What Are You Thinking?: Part 1

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)

In verses 8 and 9 Paul gives us great insight into how we are to think and what we are to do. He gives us a list in verse 8 of ways we are to think, how we are to use our minds, our God-given minds, the minds He has built and created. How are we to use the minds He has given us? He then goes on to say, “Be sure that you put into practice what you have filled your mind with, what you have learned.”

We ask questions at times: “What am I to think about my current condition?” “How am I to think about relationships God has given me?” “How do I process this new event in my mind?” Many things hit us each day in the normal course of life, good and bad, favorable and unfavorable, extraordinary and mundane. When things happen, when events occur, how are we to think about them?

Our minds are full of energy. For some of us, thinking only ceases when we’re sleeping. The mind is churning out ideas, processing data, making evaluations and judgments, even dreaming. Sometimes what is happening in our minds is very methodical, precise, and organized, while at other times it is very scattered and unbounded. How in the world do we manage such a thing as the mind, our thinking?

To make things even more difficult, we can throw in emotion. Emotions have a profound effect on how we think. With strong emotion at times we can lose rational thought. Crimes of passion are committed when one is entangled and seemingly controlled by emotion. Rash decisions are made out of emotions of anger, love, lust, fear, or worry. Decisions that one would not ordinarily make they may make as an emotional response to events of life.

You may have been asked by someone, or been the one to ask, “What were you thinking?” You may have been asked that when you did something totally out of character. “What were you thinking when you did that?” And sometimes the answer may be, “I wasn’t thinking. I don’t know what I was thinking, but I know how I was feeling, so I did what I did.” So we may be acting out of pure emotions, driven by emotion and not by principled thinking, because we weren’t really thinking at all.

The mind is powerful. God gave us our minds. What are we to do with them? How are we to think? Before we get to the specifics of this in verse 8, I want to point out why this is so important, or what effect this can have on us if we follow God’s commands to us here. Why is verse 8 so important? Notice the beginning of verse 7 and the end of verse 9.

And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:7)

What was that about? Paul was urging us to pray and be thankful, to occupy our minds with prayer and thanksgiving in times where we would be tempted to anxiety.

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)

Both verses, the verses on either side of verse 8, speak of what? They speak of the peace of God, or the God of peace. Verse 9 is wrapping up this instruction on the mind and on what we should be doing as a result of what we’re thinking. And it speaks of peace. A lack of peace, peace with God, a peaceful trust in God, it all comes from our thinking. What goes in our minds, how we process events and circumstances affect our thinking. If we leave God out of our thinking, if we try to dethrone Him as the sovereign Lord, if we desire our own way instead of trusting in His, all in our minds, then peace will be elusive. On the other hand, if we begin to rightly reframe how we think with God at the center, with God in control, with Him as the sovereign Lord, with Him on His throne, trusting Him instead of our own lusts and desires, then we will experience peace. We need to understand the influence of our thoughts on our lives. 

As we all came in this morning, each of us chose our seat, we looked to the front of the auditorium as Bilal began with our opening, and during that time we were all thinking about something. It would be fascinating to know what everyone was thinking about at that moment. It might be scary too! God didn’t give us the ability to read someone’s mind. I’m sure that is because He is a wise God! But we all at that time had minds that were engaged in some thought. Could be something like, “This is way too early for church,” “It’s hot in here,” “It’s cold in here,” “Where is the so and so family?” “What is that smell?” “I wonder how long Bilal will go this morning,” “Is that communion stuff up there?” “Is this the first Sunday of the month?” “I hope we sing some songs I like,” “Uh oh, I forgot to tie my shoe,” “I hope the kids sit still,” “I’m hungry” (that’s what every teenage boy was thinking), “I hope Mr. Christoffel brought snacks for Sunday school.” I mean, it could go on and on, right?

What we bring with us here will effect to some degree what we take out of here. We need to understand the influence our thoughts have on our lives. I want to work through this, and for us to discover together how God works this out in us.

