Text: Philippians 4:8-9 — 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. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.
Introduction: When an unbeliever is converted to faith in Jesus Christ his mind is transformed. It’s not an instant thing, but a gradual thing as we get to know God through His Word. Now I understand that most people would say we receive the Lord into our hearts and so it is our hearts that are changed, but today we know that our minds are the place of beliefs, feelings and choices. It’s where new thoughts about God and His creation begin to establish themselves. The Bible is clear that the only reason this happens is because the Holy Spirit does a work in us so that we can understand spiritual truth from God. Without this enabling, it is impossible for anyone to come to faith in Christ. Listen to what the Apostle Paul says in Romans 8:5 – those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires. The word “set” is important because it means “to be mentally disposed in a certain direction.” This means that the mindset of the unbeliever is on himself and the world, not God and it keeps him from thinking the thoughts of God. That’s why Paul says in 1 Corinthians 2:14 that the natural man cannot accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, they are foolishness to him. It is only when the Spirit does a work in us that we can begin to think about God in the right way. Once we do, however, everything starts changing. We begin forming new beliefs that lead to new (and holy) behaviors. I like how the British New Testament scholar, N. T. Wright, makes this point: A friend of mine described the reaction when he went home, as a young teenager, and announced to his mother that he’d become a Christian. Alarmed, she thought he’d joined some kind of cult. “They’ve brainwashed you!” she said. He was ready with the right answer. “If you’d seen what was in my brain, you’d realize it needed washing!” Of course, he hadn’t been brainwashed. In fact, again and again … when people bring their lives, their outer lives and inner lives, into the light of Jesus the Messiah, things begin to come clear. If anything, it’s our surrounding culture that brainwashes us, persuading us in a thousand subtle ways that the present world is the only one there is. This is seldom argued. Rather, a mood is created in which it seems so much easier to go with the flow. That’s what happens in brainwashing. What the gospel does is to administer a sharp jolt, to shine a bright light, to kick-start the brain, and the moral sensibility, into working properly for the first time. If you’ve been a Christian for very long, I’m sure that on more than one occasion you’ve thanked the Lord that you’re not the same person you once were … that your life is new and the transformation God is making in your life is for the better in every way.
This morning in our third message on the Lordship of Jesus Christ I want to help you understand just how important your thoughts are to your growth in the Christian life. If your desire is to love the Lord your God with all your heart, and soul, and mind and strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:37-39), then you need to focus your mind on all the right things in order for this to happen. Too many people today, including Christians, are negative thinkers who wallow in self-pity (complaining that life has been unfair), blame others for their problems, refuse to believe that they can change and hold on to anger and bitterness. These negative thoughts always lead to negative living. But that’s not what God wants for His children. He wants us to have positive, Holy-Spirit inspired thoughts that have the power to transform us. Let’s consider the kind of things that Christians should be thinking about when we say “Jesus is Lord” of everything, even of our minds from this morning’s passage in Philippians.
I. This Is What We Should Think (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.) In this verse Paul gives believers six questions that we can use to filter the kinds of things we should think about before we give our minds over to anything.
A. Is it TRUE? Truth ultimately finds its source in God (Romans 1:25 – the truth of God) and the Gospel message (Galatians 2:5 – the truth of the Gospel). So here the contrast is between true speech that comes from God and the whispers of sin, that seek to deceive us. The question to ask ourselves when we choose to listen to someone or something is this: “Is what is being said in keeping with truth as God reveals it to us, or is it based on a lie that ultimately comes from the father of lies … Satan himself?” If it is not true, then we should want nothing to do with it. Each of us needs to become our own lie detector. Why? Because lying has become so common place that it’s normal practice for most people. Illustration: Here are some lies you may have heard someone use before: Don’t worry … it’s not going to hurt; Come on … everybody does it; that’s not mine. I’ve never seen it before; Listen … it’s not the money, it’s the principle of the thing; I’ll call you later (or the Christian version … I’ll pray for you); I’m not angry. Now these might hit close to him for some of us but let me give you seven lies of our culture that are even more damaging: (1) abortion does not kill a specific, actual human being; (2) More than anything, God wants us to be happy; (3) there is no such thing as a just war; (4) absolute truth does not exist; (5) Islam is a religion of peace; (6) tolerance is the most important virtue of our generation; (7) there is no such thing as sin or final judgment. How’s your lie detector working?
