The Battle for the Mind and the Will
Topic: Expository Passage: Philippians 4:8-9
This is our 3rd week in this brief but profoundly significant passage. It’s significant, because Paul tells us how to enjoy peace, and everyone wants peace. This includes everyone from politicians to Miss America. We want peace in our communities, not violence and unrest. And we want peace in our workplaces, churches, families, and marriages.
And maybe most importantly, we all want a peaceful heart. No one desires anxiety, stress, and crushing burdens. Instead, we want to experience the joy of v. 4. As well, it’s no fun to be angry, bitter, and vindictive. There is so much more peace when we are filled with gentleness and grace, of v. 5.
And vv. 6–7 say that Christians can enjoy a unique peace, because we serve a big God who is good and wise. Therefore, we can give our cares to him, knowing that he will do what is good and right. And when we do, he gives a peace “which surpasses all understanding.”
Finally, today we come to vv. 8–9, and notice that Paul ends with the promise, “The God of peace will be with you.” Our God is the God of peace. It’s essential to his nature, and he offers his peace to us. But an important question is, how can we enjoy his peace? Paul will say that he doesn’t give it out like candy; instead, God only gives his peace as we think right and as we do right. Let’s dive into v. 8, where God challenges us to…
I. Think Biblically (v. 8).
This is such a relevant, practical verse, especially in a day where we are constantly bombarded with trash. And we are told that all of it is beautiful, because our culture claims that pretty much any expression of the human heart is good. But Paul says it’s nonsense. God defines light and dark, and we are responsible to fill our minds with things that are holy and truly beautiful.
To make this point, Paul gives 8 standards by which we must measure everything that enters our minds. But he doesn’t just give us a list. Rather, he devotes a brief clause to each of the first 6 items. He says, “whatever things are true, whatever things are noble,” etc. And then he pulls it all together with another clause that includes the final 2 items. The reason he structures it this way is because he really wants us to ponder each item in the list.
For example, when you are sitting at lunch with your classmates or coworkers tomorrow, God wants you to slowly evaluate your conversation based on each item. “Are we talking about things that are true? Are we talking about things that are noble?”
And I want to emphasize that God expects us to do this in all of life, not just while you are doing devotions or worshipping at church. I say this because Paul begins each of the 1st 6 clauses with “whatever.”
Therefore, God is challenging us about all of life—the media you consume, your conversations with friends and family, and even the thoughts that percolate in your mind while you are falling asleep. In light of this, let’s take a look at each of the 8 criteria. First, we are commanded to meditate on…
“Whatever things are true.” In this context, truth is particularly the opposite of speculation, assumptions, and gossip, all of which are pretty common in our culture aren’t they? We love to gossip about everyone from the mail man to the Prince of Wales. It’s big business.
And sometimes we make bold assertions about things we don’t know to be true. For example, “I know she is laughing at my pain,” or “I know they are talking about me over there.” But we don’t actually know that to be true; instead, it’s just anxious speculation.
Therefore, God says that, we must remain think on truth. This begins with staying anchored to what we know to be true about God and his character. There’s a lot that I don’t know about people and the future, but I know who God is, and I know what he has promised.
We also must stay anchored to the truth of the gospel. I cannot trust myself, but I know that I am in Christ. He will keep me, he will change me, and he will bring me to glory. In sum, our culture is a raging river of speculation, lies, gossip, and fear. Resist it, be discerning, and keep your mind on truth. 2nd…
“Whatever things are noble.” This word refers to that which is honorable, dignified, and respectable. It’s the opposite of vulgar and shameful. The only other place it is used in the NT is in 1 Timothy and Titus, where it is listed as a qualification for spiritual leaders. They must be dignified.
Here God says that Christians must only think on what is noble, dignified, and honorable. Again, God sharply confronts our culture, which assumes that that there is no such thing as objective morality. So, rather than being ashamed of our sins; we proudly parade them before others. And so much of our entertainment is built on things that God condemns.
But Paul assumes that morality is not subjective and open-ended. There are things that our noble and things that are not, and all of this is defined by Scripture. Therefore, God says that we should not meditate on or (by extension) be entertained by smut.
So, we need to take an honest look at what is impacting our minds. So much of our entertainment is filled with immorality, vulgar language, crude innuendos, and so on. Very little of it qualifies as noble and dignified. And God says we must only meditate on (and by extension, only fill our minds with) things that are honorable. 3rd…
“Whatever things are just.” Just comes from the same Greek root that Paul uses frequently to speak of righteousness, the justice of God, and justification. It speaks here of that which is right according to God’s law.
Have you ever been watching a movie or reading a book, and you suddenly realize that you are rooting for a criminal? Or maybe your sinful lusts lead you to happily imagining doing something that Scripture condemns. But God says we should not take any pleasure in sin. Instead, we must think on what is just according to God’s law, so that we love what is just. 4th…
“Whatever things are pure.” This word comes from the same Greek root as most of the NT terms for holiness and sanctification. Very likely, Paul is especially confronting sexual lust and imaginations.
