Philippians 4: 8-9
The church at Philippi was one dearly loved by Paul. He described them as being his joy and crown. With all the prayers he prayed for his brethren, when it came to mentioning them it was always with joy and love.
In the short letter that he wrote to those dearly loved brethren there were many things he wanted to encourage and strengthen them in. He wanted that their love and knowledge should grow (1:9); that they may approve the things that are excellent (1:10); they should be filled with the fruits of righteousness (1:11); that their conduct may be worthy (1:27); that they stand fast and be of one mind (1:27); not be terrified by adversaries (1:28); they be loving, like minded, of one accord (2:2); not selfish (2:3,4); be Christ-minded (2:5); that they should work out their own salvation (2:12); not to be complaining or disputing (2:14); blameless and harmless (2:15); holding fast the word they had received (2:16); to rejoice in the Lord (3:1; 4:4); beware of false teachers (3:2); like him they should press ahead, forgetting what lies behind (3:14,15); follow good examples (3:17); stand fast (4:1); be helpful (4:3); don’t be anxious (4:6).
In that list of things that God wanted for that church, there is not one thing, not one that God does not want for us today. However it is impossible for us to do these things unless our heart is right with God. Having a heart right with God is more than getting emotional upon reading a favourite Bible passage; it is more than being on a temporary spiritual high after hearing a good sermon, or attending an uplifting lectureship. A good heart is from a mind that dwells continually upon the good, the decent, and the right. This in turn gives rise to right actions.
Physically we are largely what we eat. Those who eat mainly fatty, fried, or junk food will tend to suffer obesity, high cholesterol, and heart disease. The end result will be laziness, health problems, and possible premature death. On the other hand, those who eat a good balanced diet will generally be fitter and healthier. Physically they will tend to have more active and longer lives.
Spiritually we are largely what we think. Our minds are always active. Even when we think we are not thinking, we are thinking! The mind which is undisciplined and has unchecked thoughts quickly becomes the devil’s workshop. In days of old when sailors went on long sea voyages of months or even years, they were given all sorts of jobs to do. Swabbing the deck, shining the brass fittings, scraping off the barnacles, and so on. The reason for these on going jobs was not so much that they needed to be continually done, but to keep the minds of the crew busy. For experience had taught the captains that an idle crew began to think thoughts of mutiny.
That we are what we think is taught in Proverbs 23:7a: “For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he.” We will be either good or bad depending upon what we dwell upon. Jesus taught this in Mark 7: 20-23: “And he said, That which cometh out of the man, that defileth the man. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, Thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness: All these evil things come from within, and defile the man.” and again in Matthew 12: 35: “A good man out of the good treasure of the heart bringeth forth good things: and an evil man out of the evil treasure bringeth forth evil things.”
Many today are suffering emotionally, mentally, and spiritually because their thoughts are given over to the worldly, the selfish, and the ungodly. The statistics are that 1 in 5 Australians is suffering from a mental health problem. This is an amazing figure! Yet research psychiatrist E. Fuller Torrey argues that about 75% of all psychiatric patients have problems of living. That is that three-quarters of all psychiatric patients have chosen a manner of life which has given them problems leading them to seek out a psychiatrist. Only 5% of patients according to Torrey actually have an organic brain disorder. Of the other 20% he argues further research is needed to actually discover the root of their problems (As quoted in Steven M. Lloyd, Coping: A Biblical Approach, SML Publication, Chino, California, p 42). The fact of the matter is that over 75% of people with mental health problems have them as a result of what they have chosen. Truly people are reaping what they have been sowing!
However the Lord wants us to renew our minds. In Romans 12:2 we read: “And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.” The difference between the worldly minded Christian and the spiritually minded, is that one has genuinely made the effort to change their thinking and the other has not.
