Godly Thinking, Godly Living
It is a privilege to open the Word of God with you this evening. And if you would, turn in your Bibles with me to Philippians chapter 4. Back in February I had the privilege of preaching a sermon series here on Sunday nights that I entitled, “The Steadfast Church.” It was a four-part study of the means of spiritual stability—how we as the people of God will remain steadfast in our commitment to Christ and His Gospel—(a) in the midst of the pressures of an unstable and even hostile society outside the church, and (b) even amidst struggles and conflicts with our brothers and sisters within the church.
We want to be characterized by spiritual stability. We want to be the kind of enduring, unwavering, uncompromising people that are faithful to the Lord and to His Word even in the midst of great opposition. We don’t want to be unstable; we don’t want to be the sort of people who can never seem to get our life together—the kind of people Paul talks about in Ephesians 4:14 as being “tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine;” or in 2 Timothy 3:7 those who are “always learning but never coming to a knowledge of the truth.” We want to be rooted, and grounded, and established. We want to be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord (1 Cor 15:58). We want to stand firm.
And during that series several months ago, we saw that that is precisely what Paul calls us to. In Philippians 4:1, Paul exhorts the Philippians: “Therefore, my beloved brethren whom I long to see, my joy and crown, in this way stand firm in the Lord, my beloved.” “In this way, stand firm.” And so what followed that exhortation were the ways in which we can pursue spiritual stability—how we can become a steadfast church.
In verses 2 and 3, Paul dealt with the disagreement between Euodia and Syntyche by exhorting them to be of the same mind in the Lord. And so we learned that disunity is a grave threat to the stability and steadfastness of any church, and that if we are going to be the sort of people who are rooted and established in Christ Jesus we must be diligently devoted to preserving unity in the body of Christ. In verse 4 Paul instructs to rejoice in the Lord always—to relentlessly pursue our joy in Christ, because joy is the key to unity. James tells us that the source of quarrels and conflicts among us is our pleasures that wage war in our members (Jas 4:1). So if we seek all our pleasure and all our joy in the Lord, we will be satisfied by him, and will be free to give preference to one another in honor.
In verse 5, Paul calls us to be marked by an eminent and demonstrable gentleness of spirit. We learned that rejoicing in the Lord will so satisfy our souls that our joy will overflow into a manifest gentleness in the way we deal with others. And in verse 6, we learned that no one can be spiritually stable who constantly anxious and worried about his circumstances. Experiencing the peace of God is essential to spiritual stability. And the key to experiencing the peace of God is battling all forms of anxiety by means of thankful prayer. When the people of God devote themselves to unity by pursuing their joy in Christ and thus being free to deal gently with one another, and will put anxiety to death by thankful prayer, you will have a steadfast church.
That’s what learned back in February. But even back then I felt like I left that series a little open-ended, because that paragraph on spiritual stability doesn’t end in verse 7. And so I thought I’d take our time together tonight to finish Paul’s thoughts on the steadfast church. Among all that we’ve spoken about on this topic, there are two overarching, sort of all-encompassing categories of spiritual instability that threaten the church in every age. They run rampant through the church today, and are in large measure a cause for the unhealthiness of the church.
The first is what you’d call anti-intellectualism—an intellectual laziness—an aversion to deep and focused thinking. In keeping with our culture of instant gratification, many professing Christians are marked by a spirit that desires every spiritual lesson you try to teach them to be microwaveable. Teaching from the Word of God has to be served up, ready-made, in easily digestible portions. The moment you require them to quiet themselves, to gird up the loins of their minds, and to examine and evaluate and reflect upon what a given text might be saying—to closely follow a precise line of argumentation, or to think through how one portion of Scriptural teaching harmonizes with another portion—they check out.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had even dear friends of mine, in their desire to steer clear of the deep end of the theological pool, say to me, “Mike, I’m just a simple guy. I’m not all that smart, definitely not an academic type. Those kinds of deep theological discussions just aren’t for me.” And I’d say, “But these are the truths of God, the way you get to know more of Him!” And they’d say, “Look, Jesus’ disciples didn’t have PhDs! They were fishermen! Just regular blue-collar guys.” And so they confuse biblical simplicity with being simplistic. They imagine that if every thought in the Christian life is not immediately accessible to someone of below-average intelligence with very little mental strain on their part, then that thought must be corrupted by human reason and inherently unbiblical.
