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December 20th, 2019

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. (Philippians 4:8 ESV)

I could be wrong here, but personally I see Paul becoming more personal in this verse. This is certainly evidenced in the next verse where Paul takes a very personal stand and says, “Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me, put into practice. And the God of peace will be with you,” and that fact influences my interpretation. But understanding this verse as personal is based also on the verse itself. He has left the particular and concrete issues that verses 4-7 were related to and has now launched into a more philosophical point of view. Rather than speaking about worrying and thanking God, in verse 8 he addresses transcendent values: truth, honor, rightness, purity, beauty, etc.

Quite often in Scripture we see such things, where the inspired author is addressing how to handle certain circumstances. And then he turns more introspective and moves from particular earthly circumstances into the eternal values of God. This is the pattern of John 14-17, where Christ begins by addressing the fear of death (14:1-3) and ends with the glorious statements of the eternal love of God (17:24-26) – moving from specific earthly concerns to the eternal values of God. In fact, this is Paul’s repeated pattern of Philippians, moving from dealing in practical but spiritual ways with earthly circumstances that troubled the church to emphasizing the eternal truths of God. And he states clearly that this is his goal:

And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to test and prove what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God. (Phil. 1:9-11)

So I see Paul sharing from his heart here, saying basically, “This is how I get through this kind of behavior among Christians.” In the preceding verses he spoke directly to us when we are involved in issues of life and service for Christ. Here he seems to have taken a deep breath, perhaps with a bit of a sigh, because he knows that conflicts among people, even among Christian servants, will be ongoing as long as we are on this earth. And draws back from the conflict itself, from the drama associated with it, from the petty gravitational pull that each side has as they each see to win people to their sides, and speaks of eternal values.

The Holy Spirit knows that conflict can never be entirely resolved and personal peace can never be possessed by merely being wise in dealing with people. We need to be focused on the eternal qualities of God to avoid being personally sucked into the spinning vortex of these petty conflicts in churches. The people who are like Euodia and Syntyche inevitably seek to build their supporters, and are divisive in nature. They live by the credo that either you are with me or against me, and no matter how fair one might try to be, it is very often simply impossible to get anywhere close to such conflicts without getting a little bit of dirt on you – at least in the minds of some.

If you and I cannot avoid getting slandered by some, and I really don’t believe we can avoid this, then we need to be focused on the eternal truths of God for our own personal peace. We need to avoid seeking our sense of peace and of self worth from the kind words that others say about us. The good reputation that we spend a life time of building up can be lost in a few minutes at the loose tongue of an immature and bitter brother or sister in Christ. So we should not worry too much about it, because we cannot control it. We may deal wisely with everything and every circumstance but still be blamed at someone’s whim for something we never thought about – either not doing enough or meddling into an affair we should have left alone.

But there is a way to have God protect our hearts with His presence, and that is to set our minds on God and on those eternal things that are above. I believe there is a difference, even though it might be only slight, between the peace of God (Verse 7) and the God of peace (Verse 9). The first is an attribute of God and the second is God Himself. We may have the peace of God from knowing that we handled circumstances wisely, but even handling circumstances wisely does not mean that we will come out unscathed. Look what happened to Stephen the deacon.

Having the God of peace in our hearts and lives speaks of a more profound experience. In verses 4-7 Paul has guided us through how to handle the difficult issues of life, how to deal with the negative, how to have peace in the midst of the storms, but we need a deeper experience of God’s grace to go the distance. And if we do not grasp this truth here, then the Christian life can merely become living a mediocre spiritual existence while fending off the most negative of experiences. God, however, wants us to know His holiness and His greatness and it is that positive knowledge of the eternal truths of God that keep us going and give us a reason to live.

Trouble brings us down, but what lifts us up? “Hook your wagon to a star!” That old saying spoke of having great ambitions and to not be satisfied with paltry paybacks. Here we are looking at the ambitions God has for our hearts. Wherever we live on this earth, if we are not tied into the eternal values of God will be a mundane, ho-hum spiritual state.

Get to know the beauty of God! These traits describe His heart. The words are described as “pregnant” by some scholars, meaning that they contain more than just one singular idea each, and when placed side by side they grow ever greater in meaning. How can we describe God? It is impossible for He is beyond our greatest efforts and even beyond what the Spirit has inspired for our own edification.

