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

Today we’re finishing up four weeks on verses 8-9 I’ve entitled “a beautiful mind.”  A mind that is constantly focused on what is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent and worthy, will find their lives enriched.  Ultimately, what we think about affects how we feel, the choices we make, and our behavior.  Then, it radiates out into our relationships and all of life.

The great Puritan John Owens emphasizes the importance of what we think about:

The mind is a leading faculty of the soul.  When the mind fixes upon an object or course of action, the will and the affections (heart) follow suit.  They are incapable of any other consideration… the mind’s office is to guide, to direct, to choose and to lead.

As someone has well said “You’re not what you think you are; but what you THINK—you are!”

In other words, what your mind dwells on is what you become.  That is why it is so important for us to dwell on what is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent and worthy.

Tony Merida writes

“What we think matters, and it matters more than we think. We need God’s Word to saturate our minds that we may be renewed and kept from offensive ways.” (Exalting Jesus in Philippians)

Paul uses the word logizomai, which is a word that expresses intense and studious gazing upon these things, not merely a passing glance.

You see, our minds naturally drift towards negative thoughts.

Dr. Elinore Kinarthy in Homemade, Sept., 1988, stated “The average person has more than two hundred negative thoughts a day—worries, jealousies, insecurities, cravings for forbidden things, etc.  Depressed people have as many as six hundred.  You can’t eliminate all the troublesome things that go through your mind, but you can certainly reduce the number of negative thoughts.

What Paul is calling for here is the disciplined, intentional directing of our thoughts towards positive things—positive things about God, about the world, about one another, about ourselves.

Of course, we’re not to think “more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment.” Which means that we think about “whatever is true” as a grid for all our thoughts.

Thinking as we ought to think requires the discipline of refusing certain thoughts that are false, dishonorable, unjust, impure, unlovely, reprehensible, inferior and unworthy and choosing instead to focus our attention (and affections) on what is constantly focused on what is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent and worthy.

It is like going through security at an airport.  When you go through security, an alarm goes off when you have something that shouldn’t pass through.  You have to empty your pockets and take things away in order to go through.  Likewise, our minds should be alert and alarms should go off when we start entertaining thoughts that are false, dishonorable, unjust, impure, unlovely, reprehensible, inferior and unworthy.

Practically what that means is that we give time, dedicated, ongoing, concentrated time to reading, studying, memorizing and meditating on God’s Word.  The greatest danger in our busy, increasingly post-literate world is that we make little or no effort to think God’s thoughts after him, to hide his word in our hearts so that we might not sin against him (cf. Psalm 119:11).

Meditation is the activity of calling to mind, and thinking over, and dwelling on, and applying to oneself, the various things that one knows about the works and ways and purposes and promises of God… It is an activity of holy thought, consciously performed in the presence of God, under the eye of God, by the help of God, as a means of communion with God.” (Packer, J I: Knowing God)

We cannot be profoundly influenced by that which we do not know.

Warren Wiersbe says…

If you will compare this list [in v. 8] to David’s description of the Word of God in Psalm 19:7-9, you will see a parallel.  The Christian who fills his heart and mind with God’s Word will have a “built-in radar” for detecting wrong thoughts. “Great peace have they which love Thy Law” (Ps. 119:165).  Right thinking is the result of daily meditation on the Word of God.

It is worth noting that in the preceding verse (4:7) Paul had assured the saints that God would guard their hearts and mind in Christ Jesus.  In verse 8 Paul is emphasizing that the saints themselves have a responsibility in the matter.  God does not garrison the thought-life of a man who does not want it to be kept pure.

Paul follows his verse on a beautiful mind with instructions on how to live a beautiful life.

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.

Notice from that last sentence that Paul all along, from verse 6 to verse 9, has been telling us how to enjoy the peace of God, even in the midst of conflict, even in the midst of trials.

Warren Wiersbe entitles Php 4:8 “Right Thinking” and Php 4:9 “Right Living.” I think those are great, practical titles of these two great verses.  In his devotional Wiersbe adds “Right praying (Php 4:6-7), right thinking, and right living: these are the conditions for having the secure mind and victory over worry.”

It is true that orthodoxy leads to orthopraxy, right beliefs lead to right living.  If your thinking is off, your life will be off.

Sinclair Ferguson says: “How we think is one of the great determining factors in how we live.”

And A. W. Tozer, knowing that we sometimes have to give thought to our work or other matters, says this:

What we think about when we are free to think about what we will—that is what we are or will soon become.

Right thinking is what leads to right living for Paul.  And it will be for us as well.

This is another passage where Paul speaks of the vital importance of discipling others through your life, not just your teaching.  It is about imitation, not merely instruction.  This picks up what Paul had said back in 3:17 when he said, “join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us.”

Too many would-be disciplers want to teach through a workbook and are satisfied if their disciple fills in all the blanks and does all the assignments.  But that does not a disciple make.

The spiritual life is more caught than taught, and what people need most is an example to follow.

If people can see a discrepancy between what you say you believe and how you live, they will not be attracted and eventually will call you a hypocrite.

How do we live a consistent, godly life and become an example to others?  By focusing our mind on the Word of God so that we focus on what is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent and worthy.

Paul had the integrity to present himself as an example of all these things to the Philippians.  He really could say, “Follow me as I follow Jesus.”

Paul had lived out each of the eight qualities that he was calling his readers to think about so long and so hard.

