A Beautiful Mind, part 1 (Philippians 4:8-9)

Paul has been dealing with conflict in Philippians 4, and in the midst of that, worry.  Paul has encouraged them to focus their desires upon Jesus and rejoice in him always.  The only way they can do that is to turn every worry into prayer.

A few years ago I read a book called Extravagant Grace by Barbara Duguid.  In it, she shares the counsel of John Newton with regard to sanctification.  She asks the question: “Is God more glorified when we are victorious over temptation, or when we struggle with it?”  Newton’s suggestion is that God is more glorified in the struggle, because that is when we cry out to him in desperation.  When are victorious, we don’t feel like we need him.

I say that because some people really struggle with anxiety.  It seems to have them trapped and they are mired in it every day.

I want to encourage you that any sin you struggle with creates opportunity for you to cry out in desperation to God, to admit that you need His help.  And that does glorify Him.

That is what Paul is saying here in Philippians 4.  These women need God’s help to resolve the conflict and reconcile the relationship, and if you struggle with worry, then it is an opportunity to turn each and every worry into a prayer admitting that you need God and His help.

That is what will give you peace.

The final two verses in this section talk about what we think about and what we do.

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.

These verses apply to every area of life, anything we struggle with, but I think contextually it applies primarily to times of conflict.  It is then that our thinking goes askew.

Now, the human mind is an amazing thing.  A Cray computer has 60,000 miles of writing; our brains have 200,000.  It has 10,000 distinct varieties of neurons, 10-14 billion brain cells, 100 billion interconnecting neurons throughout the body (that would take you 3,171 years to count).

Information travels at different speeds within different types of neurons.  Transmission can be as slow as 0.5 meters per second or as fast as 120 meters per second.  That’s about 268 miles per hour!

Your brain is capable of having more ideas than the number of atoms in the known universe!

Source: Tony Buzan, Head Strong, 2001

It’s still a mystery exactly how the brain works.

Years ago they thought we used about 50% of our brains, then 20-30%; ten years ago 5-20% and now they believe we used about 1% of its capacity.

Going back to Philippians 4: Verse 7 ended with the peace of God guarding what once were very frantically anxious minds.  Now those minds are calm.  But, what God does for us and in us often requires our active participation.

Peace involves the heart and the mind.

Isaiah 26:3, which seems to be talking about Jerusalem, or the people of Jerusalem, says:

You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.

What occupies our mind either brings peace and harmony, or it brings anxiety and conflict.

Notice how important the mind (or heart) is to the Christian life in these passages:

In Proverbs 4:23 Solomon says, “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.”

The heart is the CPU of each person.  Through the heart pass our thoughts, our affections, our choices.  Thus it is vital that we watch over our hearts.

Proverbs 27:19 says, “As in water face reflects face, so the heart of man reflects the man.”

In Mark 7:20-23 Jesus explains…

20 And he said, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. 21 For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, 22 coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. 23 All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”

Thus what our heart focuses on is what we will say and what we will become.

In Romans 12:1-2 Paul says…

1 I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

The activity of the mind is described here as the “renewal of your mind.”  Paul expresses this same thought in Ephesians 2:22-24…

22 to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, 23 and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, 24 and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.

By the way, notice the three steps of spiritual transformation mentioned in these three verses: (1) put off the old self; (2) think differently, in a new way; and (3) put on the new self.  It is not enough to stop sinning.  We have to replace our sins with virtues AND we have to adopt a new way of thinking.

We must realize that our thoughts are very powerful, even though they cannot be seen, weighed or measured.  We must “take every thought captive to obey Christ.”

John Bunyan wrote not one, but three books describing his own spiritual journey.  The best known is Pilgrim’s Progress, an allegory about his journey from damnation to glory through the cross.  A work of non-fiction, his spiritual autobiography was called Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners.

Another work of fiction, which is a little less well known, was called The Holy War.  The full title was The Holy War Made by Shaddai upon Diabous, for the Regaining of the Metropolis of the World; or, the Losing and Taking Again of Mansoul.

Holy War is a military history of our souls, first conquered and enslaved by Diabolus, Satan, then as recaptured by Prince Emmanuel and subsequently defended against continued assaults brought against it by the deposed, infuriated ex-master Diabolus.

The town of Mansoul has five gates: Eye-gate, mouth-gate, nose-gate, ear-gate and feel-gate.  And then we read:

“There was reared up in the midst of this town a most famous and stately palace.  For strength, it might be called a castle; for peasantness, a paradise; for largeness, a place so copious as to contain all he world.  This palace the King Shaddai intended for himself alone, and not another with him…”

Of course, what Bunyan was describing was the human heart, the center of our intellectual, emotional and volitional life.

Alexander Whyte, said of this picture: “Your heart is the best and greatest gift of God to you.  It is the highest, greatest, strongest, and noblest power of your nature.  It forms your whole life, be it what it will.  All evil and all good come from your heart.  Your heart alone has the key of life and death for you” (Bunyan Characters, iii, 40)

In other words, depending on how to tend to our hearts, we will become either good or bad.

You might remember that saying:

Sow a thought, reap an action.

Sow an action, reap a habit.

Sow a habit, reap a character.

Sow a character, reap a destiny.

You see it all begins with the thought, what occupies our minds.

Our thoughts not only reveal who we are (right now), but they predict who we will become.

Here is a basic life principle: If you want to live right, you’ve got to think right.  Rights beliefs lead to right behavior.

And, as Paul said back in Ephesians 4:22-24, unless we change our way of thinking, any changes in behavior will only be temporary.

The scandal of today is a church full of Christians with no Christian minds.