On the other end of the spectrum, there is an equal and opposite error that characterizes many Christians. These are the people who love to have the conversations I was just speaking about. They’re the intellectuals—the good students. They love devoting their mind to the study of exalted themes—to Scripture and theology. That kind of thing excites them. They could tell you all about the historical context of Obadiah at the drop of a hat. They could wax eloquent about the fine points of distinction between supralapsarianism and infralapsarianism. They may even have a great interest in apologetics, in defending the faith against attacks from unbelievers.
And yet, despite their commitment to giving their minds to the study and consideration of the loftiest of themes, these intellectuals seem to have especial trouble in making progress in sanctification. They’ve become great theoreticians, and yet they don’t seem to have the self-discipline to translate all that knowledge into godly practice. It’s as if they’re content with the theory only—as if the Christian life consists merely in thinking the right thoughts about things or having the right theology. But they don’t seem to realize that the whole purpose of theology—the whole purpose of disciplined study, the whole purpose of thinking deeply—is so that they might put into practice what they learn, that their lives might be shaped and driven by the Word of God.
Both of these errors—both intellectual laziness, and practical laziness—are deadly threats to the true, biblical steadfastness and spiritual stability that Paul calls us to in Philippians chapter 4. Why? Well first, all these means of steadfastness—unity, joy, gentleness, and peace—requires that we think, and meditate, and reflect upon the truth of God, and discern how we might best go about putting those virtues into practice. So for example, if Paul means to fuel our gentleness by telling us, “the Lord is near,” surely he wants us to think, and meditate, and reflect upon the certainty of the Lord’s coming, and the implications of His return has in the believer’s life; and how those implications bear on our being gentle with others.
And secondly, every one of those means of stability also requires that we take them out of the realm of theory and ideas and discipline ourselves to actually put them into practice. It does no good to settle it in your mind that there must be unity in the body of Christ, and yet never actually go to your brother or sister to restore unity. You can have a perfectly biblical understanding of the sinfulness of anxiety and the necessity of battling it by thankful prayer, and yet without the self-discipline to put those principles for unity into practice, you can never hope to experience the peace of God by which you will become spiritually stable.
The abandonment of godly thinking and the abandonment of godly practice are absolutely toxic to true, biblical steadfastness. Neither of these errors characterizes the spiritually stable man or woman of God. The spiritually stable Christian is the one who gives himself to the rigors of deep and discplined thought, and who gives himself to the diligent application and practice of the truth he claims to know.
And so in our text this evening, Paul deals a death blow—a crippling one-two punch—to these twin errors. Read the text with me. Philippians 4, verses 8 and 9: “Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things. The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.”
Paul seeks to equip us to battle the twin errors of intellectual laziness and practical laziness by means of a twofold summons. In verse 8 he issues a summons to godly thinking, and in verse 9 he issues a summons to godly practice. And so in our time together this evening, we’re going to examine these two overarching, summarizing directives so that we might truly be a steadfast church.
I. A Summons to Godly Thinking (v. 8)
In the first place, then, let us consider this summons to godly thinking. Read verse 8 with me again. Paul writes, “Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.”
Now the key word in that sentence is the command that comes just at the end, and I want to consider that first. Paul commands us to dwell on these things. And this word that the NAS translates “dwell on,” is the Greek word logizomai, from which we get the word logic and logical. And so its basic meaning is “to think.” But the NAS has done a good job in translating it “dwell on,” because it’s not the word that you would expect Paul to use for just regular thinking. This is a word that calls for reflection, for intentional consideration, for pondering, for taking into account, and for letting one’s mind dwell on something. The Apostle Paul uses this word in Romans chapter 6 verse 11, when he exhorts the child of God, “Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus.” “Think of yourself this way; meditate on these truths of the Gospel such that you can come to regard yourself as dead to sin and alive to God in Christ.” This is a patient deliberation and evaluation that allows one sufficient time and seriousness to come to grips with a certain reality.
And note, this kind of reflective, considerate, ponderous, meditative thinking is commanded of every believer. “Dwell on these things.” Just as much as we are commanded not to steal, or to lie, or to murder, or to commit adultery, so are Christians commanded to think. And not only is it an imperative, it is a present imperative, which means it is a duty we are to carry out continuously and at all times. We are not commanded to sober reflection on the truth only some of the time. No, this is to be the constant pattern of our lives. Becoming a spiritually stable Christian—developing a steadfast and godly character—requires a lifetime of discerning and disciplined thought.