Again, our culture says that love in any form should be celebrated, but that’s not what God says. Love is only true love when it exists within the boundaries of God’s design. Therefore, we must love what God loves, and hate what he hates. We certainly shouldn’t be entertained by what he condemns. Finally, we must not meditate on impure lusts or imaginations. Instead, we must only think on what is pure. 5th…
“Whatever things are lovely.” This word refers to anything that is truly beautiful, as God defines it. Of course, this means that it must be holy, to be beautiful in God’s sight. His holiness, not our lust defines beauty. Therefore, if you want to identify beauty and be beautiful, go to God’s Word, not to the world.
This does not mean that something has to be explicitly Christian to be beautiful. We should enjoy Mozart, beautiful works of art and architecture, majestic scenes in nature, and many other things that are rooted in God’s common grace to man. So, the challenge is to identify beauty that honors the Lord and to meditate on these things. 6th…
“Whatever things are of good report.” This word refers to thoughts and speech that are respectful, kind, edifying, and wise. So often we love complain. Or our conversation if filled with slander, foolishness, and bitterness. But God says we need to resist those conversations and thoughts. Instead, we need to dwell on things that build others and honor Christ.
So, Paul gives these six brief sentences by which we should critique every thought, and everything that feeds our thoughts, and then he pulls it all together with 2 final criteria.
“If there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy.” The term for virtue can refer generally to all that is excellent and to specifically to moral excellence. And praiseworthy refers to anything that is commendable and especially in this context to anything that pleases God.
It’s worth emphasizing that this statement is all-inclusive. Paul assumes that there are good things in the culture at large that are rooted in God’s common grace. Unbelievers can produce beautiful music, literature, architecture, and so on. And because of common grace, unbelievers also do heroic, selfless deeds that deserve celebration and honor. When we see those things, we must embrace them.
Specifically, Paul goes on to command us that with all 8 criteria, we must “meditate on these things.” That’s a good translation, because Paul is concerned with more than passing thoughts. I say this, because the verb (logidzomai) means “to reckon, to take into account.” Paul uses it in Romans 6:11, which states, “Reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus.” There it speaks of a deep-seated conviction that changes how I live.
And the same idea is present here. God is commanding us to fill our minds with things that are truly beautiful and holy and then to dwell on them so that our hearts and minds become more and more like his. Therefore, I’d like to pull v. 8 together into 3 basic applications that we can’t remember too often.
Guard your influences. We live in a culture where evil is everywhere, and it is accessible in ways that we couldn’t have imagined even 30 years ago. You can sit under a secluded tree, and destroy your mind with a cell phone.
And because evil is so prevalent, we easily become calloused to just how vile much of it is. I guarantee that Christians from 100 years ago would be shocked at what Christians today justify without a second thought. Therefore, we need to watch carefully so that we don’t allow the world’s current to slowly cause us to drift.
Now, it’s also true that it’s impossible to completely shut ourselves off from the world. And even if we could, we shouldn’t, because God commands us to reach the world with the gospel, and reaching people requires relationship. We can’t fulfill the GC by parachuting in, while wearing bubble wrap. Reaching sinner requires getting your hands dirty.
Therefore, we must lean on the Lord for grace to reach sinners while also keeping our hearts pure. So, we can’t cut ourselves off from the world, BUT we also must realize the dangerous influence the world can have.
I like to say that our hearts are like the air filters on the tractors we had on the farm. Occasionally, we would blow out the filters, and you could tell exactly where that tractor had been and what it had been doing, because the filter grabs a little bit of everything from the air that passes through it—different kinds of dust, chaff, mold, and plant particles.
And the same is true of your heart. You are being shaped by the media you consume, by the people you talk with, and by the things you read. They are shaping your deepest values and thought processes, so God commands you to guard your influences. 2nd application…
Guard your thoughts. In other words, it’s not enough to control your influences. You must also control what circulates through your mind. Now maybe that sounds impossible. But 2 Corinthians 10:5 states that by God’s grace we can “bring every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ.” You don’t have to be a slave to evil imaginations, fears, anxieties, and lusts.
No, Colossians 3:1–3 state, “If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God.Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.”
Every day you are responsible and able through the power of Christ to resist worldly sinful thoughts, fears, and imaginations and to turn your mind toward heaven and to meditate on those things that are consistent with the nature of God, the assurances of the gospel, and the hope of heaven. Don’t be a slave to your thoughts and emotions; take them captive.
Fill your mind with goodness. Yes, technology has made sin very accessible, but it has also made a lot of good things accessible. You can get online and access Christian books, audio Bibles, millions of sermons, Christian podcasts, and Christ-exalting music. And the vast majority of it is free.
And these things can drastically help to shape your heart and mind into the image of Christ. Take advantage of them. Have an intentional plan to fill your mind and heart with the kinds of things v. 8 describes. Don’t be a slave of a depraved mind. Take it captive through the grace of God, discernment, and intentional planning. So, the first challenge of our text is to think biblically.
II. Act Biblically (v. 9a)
Notice that vv. 8 and 9 have grammatically parallel commands. Verse 8 says, “meditate on these things,” and v. 9 says “do these things.” So, Paul moves from what we think in v. 8 to what we do in v. 9. And again, he begins by laying out a standard we must pursue (read v. 9a).
