Today, we will be concluding our “Stress(ed) Out!” teaching, and I hope that you have gotten as much out of these teachings as I have. It could not have been timelier for me personally, as the Lord knows what we need and when we need it. Amen.
So, we started out talking about the spirit of stress—that is, what stress truly is and how it affects us. We then talked about how Jesus gave us His very own peace. Therefore, we do not have to let our hearts be troubled—for peace is in our boat. We then began breaking down Jesus’ words in Matthew 11:28-30 and saw that Jesus gave some solid, practical steps to entering His rest.
But last week, we moved over into Philippians chapter 4 and looked at the life of a man who had more opportunity to live in stress than any of us—the life of the apostle Paul. We saw how in Philippians 4:9 he said, “The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace will be with you.”
So, we saw that Paul was saying that everything that this body of believers learned from him by his teachings, received from Him by what he shared with them, heard in him by listening to the way he talked, and saw in him by observing how he lived his life—all of these avenues that Paul used to mentor them—if they would do these things, the God of peace would be with them. And, of course, the same is true for us too.
And we learned that when he said that the God of Peace will be with us when we do these things, this meant that the peace of God will be with us—for the fruit of having the God of peace manifested in our lives is having the peace of God manifested in our lives! In other words, when we live in the presence of the God of peace, we will live in the presence of the peace of God.
So, we learned that if Paul said that all we need to do to experience the peace of God in our lives is follow his example and his teachings, what is it that we need to follow? Paul said that the key to experiencing the manifest presence of the God of peace in our lives—which results in us walking in the peace of God—is “doing” the four things he listed in Philippians 4:9.
Now, the first thing we focused on were the two words “these do” because it is very easy for us to slip into the deception that because we are hearing the Word of God, that it will begin to automatically work in our lives. The Word most definitely works, but it only works for those who do it. So, we learned that we need to look at this from time to time and honestly evaluate ourselves by asking the following question: “Am I being a doer of the Word or just a hearer?”
But the main thing we focused on last week was how the apostle Paul himself walked in this peace. And I mentioned that we could attribute the level of peace that he experienced to two things—his passion and his perspective.
We saw that by his own testimony, Paul “labored more abundantly than” even all of the rest of the apostles (First Corinthians 15:10). And I mentioned how I have found that when we are truly seeking first the kingdom of God, this will automatically cause us to slip into that manifest peace that passes all understanding.
I also made the statement last week that our peace is found in our place! For example, some of the most peace I have personally ever experienced has been when I was on the mission field. When I am truly seeking first the kingdom of God and it is all about ministering to others, there is a great peace that is experienced. And so, I said that because Paul was a more earnest laborer, it yielded a peace in his life that was greater than most Christians have ever experienced.
Secondly, we looked at what caused this passion and zeal to seek first the kingdom of God was his perspective: You see, the apostle Paul was the professor of “Perspective 101!” Amen! This guy saw things through a different filter than even some of the other church leaders.
We saw this in his second letter to the church of Corinth, when he called these painful situations— “light afflictions” (see Second Corinthians 4:17)! The word he used for “light” here literally meant “non-burdensome” and was a reference to the weight of his trials. In fact, this is how Jesus described His burden (i.e. load) that is “light” (see Matthew 11:30). Therefore, Paul was saying that the afflictions that he suffered were not heavy, weighty, or burdensome at all. But aren’t these trials, tribulations and afflictions one of the primary causes of the stress that we experience in our lives? Sure, but Paul said that, when looked at from the correct perspective, they are actually light.
So then, the apostle Paul is a great example how one can live in the peace of God. But he not only exemplified how one can experience the peace of God by the way he lived his life, he also taught us, in a very practical way, how we can walk in peace, and I gave you some homework last week regarding his instructions. I asked you to read Philippians 4:4-9 several times this week because these verses are some of Paul’s most detailed instructions on how we can walk in peace.
THE ATTITUDE OF PEACE
So today, let’s begin to cover these verses, by backing up to verse 4 in this same chapter. Yes, we are going to look at the steps to walking in this peace: In this familiar verse, Paul tells us to “Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, Rejoice.”
