Thinking and Acting Christianly
ABC 2004 02 29
Scripture Reading Philippines 4:2-9
2 I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to agree with each other in the Lord. 3 Yes, and I ask you, loyal yokefellow, help these women who have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my fellow-workers, whose names are in the book of life. 4 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5 Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. 8 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things. 9 Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me--put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.
This is an oft-quoted passage, though the part about Paul pleading with two women to come to agreement over their differences is usually separated from the rest rather than noted as the context for his advice on how to think Christianly. Paul's use of "contended at my side" in verse three contrasts with their mutual contentions that he aims to solve. And when he says "help these women", what follows supplies the substance of the help he wants provided.
Since their problem is not how they act (that's a symptom) but how they think about each other, his remarks are all positive antidotes to problematic thinking. He does not say "avoid this or that activity" or even "do this or that", but "think in a certain way". If they do, the external problem will go away. Now, what Paul has to say is well worth studying on its own, for his remarks are widely applicable as the right antidote to wrong thinking in many situations.
II How a Christian should think and why--first steps
Paul repeats himself for emphasis in verse four, but this word occurs nine times in Philippines, word "joy" seven times,"thank" and "thanksgiving" once each. That's enough for us to conclude that rejoicing is what this short book is about. No matter our sorrow or trials, no matter the depths of sickness, injury, misery or persecution, there are overwhelmingly greater reasons to give thanks.
Our personal situations may be extremely harsh, the local news bad, national and world news worse still--nothing happening around us but destruction, death, robbery, rape, murder, fatal accidents caused by drunks, agitation for abortion and homosexuality, murder, greed, violence, war, and evil of all kinds--everything happening in our world an offence against, hostile to Christianity.
But Paul lived in a worse, more hostile culture. Just being a Christian would soon become a capitol crime in his day. Yet he tells us to rejoice.
Why, and in what Spirit?
Notice that Paul is convinced that Euodia and Syntyche are Christians, for he refers to them in verse three as "fellow-workers, whose names are in the book of life". So, the modes of thinking he recommends are for Christians. Indeed, as we will quickly see, only a Christian could think as he recommends.
It is "Rejoice in the Lord". We can't quote a verse like this to unbelievers except as a call to initial repentance. One must be Christ's to be able to follow this advice. We who are in the Lord, have accepted his free gift of salvation, have had our just punishment for sin paid by Christ on the cross, who are guaranteed resurrection at the last day, not because of our righteousness, but because of His--we alone can rejoice like this. Eternity with Christ is ours, whatever the circumstances here. True, when we look within and around us, we may feel we haven't much to rejoice about, but see 12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13 I can do everything through him who gives me strength. When we take the long view, the eternal one, we are compelled to rejoice.
always The day you trusted in Christ began your eternity with Him. That's reality as God sees it. So Paul's admonition is conform our thinking with the facts. Christ himself said: Joh 14:3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. Paul tells us in Eph 2:6 And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, When we realize in our hearts and minds that a believer's place in heaven for eternity is guaranteed absolutely secure, we gain a new perspective on our troubles here, however dire they seem.
2. 5 Let your gentleness be evident to all.
The word could be rendered as clemency, graciousness, forbearance, kindness, tolerance, or sweet reasonableness. In a "me first" world, it's a rare concept.
The whole purpose of God's Holy Spirit reaching down into our hearts and teaching us to yield to Christ's gospel is that he might visibly build his character in us, and so be glorified as he ought. This specific quality of God, his forbearing, gracious kindness, is one Paul would have his friend teach the disputants. God would have us acquire a kind, winsome, gentle spirit, that we not advance ourselves, but others, thus promoting Christ's kingdom. Php 2:3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. 4 Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Why? Eph 2:10 For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
Let's apply this:
(i) In the course of personal disagreements, it is better to allow the other person their way; to give in to another's will, better for us to be wronged, than to argue or to complain. We could win the argument, and be full of self-satisfaction at being found in the right, but lose both gentleness and humility. How much will our personal disappointments or the hurt feelings we nurse matter in eternity?
(ii) Let us even approach discussions of the Scripture and doctrine carefully, lest in the process of holding forth the truth we do so in an offensive manner, lest the Lord tell us someday that our tenaciously held interpretations were incorrect, that we were wrong to exclude people from our personal or church fellowship on the basis of our flawed thinking. We don't know everything.
