Think, Meditate, Ponder, . . . and Practice!
When I started this brief series of articles on Philippians 4:8-9 I pointed out that it is more than merely an exhortation to think or ponder or meditate. It is also a command regarding our practice as Christians. Continue reading . . .
When I started this brief series of articles on Philippians 4:8-9 I pointed out that it is more than merely an exhortation to think or ponder or meditate. It is also a command regarding our practice as Christians. Here is our text:
“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).
Don’t miss the connection between v. 8 and v. 9. Paul now calls on the Philippians and all of us to consider to what extent these virtues are reflected in his life, in what they’ve seen and heard and observed in him and his teaching, and put all of that into practice.
I could easily spend all our time on what v. 9 tells us about the nature and importance and absolute necessity of discipleship. People who visit Bridgeway often wonder why we are so insistent about our community groups and our D-groups? It’s because of biblical statements like this. You need the input and example and influence of godly people. You need to be one who is an example and influence to others.
From whom are you learning? Who is mentoring you? Are you being discipled? Are you discipling others? Clearly, Paul believed passionately in the importance of godly, Christ-like role models who embody and live out the eight virtues he’s just enumerated in v. 8. Where are those people in your life? Where are you in the lives of other people?
The first two words (“learned and received”) refer to Paul’s teaching; the last two (“heard and seen”) point to his example or conduct.
They observed his life, watched how he interacted with others, they listened to his casual conversations, they set their eyes on his demeanor, how he faced and endured trials, how he bore up under unjust treatment and persecution.
I would encourage you to open your Bible and read Philippians 4:4-7 and observe how Paul concluded that paragraph. It it with the promise that if we pray about everything “the peace of God” will guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Now, here again, Paul concludes with the promise that if we ponder and think and meditate on these things and give them weight in the daily decisions of life and then put all this into practice, “the God of peace” (cf. Romans 15:33; 16:20; 2 Cor. 13:11; 1 Thess. 5:23) will be with us. The “peace of God” will be in us and the “God of peace” will be with us. What more could we possibly hope for?
The promise of God being “with” us is the promise of more than merely his presence, but includes the experience of his favor, his blessing, his guidance, his protection, his constant power to help us do whatever needs to be done, etc.
So let me conclude with a brief word about meditation. Contrary to what you may be thinking, Paul didn’t write this and I didn’t just write several articles because we are united in a conspiracy to rob you of joy and happiness and fun in life! Precisely the opposite!
Let me explain what I mean by giving you just one way in which you and I can respond to the command in v. 8. There are a lot of ways we can go about “thinking on these things,” but let’s briefly consider just one: thinking and meditating on Scripture.
Sin tells me that pursuing purity of thought and deed will undermine my experience of life’s greatest adventures and most satisfying pleasures. But the Word of God reinforces my decision to obey by reminding me that in obedience is the fullness of joy and in honor there is the blessing of God and in righteousness there is a thrill that not even on its best day could the sweetest of sins begin to touch.
The psalmist declares that the way not to sin, i.e., the way to enjoy God above all else, is by treasuring his Word in our hearts (Ps. 119:11). Making God’s Word our heart’s treasure is another way of describing one aspect of meditation. More than merely “confessing” his Word, “treasuring” it “in our hearts” means placing ultimate value on its truth, prizing it as something precious and dear and of supreme excellence, and then ingesting it through memorization and meditation so that it flows freely through our spiritual veins. When this happens the Holy Spirit energizes our hearts to believe and behave in conformity with its dictates. In other words, we sin less.
Meditation begins, but by no means ends, with thinking on Scripture. To meditate properly our souls must reflect upon what our minds have ingested and our hearts must rejoice in what our souls have grasped. We have truly meditated when we slowly read, prayerfully imbibe and humbly rely upon what God has revealed to us in his Word. All of this, of course, in conscious dependence on the internal, energizing work of the Spirit.
Meditation on Scripture, then, is being attentive to God. It is one way we “keep seeking the things above where Christ is” (Col. 3:1). It is a conscious, continuous engagement of the mind with God. This renewing of the mind (Rom. 12:1-2) is part of the process by which the word of God penetrates the soul and spirit with the light of illumination and the power of transformation. Don Whitney uses the analogy of a cup of tea:
"You are the cup of hot water and the intake of Scripture is represented by the tea bag. Hearing God's Word is like one dip of the tea bag into the cup. Some of the tea's flavor is absorbed by the water, but not as much as would occur with a more thorough soaking of the bag. In this analogy, reading, studying, and memorizing God's Word are represented by additional plunges of the tea bag into the cup. The more frequently the tea enters the water, the more effect it has. Meditation, however, is like immersing the bag completely and letting it steep until all the rich tea flavor has been extracted and the hot water is thoroughly tinctured reddish brown” (Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, 44).
But do we really have reason to believe that thinking and meditating and pondering on the truth of God’s Word can bring us the kind of joy and fulfillment and satisfaction our hearts so desperately want? Yes!
The Word of God brings us satisfaction and joy and delight so that we will not be enticed and tempted by the passing pleasures of sin:
"They [i.e., the laws, precepts, commandments of God's Word] are more desirable than gold, yes, than much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and the drippings of the honeycomb. Moreover, by them Thy servant is warned; in keeping them there is great reward" (Psalm 19:10-11).
Again, we read:
"How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, nor stand in the path of sinners, nor sit in the seat of scoffers! But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His law he meditates day and night" (Ps. 1:1-2).
"How sweet are Thy words to my taste! Yes, sweeter than honey to my mouth!" (Ps. 119:103).
Boring? Tedious? Hardly! When the seed of the Word sprouts and sinks its roots deeply into our souls, the fruit it yields is sheer gladness. The psalmist declares him “blessed” who “greatly delights” in God’s commandments (Ps. 112:1). Again, “in the way of your testimonies I delight as much as in all riches” (Ps. 119:14).
So, let us pray: “Father, our cry to you is that your Spirit would awaken us to all that is true about Jesus and the gospel and your character and how we relate to you. Our cry is that you would shape our hearts so that we will love what is honorable and abhor what is disgraceful, that we will live and act and speak righteously and turn from injustice and ungodliness, that we will pursue purity and celebrate all that is lovely and commendable; Father, our cry is that you would help us to recognize excellence and to fall in love with it and labor in your grace and power so that the totality of our lives reflect it. O Father, help us to think on these things. Help us to then practice these things. And may it all be for the glory and praise of your Son and our Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.”