Now I am not going to take the time to break this verse down today, but I begin here because we need to understand that joy & peace work together. Someone might say, “What does rejoicing have to do with living in peace and freedom from stress?” My answer to this question is—more than you might think.
You see, I think far too many people live too seriously, which leads to the stress they experience. What do I mean by that? I mean that they are far too intense and do not ever allow their heart and mind to rest.
I once heard a quote from C.S. Lewis that echoes what I am attempting to communicate to you today— “Joy is the serious business of heaven.” You see, when we get all grown up and all, we tend to think that we need to get serious about things, and that having fun and enjoying life like a child is a sign of immaturity. But I’m here to tell you, saints, that if you do not have a steady diet of joy and rejoicing in your life, you will have a hard time not getting wound up like a knot. Didn’t Jesus teach us that one cannot enter into the kingdom of heaven unless he change, becoming like a child? (see Matthew 18:3) We have to learn to relax, be free to be ourselves, and have a little fun in life. Why? Because it will help us to decompress and enter into rest a whole lot better.
Don’t the Scriptures teach us that a merry heart does good, like a medicine, but a broken spirit dries the bones. (Proverbs 17:22)? So, having a merry heart evidently has a medicinal effect on our bodies, all the way down to the bone. And I’m sure this positively affects the soul too. Amen!
So, learning to rejoice all the time is a major key to maintaining peace. And one of the reasons why is because a lot of times we lose our peace simply because we lose our focus. We stop being thankful for what we have and enjoying the life we do have and begin to become discontent because of what few things we lack.
You see, the apostle Paul tells us in Romans 1:21 that one of the main reasons that unbeliever’s hearts become hardened is because they do not “glorify Him as God, nor are thankful.” This begins that steady drift from the things of God. And this process is not just true for unbelievers, but it is true for Christians as well. When we stop praising, worshiping, and thanking God for all He is and for all He has done, our hearts, too, can become hardened. And a result of our hearts becoming hardened is, of course, a lack of peace in our hearts.
So, peace is an attitude—an attitude that is established in joy. Like we have learned when studying the fruit of the Spirit, joy precedes peace for a reason—and that is because joy will lead one into this peace and freedom from stress.
Which leads me to what the apostle Paul went on to say in verse 5, “Let your gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand.”
So, what does this have to do with walking in peace? I believe it means that we must make sure that we are living in such a way that we are representing the Lord properly.
You see, the word “gentleness” essentially describes someone who is the opposite of a religious person. They are gentle, gracious, and patient, unlike someone who is very legalistic and judgmental. Which ought to teach us something about walking in peace—for how many of you know that there are not too many religious people (in the negative sense of the word) that have peace in their hearts.
Yes, peace is found in living the Christian life the way Jesus intended us to—not being law-based, judgmental and legalistic people, but also not living loose and lascivious lifestyles either. Both of these are ditches that we must avoid to walk in the middle of the road where the pure peace is.
Church, there is such a contentment and peace that comes over us when we do our best to live right in front of the world. Our conscience will stay clear and we will stay full of peace as a result, because our heart will not be condemning us.
So, peace is an attitude—an attitude that begins in rejoicing and results in living a life free from both legalism and lasciviousness. It is behaving properly and enjoying life in the freedom that Christ has given us.
THE PEACE SURPASSING ALL UNDERSTANDING
Now in verse 6-7, Paul specifically began his exhortation on walking in peace by saying, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”
So, notice that Paul promises in verse 7, that if we do what he said in the sixth verse, we will experience the peace of God—a peace that surpasses all understanding.
Now what does that phrase mean? This means that this peace is a peace that transcends all comprehension. To put it in layman’s terms, it’s a peace that simply doesn’t make sense. When we have this supernatural peace in the midst of difficult circumstances, people will not be able to comprehend it. They will not be able to understand why we do not panic or get flustered when we receive bad news. But as I said earlier, not only will others not be able to understand it, we will be overwhelmed by it at times too!
I can remember one specific day when I was just overwhelmed by this peace of God: I had spent the early portion of the day praying and studying the Word and then, that evening as I was spending time with a group at church, I just had to stop and tell them the awesome peace that I was experiencing. It was incredible—like I cannot explain! That experience was so paramount that I knew I had gotten a glimpse of something more that is available to us!
