Earlier this year, I was reflecting on Philippians. I never got around to chapter 4 as my mind was occupied with more pressing issues in my walk with God. So here we are. I’m finishing off with 2 more posts; this one about chapter 4, and one to wrap it up. Straight in.
There’s so much in this chapter! Conflict in the church, the nature of prayer, the attitude we have towards giving and service, living in poverty and abundance, the affection of Paul for his fellow workers in the gospel. And so much more. Have a dig for yourself – that’ll do you more good than reading my thoughts. Seriously, go read it. Then you can come back and read the rest of this. Go.
You’re back? Sweet.
I’ve written this previously, but I think it’s sometimes really tough to come to grips with what the bible says about worry and joy. Here in Philippians 4, it is just as enigmatic as Matthew 6, 1 Peter and so on. Don’t worry. Don’t stress about suffering. Just rejoice. Chatting to a sister in Christ earlier in the year, we were chatting about how hard this is. We worry about stuff, and then we read that we shouldn’t. These passages ought to be an inspiration, a reminder of God’s glory, and an encouragement to cast it all on Him. But instead we come away more worried; worried about the fact that we worry. It feels dumb, but we just can’t help it. We can’t get out of the loop of meta-worry. We worry. But Paul here is clear.
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. (Philippians 4:4-7, ESV)
And as worrying as that can be to the worriers out there, this passage is great because it tells us where to start. Rather than anxiety, pray, humble yourself. It is not a command to just stop worrying. It is a call to come to God. Perhaps it related to bringing our burdens (Matthew 11) – Here Paul says in everything, bring your requests to God. Bring them with humility. And he will give peace. The answer to worry is not going to be easy, but it will be found not in stopping yourself from worrying, but in coming to God. He cares. That is big.
Worry? Meta-worry? Bring it before God. He will give you his peace in Christ.
So that’s awesome.
But it’s what follows directly after this that gets me thinking msot.
We talk all the time about how our actions don’t save us. Christianity is about relationship, not religion. But we’re also on about how the bible is the authority, and we do what it says. Here, there is a command. A rule. You could say it’s just advice; you would be right, in a sense. It is advice. The advice that God gives his people, authoritatively. It is helpful, true, and we are told to do it. So it’s advice with a bit of bite to it.
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 seenin me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.(Philippians 4:8-9, ESV)
It’s the end of the content of the letter. There’s more remarks, and they are still awesomely helpful. Yet they are more personal finishing thoughts and comments to the Philippians. Here is, one might say, the end result of all Paul has said. Given all that we have seen of Christ, given the inspiration and focus that gives us, given our salvation and relationship with God, do this. I think it is important for us to recall that this instruction does not stand alone from what comes before. It must be loaded with significance if it is the continuation of the response Paul outlines in chapter 3. If it follows on from joyful, prayerful remembrance of God. If it comes out of the humility and exaltation of Christ. If it flows from a desire to be with God, and a compulsion to serve.
If we read this as merely a charge to think good thoughts, it seems weak. Because of the glory of God, because of Christ’s sacrifice, because of what awaits you, because God cares, think about nice stuff. Think about happiness, and baby bunnies, and waterfalls, and good music? It has far more weight than that. So is it a command to think about good people, to dwell on virtue, to study purity, to think about what it means to work hard and to love others. Absolutely. We still rob it of it’s true significance, however, if we don’t allow it to go all the way..
This is flat out one of my favourite passages in the bible, and it is basically the passage I return to in order to govern myself in terms of self-control, deciding what is helpful for me, aligning my conscience with scripture, and letting God call the shots. Why? This is not just a command to think good things about good stuff. I think it is a command to be more “meta”. Meta-good. What is the most honourable, the most true, the most just and lovely, the most commendable? What is excellent and praiseworthy?
This passage is not merely a guide to how we ought to think (though it is that too), but a reminder to dwell on the character of God. We don’t think about good things just because they are good things. We think about good things because they are God things. God and goodness are synonymous. Think about the character of God: meta-good. This will inform your thoughts about what else is commendable, what is good, what is true. In God we find out ultimate guide for what is excellent and praiseworthy. The character of God shapes out whole ethical framework.
There is freedom in Christ. This does actually mean freedom. I am sometimes saddened, however, when people use this freedom to judge others. Some Christians get frustrated with others for changing the channel during sex scenes on tv, or who don’t watch violent movies. They think that they have missed the point of freedom and grace, and that they don’t need to shun the world. True. But consider this; how might watching, reading, listening to, or talking about those things affect the way you think?
I am not saying you should change the channel, or you should change your behaviour. I am saying, though, that often we go soft on dwelling on the most commendable, just and lovely things. How are we really dwelling on God when we are watching the ads in late-night movies? How are the justice of God and the paradigm of justice we have from that filling your mind as you chuck in a few bucks at the pokies?
When in year 11 and 12, I made sure that every day when I went to the train station, I walked on the side of the station shop that meant I couldn’t see the magazine covers covered in what was basically soft porn. In order to make sure I was thinking about what was commendable and praiseworthy, I had to not let myself look at the sexualised magazine shots.
Friends, perhaps there are things you need to consider as well. Are there things that fill your mind with thoughts contrary to God’s character? Paul’s instruction here, pushed to its full extent, is a call to dwell on God’s character, and think about Him. It is also a call to fill our minds with concepts that align with that; to think about justice and beauty, and how these are informed by God himself.
It is a call to fill our minds with good things that correspond with who God is. Don’t let your heads be filled with junk. Don’t laugh at the Christian who doesn’t watch sex scenes, or who won’t go to nightclubs with you, or who you think should just lighten up a bit.
They might be thinking on God.
There’s no rules here, only grace from an awesome God. Dwell on his character. If things fill your mind with things that do not line up with God’s character and call, think about how you should deal with them. I’ve found it easier to play it safe, don’t kid yourself.
Think on God.