And this centrality of the mind is a theme that is replete throughout the Scriptures. Matthew 22:37: Jesus says the greatest commandment in the Law is: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” In Romans 12:2, Paul teaches that our transformation into Christlikeness happens by the renewing of our mind. In Colossians 3, Paul says, “If you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is. . . . Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth.” The Proverbs teach that what you think is reflective of who you are. Proverbs 23 verse 7: “For as [a man] thinks within himself, so he is.” And in contrast to those who think that every legitimate spiritual truth should be immediately obvious and accessible with little concentrated thought, Paul writes in 2 Timothy 2:7: “Consider what I say,” or the ESV: “Think over what I say,” or the NIV: “Reflect on what I say,” “for the Lord will give you understanding in everything.” By what means will the Lord give you understanding in everything? When you consider, think over, reflect on the Scripture that Paul is writing to us.
And so Pastor John comments on this verse, “Careful thinking is the distinctive mark of the Christian faith” (286). That’s quite a statement, but it’s faithful to the teaching of this text. Martyn Lloyd-Jones comments on Jesus’ instruction not to worry in the Sermon on the Mount, where He says, “Look at the birds, they don’t sow, reap, or gather, and God takes care of them. Lloyd-Jones says, “Christian faith is essentially thinking. Look at the birds, think about them, and draw your deductions. Look at the grass, look at the lilies of the field, consider them” (cited in MacArthur, 288). Spiritual stability is a result of how a person thinks.
The wisdom of the world conceives of faith as an irrational leap in the dark—something that takes over in spite of all manner of sound reason; or a content-less, mystical encounter with the spiritual realm achieved by emptying your mind. Or they conceive it as just positive thinking, as if your thoughts and beliefs had effectual and creative power to them. But cutting across the grain of all of that, Scripture says (a) the Christian life is dominated by filling the mind with God’s revelation as He’s given it to us in the Bible, (b) that understanding comes by considering and reflecting on what Scripture says, and, here in our text in Philippians 4, (c) that you will not grow in grace—you will not be spiritually stable—unless you are deliberately cultivating a habit of meditating on and thinking deeply about the truths of God’s Word.
Now, we’ve clearly seen the central importance that thinking and the mind have in the Christian life. But this text doesn’t only highlight the necessity of thinking; it also directs us as to the content of our thoughts—what we are to think about. It does no good to be persuaded that you must exercise your mind in the Christian life if you set your mind on the wrong things. And so Paul says in Romans 8:6 that the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace (Rom 8:6). And in verse 8, Paul gives us six specific virtues upon which we are to fix our minds—and then two virtues stated more generally so as to make his comprehensive intent plain. And we’ll briefly examine each of these virtues in their turn.
First, Paul says we are to dwell on whatever is true. The things that are true are those things which correspond to reality. The things that are true stand in direct contrast to all that is false and all that is fantasy. As Christians, as followers of Jesus who said of Himself, “I am the truth,” (John 14:6; cf. Eph 4:21), as children of the living God whom Scripture calls “the God of truth” (Ps 31:5; Isa 65:16; cf. Rom 3:4), we are not to give our minds to that which is false. We are not to expose our minds for extended periods of time on falsehood and fantasy. We are not to give ourselves to unnecessary speculation, always ruminating over what might be or worrying about what might happen. We are to be preoccupied with the truth, with reality. And of course God is the ultimate arbiter of what reality is, and He has set truth and reality before us in His precious Word. Jesus Himself said, “Father, Your word is truth” (John 17:17). David says in Psalm 119:151, “All Your commandments are truth.”
And so to dwell upon whatever is true means to give ourselves over to reflection, to meditation, to ruminating upon Scripture. It is as we read, and analyze, and think about, and consider what is said (cf. 2 Tim 2:7), that we will obey this command to fix our minds upon whatever is true. And then, as we grow accustomed to this Word—as it makes its home within us—we internalize that standard of truth, and become able to discern those things in the world which are true and which are false, which are reliable and which are unreliable, which are in accord with God’s own mind and which are not.
Secondly, we are to dwell upon whatever is honorable. This word refers to that which is noble, that which is lofty and dignified and majestic and august—those things which are worthy of respect and reverence. It’s the opposite of whatever is frivolous and mundane. The word is used frequently throughout the Pastoral Epistles to describe the conduct of men and women of dignity. In Titus 2:7 and 8, he instructs Titus, “in all things show yourself to be an example of good deeds, with purity in doctrine, dignified, sound in speech which is beyond reproach.” In 1 Timothy 3:4, elders of the church are required to keep their children under control with all dignity. In verse 8, we’re told that “Deacons likewise must be men of dignity…” And that’s repeated for the deaconesses as well in verse 11: “Women must likewise be dignified, not malicious gossips, but temperate, faithful in all things.”