He contemplated whatever was true and then lived it; he thought and lived honorably; he thought and lived justly; he thought and lived purely; he thought of the lovely and lived in accord with it; he thought and lived commendably. (Kent Hughes)

These eight qualities were not exalted abstractions, but real-life down-in-the-dirt behaviors.

They had seen these qualities in the way that Paul had lived while he was with them.

The words “what you have learned and received” indicates that Paul had given them his personal instruction.  They had received the apostolic doctrine and the truth from God’s Word through Paul’s teaching ministry among them.

Now, that first word is the verb manthano, “learned.”  And it is related to the noun mathetes, which we often translate “disciple.”  Many people think of a “disciple” in terms of a student at school, learning through lecture.  I believe a better analogy is the apprentice, who learns through imitation and practice.

Wayne Detzler says:

“The emphasis on discipleship in Greek is not formal school learning, but rather fellowship with the teacher.  It is seen in two situations.  First, it refers to the followers of a certain philosopher.  They derived not just information from their teacher but also inspiration.  Disciples learned the teacher’s entire outlook on life, not just the facts which he taught.

Second, discipleship had a religious context.  It was seen in the pre-Christian mystery religions and in the Greek schools of the Epicureans and Stoics.  Discipleship involved two principles.  First, it meant that the disciples had fellowship with their teacher.  They lived with him as Jesus’ disciples lived with Him.  Second, disciples carried on the tradition of their teacher.  After he died they taught the same things that he did.  Disciples were the main means of perpetuating teaching in the ancient world, since many great teachers wrote no books. (New Testament Words in Today’s Language).

The verb “received” has the idea that the Philippians not only understood it clearly, but also accepted it and had given assent to it and in so doing they were now responsible to live out the truth.

This is always the principle when we learn and receive truth from a pastor or a teacher. God will hold us responsible to live according to the light we have received.

Another way of thinking about this word “received” is that it involves taking truth in and dwelling on it (like we saw in v. 8) until it becomes a part of our inner man.

This is the way Paul described what happened at Thessalonica…

And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers.

The word “received” there is the same word as in Philippians 4:9, but Paul adds “accepted,” which could be visualized as opening the door (of our minds) and welcoming in a long-lost friend, someone we are really glad to see.

That is the way we should treat the truth we hear from God’s Word, to receive it with joy and delight.

Along with this, Paul had given them his personal example, which they had “heard and seen” in him.  Both when Paul was with them and even when he was when away, the Philippians heard about Paul’s character and conduct — his bravery, how he faced trials, his devotion, his prayer, his patient suffering, his resiliency.

And when he was with them, they saw his godly example and his modeling of these eight qualities he was asking of them.  They had before their very eyes the pattern of an excellent and worthy life.

A. T. Robertson reminds us “The preacher is the interpreter of the spiritual life and should be an example of it.”

Edwards adds that “Paul now covers the spectrum of things he wants them to do.  We see Paul’s great heart for discipleship here as well as his total commitment of life to Christ… The truth is first demonstrated, then declared.  From that point the Philippians accept it and then finally embrace it.  This ought to be our pattern of discipleship.  We are responsible that the men we are working with see and hear the truth in us.  Then they must respond by accepting and embracing the truth we have transmitted.  The goal of all this, though, is that they do the truth they have embraced.  It is not enough for us to accept and embrace the truth, we must be equally zealous to do it also.

It is vital that our thoughts turn into actions.  They will if we continually dwell on them.

J. Dwight Pentecost reminds us that…

“… maturity in the Christian life is not measured by what a man knows but by what he does.”

Truth is not only to be pondered, but to be practiced.

Steve Coles identifies in these four verbs—learned, received, heard and seen—four components of our sanctification.

(1) The intellectual–“What you have learned”; (2) The volitional–“What you received”; (3) The behavioral–“What you have heard and seen, which you must practice”; (4) The emotional–“The God of peace shall be with you.”

I think this order is correct.  We don’t start with our emotions.  We start with our minds.  We focus our attention on the truths of God’s Word, which will eventually cause us to choose obedience to God (the volitional), which we then do (behavioral).  All of that leads to good feelings.

So Paul encourages them to “practice these things” (these eight qualities).  It is not enough to be hearers, we must be doers.  There is always a danger that we might deceive ourselves into thinking that just because we’ve heard it, that that is enough.

The word “practice” (prasso) refers to repetitious and continuous action.  It is also present tense, which means that this is not just a momentary emotional response but is to become the saints’ way of life.

When we consistently do this “the God of peace will be with [us].”  This is a play on, and step beyond, what Paul said in v. 7 when he said: “And the peace of God…will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

The peace of God is a gift to us from God; but this is actually the promise of His very presence with us.

This must be a step beyond and deeper than merely God’s omnipresence.  By His omnipresence, we mean that God is everywhere, as Psalm 139:7-11 indicate.  I believe what Paul is promising here is a special sense of God’s presence.

It is that presence that we need when we walk through the fire or the flood (Isaiah 43:2) or the valley of the shadow of death (Psalm 23:4).  We need not fear because God is with us.  He is with us to calm us and support us and eventually deliver us.

In this case, the special sense of God’s presence is communicated to us as a supernatural peace, a calmness and serenity in the face of deep trouble and difficulties.

Elisabeth Elliot once overheard her young daughter singing to her cat, “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like you!”  We’re all like that, aren’t we; the truth applies to the other guy!

“If just my wife and kids would apply this to their lives, we’d have a happy family!”

No, I need to apply the content of the Christian faith to my daily conduct. Then, the God of peace with be with me.  Let’s all practice being doers of the Word and not hearers only who deceive themselves!

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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