, and continue no matter what our circumstances may be.

Okay, so how are we to think? Last week we talked about the first two things Paul mentions: whatever is true and whatever is honorable. Today we will briefly hit the remaining six: whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, any excellence, and anything worthy of praise.

First, “whatever is just.” This one is interesting. Many times when Paul speaks of “just” he is talking about righteousness in a theological sense, or in the sense of our salvation. Now we know that no person is just, not even one, we read in Romans 3:10. The only one who is right or just before God is the one who is right or just through the redemptive work of Christ Jesus. We are right before God as those purchased by the blood of Christ. On our own we are not righteous, none of us, that is why we need Christ. So in a pure and theological sense we could say to think on what is just or right is to think on God and Him alone.

But in this context I think there is a much broader intent. In fact Paul uses it in other ways to indicate more of “doing what is right,” which of course we would understand “right” as doing or acting according to God’s Word to us. It is seeing and recognizing what is just. Glorying in what is just and right. When we see just behavior in society, when it is consistent with what we know as God’s design, we can think on those things. For instance in Colossians 4:1 Paul directs masters to give to their slaves whatever is just. We can see and appreciate justice and we can demonstrate justice. 

This would be treating others rightly. It would include thinking on how we can treat others right even if it brings hardship to ourselves. Giving in for the benefit of another. Doing, thinking about what is right, not just what may benefit me. A justice that does not elevate ourselves by injustice, but a justice that benefits all.

We may spend a lot of time strategizing about how we can get ahead in a job, or a business transaction, or in many other ways. We may wonder how we can take advantage of a situation that may include taking advantage of another person. But many times getting ahead for us may be leaving someone behind, and taking advantage may be leaving someone disadvantaged.

What would it be like if we all, as we sit across from someone in a situation of negotiation, we are as concerned about the other guy getting what is just and right as we are for ourselves? This concern for our neighbor, this kind of just thinking is directly tied to a demonstration of our love and trust in God. How? We are trusting God to deal justly with us in an earthly sense of order and provision. This is not about giving us justice in the ultimate sense in that we all deserve hell and condemnation, but justly in the sense of human relation, societal order, and provision. To think on what is just.

Next we are to think on “whatever is pure.” To focus on, to think on whatever is pure requires focusing on those things that are morally blameless. This has to do with inward moral significance, or purity. Are we thinking on what is pure and holy? If we are not, then most likely are not doing what is pure and holy. Can we be deceived into thinking that our thought life can be full of impurity, sinful thoughts, but then somehow all that will be pushed aside and what comes out will be pure? It just doesn’t work that way. What we do, how we respond to events in life will flow from what we are setting our minds on.

14 But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. 15 Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death. (James 1:14-15)

When James says that we are lured and enticed by our own desires, where do those desires begin? In the mind, in our thinking. It is a slope that is very slippery, from thinking to doing. We are to guard our minds, we are to think on what is pure. Remember what Paul said about the church in 2 Corinthians 11:2? “For I feel a divine jealousy for you, since I betrothed you to one husband, to present you as a pure virgin to Christ.” This moral purity and the importance of it is mentioned often in the New Testament.

Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands, nor take part in the sins of others; keep yourself pure. (1 Timothy 5:22)

But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. (James 3:17)

when they see your respectful and pure conduct. (1 Peter 3:2b)

That passage brings in this idea of purity as having an evangelistic bent. It’s talking about a wife’s pure conduct being seen by her unbelieving husband, or husband who is caught up in sin, and how that may lead him to repentance.

And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure (1 John 3:3)

For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome. (1 John 5:3)

Think then on what is pure.

Next, we are to think on “whatever is lovely.” Here is where I get hung up! Like, where did this one come from? Think on what is lovely. I understand pure, truth, honorable, and just, but lovely? Yes, it says lovely! What does this mean? This is something that is pleasing, causing pleasure or delight. It can be what we see with our eyes as something delightful, aesthetically pleasing. It has the idea of being connected to something, like the flower that is lovely, the loveliness belongs to the flower. So this is like things that we may see or recognize as having special value, or character that is pleasing. This can apply to God’s creation. The beautiful trees, landscape, sunsets, the ocean, a blue sky. We don’t worship those things or center our mind on those, but they are connected to God, the Creator.

Tammy helps me with this one. She got a camera a few months ago and took photography lessons from a really great photography instructor in our area, and her whole aim in doing that was to capture the beauty of God’s creation in nature. I walk right past things without a second glance, but she will notice things as lovely, as a part of God’s amazing creation. We can appreciate God’s creativeness. We can think on what is lovely.

But this also is a command to recognize too what God says is lovely. 

4 but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious. 5 For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their own husbands, (1 Peter 3:4-5)

While we can and should enjoy God’s creation in an external, visual sense, we can be careful to also remember that God looks at the heart and sees things that are internal, and He calls that beautiful. What is beautiful in a woman is what is in the heart, her attitude toward God. We too should recognize that and see that as lovely as well. We can think on what is lovely, both external and internal, both of which are God’s wonderful creation.

We are also to think on “whatever is commendable.” This is whatever is worthy of praise. We are to think on things that are worthy of praise. This could be people who are demonstrating for us Christlikeness. This can be when we see areas of consistency on earth as it will be in heaven. You can find those things if you look hard enough. It could be obedience in a child, service done for the common good, selfless acts by a neighbor. Think on things that are praiseworthy and are pleasing to God.

Paul then concludes verse 8 with: “if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” That is it. This is how we are to think. Anything excellent, anything worthy of praise.

Try to put yourself, and I’ll try to put myself in this passage, where we belong. What if the habit of our lives, in our minds, if our habit is to think in these ways? During good times and bad. When all is well and when life seems unbearable. When we know we need God and when we are tempted to think we don’t. What if this way of thinking was the habit of our lives? Like when you die and everyone at your funeral, without being prompted, when asked to describe what you were like they would say: “You should have known this person, because they were always thinking about whatever is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, any excellence, and anything worthy of praise. That is just how this person was, that is how they thought.” You and I know that if that were the case, it would have to be some kind of miraculous, awesome work of God in our lives, to be able to think these ways. But that’s who God is, and that’s what He does. He is in us, as believers, to conform us more into the image of Christ. Christ was all of this.

Do you pray for these things? We know we fall short, right? “God help me, make me this person, help me to think in these ways instead of the old habits I carry around and the ways I choose to think that are not pleasing to you. God help me, I need your help in this.”

Do we want to think in these ways? If the answer is no, then ask God to change your heart, to give you a desire to think in these ways. Make a list of these things, carry it with you, read it often, in every situation you find yourself in. Pull out your list, read it, build a habit of asking for God’s intervention in your life. “God, interrupt my habitual thinking, help me think in these ways.” And practice them, as He gives you strength to do so.

It’s not our own work. We all know that falls apart pretty quickly. It‘s God’s work. But we can pray, we can ask, we can counsel each other, remind ourselves and others, and God will be with us. This is His desire for us, this is what He wants for you and me. So pray that, praying consistent with what we know His will to be for us. 

How does your life, my life, mirror Philippians 4:8?

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. (Philippians 4:8)