My friends, I can personally testify that there is more to the Christian life than the peace we experienced at salvation. Sure, that peace was great, but there is the peace that is available through the abundant life that Jesus died to provide for us! How many of us could honestly say we are currently experiencing that much peace in our lives? Sad to say, there are not many who do.
But peace is a fruit of the Spirit and in order for it to be produced in our lives, our hearts must be cultivated properly to produce it. Wouldn’t it just be awesome to have this peace that surpasses all understanding working in our lives all the time? I’ll tell you—that is a recipe for a blessed life right there!
So, let’s apply these truths from Philippians chapter 4 to our lives—for God gives us a solid promise that when we do, His supernatural peace will guard our hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. That means that both our hearts and minds will be guarded from the barrage of worry, anxiety and fear that the enemy likes to throw at us. His fiery darts will not be able to affect us any longer when this peace that surpasses all understanding is standing at the gate, keeping us safe and secure. Thank You, Jesus!
But the fact is, verse 6 of Philippians chapter 4 is the specific instructions that Paul gave us to experience the promise made in verse 7. So, let’s break verse 6 down in order to learn how to walk in the promise of the peace that surpasses all understanding.
BE ANXIOUS FOR NOTHING BUT IN EVERYTHING
Notice that the first exhortation he gives in Philippians 4:6 is to “be anxious for nothing.” This is just an old English way of saying— “Don’t worry about anything.” But although in its purest definition this word “anxious” describes worry and anxiety, the Greek word literally means “to divide into parts.” Therefore, this word “anxious” describes having a preoccupation with other things that causes us to worry and be anxious.
You see, I consider the greatest robber of our peace to be the distractions of the world. We have to learn to guard our minds from the cares of everyday life. If we let the anxiety, worry, and cares of the world take the place of precedence in our minds, then it will be downright impossible for us to walk in God’s peace. Why is this? It is because where the mind goes, the man will follow. Another way of saying this is what we allow our minds to meditate on will determine the state of our feelings and emotions. That is why it is imperative that we do not become entangled in the affairs of this life, because if our focus is on this fluctuating world, the peace of God will rarely affect our hearts and minds.
However, by giving us this command to “be anxious for nothing,” Paul was basically telling us to decide to stop worrying. In essence, he was saying, “Do not ever allow anxiety or fear to remain in your thought life! Make the choice to live worry-free!” You see, before we do anything else, we need to understand that it is never acceptable for a child of God to worry. Therefore, we have to, first of all, make the decision that worry, anxiety and fear are not to have a place in our lives. Amen?
But how do we cope with these opportunities to fret and worry when they are presented? How do we effectively deal with these temptations when they are thrown at us? The apostle Paul gives us the answer to these questions in the rest of this verse …
Notice again that Paul says, “Be anxious for nothing, but…” This one little word “but” carries with it the idea of “on the other hand.” So, what Paul was essentially saying was— “This is what you do since you are not to worry.” And what does he go on to say we can do to keep from worrying? He says, “but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God.”
You see, the way we cope with the temptations to worry and fret is by, first of all, choosing not to meditate on the problems of life for any period of time. But we do that by immediately lifting those things up to the Lord in prayer. Paul tells us that in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. What this means is that we have to maintain a vibrant prayer life in order to quench worry and anxiety. When those temptations come, we should immediately cast all those cares over on the Lord because He cares for us (First Peter 5:7). It does not matter what the problem is, “in everything … let your requests be made known to God.” In other words, take those things that are trying to steal our peace to the Lord in prayer. Just ask and, as Jesus promised, you will receive. We know that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us, and if we know that He hears us, we know that we have the petitions that we have asked of Him (First John 5:15).
These words “in everything” also teach us something very important. They show us that this response to fear and anxiety is not something we are to occasionally practice; this is to be our lifestyle. These two words teach us that casting our cares over on the Lord must become a regular practice that is generated from a close walk with the Lord. If we only communicate with the Lord when we have big problems and do not include the Lord “in everything,” we will experience very little peace in our lives. Therefore, our constant communion with God is essential to walking in the supernatural peace of God.