(iii) Even when dealing with another over a matter of obvious and grievous sin, it is important to take gentle care, remembering that there, but for the grace of God go I. Christ said to those who forgot this: Mt 7:5 You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye. and the Apostle reminds us in Ro 14:10 You, then, why do you judge your brother? Or why do you look down on your brother? For we will all stand before God's judgment seat. It is easy for us to forget, as the Pharisees of Christ's day, that God alone passes final judgement on the state of one's soul. Thus, for the unbeliever, the goal of a gentle and careful rebuke for sin is repentance unto salvation. For the believer who has strayed, it is repentance unto restoration of fellowship with the Lord. It is never the personal satisfaction of knowing "I was right and she was wrong."
(iv) However, this tolerant forbearance should not be mistaken for the aggressive "tolerance" demanded by modern liberal relativism. For generations now, liberals have taught that all values and beliefs must be treated equally. But this is the same thing as saying there are no correct values, there is neither right nor wrong. Why be surprised then when terrorists advance their causes by killing, when politicians advance theirs by skimming money from the public purse, when society insists that homosexuality, abortion, and pagan practices condemned by the Bible are not only acceptable but must be celebrated? They are acting as the world has taught them.
If the world looks at Christians and denounces us as intolerant bigots for holding that moral rightness is not only real and absolute but rooted in the character of an eternal God and demonstrated in our lives, than so be it. Let God judge between them and us. Meanwhile, let us gently and lovingly confront
- the liar with the truth,
- the thief with the need for repentance and restitution,
- the adulterer with our own lives lived in purity and holiness,
- the filthy-tongued with words of love, grace, and truth,
- the deeply distressed with the joy of the Lord welling from our hearts,
- the one who pollutes their body with smoke or drink by treating our own as temples of the Holy Spirit, who brooks no rivals,
- the one who is outside Christ with the need to turn to him for grace, forgiveness, and eternal life.
(v) In any event, if our disputes with another Christian do go beyond the boundaries to the place where fellowship is impaired, forgiveness is in order. Christ said Mr 11:25 And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins. Have we indeed been forgiven? Are we redeemed, saved, so we know what forgiveness is? Then we are constrained by the love of God to put it into practice, that his character in us may become evident and he gain the glory.
Now, you will say "My brother has not repented and asked for forgiveness, so I cannot forgive. Only God can do that." But granted your premise, the conclusion is only partly true. After all, God acted in Christ on the cross to provide forgiveness for all, and offered forgiveness to Christians before we repented, yet remained fully just in doing so. You can do the same, and in the process, let go of your pride, your sense of offence, your claims to being injured, your hurt feelings, and your desire for vindication. If the other person chooses not to receive your forgiveness, they don't have it, to be sure, but the matter is then entirely between them and God, and is no longer a burden on your soul. Thus, you can be forgiving regardless of whether the other person is worthy in your eyes. Is this not God's way? Were we worthy? Besides, what if when you stand before the Lord he says you were wrong, and your opponent offered forgiveness in their heart, that you sinned by not doing so?
(vi) Why be gentle? The second half of verse five tells us why. The Lord is near. This is a delightfully ambiguous phrase.
On the one hand, the Lord's return is near; perhaps at any moment. He will judge between us, settling everything. A relevant parable is Mt 5:25 Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still with him on the way, or he may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison. Are we ready for his return?
But on the other, in the here and now, God is
- our comforter lest we be tempted to despair,
- our guide lest we stray from the right,
- the Almighty lest we be tempted either to pride or to despair,
- the only one who sees hearts lest we be tempted to judge improperly
- present everywhere lest we either imagine ourselves all alone or suppose that our sin will not be noticed,
Thus as he in His awesome power is gentle and forbearing, let us also be.
(v) Who is the one with whom you have an unresolved dispute? In the light of the nearness of God and His eternity light, such things are unimportant. Let it go. Restore fellowship. And don't say "I no longer hold a grudge, but I don't want to speak to her (or him) again", because you've really just said you haven't repented of your unforgiving heart. What if you go into eternity unreconciled to your brother or sister when you alone had the power to effect change?