  • Whatever is true: alethes is the Greek and it means literally “what cannot be hidden.” It speaks of the eternal facts of God’s heart and calls us to keep our thoughts on God’s eternal nature.
  • Whatever is honorable, right, honest, noble, or venerable: semnos in Greek and it means literally something weighty, serious, worthy of worship, an attribute of God that, when properly understood,  takes us to our knees in worship.
  • Whatever is just: dikaios, meaning what is righteous according to God’s eternal laws. Rechtbeschaffen in German, it means to do and think the right things of God.
  • Whatever is pure: hagnos meaning what is holy, undefiled, unsullied by the fallen world. This is a call to know God in His holiness, as Christ said: “Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God” (Matt. 5:8).
  • Whatever is lovely: prosphiles meaning pleasing, agreeable to the new redeemed nature of the Christian. Space and time do not allow much comment here, suffice it to say that beauty and symmetry are important to God, as the story of creation attests. The fallen world has taken this value and gone the wrong direction with it, but make no mistake about it, God is a God of beauty. The eternal life with God will be filled with beauty – moral and visual beauty.
  • Whatever is commendable: euphemos meaning “good report” or laudable. What do the angels speak of? What are those truths that are important to God? To be practical here, Do not fill your thoughts with insults and put downs on how to hurt others, rather fill your mind with the things that God will say to each in His love and grace. That does not necessarily mean that there is not a time to rebuke someone, but even then we are commanded to rebuke in patience. “Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching” (2 Tim. 4:2).
  • If there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise: “Excellence” is arete meaning moral goodness or virtue. “Worthy of praise” is epainos meaning commendable or worthy. The idea is to look for those things that are virtuous and praiseworthy. Jesus encouraged this value in the Parable of the Good Samaritan – that though most Samaritans had a very confused theology, they were capable of doing good deeds. Think on the good, and do not dwell on the evil.

Think about these things: Logizomai in Greek (logic) and this means that we can control our thoughts. The Spirit bears the fruit of self control in our lives and we can choose what to think about. If we want to live in peace and to know the God of peace, we must choose to put our minds on things above, on Him, on His eternal attributes, on beauty and truth and goodness.

Philippians

Transcending Peace

December 19th, 2019

And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:7 NIV)

Doubtless, this is one of the most precious promises of scripture – God’s transcending peace is available for us today.

Consider the Context

As we mentioned throughout this short series, these words were written to address a certain circumstance – two women in conflict with each other, two women who were active in ministry, two women who each saw their concerns as primary and the concerns of others as unimportant. This is a passage which goes from the specific to the general, that is, it addresses a particular problem but in doing so it establishes a spiritual principle for all believers of all times.

Having preached and having heard others preach on this passage often, I believe we have a tendency to focus on some thoughts here and miss others. For example, it is common to hear pastors emphasize the importance of praying, but neglect the importance of gratitude in prayer. But it is gratitude that acknowledges that behind every ministry initiative is the hand and voice of God, and in that sense, we should not be merely obsessed with those things that matter to us, but with those things that matter to God.

This was the apparent problem with the two women in the church at Philippi. They were both right in what issues they cared about, and they were both wrong in those issues that they saw as competing with theirs. The word merimnao, translated “worry,” which they were commanded not to do, had a specific relevance to that circumstance, for the word means to see one thing to the neglect of seeing other things. Christ taught us to pray “Our Father” and not just “My Father,” and God is a Father who cares for all His children, and has a multifaceted approach to ministry.

But the common short-cut method of interpreting this passage – “Pray and you get peace” – does not do justice to the entire passage. Gratitude opens up our minds to see that God is the Author of all our godly concerns. Not that we would say that every issue is as important as every other issue, for surely they are not, but we should be able to say what Peter said:

Each one should use whatever gift he has receive to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms. (1 Peter 4:10 NIV)

A Change of Heart Is Required

If there is one truth that we can say is repeatedly emphasized throughout the Word of God it is this: that to receive the peace and joy that God offers us in Christ Jesus. So when it speaks of rejoicing, of not worrying, of praying, and of being thankful, we should understand these as not mere activities, but as indicators of a change of heart. This change is engineered by the Spirit and includes repentance from sin, faith in Christ, and surrendering to His Lordship in all of life. Consider these verses:

Acts 3:19-20: Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord.

James 4:7-10: Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn, and weep. Turn your laughter to mourning, and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will exalt you.

Romans 6:12-14: Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its desires. Do not present the parts of your body to sin as instruments of wickedness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and present the parts of your body to Him as instruments of righteousness. For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace.

John 14:27: Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled; do not be afraid.