Now I wish that this was all that is involved in keeping ourselves in the peace of God, but it isn’t. Why? It is because if all we do when there is a crisis in our life is just pray a little quick prayer and try not to worry, we will have far too much idle time for our mind to gravitate back towards the storms surrounding us. This is why the other part of this verse is so important where he interjected— “by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving…” These words are so important because they describe the manner, whereby we are to let our requests be made known to the Lord.
So, let’s look at these three words—prayer, supplication and thanksgiving—and find out the prayerful attitude we should have.
THE TRAIN, THE CARS, AND THE CABOOSE
Notice, first of all, that the first two words Paul used were “prayer and supplication.” Isn’t it interesting that Paul makes a distinction between “prayer” and “supplication”? The word “supplication” literally describes fervently asking God for things. So, what is prayer then? Some only view prayer as asking God for things, but that would basically make prayer no different than supplications, right? You see, while prayer can most certainly include our requests and petitions, evidently Paul thought there was a difference between what “prayer” is and what petitioning God is.
So, if prayer is not just made up of our requests and petitions, what is it? The Greek word used for “prayer” here literally means “coming face to face and making a vow or declaration.” The first part of this definition—coming face to face with God—denotes closeness and intimacy and describes having a close relationship with God. But notice that the second part of this definition for “prayer”—making a vow or declaration—describes a statement, not a request. You see, a “vow” denotes making a commitment or a promise to someone, and these statements of commitment (i.e. vows) generally come during our times of worship. Coincidentally, making a “declaration” is proclaiming a statement of truth, and these declarations of who God is and what He has done are statements of praise. Therefore, this second part of our literal definition of prayer shows us that prayer is simply our fellowship with God and our praise & worship of Him. Herein lies the difference between what prayer truly is and what man has considered it to be: Prayer, in its purest form, is simply our communication with God based on the relationship we have with Him. It is not just us petitioning Him for our needs to be met, but includes fellowshipping with Him through praise & worship.
So, what does our fellowship with God have to do with walking in the peace of God? It has everything to do with it! You see, we were created for relationship with God. It is the foundation of our very existence and purpose. Therefore, if we are not fulfilling our primary purpose, how are we going to experience all that God has provided for us to walk in? If we are not planted in the root of our salvation, how can we produce the fruit of our salvation? As we have previously mentioned, peace is a fruit of the Spirit. Therefore, peace is a product of our relationship with God which is to be developed through the person of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, our fellowship with the Holy Spirit through what the Bible calls “prayer” is going to greatly determine our peace level.
But does this mean that there is no place for bringing up our issues and needs to the Lord? Of course, it does not! While our fellowship with God and our praise & worship of Him are listed first in Paul’s response to anxiety for a reason, he then specifically made mention of supplications. Again, this word “supplication” literally describes our fervent petitioning of the Lord. No, not those long, drawn out times of petitioning the Lord where we tend to spend 90% of the time focusing on the problem and 10% on the solution; these “supplications” are referring simply to making our request in a spirit of faith.
Now this too is an important part of the equation if we want to walk in the peace of God. The reason for this is because we have to learn to look to the Lord for our help instead of just trying to figure out what we are going to do. And this is the value of making supplications to the Lord: It is us seeing the Lord as our solution and knowing that He is willing to both hear our requests and speedily meet them. And when our trust is in Him like this, we will take our problems to the Lord and leave them there, knowing He will handle it from there.
So, I would describe the “prayer” here as the train—for it is what drives everything in our prayer lives and it is what powers our peace. The “supplications” are simply just the cars that bring our needs to the Lord, but they are not to be what we begin our prayers with, nor are they to be what we end our prayers with either.
So how do we end our prayers? Let’s look at the last of these three words that the apostle Paul used to describe making our requests known to God—thanksgiving: With thanksgiving being mentioned last here in Philippians 4:6, this is why I like to call it, “the caboose of prayer.” Now this in no way indicates that giving God thanks is last in order of importance. The fact is, thanksgiving is an extremely important part of our prayers especially during these times of anxiety. So, let me explain to you why I believe it is mentioned last here.