And so there’s this common thread of dignity, of nobility, of gravity—and that’s how the older translations rendered that word: gravity. We are not to be frivolous and flippant, dominated by a perpetual levity such that everything is a joke and we cannot be serious. The Puritan Thomas Manton said, “A garish levity will not become them that live in constant communion with God” (18:97). You see, there is to be something about us Christians, even in our demeanor, that makes it plain to the world that we live in constant contact and communion with the God of Heaven Himself. And I’m not saying that we have to be overly solemn and morose and gloomy. No, we are to rejoice in the Lord always! Go back and listen to my message on verse 4 if you think I’m advocating that. But the point is that we ought not to be characterized by flippancy, levity, and impishness.
And that means we must turn our thoughts to lofty, elevated, transcendent themes. We are not to fill our minds with trivialities and frivolities, but with things that worthy of awe and adoration—as one writer said, “things that lift the mind from the cheap and tawdry to that which is noble and good and of moral worth” (Martin & Hawthorne, 251). You hear Pastor John say this all the time in the worship service—usually after the instrumental or the offertory—that we purposefully employ the kind of worship music that is transcendent and elevated, that lifts you up, that isn’t ugly and coarse and “garish,” as Manton said.
Thirdly, we are to set our minds upon whatever is right. And this is the same word that refers to God’s righteousness—that is, whatever conforms to the standard that is set by God’s own holy character and nature as it is revealed in Scripture. God Himself is righteous, and so our minds are to be given to thinking over and meditating upon Him and His attributes—His perfections, as the old writers used to call them. And not only is He righteous but all that He does is righteous. And so like the people of God throughout the ages we are to call to mind the righteous acts of the Lord and worship Him for all He does.
“Whatever is right” speaks of justice—balanced scales. Think of it this way: on one side of the scale you have the purity and holiness that are essential to God’s own nature; and on the other side of the scale you have your mind, and the things that you allow to occupy your mind. Paul is saying that what goes into our mind must balance the scale—must be in proportion to God’s own righteousness (cf. Lawson). And if the scale is off-balanced, we need to change our thinking.
It also means that we do not fix our minds and muse upon ways to beat the system, to cheat others, and to cut corners to get ahead. We are not to be schemers, Proverbs 6:18; one of the six things the Lord hates is “a heart that devises wicked plans.” So rather than devising wicked plans, we ought to devise holy plans. We are to think upon situations of conversation and interaction with other believers, and give thought to how we might bring grace and edification with our words in that situation—how we might encourage others by being considerate. Those things require forethought and consideration. So far from devising wicked plans, we are to let our minds be preoccupied with how we can be upright, just, fair, and see to it that no one within our sphere of influence is defrauded or taken advantage of. That’s what it means to think on whatever is right.
Fourth, we are to dwell upon whatever is pure. Purity, of course, speaks of holiness, of integrity—those things which are not tainted in some way by evil (Fee, 418). Paul uses this word to describe a pure virgin in 2 Corinthians 11:2. It’s translated “chaste” in 1 Peter 3:2, as Peter instructs wives of disobedient husbands to be submissive to them such that they might win them without a word spoken, he says, “as they observe your chaste and respectful behavior.” And so this speaks of moral purity, of uprightness, and even of innocence, free from guilt and blemish (cf. 2 Cor 7:11).
And surely this has strong implications for those things we choose for our entertainment—the things we occupy ourselves with for recreation. The command to dwell on whatever is pure has implications for our choice of leisure reading material. It has implications for our TV-watching. It has implications for our choice of movies. It has implications for our Internet-surfing. And I’m sure that the Philippians would have loved for Paul to give them an exhaustive list here! “This theater is acceptable, but don’t go to that play. You can attend that gathering, but this one is off limits.” But Paul doesn’t tread on the ground of cultural legalism here. In the wisdom of God, he gives us principles that we are to meditate upon and internalize, and then within those boundaries we are to apply those principles according to our conscience. We are to dwell upon whatever is pure!