B. Is it HONORABLE? Your translation may say “noble.” The idea is that something deserves our reverence because it is awe-inspiring. This is not about a football player’s last second catch in the end zone or even less about a friend who attempts something crazy to get everyone else’s attention. Nobility is the kind of character quality that makes someone stand out in a crowd for all the right reasons. The Bible says a noble man makes noble plans (Isaiah 32:8). In other words, he pursues things that are honorable and worthy of the respect of others. This kind of person inspires us to reach higher and do better in life.
C. Is it JUST? There are some things that are simply right to do. We know they’re in keeping with the righteous standards given to us by God and to do anything less would amount to compromise. These are the kinds of things we should be thinking about. Perhaps the question to ask ourselves is, “If God was to broadcast our thoughts for one another to hear, would we be ashamed or applauded?”
D. Is it PURE? The word means “undefiled, modest, clean.” It often has a sexual connotation to it. It’s a lack of purity that someone is addressing when he says, “Get your mind out of the gutter!” Because virtually everything in our culture is somehow connected to our sexuality, this may be the most difficult one to address. I am convinced that the only way we will keep our minds pure is if we completely starve it of any kind of sexually inappropriate material. If you’re struggling with this, risk some transparency and get accountability from someone you can trust.
E. Is it LOVELY? This word has to do with things worthy of our love and admiration. Paul is saying that our thoughts should attract what is lovely like a magnet attracts iron and steel. Here’s a good standard to apply: If something is not lovely, if it doesn’t make you lovelier in your inner person, then don’t think about it, don’t say it, don’t dwell on it and certainly don’t repeat it.
F. Is it COMMENDABLE? Is it the kind of thing that someone you know and trust would recommend for you? It must be constructive, not destructive. It must build up and not tear apart. I remember a long time ago when I was still a young man, that an older Christian wanted me to know about the kind of pornography that was being circulated among our young people. So, he showed it to me. He shouldn’t have! It wasn’t commendable. It placed images in my mind that I had to try hard to forget. Had he thought about this verse, I think he would not have done so. Ray Pritchard says, “We put roses in the front yard and bury the sewer. Why? Because some things simply shouldn’t be put on public display.” IS IT TRUE, HONORABLE, JUST, PURE, LOVELY, COMMENDABLE? IF SO, THEN THEY CAN BE INCLUDED IN THE KIND OF VIRTUES THAT PAUL REFERS TO AS EXCELLENT AND PRAISEWORTHY.
II. This Is What We Should Do (Philippians 4:9a – What you have learned, and received, and heard and seen in me, practice these things…). It is important to think about the right kinds of things. It is equally important that we learn from the right kind of people. That’s what Paul has in mind here and what the words learned, received,heard and seen imply. If the people in the church in Philippi were going to avoid negative thinking and maintain positive and holy attitudes, then he suggested they look to him as their example. Though at the time he wrote this letter, Paul was in prison, probably in Rome, he was not was not wallowing in self-pity or blaming others. In fact, he even went so far as to say that he could rejoice in his situation knowing that the gospel was transforming the lives of those around him. Wow – that’s pretty impressive. No wonder he could exhort fellow believers to listen to his instruction and follow him as their role model. Application: If you want to think the right thoughts, pick the right people to model yourselves after. Don’t pattern your life after someone living in sin. The Bible warns that bad company corrupts good morals (1 Corinthians 15:33). Instead, hang around others that you know are living out what you, yourself, aspire to become and strive to be like them. Illustration: Most importantly, spend time with Jesus. He was a realist, but He was not a pessimist. Don’t mistake the two. A while back I had a conversation with someone who was constantly negative about everything. (He doesn’t attend this church.) He reminded me of Eor from the Winnie the Pooh cartoon. It was difficult for me to be around him (I cannot afford to have naysayers in my life), but it was even more disconcerting that he had become a role model for many young people. I really challenged him on his negativity. I said Christians should be optimists because we know the character of God and trust the sovereignty of God. That’s why we can believe the best in others and protect ourselves against pessimism. He didn’t agree! He commented that he was not a pessimist, but a realist. I told him that I didn’t think so. Jesus was a realist who never let those around him form His impressions, thoughts and beliefs about the world and those living in it. In spite of the opposition He encountered almost on a daily basis and the physical suffering He endured, our Lord never failed to think on what is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely and commendable. This constant attention to what He allowed into His mind is what sustained Him. Clearly, He’s the One we should most want to model ourselves after!