You see, it is so vital that our prayers and supplications are prayed in faith—that is, with a confidence and persuasion that God has not only heard our prayers, but that He will answer them. So, if we truly believe that our prayers and supplications are being both heard and answered, then what do we have left to do? You got it! Our response should be— “Lord, thank You for hearing me! Thank You that the answer is on the way! Thank You that You love me so much and, therefore, will perfect that thing which has concerned me (see Psalm 138:8)! Thank You for all that You are, all that You do, and all that You’ve promised! Amen!” You see, thanksgiving should always follow our prayers and supplications because being thankful is the true response of faith.
But there is another very important part that being thankful plays in us experiencing the God of peace in our lives: You see, one major reason that we lose our peace is because of what I would call a “perverted perspective.” For example, it is so easy because of the nature of the flesh, to put our attention on the few things that are going wrong in our life instead of all the things that we have to be thankful for. Therefore, when we focus on the few things that we lack instead of all that God has blessed us with, it is only natural that we will be filled with turmoil and anxiety. But what if we a cultivate a lifestyle of thanksgiving—constantly thanking God for all of His blessings in our life—instead of letting our souls gravitate towards the things we lack? What if we started thanking God for everything that is going right in our lives instead of focusing on everything that is going wrong? I guarantee you that this change of perspective will greatly promote the peace of God in our lives because, the truth is, our peace level is oftentimes a result of our perspective.
So, do you see the role that prayer, supplication, and thanksgiving all play in us experiencing the God of peace and, therefore, the peace of God in our lives? Yes, having a vibrant prayer life is a vital key to maintaining peace. When we maintain a vibrant prayer life that consists of fellowship, praise, worship, thanksgiving, and casting our cares over on the Lord, then we will experience what verse 7 said— “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”
THINK ON THESE THINGS
Now, in conclusion, I want us to continue in Philippians chapter 4 and discuss another very
important ingredient to maintaining the peace of God in our lives. You see, we just saw the important role that prayer, supplication, and thanksgiving play in our walking in the peace of Christ, but our prayer life is not all that is important for experiencing the fruit of these two blessed virtues of joy and peace. Why? Because we have to remain offensive in this thing! We have a lot of other time in the day to allow our minds to wander. So, there is a very important truth found in Philippians 4:8 that I want us to end with today that teaches us how to aggressively pursue peace in our lives.
The apostle Paul said in Philippians 4:8— “Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy- meditate on these things.” What a powerful verse, Church! This very truth would absolutely transform our lives if we began to apply it.
Some of us have heard good teachings on the importance of the mind and learning to manage our thought life, but what I have found is that many of these teachings only deal with what we shouldn’t be thinking on. Yes, they only seem to stress the importance of not thinking on things that would lead us into sin, doubt, fear, etc. And while it certainly is important to not think on these negative things, I want you to notice a relatively simple yet profound truth found in Philippians 4:8: In this verse, the apostle Paul doesn’t tell us what not to think on; rather, he tells us things that we are to think on. In other words, he does not spend his time saying, “Alright guys, do not think on the following things…” No, he gives us a list of specific things that we should be thinking on. Why is this so important? The reason is because it is imperative that the Christian not just be defensive, but that we also be proactive and on the offensive in our thought lives.
So, what are some of these things we should be thinking on, you ask? The apostle Paul lists them in specific detail in this verse. So, let’s begin to look at these different things that Paul told us to fill our minds with in order to be “mind-full” of the truth with no room for those renegade thoughts to rent space in our minds.
In the beginning of Philippians 4:8, Paul said, “whatever things are true…” My friend, in order to live in joy and peace we must learn to think on things that are “true.” There are a lot of thoughts and imaginations that enter into people’s minds that they perceive to be true, but do not line up with God’s Word. Saints, God’s Word is truth (John 17:17). So, if what we are thinking on does not agree with what God has said in His Word, then it is not true. Period! It might seem right or even be considered a fact, but that does not make it true in the kingdom of God. No, what is true is the Word of God, and therefore, filling our minds up with God’s Word—meditating on His Word day and night—is part of what it means to think on things that are “true.”