And so if you deliberately put yourself in the way of books, and magazines, and TV shows, and movies, and websites that are going to expose your minds to sexual impurity, to foul language, and to sinful patterns of life, you are in disobedience to this command. We are to fix our eyes and our minds on what is pure. When we’re tempted to dwell upon those things which are impure, we must, as the song says, turn our eyes upon Jesus, look full in His wonderful face, and pray with all our might that the things of the world will grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace! 1 John 3:2 calls us: Beloved, we are children of God! And we know that when He [that is, Jesus] appears we will be like Him, because we will see Him has He is! And everyone, verse 3, who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure!
Well, quickly onto number 5. Fifth, we are to dwell upon whatever is lovely. This refers to those things which call forth and inspire love, that which is pleasing, and agreeable, and amiable, and lovely (O’Brien, 505). One commentator says these things “give pleasure to all and cause distaste to none, like a welcome fragrance” (Bruce, 121). That’s a lovely illustration: a welcome fragrance. Something that makes you just want to stop and take a deep breath, and it’s refreshing and pleasant.
The contrast would be an offensive odor. Like walking by an open sewer gate on the street and smelling that raw sewage. Like we said about those things which are honorable and dignified, we are to give our minds to winsome and delightful things—elevated and lovely things, not that which is raw, and crude, and ugly, and distasteful.
F. Of Good Repute
And then, sixth, we are to dwell upon whatever is of good repute—whatever has a good reputation, whatever is spoken well of by those whose minds are upright. And because that’s fairly straightforward, I’m going to move on for the sake of time.
And then finally, Paul reaches the crescendo with these final two, all-encompassing, catch-all terms: “If there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.” “If I have left anything out in my list of virtues with which you are to occupy your mind, if there is anything in the world that comes under the heading of moral excellence, and if there is anything that is worthy of praise before God and godly men, dear people, think on these things! Be occupied with these things! Give your mind and your attention and your energy to these things!”
Yes, we are to examine ourselves before God, and ask Him to search us and try us and see if there be any hurtful way in us. We are to mourn over our sin in repentance. But we are not to be so morbidly introspective—so constantly focused on our own failures that we become anxious, depressed, and despondent. For those of you who struggle with that, Paul calls you to look outside of yourselves and away from yourselves to the loveliness and virtue of Christ, and to trust in Him who accomplished righteousness in your place!
Neither are we to be inordinately preoccupied with the evils in the world, always speculating on whether the political climate is ripe for the arrival of the Antichrist. Nor are we to be so severe with the weakness of the visible church or the failures of other professing Christians to make progress in grace, that all we do is criticize and complain. Brothers and sisters: if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things!
II. A Summons to Godly Practice (v. 9)
And so we have been summoned to godly thinking. But now we come to verse 9, where Paul issues his summons to godly practice. Look at the text: “. . . if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things. The things,” or, more literally translated, “which things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.”
Now, the first thing to notice here is the inseparable connection between verses 8 and 9. Paul gives his list of whatever is true, honorable, right— and then he says, “Dwell on these things, which things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things.” In other words, “The very things I am telling you to set your minds upon are the things that you have learned and received from me, and have heard and seen in me. And now, in addition to thinking on those things, I am now also calling you to practice those things.”
A. Godly Thinking is the Root of Godly Practice
So we learn here that thinking is not only necessary for the Christian life in some general sense. Rather, thinking is the absolutely necessary foundation for Christian living. That’s why Paul puts these exhortations in the order that he does. First, we are to fix our minds upon whatever is true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, and of good repute. We are to consider those things, to meditate on them, to devote all our attention to them and even to devise ways of bringing them about in our lives. And then, having filled our minds with those things, we are to bring them into our daily practice.
You see, right behavior doesn’t just spring up out of nowhere. Right behavior comes from right thinking. The wholesome fruit of godly practice comes from the properly kept and cultivated soil of godly thinking. Your actions will not be right unless your mind is right. This is why the psalmist prayed, “Give me understanding, that I may observe Your law And keep it with all my heart” (Psalm 119:34). Why wouldn’t he simply pray, “Lord, grant that I would keep Your law with all my heart”? Because he knew that if he was going to bear fruit in obedience, first his mind, his understanding, had to be affected.
And so godly thinking is the absolutely essential foundation for godly living. The person who aims to bring forth the good fruit of godly practice without being firmly rooted in the soil of sound theology is like the seed that fell among the rocky soil. The plant springs up quickly and makes a good show of things on the outside, but as time passes it withers away. Why? Because it has no root. The Bible teaches us that fruit of God-glorifying deeds come directly from the root of God-glorifying creeds.