Paul says there are eight things we need to think about:
Whatever is true
Whatever is honorable
Whatever is just
Whatever is pure
Whatever is lovely
Whatever is commendable
Any excellence
Anything worthy of praise

The first thing we are to think about is “whatever is true.” Truth is what corresponds with reality. To think on whatever is true, we need to know what truth is. This can get tricky. I’m talking about truth in the most comprehensive sense. What I mean by that is we can think of all that is around us in light of the truth of who God is, and how He involves Himself with us. For instance, if someone sins against us in a very hurtful way, then we can consider that event to have taken place within a realm of what we know to be true. Like, we can say and believe, “Yes, I have been terribly sinned against,” and that is true. “But I also know that God is with me and won’t leave me here in this alone,” which is also true. “God could have stopped this, and He didn’t, so He will work this out for my good. God did not allow more than what I can handle by His grace. Sin is horrible, but God forgives sin. This sin won’t rule my life, my life is God’s. This sin is temporarily effecting me, what is permanent is my relationship to God as His child and a perfect existence that is soon to come. What is true is people around me are sinners, like I’m a sinner, so I can pray for the sinner who hurt me.”

In other words, what is true is what we are to think on. “Where is God? How is He working? He is not absent. What has He promised me even during this hard time?” Yes it is true that sin affects us, but the gospel message is full of encouragement during these times. Think on what is true. And what happens when we do this? The peace of God will be with us! Think of it as a reframing in our minds of God’s incredible truths applied to whatever situation we are facing.

This is not just some kind of “positive thinking.” It is not living in a dream world; it is living in God’s truths. Living in a dream world is saying something like, “I’ll just pretend like or live like sinful things don’t happen.” Like to block it out and say, “No, I’ll not acknowledge that that happened.” We are never instructed to do that. That may fall under some of the newest psychological treatments. That is creating one’s own reality, a false reality, but that is not for us as believers. What is more powerful than that is to face it head on and acknowledge and believe that God is way bigger than any of that, and able to help me through it. To help me overcome its sway in my life by His power, His might, His grace! That is living in truth.

It is like when everything is gone, if someone loses everything, and they say, “I’m not going to believe that, I’m not going to believe everything is gone.” No, instead of that it’s saying with Paul, from Philippians 4:19, “And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.”

I hear people whose bodies may be riddled with disease say things like, “I’m not going to believe that. If I don’t acknowledge it, it’s not real.” Let’s believe the facts, but let’s also believe what is true of God. He is our comfort and our peace. Hebrews 4:16 says, “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”

If we never acknowledge the realities of the difficulties around us in life, then we will never really believe we need God. What would we need God for? Bad things happen, people can be foolish and ruthless, disease is real, but in all of that, in all things, where is God, and what does He promise us in time of need? Help, comfort, peace, joy, strength, encouragement, and hope. 

Aren’t we thankful that He loves us and is with us, no matter what? That truth alone, being convinced of that truth alone, we can move forward through hard times. Know what is true, believe what is true, think on what is true. And where does that lead us? To God’s storehouse of peace. For the Christian, truth is something to embrace. To run toward truth, not be fearful of it. Think on whatever is true.

There is another way that we need to think about this. Not all of our troubles are wrapped up in other peoples’ sin. Not all of our difficulties are even the result of circumstances around us. Sometimes we would like to run and hide from truth because of our own sinfulness, now or in the past. In other words, we may be tempted to ignore truth, try to build our own false dream world in order to run from our past sin. There are times for many, and have been for me as well at times, when the most painful thoughts have been thinking on or remembering past personal sin. The offense that we know it must have been to God and to other people. But the solution to that is not to play make believe, simply push it aside, or to get so busy that we try to crowd it out of our minds. The solution is also not to flood our schedules with good deeds in an effort to make up for past sin, as if we could do that. The solution and the road to peace in our minds is to think on whatever is true. The truth is we have sinned and we continue to sin. That is true, but don’t stop there! We’ve got to think bigger than that when we think of truth.