III. This is what We Should Expect (Philippians 4:9b — …and the God of peace will be with you). When you think well and when you choose to follow others who also think well you can expect God’s peace in your life. By the filling of the Holy Spirit you can rest in Christ, even though your circumstances might be unraveling around you. And why is that? Because beliefs always drive behaviors. If you believe God’s way is the best way and that no good thing will He withhold from those who walk uprightly (Psalm 84:11), then you have the courage and determination to view your life situation through the lens of faith. How can you be negative and pessimistic when you know that the God of all grace and power is working out His good, perfect and acceptable will for your life?
Application: How to change your mind (and life).
· Examine your input. Ask yourself where it comes from. Are you filling your mind with the thoughts that come from those who live in rebellion to God or from the Word of God and the Spirit of God? One way for you to know is to ask yourself if your life is empty and without peace. If these things are lacking, it’s an indicator that your beliefs are not where they should be. And if this is the case, don’t be surprised when you find yourself doing things you don’t want to do. Paul said this is the inevitable result of a life under the control of the sinful nature (Romans 7: 15 – I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do). I’LL SAY IT AGAIN FOR YOUR BENEFIT … Behaviors always flow out of our beliefs. If you’re not in a good place today in your walk with the Lord … then perhaps the best thing I can share with you is this warning from Romans 8:6 – the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace.
· Exchange your input. If you’ve been filling your mind with all kinds of garbage, my advice is … stop! You can decide for yourself the kind of input you’re going to allow to inform your beliefs. Turn your television off, or at the very least, stop watching the kind of shows that by virtue of their content are against God! Throw those video games away that steer your heart away from what is pure and lovely. Set your radio dials to stations that will build you up in the Christian faith or help you to be a better citizen. Do whatever you need to with your cell phones, tablets and computers to keep from polluting your minds. Stop hanging around negative people. Instead, read and memorize God’s Word. Meditate on it for a while and allow the Scriptures to enter the deep recesses of your soul. Spend time with others who share your spiritual values and limit your input from the world to only that which is not opposed to Christ. I know it’s a tall order, but it will make a big difference in those of us who really want Jesus as Lord!
Conclusion: A study from the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism asked thousands of people around the world what sort of news was most important to them. International news beat out celebrity and “fun” news by a margin of two-to-one. Economic and political news finished even higher. But what happens when we stop asking readers what’s important and start looking at what they actually read? Derek Thompson with The Atlantic claims that most Americans lie about what they actually read. He explains: [On June 17, 2014], the most important story in the world, according to every major American newspaper this morning, is the violent splintering of Iraq. It was the front-page and top-of-the-homepage story in the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, and more … But despite Iraq’s prominent location on every major newspaper, the most-read stories on those papers’ websites aren’t about Iraq, at all. So, what did we actually read on June 17, 2014? The top stories across the big media outlets focused on the World Cup, a YouTube game, gluten and postpartum depression, the Miss America Pageant, and the Video Music Awards. But the biggest stories on news outlets weren’t even news stories. They were quizzes, lists, and emotional poppers. Thompson concludes, “Ask audiences what they want, and they’ll tell you vegetables. Watch them quietly, and (and you’ll notice) they’ll mostly eat candy.” Wow – pretty telling isn’t it? Let me ask you, “What are you feeding your minds during the week?” I know most Christians would hope to answer … things that are true, honorable, just, pure, lovely and commendable, excellent and praiseworthy… but if it’s not then don’t be surprised if your thoughts are not God’s thoughts and your ways are not God’s ways. Listen … what we put into our minds determines what we believe and what we believe determines how we behave. If you want to live in submission to the Lordship of Christ … then practice thinking about those things that are excellent and praiseworthy. That’s how to erase negative attitudes and replace them with godly ones.