B. Godly Practice is the Necessary Fruit of Godly Thinking
And so that answers the first error that we spoke about at the beginning—that intellectual laziness that refuses to engage in any serious thought and is only worried about what things look like on the outside. But this text also addresses that second error—that practical laziness that is content with theory only, where you fail to put the theology you know into practice. In fact, theology not practiced is theology aborted. The whole purpose of disciplined study of the Scriptures and deep theological thought is to have the truth mold your affections and convictions, to have your affections inform your will, and to have your will spur you on to love and good deeds. That is the teaching of this text. Just as surely as Paul commanded us to think, Paul also commands us, verse 9: “Practice these things.”
I love the comments Martyn Lloyd-Jones makes on this point. He writes, “You see the perfection of the Apostle’s method? In verse 8 he has dealt with the realm of thought. Ah, but the Apostle knows the subtle danger that is always confronting us, the danger of being content with theoretical knowledge, the danger of being satisfied with doctrine only, the danger of failing to put into practice that which we know. … . You can be a great student even of the Bible and live a life that is utterly contrary to it. … It is the masterpiece of Satan to make us put theory and practice into separate watertight compartments, to make men so interested in the Book that they forget to apply its teaching. What you have seen, says Paul, practice!” (Life of Peace, 194, 196).
And those comments are everywhere confirmed by Scripture. James writes, in chapter 1 verse 22 of his epistle: “But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer,” he’s like a man who looks at his face in the mirror, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. “But one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man will be blessed in what he does.”
The Lord Jesus, in John chapter 13, Jesus models the life of sacrificial service that His followers are to render to one another as He, the Master, washes the feet of His slaves. He tells them that He’s done so to leave them an example. And in verse 17 He says, “If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.” What’s the implication? If you know these things and don’t do them, you are not blessed. The Puritan Thomas Brooks, in his excellent treatise, Precious Remedies against Satan’s Devices, comments on this verse: “Know that it is not the knowing [man], nor the talking [man], nor the reading man—but the doing man, that at last will be found the happiest man.”
And finally, turn to Matthew chapter 7. These are the final words of the Sermon on the Mount. After all Jesus has said in that magnificent sermon about the nature of His Kingdom and the character of the subjects of that Kingdom, this is what He wants left ringing in the ears of His hearers. Matthew 7 verse 24: “Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them, may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and yet it did not fall, for it had been founded on the rock. Everyone who hears these words of Mine and does not act on them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and it fell—and great was its fall.” If you want to build on solid rock, and not on the sinking sand, you must think on these things, but you also must practice these things.
C. The Means of Godly Practice
You say, “OK, Mike. You’ve convinced me. I need to put my theology into practice. But how do I do that? How do I go about bringing forth the good fruit of godly practice in my life?” Our text answers that question as well. Look with me again at verse 9: “The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things.”
And I see two categories of thought there. The first means of implementing godly practice is to appropriate godly instruction. Paul speaks of the things the Philippians “learned and received” from him. This refers to the teaching and instruction Paul imparted to them while he was with them. Their learning of it emphasizes more Paul’s initial instruction to them, and their receiving it emphasizes more that the instruction had taken root in their hearts, but both are referring to the same reality.
In 1 Thessalonians 2:13, Paul speaks of the Thessalonians receiving the Word of God not as if it were the word of men, but as it really was: as the Word of God. But the Word that Paul preached and they received wasn’t just the doctrine of the Gospel—as precious as those truths are. He also instructed them in Christian living. 1 Thessalonians 4:1 says they “received from [Paul] instruction as to how you ought to walk and please God.” Paul instructed them both in Christian doctrine and in Christian living. And now he calls the Philippians to appropriate that instruction. So, you bring forth the good fruit of godly practice in your daily life when you appropriate the godly instruction that you’ve learned and received from those who labor over you in the Lord.
Secondly, you’re going to emulate godly examples. Paul says that the Philippians hadn’t just learned and received instruction from him. They’ve also observed these things practiced in his own life, and can follow his godly example. The things they heard refer to the reports that they would hear about him from, say, Timothy or Epaphroditus, who would bring back news of Paul. “How is Paul? Is he discouraged?” “Praise God, no! He’s rejoicing, and he’s courageous, and he’s steadfast in the faith. He’s enduring his imprisonment and he’s facing his trial before Nero. But he’s fastened his mind upon truth, and on those things that are right and honorable and lovely, and he is practicing these things as well,” and they would have heard that and have been strengthened to follow his example.