Truth for believers goes on to the solution for sin. The cross of Christ, the penalty that was paid, the love poured out for us in spite of our sin, forgiveness through Christ, repentance, confession, thankfulness, and moving forward motivated by the love of God, our love for God, moving forward in His grace.

Do you see the importance of truth? Gospel truths? The truths of God give us direction for life, and an avenue for obedience, a walk of peace with Him. Think about what is true.

To run and hide is to fail, I think, to understand why Christ came, and who God is. Knowing truth about God should propel us toward Him and never repel us away from Him. 

Do we know this God that we serve, do we know the truth of who He is and all that He does? If we are Christians and are fearful of truth and living in truth, then maybe we can spend more time understanding Him, Christ, the gospel, and all of His work. We can learn more about His attributes from good books that tell us about His attributes. We can spend more time in the gospels and see Christ there. We can see who they are and how they interact with mankind, with you and me. We can be sure that we know truth and are not bogged down with foolish lies. Of course Jesus says He is the truth. He embodies truth. The alternative is to spiral down in every way, living in lies.

1 Corinthians 13:6 regarding love says, “it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.” Think on what is true! Ultimately this is to point us to Christ, He is truth.

Are you struggling, are you down, are you anxious or fearful, are you weighed down with concern or confusion, do you feel hopeless, lacking in strength to face the day? If any of that describes you, then what are you thinking? How are you framing those circumstances, are you framing them in truth? Where is your mind?

Next Paul says to think on what is honorable. Now, before we go on let me say that we aren’t going to get through all eight. Only two this morning. Thinking on what is true and thinking on what is honorable, focusing on just these two should give us good direction for the week ahead. A sufficient amount of application should come out of these two for us. We should speed up a bit next week and may get through the other six. Much of what I have said today can serve as introduction to all of these, so we can speed up a bit, I think. That is the plan anyway.

From truth to what is honorable. Whatever is honorable, think about that. If our thoughts only are what is honorable, how would that change our thought life? If we were to discard any private, personal thoughts that are not honorable, how much of our thought life would be eliminated? 

Paul is calling for a focus of direction in our minds to that which is honorable. This also calls for a focus or a turning away from all that is dishonorable. He is calling us away from fixing our minds on the enjoyment of or habit of thinking that captures what is displeasing and offensive to our Lord.

Sometimes we can focus on people whose lives are dishonorable. This happens a lot, it’s pretty normal in our culture. We can do this by following those in our pop culture who are living dishonorable lives. We can even become almost addicted to the pop culture rock star types who will do anything to get attention and gain popularity. Some may say that is awful, and yet they can’t quit reading about them and watching for their next escapade of sinful living.

We can do this too in our own thought life or dream world. Maybe we wouldn’t commit outwardly some particular sin, but we may day dream about a world in which we could get away with it. Dishonorable thinking. We may secretly desire to involve ourselves in a sin, and so our thoughts may go there. What is that? It is thinking on what is dishonorable to our Lord, and what should be dishonorable to us. One commentator put it this way. He said that in this context this virtue of thinking on what is honorable would be to think on “things that lift the mind from the cheap and tawdry to that which is noble and good and of moral worth.”

So what do you think about? On what do you spend your mental energy? Where is our focus? Are we thinking on what is true, are we thinking on what is honorable?

This sort of discipline, the discipline that this takes, is not simply of us, it is from our Lord. I don’t think that any of us can tame the mind in these ways apart from the active role of the Holy Spirit in us. There are times, probably most of the time, when we must go the the Lord in prayer and ask that He help us to think rightly about situations. It’s like, “Lord, please take control here of my mind. Please calm my racing, out of control thought life. Please intervene and interrupt my wrong thought processes. Please, for your glory, and for my good, help me with this. Calm my mind, help me to see and know and believe what is true. Help me Lord to think on what is honorable and pleasing to you! Help me Lord to realize your peace.”

And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:7)

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)

Thinking rightly, practicing what we know, leads to peace.

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)