So how do we develop a strong, beautiful Christian mind?  Let’s read again Philippians 4:8-9…

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.

The word “finally” merely shows that this is the last of the imperatives about how to resolve conflict that started back with “stand firm” in chapter 4, verse 1.

Some people get excited when the preacher says “finally,” as if that means he is about to finish.  Paul has another topic to get to before he finishes.

Notice that these verses contain a conditional sentence, “if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise” and then a command “think about these things.”  Prior to that is a list of things to think upon.

The conditional sentence in the Greek assumes the positive, that even within the pagan culture at Philippi there were some excellent and worthy things one could focus upon.

These two terms, excellent and worthy, are comprehensive qualities that Paul says must characterize a Christian’s thoughts and actions.

The command “think about these things” is a present imperative, emphasizing continual, consistent discipline.  We could put the word “always think about these things” or “continually think about these things.”  This is not to be a momentary, fleeting thought, but a continual focus.

The word for “think” is logizomai, which expresses the idea of careful scrutiny, prolonged concentration.  It is not a passing glance, a fleeting thought, a momentary consideration, but steady, focused concentration.

You know, in our instant society, where our minds are so distracted, we may have lost the ability to do this.  To stay at one task and give it our full attention for even 10 minutes is difficult.

This is why the Bible recommends meditation as a key spiritual habit.  When we meditate, we focus our minds on truth, turning it over and over in our minds, giving it our utmost concentration, until it yields its treasures to us.  But it is in that process of doing so, that our thinking starts to change.

Whatever we choose to focus upon will form our values and choices, shape our habits and character, and determine our destiny.  It’s like the old computer term, remember it—GIGO, garbage in, garbage out?  It meant that if the coding was garbage, the computer couldn’t compute.

Well, our minds function the same way, you put garbage into your mind through the variety of media we have available, and garbage will come out.  But if you think about life the way Paul commands, thinking about things that are true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent and worthy, then your character will turn out that way.

Robert Rayburn, in a sermon about this passage, says…

You must take care about what you think about, what you let your mind to dwell on.  You have to take your mind off certain thoughts, certain daydreams, certain images, and place it on purpose on other thoughts, other dreams, and other images.  You must, on purpose, think about certain kinds of things and not think about other kinds of things.  Your heart, like wax, is susceptible to impressions and you need to take care and work hard to ensure that it is receiving the right kind of impressions and is being shaped by the right kind of influences and habits.

This will not be an easy process.  Our world, our lives, are filled with distractions.  And as soon as we try to focus our minds and hearts on things that are true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent and worthy, Satan will make sure to bring false, dishonorable, unjust, impure, unlovely, reprehensible, inferior and unworthy thoughts.

Again, Rayburn wisely notes:

And no serious minded Christian can possibly doubt the importance of Paul’s wisdom here.  You remember C.S. Lewis’ comment, “No man knows how bad he is till he has tried very hard to be good.” [Mere Christianity, 124]  Well, in a similar way, no one realizes how inclined his heart and mind is to evil thoughts and to inane and frivolous and useless thoughts until he has tried very hard to fill his thinking up with what is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent and praiseworthy. Let a Christian try to do that and he or she will know immediately why he or she falls so far short of the godliness Christ has summoned his followers to.  The heart, the heart that produces the life, still has a great deal of rottenness in it and still runs in deep ruts of sin..

There is no country so forbidding and so unpleasant as one’s own heart and that is why people spend so little conscious and intentional time there.  They are daily and hourly in their hearts as observers and as participants, but much more rarely are they there as rulers bringing a subject into submission.  Their hearts and minds run on with very little control or direction.  What is there, what happens there, is to them simply a fact, not an effect of conscious effort and decisive management on their part.  The effort, when it is made, so quickly discourages and it becomes immediately obvious that this will be very demanding, difficult, and wearying work.  And so it is given up.

Verse 8 may sound simple enough.  Anyone who has tried to obey Paul’s instructions here knows, however, that there is nothing simple about it.  As John Flavel, the Puritan, put it in his great work on keeping the heart, “This work affords the Christian matter for labor, fear, and trembling to his dying day.” [Works, v, 425]  The great work of the Christian life is to trust, love, and serve the Lord Jesus Christ.  But the great technique or method by which that work is done is the application of our will to the thoughts of our hearts.  And that is very hard work.

Paul is here giving us a key clue to our spiritual formation—the intentional, active control over what one chooses to think about.

And we know, intuitively, don’t we, that what we focus our minds on does affect our moods, our choices, and ultimately our lives?  You’ve heard of psychosomatic illnesses, where we get sick because of what we are thinking about or how we are thinking.  Our minds affect our bodies in that way.

John Milton wrote, “A mind is its own place, and in itself / Can make a heav’n of hell, a hell of heav’n. . . .”  So it is imperative that we control what goes on in our minds.

The control of our minds and what we think about is a key part of our spiritual transformation.

Are you in control of what you think about?  Or is the media?  Your college professors?

Take control of your thinking.

It is worth the time and effort you put into controlling what you are thinking.

Published by

Lamar Austin

I've graduated from Citadel Bible College in Ozark, Arkansas, with a B. A. Then got my M. Div. and Th. M. at Capital Bible Seminary in Lanham, MD. I finished with a D. Min. degree from Dallas Theological Seminary, but keep on learning. I pastored at Chinese Christian Church of Greater Washington, D. C., was on staff at East Evangelical Free Church in Wichita, KS, tried to plant an EFC in Little Rock, before moving back home to Mena, where I now pastor my home church, Grace Bible Church

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