And the things they saw in him refer to that pattern of life that they observed with their own eyes when he was with them—seeing that he not only talked the talk but walked the walk! They were able to observe that Paul lived and ministered in integrity, because the very things that he preached were the things that he practiced. And so he could say—not with haughtiness, but with sincerity—“Follow me as I follow Christ.”
And the brief word of application I have for you at this point is to grasp how vitally important discipleship is in the Christian life. This godly teaching that you are to appropriate and this godly example that you are to emulate—this doesn’t come from sitting on your couch in your pajamas watching the live stream of the service! And listen, it doesn’t even primarily come from coming to church, and attending your fellowship group, and listening to sermons. Oh, it comes from that; it is not less than that. But it is more than that! The godly practice that brings about spiritual stability requires entering into and cultivating relationships with other believers who are sound in the faith, and in some cases who are more mature in the faith than you are, and committing yourselves to living life together, navigating life’s trials alongside one another. There needs to be a person like the Apostle Paul in your life to whom you look for specific and practical instruction—both in Christian doctrine and in the daily, everyday aspects of Christian living—footsteps that you can walk in the pattern of—so that you can put into practice the things which you’re taught.
Conclusion: The Reward for Godly Thinking and Practice
Now, just one more thing. If you do this—if you give yourself to the discipline of sound, biblical, godly thinking, and if you commit yourself to putting that theory into practice by appropriating godly instruction and by emulating godly examples—Paul has a promise of reward for you at the end of verse 9. He says, so think, and so practice, and the consequence will be that “the God of peace will be with you.”
What a glorious promise! To the extent that we fix our minds upon all that is excellent and praiseworthy, and to the extent that we practice the truth that we have learned, we will enjoy the presence of the God of peace Himself! We will enjoy deeper dimensions of intimacy and communion with Him than we ever thought possible while we were giving our minds to lesser things—when we were failing to bring into practice what we knew. We will enjoy the sweet fellowship of God Himself with an uncondemned conscience—the likes of which careless walkers in the Christian life will never know (cf. Martin).
And that presence of God will bring the peace it brought to Moses, who, when he said, “Who am I, that I should to go Pharaoh and command him, the ruler of this entire empire, to let the Israelites go?” God responded, “Certainly I will be with you…” (Exod 3:11–12). It will bring the peace it brought to Joshua, who, as he was leading the second generation of Israelites out from the wilderness and into the land of Canaan to conquer it, was promised, “Just as I have been with Moses, I will be with you; I will not fail you or forsake you” (Josh 1:5). It will bring the peace it brought to David who wrote those beautiful words, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for You are with me” (Ps 23:4).
Oh friends, is that promise—that the God of peace Himself shall be with you—is that not sufficient to elicit from you the most diligent and devoted self-discipline, both of your mind and of your life? If it’s not—if you don’t treasure the fellowship with that God of peace—you have to come to grips with the reality that you may very well still be dead in your trespasses and sins. If your affections are numb to the thrill of communion with the God of peace, friend you need new spiritual affections—you need to be born again. And so I would urge you to look upon Christ—who is the epitome of all that is true and honorable and right and pure and lovely and excellent and praiseworthy—and turn from the broken cisterns that can hold no water, and come to the Fountain of Living Water. Repent of treasuring lesser things, and ask him to open your eyes to behold His beauty, and to save you.
And if you answer yes to that question—“Yes, that promise of God’s fellowship is sufficient to me. I want more than anything that the God of peace should be with me,” I point you to Christ just the same. Pursue Him, in whom all these virtues are summed up.
I want to close with the words of the Scottish expositor, Alexander MacLaren. He writes: “All these things, true, venerable, just, pure, lovely, and of good report, are not things only; they are embodied in a Person. For whatever things are fair meet in Jesus Christ, and He, in His living self, is the sum of all virtue and of all praise. So that if we link ourselves to Him by faith and love, and take Him into our hearts and minds, and abide in Him, we have them all gathered together into that One. Thinking on these things is not merely a meditating upon abstractions, but it is clutching and living in and with and by the living, loving Lord and Saviour of us all. If Christ is in my thoughts, all good things are there.”
May we cling to Him.
 These headings are adapted from the titles of two separate sermons by Albert N. Martin.