What I believe so many of us struggle with, which causes us to lose our joy and peace, is thinking on things that are not even real. I have heard this spiritual epidemic called, having a “speculative imagination.” Let me give you an example of this: Say you are at work one day and one of your co-workers looks at you in a strange way. What so many of us tend to do is start speculating as to why they had that look on their face. Our minds will begin to formulate all kinds of ideas of what they might have been thinking. Mind you, this is pure speculation on our part. My point is this—our tendency is to take these situations personally, thinking everything everyone does is aimed at us somehow. And why is this? It is because most people are so self-centered. We think the whole world revolves around us. We usually do not think, “Maybe they are just having a bad day” or “Perhaps they had something else on their mind.” No, most people automatically assume the worst and take these things personally. But what if we were to just decide to think on what is true, and not on what we think is true? What if we would just lay aside all of our speculations of what others might be thinking about us and choose to think on what God truly thinks about us? I guarantee you that this will only result in us enjoying our day more. Amen?
So, Paul said that we are to think on whatever is “true”—to meditate on what God’s Word says because it is the truth. Sure, there will be times when people will say things about us that they believe are true. We may even adopt certain negative concepts about ourselves that we believe are true. But these things should not be allowed to rent space in our minds because the only thing that is “truly true” is what God thinks about us.
Indeed, let God be true and every man a liar (Romans 3:4)! A “liar” is one who believes what is contrary to what God has said. God’s opinion of us is the only “true” opinion, my friend! So, only think on these things that are true. Amen.
The apostle Paul said next that we should think on “whatever is noble”: This word “noble” literally describes things that are “worthy of respect and reverence.” Did you know that there are a lot of things that we let ourselves meditate on that do not deserve the amount of attention that we give them? In other words, they are not worthy of the respect and reverence we give them. For example, staying with the last example we used, when we allow our minds to focus on what others believe about us over what God thinks of us, we are honoring what they think over what God thinks. The truth is this—what we think upon most is what we honor the most. If we are constantly giving our attention to one thing more than others, then we are acting as if that thing is worthy of more honor than other things.
Here is a good question: What is worthy of our respect and reverence? What is really important to think about? How about the Lord, His Word, and all that He has done for us in our lives? These are things that are truly worthy of our focus and attention—not the things of this world. These are the things that deserve that place of “nobility” in our minds. When we allow our minds to be dominated by thoughts of this present evil age, we are giving them the place of honor that God alone deserves.
Jesus told us that the first and greatest commandment is to love the Lord God with all of our heart, all of our soul, and all of our mind (see Matthew 22:37). So, by referring to our “mind,” the Lord was indicating that He desires for our minds to be dominated by thoughts that are directed towards Him. Some might see this as a little too radical, and others might consider this unreasonable, but the truth is that God considers this normal. To Him, it is simply natural that we esteem Him in our thought life. He alone is worthy of our thoughts, saints! So, think on these things that are truly noble!
When you study the next two words Paul used in Philippians 4:8— “just & pure” —you will find that they are basically synonyms for the terms— “righteous & holy.” Now these two words are incorrectly thought of in the modern-day Church as having the same meaning--perfection. If you were to ask many Christians— What is the difference between being “holy” and being “righteous?”—you would probably not find too many who could tell you the difference because they are generally both viewed as being totally absent of mistakes and faults. But this is simply not correct.
The word “righteous” describes “the state of being or doing what is right and in agreement with God’s standards.” I don’t have time to go into a lot of detail about this, but if you study “righteousness,” it was almost always used in connection with God’s heart of freeing the oppressed, giving to the poor, providing for the orphans and widows, etc. And with as much as you see in God’s Word of Him dealing with these issues, it is clear that doing these things are what is “right in God’s sight.” In other words, taking people who are in helpless situations and lifting them up out of their afflictions, is God’s standard for all of us.
