Sermon notes 10-11-20 Phil 4:1-9 What Are You Thinking? Pastor David King
1 Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved.
2 I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord. 3 Yes, I ask you also, true companion, help these women, who have labored side by side with me in the gospel together with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.
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.
What … are … you … thinking ….
I wanted to begin with those four words because they form a question that this passage from Paul’s letter to the Philippians leads us to ask ourselves. It occurs to me that the question formed by those four words takes on a very different tone depending on which word is emphasized by the one doing the asking.
When the emphasis is on the first word, what, it comes across in the tone in which I have most often heard the question asked of me, at such times when my behavior must seem to be disconnected from any mental activity whatsoever. “What are you thinking?” When asked in that way, the one doing the asking does not really expect an answer from me, because they assume I must not be thinking at all.
But I want to ask you to think about your response to that question seriously, not so much in terms of what you might be thinking right at this moment, but more generally in terms of what you are in the custom of thinking about; what kinds of things routinely fill your mind?
The passage Kim just read for us is one of my favorite passages of Scripture. It’s near the end of Paul’s letter to the church he founded in Philippi. Paul’s letter to the Philippians comes across much like a letter written from a parent to a child, or a teacher or mentor to a beloved student or pupil.
Paul is writing to people to whom he had taught the Gospel and with whom he had shared the Gospel, people he clearly loves and for whom he wants the best. Paul wants to know the joy of seeing these beloved people “stand firm in the Lord” as he had taught them. The letter is written with love, with a desire to see the recipients of the letter receive God’s best in their lives.
For Paul, the primary benefit that he hopes these beloved Philippians will receive is God’s peacein their hearts and minds. That’s something we all want, don’t we, to be at peace, with God and with our fellow human beings? And for Paul, the peace of God is largely a function of what we put into our minds, or in other words, the degree of peace we attain is contingent upon what we think. Paul emphasizes the importance of our thought life, our mental life, what goes on in our minds. So as we work through this passage, I invite you to ask yourself … does what you are in the custom of thinking about result in God’s peace in your life, or, not so much?
In teaching about the peace of God, Paul finds it necessary to address a situation where God’s peace is lacking. It is a situation we might have encountered on a rare occasion ourselves: there is disagreement in the church … can you imagine? People have speculated for two thousand years what the nature of this disagreement was, but obviously it was not important to Paul for us to know, because all that he tells us about the disagreement is that it is between Euodia and Syntyche.
Paul does tell us a little bit about these two women. In spite of their disagreement, Paul speaks favorably of them. He tells us that Euodia and Syntyche had labored side by side with him. We can assume these women were both faithful servants. But they had a disagreement that was negatively affecting the unity of the church. Paul does not take sides with one or the other of these women, but he asks for third party intervention from an unnamed faithful companion to help these two servants be reconciled for the sake of God’s peace in the church.
Paul’s advice to them is that, instead of being consumed with disagreement, they should rejoice in the Lord. Just after asking them to agree in the Lord, Paul says, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice!” Paul is appealing to the people of the church to celebrate the good things the Lord is doing in the church and in their lives, rather than focusing on disagreement. One of the most remarkable things about Paul admonishing people to rejoice is that he is writing this letter from prison. So the joy that Paul is recommending is not a shallow happiness based on circumstances, but a deep contentment and an inner peace based on trust in the living God. That kind of joy and peace are always available, even in times of difficulty.
After calling on the Philippians to rejoice, Paul makes a plea for reasonableness. He says, “Let your reasonableness be known to everyone.” I love this advice. Reasonableness is something that seems to be lacking in our world today, but reasonableness is essential for being at peace with God and with our fellow human beings. Reasonableness is crucial for living in community. Reasonableness is the disposition that seeks what is best for everyone and not just for oneself. Those who are reasonable do not insist on always having their way, or always being right, or being in charge, or being in control. If you find that you are often at odds with other people, you may want to question whether you have a disposition of reasonableness.
Next Paul really gets to the heart of what it takes to have the peace of God in our hearts and minds. Up to this point in the passage, Paul has been advising those in the church what to do. Dostand firm in the Lord, do rejoice in the Lord always, do let your reasonableness be known to everyone. But here we have Paul’s one “do not” in this passage. He says, “do not be anxious about anything.” Essentially Paul’s advice is to turn all of your anxieties over to God. Paul is echoing Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus tell his followers not to be anxious about their lives, what they will eat or drink or what clothing they will wear.