But how do we become spiritually minded, how do we live a life pleasing to God? Firstly we must develop Godly thinking. And so Paul as he begins to conclude his letter he writes: “Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things” (Philippians 4:8). We are to dwell upon the truth – God’s word is truth; to consider things that are honest – things that are noble and honourable; to rejoice in that which is just – without favour, that which is right; to approve that which is pure – chaste, self controlled; to think on the things which are lovely – acceptable, nice, not that which is unkind or critical; and to meditate on that which is of good report – that which is reputable and of a good name. These are to be the food of our thoughts.
Developing this kind of thinking begins with exercising mental discipline. Athletes, in order to excel at sport, discipline their bodies. They eat the right food, they train every day, and they follow the coach’s instruction. This requires effort, practice, correction, and persistence. Spiritually, the Christian must discipline himself to train his thoughts. This also requires effort, practice, correction, and persistence. We cannot expect others to do it for us, nor can we just simply pray and expect to wake up one day with a godly way of thinking.
To help us develop Godly thinking, we must also keep ourselves from ungodly influences. If we cling to our former friends who are set on pursuing the ways of the world, they will bring us down, if we continue our close association. Paul wrote: “Evil companionships corrupt good morals.” (ASV). Also we do not need in our lives ungodly TV shows, books or recreational pursuits which pour forth or encourage blasphemy, violence, anger, lust, profanity, promiscuity, drunkenness and such like. Allowing those influences in will surely pollute our minds.
Rather we should associate with the Godly. Reading our Bibles every day purifies the thinking; associating with faithful brethren (Philippians 3:17) encourages us to greater self-discipline; and pursuing wholesome forms of recreation are all profitable for the mind and spirit.
But it is not sufficient for us to just meditate on Godly thoughts. When Paul wrote to his brethren, he was not just encouraging them to dwell upon the good, but to practice it – (Philippians 4:9) “The things which ye both learned and received and heard and saw in me, these things do: and the God of peace shall be with you.”
Christians often fail, firstly because they don’t discipline their thinking, which we have already spoken about. The second reason is because they don’t do the things that they know are right and good. James wrote that a faith which does not do, is useless: “What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him? If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit? Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone” (James 2:14-17). The end result is that we feel guilty and become discouraged.
We must implement the teaching. In the ways of the world many read books on dieting, they hire exercise machines, buy the latest sporting shoes, and sign up for the Jenny Craig weight loss course, but they never lose a gram. Why not? Because they don’t put in any effort. In a similar way there are many self help books around – books on computers, gardening, woodworking, needlework, craftwork, etc, etc. Sometimes considerable amounts of money are spent by folks wanting to further their skills, yet they never gain any expertise, because they don’t apply the things they learn!
We know that in everyday things, in order to achieve goals or a level of achievement; there are no quick fixes; no one can do it for us. We have to work and practice. Someone once said that the only time success comes before work is in the dictionary! In the spiritual sense - it is all very well to say we believe in the Bible; to affirm that Biblical teachings are right and true; to buy expensive Bibles with all the study helps; to attend faithfully Bible classes and the like; but to succeed as Christians we must practice the teaching.
When Paul wrote to the Philippians to – grow in knowledge, to put others first, to be blameless; he was expecting them to be Bible students, to give way to the needs and desires of others, to resist temptation and so keep themselves from sin! God is expecting us to do the same today. This does require effort, this does require self-discipline, and this does require perseverance. The end result will be to succeed as Christians pleasing the Lord.
There is no great secret to Christian growth – something known to only a few but hidden from the rest of us. We are doing the Lord’s will when we train our minds to dwell upon that which is good and wholesome, and day by day put into practice what the Lord through His word is telling us. Then we will be mentally healthy, then we will be spiritually minded, then will be achieving the Lord’s will in a practical sense, and then will the congregation as a whole benefit from our own growth. In turn we ourselves will be examples to encourage and guide others.
And so we close with Paul’s words to his dearly beloved brethren and understand that they are also written to us: “Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things. Those things, which ye have both learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me, do: and the God of peace shall be with you.”