On the other hand, the word “holy” describes “being set apart, different, clean and uncorrupted.” Like this word “pure,” it describes not letting our garments get dirty or soiled by the filth that is around us. Now most of the time, when we think of this word “purity,” we associate it with being sexually pure. And while that is most definitely a part of purity, being faithful and pure in our relationship with our Husband, Jesus Christ, is the big picture we should be looking at. So, what Paul was saying by instructing us to think on whatever is pure is to think on the things that promote faithfulness to our Lord.
So, when you apply these truths to your thought life, you find that God wants us to think on things that are right and in agreement with His standards—namely helping the helpless. He wants our hearts and minds to go out towards those who are in need around us. He wants us to think on things that promote holiness, not on things that are impure and, therefore, corrupt our relationship with Christ. Think on these things that are just and pure.
The next group of things that Paul says we are to think on is whatever is “lovely.” By using this word “lovely,” he was saying to think on things that are adorned and arrayed in love. In other words, “lovely” thoughts are thoughts of love.
Now this is certainly not the only verse that tells us to think on thoughts of love: We are told in several Scriptures to think on things that promote the love of God—especially when it comes to our brothers and sisters in Christ. One in particular, tells us to “consider one another in order to stir up love and good works” (see Hebrews 10:24). The word “consider” in this verse literally means “to think about from top to bottom.” In other words, as Philippians 2:4 also says, this word describes focusing on and looking out for the interests of others and esteeming them better than ourselves. You see, what the flesh tends to gravitate towards is thinking about itself. From childhood, that fallen nature that we inherited veers towards these self-centered thoughts. But what the Holy Spirit desires to lead us into is thinking about others. His will is for us to begin to consider what is in their best interests, and He desires for us to think about things we can do that might bless them.
Based on Hebrews 10:24, by “considering” one another—that is, being mindful of everything which concerns them—we can actually stir up the love of God in our lives. By thinking these thoughts of love, we can begin to generate love and good works in our life because our focus will be on the needs and wants of others. This is a practical way that we can grow in walking in love and there are not many better ways to walk in the Lord’s joy and peace than to walk in His love. Therefore, think on things that are lovely.
But not only does the flesh have the tendency to think self-centered thoughts; it also has the tendency to be pessimistic---that is, to think on things that are negative. We have all witnessed this. There are certain people who just cannot seem to think on the positive side of things. Their focus is always on what they do not have, what they cannot do, and what they do not know. This is a characteristic of the flesh and is most certainly not having the mind of Christ. This is why Paul goes on to tell us to think on things that are of “good report.” Church, God desires for His people to trust and believe Him and this involves thinking on what He has done and what He has promised. He wants us to have His perspective on things—to be able to see people and circumstances through His eyes.
There is perhaps no greater example of this than in Numbers chapter 13. In this account, twelve leaders of the children of Israel were sent to spy out the land. But when they returned, ten of the twelve gave a “bad report”—stating that they were like grasshoppers compared to the giants who were already dwelling in the land. Therefore, they did not believe that they could possess the land that God had promised them. You see, these ten spies were thinking on things that were of a “bad report” because they were looking at the impossibilities instead of the “good report” that God gave them.
Now before we condemn the children of Israel here, let us ask ourselves: How many times have we done this same thing? Problems arise in our lives, and instead of considering that God is on our side and He is resolved to fight our battles for us, we begin to fear, thinking about what these problems might result in. This is thinking on things that are of a bad report. But we are told to think on whatever is of a good report, saints!
This is what the other two spies did: Joshua and Caleb did not ignore the fact that there were giants in the land, but their focus was so much on both God’s presence and His promises that they encouraged the people that they could go up at once and possess the land. Therefore, Joshua and Caleb were thinking on things that were of a good report, and this different spirit in them produced the faith and confidence we see that they obviously had. We too, when confronted with difficult challenges, should choose to think on who God is, what He has done, and what He has promised. This will likewise lead us into our Promised Land of peace! Think on things of a good report.
MEDITATE ON THESE THINGS
The apostle Paul then goes on to conclude his list of things that we should be meditating on by summing up everything else we should purposefully be thinking on: He says, “if there is any virtue or if there is anything praiseworthy— meditate on these things.” This phrase makes such an important point that every Christian would do good to understand.
