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Enjoying God Blog

Among the many reasons I could mention why I love God’s Word, let me give you just one example. Continue reading . . .

Among the many reasons I could mention why I love God’s Word, let me give you just one example. When I read a passage such as Philippians 4:8-9, I find myself experiencing a double effect. Here it is:

“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” (Phil. 4:8-9).

On the one hand, I feel encouraged and energized, almost as if I’m being lifted above and beyond the harsh realities of life in this fallen world of ours. It’s as if the exalted language of v. 8 and the virtues to which it calls me serve as something of a powerful updraft that elevates me from my place on earth and draws me closer to God.

But then, almost at the same time, this text rather rudely takes hold of me and plants my feet firmly back on the ground and then reaches down and slaps me across the face and shouts, “Wake up, Sam, and change how you think and live right now!”

It’s as if there is at one and the same time both a glorious beauty and a gentle brutality in Paul’s words. The glorious beauty is obvious. Words like honorable and pure and just and lovely and excellence are soothing and reassuring to my heart. But there is a gentle brutality at play here as well. What I mean is that Paul uses these terms not so much to give me the warm fuzzies but to challenge me in terms of what I value most and what I do with my time and how I make choices about what I’ll watch and hear and read and where I’ll go. And it’s brutal! But it is a gentle brutality because in it all God is expressing his love to me and to you.

So, I don’t know if you feel the same double whammy that I do when I read this passage, but I want to try to account for it as we unpack Paul’s terms.

But before we jump into v. 8 I need to draw your attention to two crucial points.

First, I need to say something about how v. 8 relates to v. 7. In Philippians 4:4-7 Paul assures us that if we are diligent to pray about everything we will experience the presence of God’s peace guarding our hearts and minds.

However, we need to determine precisely how God guards our hearts and minds. Let me explain what I mean. What happens if we pray fervently and frequently and about everything, as Paul instructs us, but then fill our minds and hearts with filth and garbage and lies and offensive images? Will God guard our hearts and minds with his peace regardless of what we do, irrespective of what we allow to enter into our heads? I don’t think so. In other words, can I expect my heart and mind to be guarded, safe from harm and the onslaught of Satan, resting in the peace of God himself, all the while I’m filling it with filth? Absolutely not.

My sense is that in v. 8 Paul is telling us how or by what means and when God guards our minds. And it is only as we take steps to fill our minds with what is honorable and just and pure and lovely and commendable. In other words, we must “think about these things,” we must ponder and reflect and meditate upon such things; we must open our hearts and minds to whatever reflects these moral virtues if we expect to experience the peace of God which Paul promised to us in v. 7.

Second, please observe that there are two imperatives, two commands, not just one. People often read vv. 8-9 and focus their attention only on the command in v. 8 to think. They fail to observe that Paul also commands us in v. 9 to practice. This is not a call for merely intellectual reflection, but for sober consideration of what is good so we can live it out daily. That is why I will title one of the articles in this series, Think, Meditate, Ponder, and Practice!

So we see that this is not the counsel of someone seeking to withdraw into a cocoon of isolation or of someone trying to escape the hardships and heartaches of life. This is rock-solid counsel for those who need the strength and presence of God to help them triumph over all such challenges. What Paul says here isn’t designed for the ivory-tower intellectual egghead, but for every Christian man and woman who lives down in the trenches of daily life.

What I’m asking all of us to do is to place our lives under the probing searchlight of this passage. I’m asking all of us, myself included, to think about the overall quality of our lives, whether in our relationships, our hobbies, how we spend our money and time and energy, what we wear, what we do at work, how we speak, what we watch and listen to, where we go with friends or when alone. What is the moral and aesthetic tone of our existence?

To be continued . . .

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