From the cross, Christ said of the cynical Jewish leaders and the sadistic Roman soldiers: Lu 23:34 Jesus said, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing." Do we have his character in us? Do we know what it means to be forgiven or not? Paul appealed with every means he had to two people who supposedly knew these things that they must come to agreement. After all, they had infinitely more to agree on than to disagree about.
3. 6 Do not be anxious about anything
Some concern over problems is legitimate. After all, a problem is by definition something that has a solution, and a problem solver is one who seeks and finds it. But when we entertain worry and anxiety as permanent guests in our minds, they debilitate us, destroy our witness, and we sin against the Lord, because they compromise our witness. Does he provide for us or not? Do we trust in him or not? Does the world see our faith and trust, and therefore see through us to him, or not?
Matt 6: 31 So do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. Paul says it this way: Ro 12:2 Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is--his good, pleasing and perfect will.
If we think about the big picture, if we concentrate on the major issues in life and eternity--the person and work of Christ, the salvation he has already given us, and the destiny he has prepared for those who accept it, such good thoughts can drive out the bad.
Now, we are but sinful humans, and prone to anxiety, so Paul goes on to provide specific plans of thinking to prevent natural concern over the problems of this life from turning into sinful worry:
but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.
Worry is: "why did I do that" (regrets), "why didn't I do that instead" (second thoughts), "what if this happens" (fear) and "what if I do this, but on the other hand what if I do that" (indecisiveness).
Prayer is: "God is in control of the universe. I trusted him to help me make the right decision yesterday, I'll trust him for today, and I'll leave tomorrow in his hands, because he alone made the past and he alone sees the future."
Ge 1:1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. God made the universe by the breath of His word.
Isa 44:24 “This is what the LORD says--your Redeemer, who formed you in the womb: I am the LORD, who has made all things, who alone stretched out the heavens, who spread out the earth by myself,
Ps 147:5 Great is our Lord and mighty in power; his understanding has no limit.
Is that power great enough to watch over and keep his people, not from trouble or sorrow, or even from physical harm, but to keep them secure in their salvation for all eternity?
2Ti 1:12 I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day.
Jude 24 To him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy-- 25 to the only God our Saviour be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and for evermore! Amen.
Yes, he who keeps the quarks together in the protons and neutrons, who forms the molecule, who made the earth, who has the stars in the palm of his hand, who formed us before we were born, Ro 8:32 He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all--how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?
Even though the redeemed of God remain sinners, capable of the darkest depths of wrongdoing and betrayal of our Lord, yet he says:
1Jo 1:9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.
Ro 8:33 Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died--more than that, who was raised to life--is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.
Heb 7:25 Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.
Notice that part about "save completely"? God's people belong to Him. He keeps them, regardless of what circumstances appear in this short life. They cannot be taken from His hand. Paul speaks with deep experience.
III The first fruits of right thinking
7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Let's keep context here. Peaceful feelings are not automatic, not something we just get the moment we trust Christ for salvation and make judicial peace with Him. They depend on our attitude towards the choices presented in the previous verses. If we are not anxious, but spend our thought life in trusting prayer, God will keep our hearts in the peace that only He gives. That is, a step along the way toward right thinking is met by the Lord rewarding with further protection against wrong thinking and more ability for right thinking. It is a matter of lining our thoughts up with reality. We make peace with God when we repent and trust in Christ for salvation. Peaceful thinking comes from apprehending that reality, focusing on it, trusting in him for yesterday, today, and tomorrow, hoping in him, letting him direst our thoughts. Don't turn this verse into a glib aphorism, it is rather the outcome of working at the practice of mental discipline, it is a grace gift of God in reward for faithful obedience.
IV Going on to mature thinking
You or I might have concluded the matter there, our thoughts riding off into the sunset on the white horse of God's surpassing peace. But not so. This is not the end of right thinking, only the first step on the road to maturity.
Romans 12 : 1 Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God--this is your spiritual act of worship. 2 Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is--his good, pleasing and perfect will. 3 For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you.
