Old Testament, Philippians 4:1-9
October 18, 2015
I love this passage, and I’ve used it before. And one of the things that’s fun about this passage is that using it demonstrates it’s meaning! Because, these are “noble thoughts” Paul is giving us. And they are noble thoughts… about having noble thoughts! I like that!
But more than that, in choosing to use this passage, that’s also like the meaning here. “Think on these things,” Paul says. As I’ve been saying for years, we need to choose our thoughts. We need to decide what we will “Think on.” Along with the Corinthians, Paul exhorts us to “take every thought captive in obedience to Christ.” (II Corinthians 10:5) So we’re choosing a passage about “noble thoughts,” that’s about choosing noble thoughts!
Listen to verse 8 again. “Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think on these things.” (Philippians 4:8) And what he’s saying is, “Choose to think on these things!”
Last week we heard one of our members share how she was working on not complaining. She was trying to choose not to complain. I remember thinking “Yes! That’s what I’ve been trying to preach!” It’s important that we choose. Our minds will go everywhere, if we don’t direct them. You’ve heard me say, that if we don’t choose our thoughts, circumstances will choose them for us!
Not only that, but our minds tend to go with the strongest thought! Doesn’t that makes sense? Think about it. If we’re upset, if we’re angry, if we’ve been treated badly by someone, if we have a strong opinion about something, if we’re really excited or inspired by something, those are the things that will tend to “occupy” our minds. Don’t you agree?
So then, “whatever is true, whatever is honorable…” whatever is noble! “Think on these things.” “Take every thought captive in obedience to Christ.” “Think,” “Take.” Those are “active” words. They are in the imperative mood. They are exhortations to do something. And we need to choose to “do” them. Here are a couple of ideas that I think will help us do that more and more. Because we want to grow in our ability to do that, don’t we?
First, plan when you will “think on these things.” Specifically, take time at the beginning of the day to do so. Do you remember the idea I talked about several months ago? It was called “The First Five?” It was the idea that we should give the first five minutes of every day to God. Doing so helps set the mood for the day. It helps set our mindset for the rest of the day. It’s one way to be sure to start out “thinking on these things.” It’s a way to “set the course” of what happens and how we live that day.
So I’d like to encourage that here again. At the very least, take that time to pause and reflect and pray. Maybe read something inspirational, something that turns your mind toward God. Maybe sing through a favorite hymn or song. Maybe think about the needs of someone else, and make some plans to reach out to them. And hey, it’s Stewardship time. Maybe consider what God might be calling you to do in that regard. We have a lot of needs here!
I find that time to be one of “retuning” my life for that day. Do you remember when radios didn’t have preset frequencies and auto-tune features? You had to turn that little dial and get the station tuned in. That time can be like that. We’re tuning in more precisely to God’s spirit. That’s a time to set a course on “thinking on these things.” And it’s good when it is right at the start of the day. Because then you can set the course for the day, as opposed to having to change the course later – once the mundane things of life start to burden you. And those other thoughts can grab you first thing, can’t they?
“The first five” is also good because our minds are generally clearer at that time. Do you feel that? I know that’s true for me. For me it’s those quiet moments at the beginning of the day that time makes this easiest – that time before other concerns and burdens can start to build up in my mind.
That’s the first suggestion. The second is “like unto it.” It is to keep going! Keep going, even when we sometimes blow it. And that happens, doesn’t it? At our Session meeting the other night one of our elders expressed at Session last week that sometimes people and things in our world can make it hard for us to be loving people. They can keep us from “thinking on those things.” That’s true, isn’t it? When he said it, we all kind of went, “Oh yeah!” Well, when that happens, when “people get to us,” we have to choose to “reign in” those thoughts – to “take them captive.” At such times, we’ve got to stop the negative thoughts. Sometimes that means literally telling ourselves to stop – out loud if need be! And we’ve got to change that course, and return to “thinking on these things.”
That’s not easy! Those strong thoughts can be very strong! And it’s hard to turn back to the noble thoughts! Our friend who talked about choosing not to complain, would probably agree that there are times when that choice can be very hard!
So then, start off the day by choosing to “think on these things.” Set the course of your day. But also keep practicing those choices throughout the day. In that way, strive to get better at “changing the course” when you see it taking a bad turn.
And believe me, I know we can have bad days – even when we are striving to do these things. There are days when circumstances just seem to build up, when that little dark cloud hangs around over our heads like that guy in the cartoon. There are days when the bad things come in bunches. Those are the hardest times to “think on these things.” So when that happens, “hang on to” two things. Because sometimes it’s not “thinking on,” it’s “hanging on!”
First, God is with you. God is with you whether you “feel like” he is or not! There are times when we have to rely on the promise of God’s presence, because there’s no way we feel his presence! Right? “Think on” – “hang on” – those promises!!!
The other thing to “hang on to” is that God does forgive us! That’s another promise to rely on – to hang on! Because we also have those times when we don’t think or feel like God could possibly forgive us, don’t we?
Personally, I’m very glad for those promises! I’m very glad that God’s presence and forgiveness are not dependent on my ability to feel those things! And I tell you now, they are not dependent on your ability to feel those things, too! They are true! They are reliable! They are hang-onto-able! Isn’t that good news?
So hear this one more time, and “think on” this. “Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”
Eternal God, help us to turn our thoughts to you. Help us to learn how to turn our thoughts to you. Help us to have the strength we need to follow you no matter what the circumstances. And help us to know – beyond our fears – the power of your Spirit within us. For this we pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.