The first 2 items refer to the apostolic, authoritative message that God entrusted to Paul and that he preached wherever he went. Jude 1:3 calls it, “the faith which was oncefor all delivered to the saints.” That’s worth emphasizing, because our culture denies moral absolutes, and we face increasing pressure to get with the times and update our ethic.
But we are not free to evolve with the times. Instead, the truth of Scripture is something we “receive,” not negotiate. We are obligated to obey it, because it’s God’s truth, and it is far higher than worldly wisdom.
Then Paul adds that not only had he taught them the apostolic truth and ethic, he modelled it in what he said and did. Through his practice, Paul brought to life the spirit and ethic of godliness. He showed them what it means to be holy, wise, compassionate, humble, joyful, and gracious.
Paul has mentioned the importance of godly examples several times in Philippians. He urged the Philippians to imitate his example (3:17), and he highlighted the examples of Timothy and Epaphroditus. And this is another reminder that godly examples are vital to the discipleship process.
We learn so much about who God is and what it means to be a Christian by watching those around us, probably more than we realize. I had a teacher in college who would say that a child’s understanding of God is largely a reflection of his human father. That’s sobering. The examples we provide, and the examples we mimic are massively important.
Which means that we all need to work hard to provide godly examples for those who are watching, because you are a role model whether you want to be one or not. And BTW, that doesn’t mean you have to be perfect, but it does mean that you need to honestly own your failures and live in clear reliance on the grace of God.
It also means that we need to intentionally go after godly examples that can help us and our families onto Christ. It’s one of the great gifts of the church. Parents, you don’t have to disciple your children alone. Through the church, you can expose your children to multiple godly examples that can effectively complement what you are trying to teach and trying to live. It’s a wonderful gift of the church that, really, we all need, not just children.
But returning to the text, Paul reminds the Philippians of his teaching and example, and then he gets to the main point. He commands them to “do/practice these things.” It’s a simple command to understand. God is telling us to continually live out the commands and principles of Scripture.
It’s not my job to go home and think about which parts I’m going to obey, or what things are reasonable for God to demand. And I can’t just sit back in my Lazy Boy and wait for Jesus to zap me with spiritual desire. No, it’s my job to see what Scripture demands, learn from godly examples, and then do what God requires.
Now, I always want to be clear that I don’t do this to earn a relationship with God. I can only have a relationship with God through Christ. Rather, a true Christian does what Christ commanded because he is my Lord, I love him, and he has given me the strength through his resurrection life to do it.
So, the challenge of v. 9 is very simple. This week I need to do the things that God requires every day and every moment of the day. And as I do, I can…
III. Anticipate God’s Blessing (v. 9b).
Verse 9 ends with a promise. As you act biblically, “the God of peace will be with you.” And it’s clear grammatically that this promise also applies to v. 8. God is saying that when you commit to guard your mind and to think biblically, and when you strive to do what is right, God will not leave you alone. No, James 4:8 promises, “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.” God will graciously strengthen his children when we seek after him and his righteousness.
Specifically, Paul says that the “God of peace will be with you.” Again, v. 7 promised that we can enjoy the peace of God, when we pray about our anxieties. Now, he adds that when we think and act biblically, we don’t just receive peace, we receive the God of peace.
Isn’t it fascinating that Paul can say that peace is at the core of who God is? God is always at rest. There is no turmoil in him or between the members of the Trinity. And God gives his peace to his children.
Thinking in terms of the OT concept of shalom, he provides what we need to live at rest. He gives comfort and hope, and he even drives away conflict among his people. God’s peace is storehouse of blessing.
Now, I do want to emphasize the conditional nature of this promise. I’ve counseled a lot of people over the years who want the peace of God to heal their hearts, marriages, and families, but they don’t want to cultivate a holy mind and an obedient walk. That’s not how it works. It’s only when we submit to his will and wholly pursue his purpose that he gives his peace.
So, over the last 3 weeks we’ve held out a carrot, so to speak, that everyone wants. We all want peace and joy in our hearts, our homes, and our society. And God says that peace and joy are in reach, “in the Lord” as we cast our cares on him, think holy thoughts, and live obedient lives. So, do you want to experience peace?
Then walk in the Spirit. Live in daily dependence on the grace of God, striving to submit more and more of your heart, your, mind, and actions to him. If you do, God will give peace. I can testify to the fact that when I am walking humbly with the Lord and living a disciplined life of godliness, God’s grace becomes so real and so present. I’m so thankful for God’s grace and for what he has taught me these past couple of years. Therefore, go after Christ with all your heart.
Finally, I want to emphasize that all of this depends on truly knowing Christ in the gospel. God isn’t “with” most people, because our sin offends him. Therefore, the only way “the God of peace will be with you,” is if you receive the forgiveness of sins that Jesus provided on the cross.
If you have never repented of your sins and believed on Christ, we’d love to talk with you today about how you can know Christ, be forgiven, and enjoy the blessing of having peace “which surpasses all understanding” because “the God of peace will be with you.”