That is, as Christians on the road to maturity in the ways of Christ, we are tasked on the one hand with keeping our bodies pure from sin, and on the other to transform our minds so that our very thoughts, our deepest character become like those of the Lord Jesus Christ. The passage goes on, telling us to imitate him by thinking thoughts about:
(i) the true -- good, sound, correct Bible doctrine. One need not become learned in the lies and deceipts of Satan, familiar with false doctrines or the teachings of cults to know truth. Rather, one need to concentrate on, to meditate on the sound doctrines of Scripture so that the false is easily recognized and discarded. Remember that the Lord is the source of all truth, and the goal is to think His thoughts. How much do you read and meditate on His word?
(ii) the noble -- that which will benefit and advance the cause of Christ,His Kingdom, and the people in it (rather than ourselves). All too often in trying to decide what we should do, which course of action to take, we listen to voices telling us "what's wrong with that?" when we should be asking "what's right about doing that for Christ?"
Phil 2: 1 If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, 2 then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. 3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. 4 Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. 5 Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: 6 Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, 7 but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death--even death on a cross! 9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Now there's something noble to contemplate--the imitation of Christ. He served his people unto death on the cross. What small service can we perform?
(iii) the pure -- focusing on the person, holiness, power, majesty and perfection of God as opposed to, say, the values and entertainments of this world. This involves, among other things, making a deliberate, conscious, and effective choice to avoid the violence, lust, impurity, and Godlessness characterizing most modern TV, movies, magazines and books. Does something we take in add to the purity of our minds? Then think on it. Le 11:44 I am the LORD your God; consecrate yourselves and be holy, because I am holy. a call that is repeated in 1Pe 1:16
(iv) the lovely -- We need to major on what God sees as good and beautiful, namely Godly character and deeds. This means not just setting aside the dark ugliness of sin, but not wasting our time on the world's, false, misleading, and ungodly definition of beauty. Why import the world's "sophistication" of dress, makeup, jewellery, entertainment, philosophy, habits, and behaviour into our lives when there are so many better things to think of, to do, to be? When we adopt the world's thinking, appearance, and actions, how will anyone know the Kingdom of God among them? As a specific example of advice to women in this matter, 1Pet 3: 3 Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewellery and fine clothes. 4 Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God's sight. In like manner, when the Church adopts the thinking, methods and activities of the world, it may create a superficial attraction, but who is to know it is a Church rather than a community club?
(v) the admirable -- We need to focus on the good in people, not their sin or their faults. God's people have his Spirit dwelling in them; this makes them altogether lovely. We should have no time or room for gossip, slander, destructive criticism, fault finding, taking offence, backbiting, or divisive talk, nor should we be quick to assume that another's comments constitute any of these things. Why? Because we focus on building people up, rather than tearing them down, and this regardless of what they say or do affecting us.
- If we concentrate on good virtues in people or the church as a whole it won't occur to us to criticize. Rather we'll make positive suggestions for improvement, and not be offended when ideas that seem good to us aren't implemented. We must even learn to set aside our disappointment when others do not take our spiritual advice, don't act as we think Christians should, do hold grudges, are unforgiving, or otherwise go ahead and sin anyway. When we positively do our part, the rest is between them and the Lord. Still praise the good in them.
- If we see faults in someone that needs correcting we must first ensure there is no beam in our eye, then in much prayer gently assist to remove the speck from our brother's or sister's eye--for the glory of Christ, the other's benefit, and the advancement of his church. There is no need or reason to involve a third party by exposing the fault to another person. It is sinful to tell a third party without first going to the supposed offender. Indeed, when you do go, you almost always discover it was entirely innocent, that no offence was given, despite that you were tempted to take one. Got something against me? I'm probably not even aware of it, so tell me, and let's be done with it.
- When the good of others is more important than our own agenda, self esteem, and advancement, there will be no divisiveness, slander, sullen opposition and anger, or church splits, but a spirit of unity in Christ prevailing to his glory.
Even the world knows you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.
(vi) the praiseworthy -- Those in the world seek praise for themselves by seeking sophistication, a display of wealth, intelligence, outward beauty, and material pleasures that substitute for happiness. The man or woman of the world looks smugly in a mirror and says: "Ah, self, I'm satisfied with your beauty, brains, and bucks. Tomorrow I'll tear down my mirror, erect a bigger one, all the better to admire and be admired." God says, "You fool. What if you die tonight? What will your self-praise mean when you stand before me?"