You see, there is something that I have noticed in my relatively short walk with the Lord amongst “religious” people: They tend to always focus on the negative in people and circumstances. For example, they will look at someone whom they consider to not be as “spiritual” as them and magnify their faults and shortcomings. They will focus on the sin that they see in that person’s life and can only seem to see the areas that they fall short in. But this is not the way a Christian ought to think, Church! God is love, and love covers a multitude of sins (see First Peter 4:8). Love believes the best in people. It sees the potential in others and expects them to reach that potential. So, love is not critical; it thinks on the positive.
Now that leads me to this final phrase in Philippians 4:8: What did Paul say that we are to think on? He said, “if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy…” Someone might say, “Yeah, well that’s the problem, pastor! There isn’t anything!” I am here to tell you—that is simply not true. There is always something we can find that is virtuous and praiseworthy to think on even when it comes to those who irritate us. So, what should we be thinking about our neighbor? We should be thinking on their virtues—that is, their good qualities and moral excellencies. We should be thinking on the things in their lives that are praiseworthy—things that are worth talking about and that deserve to be praised and glorified.
And even if you are certain that they possess no virtues and there is nothing praiseworthy about them (which I highly doubt), you can meditate on the opportunity you have to develop character, patience, etc., simply by having them in your life. Did you know that this is what James used as his basis for instructing us to “count it all joy when you fall into various trials” (see James 1:2)? It was that the testing of our faith would produce more patience in us! So, if you cannot find a silver lining in the person themselves, think on the virtues that your positive response to them will produce in your own life. If we were thinking spiritually, this would be our mindset.
But what do so many in the Church do? They do not focus on the virtues of people both in and outside of their church; they think on and point out their not so virtuous qualities and characteristics. They choose not to look at the things that are worthy of praise in individuals. In fact, what they do “praise” is their sins and shortcomings. This, my friends, is ungodly! Aren’t you glad God does not do that with us? Contrary to popular belief, God does not focus on our weaknesses and mistakes; He focuses on our potential. Take any good parent for instance: They have an uncanny ability to only see the good in their children and are oftentimes blinded to the things in them that are not so virtuous. And why? The reason for this is because this is what true love does. It focuses on the virtues and things that are praiseworthy in the ones it loves. Again, a parent will do this to the point where they cannot even see their child’s weaknesses.
The same can be said for circumstances: Some people just tend to focus on things that are negative and depressing like the condition that the world is in, political and social issues, the state of the Church, etc. Sure, these things are unfortunate and we should desire to see them change, but there is a bright side to everything. God is working in the earth today and people are getting saved by the droves every day. So why not praise the things that are worthy to be praised instead of “praising” what the devil is doing? This should also be applied to how we think of ourselves. We should not allow our unregenerate minds to always focus on our not-so-virtuous qualities that are not yet crucified or on the negative situations in our lives.
The bottom line is that we need to think on the things that have any virtue or are praiseworthy. It is not “spiritual” to focus on the negative. In fact, it is very unspiritual. As believers, we should be the most positive people on the planet. My friend, thinking like this will lead our emotions and attitude where they need to be—full of peace. Amen.
So, to summarize the things Paul told us to think on in this verse, they could be summarized in God Himself. Our Holy, Triune God—the Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit—He is true and He is the Truth. He is noble and honorable. He is just and righteous. He is holy and pure. He is the good report—the Gospel. He is wholly virtuous and He alone is praiseworthy. So, to think on these things is to think on God Himself; and nothing will yield greater pleasure in our hearts than to keep our minds full of Him. Amen?
And the awesome promise we have in the Scriptures is that when we keep our minds stayed on Him, He will keep us in perfect peace. So, this is the key to walking in the peace that surpasses all understanding. It is aggressively keeping our minds stayed on Him—by the way we think and also by living in constant communion with Him. This is how Paul experienced the presence of the God of Peace in his life and how we can too. Amen.
Church, this is how we can get the stress out and keep it out. It’s a mentality—a non-compromising attitude that we will live free from stress—and that we will follow His instructions to walk in the peace He has already sown into us. Peace is our inheritance! Stress is not! So, let’s fight for it! Amen!