The last verse above, John 14:27, typifies these promises of inner peace and assurance that come through our faith. He said, “Do not let our hearts be troubled; do not be afraid,” and this is a description of turning from the world and its troubles, of deciding that inner peace does not depend on getting that promotion or raise or new car, but rather it depends on Christ. This requires a change of understanding and an act of faith and surrender to Christ.

The five commands of this passage all point to this change of heart, of repentance from sin. They are:

  1. Rejoice at all times in the Lord, believing in His ultimate victory over all that oppose Him.
  2. Let your gentleness or meekness be evident, be willing to let others have their ways and do not insist on your rights above them.
  3. Do not hold onto a limited perspective or being a one-issue type of person, rather let go your pet cause or personal concerns, and listen to others.
  4. Pray for the needs God puts on your heart, for the concerns you have.
  5. Pray with gratitude, realizing that God has been and will continue to be faithful to all of His promises. The work all belongs to Him.

We need to be careful in analyzing these five commands too closely because the emphasis is on a change of heart, and when our hearts change and become aligned with God’s then everything tends to wash together, and all we know is that we have been restored to God.

Peace that Transcends Understanding

The first thing we should recognize about this peace is that it is particularly God’s peace – we should consider the source and the nature of the peace. What we call peace that is generated by humans is mere distraction, or respite from conflict, a brief turning away until we feel better about ourselves, or utter boredom and nothing-ness. But God’s peace is the peace that the Creator alone possesses, and as such it is the peace that is not in a hurry. It is not a brief respite from the rushing temper of today’s society. Rather it is the peace that looks at life like a man looks at ants hurrying to bring a morsel of food into their home.

There may be a need, and often is, for us to pull away from the distractions and the busyness of this world so that we can think about God, but it is not the mere absence of this busyness that our hearts crave. We crave the true peace that God has, the peace that is never in a hurry because it has an entirely different perspective of everything. Someone once commented to me that the difference between a ferry and a cruise ship is that when you are on a cruise ship you are already where you want to be. The peace of God is like this only in a greater sense, that we realize His greatness and his majesty and we believe in His victory, so we truly rest in our hearts.

Secondly, this peace is not understood by mankind, and how can it, because it does not agree with the world’s way of thinking. This peace exists because God exists. The believer does not obsess about the past because it is all forgiven. The believer does not worry about the future, because it is all assured safe and secure in Christ. At some point in time, if the Lord delays His return, it shall be said of each of us that we were born and lived a certain number of years and then died. And then we shall be forgotten as the years roll on. Yet we can become so obsessed with these temporary things in life — this is the thinking of mankind — and the two ways of thinking do not agree.

The natural man thinks almost exclusively of those things he can hold in his hands, but it is like holding fine sand, and it all runs out in the end. And though he may wish to help his family and friends, this help is often no more than passing fine sand between one another. The Christian sets his feet on the Rock of Christ, and looks forward to each day because it is all part of eternity. We hold on to those things which will never be taken from us. We are focused on more than the mere sentiment of the day, and are thinking of God and of His love and of eternity with Him.

Thirdly, this peace transcends all knowledge. This word is huperecho, which means to rise above or to be superior. So this peace is superior peace to whatever other types of peace the world has. Alexander MacLaren described the problem of modern man this way:

Men have not peace, because in most of them everything is topmost that ought to be undermost, and everything undermost that ought to be uppermost… The more regal part of the man’s nature is suppressed, and trodden under foot; and the servile parts, which ought to be under firm restraint, and guided by a wise hand, are too often supreme, and wild work comes of that.

The peace that God gives to the one who believes and surrenders to Him is not just a different kind of peace but the one true peace that God created us to have – the superior peace or transcending peace of God.

The Peace that Guards

And this peace stands guard at our heart’s door and refuses to let the unrest of the world inside. It must guard against hopelessness, against impurity, against selfishness, against lust and pride, against all that oppose God. In biblical thinking, the heart is not merely the center of our emotions. It is also the center of our minds and our thoughts. The Hebrew specifically says such things as, “applying your heart to understanding” (Prov. 2:2), which to the modern English thinker seems counter-intuitive. When we say in modern English, “Follow your heart,” we almost never mean, “Do what makes sense.” We generally mean the opposite.

But biblically, the new man in Christ is a whole and integrated person. His feelings and his reason and intellect are not in conflict with one another. He loves instruction and he think about love and affections. The fruit of the Spirit in his life is a well-balanced spectrum of the mind of Christ: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control” (Gal. 5:22-23).

Do you have this peace?

If so, how is it guarding your heart?

If not, what must you do to have it?

Philippians