So, where do we seek what is truly praiseworthy?
First, in the High Lord of Heaven. Think upon his greatness, his might, his power--all the attributes that make him God. Then consider the works of His hands in creation, in redemption, in reaching down and saving you. Praise God from whom all blessings flow!
Second in others. Help build the character of Christ in them, then give praise and thanks for the way they manifest those attributes, building them up further in the nurture, admonition, and discipleship of the Lord, thanking him in sweet fellowship for his goodness. That's what church is for.
And, having found praiseworthy things, Give praise, both to God and to your fellow believers. There are plenty of critics in this world, how about going against the world's way by offering praise, honour and encouragement. "I thank God for you my brother, my sister, because..." Practice saying that, and see how much difference it makes to God's church. Say it today, call someone tomorrow and tell them so, make a practice of saying it every Sunday.
We have no business seeking praise, glory, or power for ourselves, but we've plenty offering it to God and to others.
V Imitating the successful
9 Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me--put it into practice
Everyone looks up to heroes. The world has sports and movie stars, politicians and wealthy glamorous wastrels--plenty of people who expect others to admire them, to follow them, to imitate them. But God's word tells us to seek out the qualities of Christ, both directly and as we see them in others of his people, then to imitate those qualities. Jesus did not say "take up your sophisticated worldly thinking and lifestyle, and use it to make you and me look attractive to the world." Rather he said "take up your cross and follow me." The Holy Spirit is in charge of attracting people to Christ, and it won't be because what they see in us is worldly--that they can find in any bar or night club. And, the way of the cross is self-sacrifice, doing the deeds of Christ even unto death, putting others ahead of our own interests, serving and praising them, forbearing with them and offering forgiveness along with comfort. These are the qualities we need to make our own and have others see in us, God's Holy Spirit empowering and enabling us.
And, so doing, we will find the deep approval of Almighty God as he sees His Son in us, not merely judicially because we're forgiven, but actively, because the Holy Spirit is busily fashioning the cloak of Christ's righteousness for us to wear for all eternity, and he's trying it on us here. If we are thinking Christ's thoughts after him, we will automatically do Christ's deeds after him, and the peace of God will well up through us, overflowing to others around. We will have in part fulfilled the purpose of our creation and redemption.
If we think like the world, we'll act like it. If we adopt the world's comfortable, self-seeking and self-satisfied attitudes toward self and others, we become indistinguishable from the world, useless to the Kingdom. If we view the church in terms of what it can give us by way of entertainment, comfort, and soothing, harmless messages, rather than as a mutually caring community within which to grow spiritually in the fear and admonition of the Lord, we might as well join the chamber of commerce instead for all the eternal good we can be. A good sermon is not one that makes us feel good, but one that uses the word to cut into our souls and lead us to repentance. A good church is one that teaches us how to follow Christ in giving ourselves to others, not one that entertains us. Why ask what you can get out of church, when you ought to be asking what you can put into God's people?
Hear the words of Christ on this very matter:
Mt 5:13 “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men.
again, to the doctrinally correct and hard-working, but unloving church at Ephesus:
Rev 2: 4 Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love. 5 Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place.
and, of course, to the point of the contest of this passage, the specific application that led Paul to this discourse on Christian thinking:
Mt 6:14 For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.
It would be advisable to err on the side of generosity in this matter, lest the Lord someday point out that we have had unforgiving hearts, and therefore did not demonstrate His character.
The challenge before us is to realign our thinking to a pattern acceptable to God, then out of renewed minds to realign our lives as needed so as to be an honour and a glory to him, for this is the very purpose for which he created the human race in the first place, and redeemed a people out of sin in the second.
The word of God lays this challenge before every one of us. Anyone here who has never trusted Christ as Saviour needs to come to him to accept his offer of applying his death on the cross to your punishment, redeeming you from sin, and starting you on a life of thinking and acting for him. Those of us who long ago did this, yet in our natural tendency to go back to sinful ways of thinking, often act like we've forgotten these things, need to repent, change our thinking according to the pattern of scripture, and live out our purpose to the world--not to be like it but to be like Him, to testify to the world's lostness and need of him by demonstrating we have found the one who saves to the uttermost. And the God of peace will be with you.