Paul says, in everything, by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. In other words, rather than be anxious, thank God for who he is and for what he has already provided, while asking him for those things you need.
Friends, I don’t want to gloss over this part without acknowledging that the advice to not be anxious is far easier said than done. Many persons have confided in me over the years that they are guilty of the sin of always worrying, of being anxious in spite of the fact that the Scriptures tell us not to be anxious and not to worry. And believe me, I get it. I know it is hard to turn our worries and anxieties over to God, but, Paul tells us that, to the extent we are able to do so, we have one of the greatest promises in all of Scripture, here in verse 7: “The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” I know that many of you have been recipients of this promise. You have known God’s peace in your hearts and minds even in the midst of the most troubling circumstances. Such peace is beyond human understanding, but that is what is available to us when we trust the Lord with our circumstances and with our needs.
Paul concludes this passage with what to me is some of the best and most practical advice in the Bible: He says, 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. This verse spells out very clearly the direct connection between what we think and the degree to which we have God’s peace in our hearts and minds. Paul tells us if we think on these things—whatever is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent and praiseworthy—then we have the promise that we will not simply have the peace of God, but that the God of peace himself will be with us.
So I ask you, what are you thinking? Many of you have heard that there are three things that identify where we have our priorities in life: where we spend our money, where we spend our time and what we think about. Our thought life not only largely determines our priorities in life, it also largely determines our peace. I love how Paul presents what we should be thinking about in a positive sense. The things Paul tells us to think about are all positive things. But in examining our own thoughts it might also be helpful to consider the opposite of these things. Can we say we really think about what is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent and praiseworthy? Or do we more often think about the negative counterparts to those things: what is false, dishonorable, unjust, impure, repulsive, shameful, disgraceful and contemptible? If we honestly respond to those questions, Paul’s advice gets very practical when we consider the things we fill our minds with, the things to which we expose ourselves, the things we allow to occupy our thoughts.
So, what are your thoughts? How does the TV program or movie you watch, or the book or magazine you read, or the website you visit, or the conversation you engage in, or the relationship you nurture, or the position you take on the social issues of our times, match up with Paul’s list? Do you fill your mind with the positive things on Paul’s list, or do you more often fill your mind with the negative counterparts to Paul’s list?
Friends, the peace of God can come only from the God of peace, and we can be sure that the God of peace cannot be found in what is false, dishonorable, unjust, impure, repulsive, shameful, disgraceful or contemptible. God cannot be a participant in any of those things. When our thoughts are on those things, we will not have God’s peace. But God is the source of all that is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent and praiseworthy, and the God of peace will be with us when we fill our minds and hearts with those things.
I want to begin drawing to a close with a promise of help for us that is not specified in our passage. That is, when we have the desire for the peace of God, the Holy Spirit of God alerts us to those things that would deprive us of his peace.
If our heart’s desire is to know God’s peace, but we come across temptations to think about things that are not pleasing to God, God will make us aware of it by giving us a sense that something is not right in our thought life.
For me, the way this often works is, when my thoughts begin to stray where they ought not go, the Spirit brings someone to my mind, someone who has taught me better, or someone for whom I want to be a better person. People like my wife, my dad, my children and grandchildren, my siblings, my friends and colleagues in ministry. And yes, all of you come to mind. When I think of you and of all those other persons I named, and I consider whether I would want you all knowing what I am thinking, watching, doing, or saying, I can get a pretty clear sense of whether the peace of God is in those things or not.
Of course, it is the Lord and not people who we should ultimately strive to please. Yet I believe strongly that God works through the people he places in our lives. I hope we all have persons in our life who come to our minds and give us pause when we are tempted to fill our minds with things we ought not.
God places his people in each other’s lives to help us grow into his image and to a fuller realization of the peace he wants us to have with him. It is a peace that passes all understanding, and Paul teaches us that we attain that peace and even joy, through being reasonable, being thankful, turning all our requests and supplications over to God in prayer, and occupying our minds with those things that are true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent and praiseworthy.
So … what are YOU thinking?