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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
 
Preached At:Langley Canadian Reformed Church
 Langley, B.C.
 
Title:The Call to a New Life
Text:Philippians 4:8-9 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Life in Christ
 
Preached:2008
Added:2008-12-24
Updated:2008-12-30
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Psalm 150
Hymn 47:6,7,8 (after law)
Augment Hymn 1 or Hymn 22
Psalm 119:5-6
Psalm 82:2 (after offertory)
Psalm 92:1,4,6

Reading:  Philippians 4:2-23
* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved congregation of Jesus Christ,

 

There was once a man who had a great many enemies.  In many of his writings to his friends, he would refer to these enemies and speak about them.  He used harsh words and called them names like “dogs,” “deceitful workers,” and “servants of Satan.”  In one of his writings, he even said that he wished his enemies would emasculate themselves.  The man was the same man who wrote our text.  The apostle Paul often had reason to be blunt and even offensive when it came to his enemies, people who were more than just his personal enemies, they were enemies of the gospel of Christ.  But then we come to this text and we seem to find a different Paul, a Paul who wants people to dwell on the positive, to look on the bright side.  The issue is:  on what do we focus?  What is the center around which everything else in our lives turns? 

 

This is a text which challenges us in many ways.  I think one of the ways is that there is always this temptation for us to be known by what we stand against, rather than being known by what we stand for.  That comes out in our history as well.  Though many of us today were not personally involved, we look back to the early history of the Canadian Reformed churches.  We go back to the Netherlands in the 1940s and there was a huge struggle.  Back then, it was easy to be known for being against certain things:  for being against certain conceptions of the covenant, for being against certain understandings of baptism and the church, for being against certain ways of doing church government, and so on.  Today too, that same temptation exists.  We’re going to be against a certain type of music in the church.  We’re going to be against certain practices for selecting officebearers.  And I could add all kinds of other examples.  We have a long heritage of “being against” and that’s shaped who we are.  Don’t get me wrong:  there is a good and necessary being against certain things as false and wrong – the Apostle Paul clearly shows that in his many writings, writings inspired by the Holy Spirit.  But yet our text challenges us: on what do we focus?  Where is the center for Christians?

 

Our text is framed with peace.  In verse 7, Paul speaks about the “peace of God which transcends all understanding.”  In verse 9, he writes about the “God of peace,” the God who produces peace for his people.  How does he do that?  Paul answers that question in Ephesians 2:14 when he says that Jesus Christ is our peace.  The Lord Jesus is the peace of God; the peace produced in God’s people originates with Jesus Christ and his perfect life of obedience, his suffering and death, his resurrection – all his redemptive work. 

 

Apart from Christ, there is warfare between ourselves and God.  We sometimes see unbelievers around us and they’re often nice, friendly people.  We have a hard time thinking in terms of the fact that these folks are at war with God.  But if they are not, then the peace found in Scripture is meaningless.  Then the hostility that Paul speaks about in Ephesians 2 is meaningless as well.  All people sin and sin is enmity, warfare against God.  The Scriptural fact is that unbelievers live with a fist raised in defiance of God, with their words, lives and thoughts they’re giving God the finger, slapping him in the face.

 

But with Christ there is a beautiful change.  No longer condemned, but accepted and justified.  No longer enemies, but friends.  No longer without hope and without God in the world, but now part of the family.  As Paul says in Ephesians 2:19, “Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household….”  Because of Christ, Paul says in Philippians 3:20 that our citizenship is in heaven.  Because of Christ, some day our lowly bodies will be transformed to be like his glorious body and we will dwell in perfect, eternal communion with God.  The gospel of Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit, is that there is lasting, real peace with God through Christ.

 

That forms the background to the call in our text to a new life.  This new life has a new focus, a new center.  As we explore our text we’ll see that this new life involves a call to:

 

  1. Thoughtful reflection
  2. Meaningful action

 

Our text begins with two words, “Finally, brothers…”  The “finally” tells us that this is the last of a number of sections where Paul is giving instructions to the Philippian church.  And he addresses them as “brothers,” reminding them again that the peace of God through Christ has brought them into the family of God, where all believers are brothers and sisters.  We’re brothers and sisters, not only of one another, but also of Jesus Christ.   Hebrews 2:11 says that Jesus is not ashamed to call believers his brothers. 

 

“Finally, brothers…” Then follows a list.  We’ll go through that carefully in a moment.  But for now look at the end of verse 8 and see first of all what’s supposed to be done with this list.  Paul says, “think about such things.”  Instead of “think,” other translations like the NKJV have “meditate.”  The NASB has “let your mind dwell on such things.”  Those are all good ways of translating the Greek word used here.  Think, meditate, let your mind dwell on, consider carefully, thoughtfully reflect.  This is about what you focus your mind upon.  And it’s about what you focus your mind upon regularly or habitually.  This isn’t about taking some quiet time every day to sit back and relax and reflect or meditate on these things.  This is about letting your mind dwell on such things as part of who you are throughout the day, not only on Sunday, but also on Monday and Thursday and every day of the week, every hour of every day. 

 

The list begins with whatever is true.  Truth in Scripture stands over against falsehood.  According to Christ, the devil is the father of lies.  Jesus, however, is the way, the truth, and the life.  God is truthful, the source of all that is true.  According to Ephesians 1:13, the gospel of our salvation is the word of truth.  So, as a starting point, when Paul calls believers to thoughtful reflection on whatever is true, our thoughts can first of all go to the gospel of our salvation, the truth of God that has delivered us from eternal wrath.  But we don’t have to stop there, there are many other things that are true, that fit with what God has revealed in his Word.  We can give our thoughts to Christian music that captures the truth of God’s Word.  We can even give our thoughts to what non-Christians have produced that is truthful. 

 

In his kindness and in his love for his people, as he restrains the wickedness in this world, God allows unbelievers to produce things that are truthful.  A couple of examples:  an unbeliever can produce a piece of music that truthfully captures the range of emotions any person might feel on a beautiful day in a picturesque meadow.  We can give our thoughts to that, recognizing that as God’s kindness and love for his people.  An unbeliever can come up with a mathematical proof that expresses a certain truth with numbers and equations.  We can give our thoughts to that, seeing that as “whatever is true.”  We could add lots of examples, but I think you get the point.  Whatever is true is not limited to what is explicitly in Scripture, nor is it limited to what believers do, think and say.  But our understanding of “whatever is true” is definitely shaped by the truth of Scripture. 

 

We can say much the same about “whatever is noble.”  This refers to whatever is honorable, worthy of respect.  We’re to carefully reflect on what is majestic and awe-inspiring. 

 

Here too, our thoughts should right away be drawn first of all to Scripture, to the gospel, to the Triune God.  Think of Psalm 119 where the Psalmist’s praise for the Word of God resulted in the longest Psalm.  Think of the gospel which is truly majestic and awe-inspiring – God the Son coming to earth to lay down his life for sinners.  Think of the Holy Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit – a mysterious relationship we can never understand, never wrap our puny human brains around.  When was the last time you were driving to work or school and just turned off the radio and thought about the mystery of the Trinity, letting your thoughts be drawn upwards in praise of your God? 

 

But here too, the text does not limit us to thinking about that which is purely spiritual, if we can call it that.  In fact, we should be careful about making a false dilemma between our thoughts of so-called religious things and the rest of what we deal with in our lives.  Life is one and we should not compartmentalize our lives.  We’re to focus on whatever is noble, majestic and awe-inspiring.  That could mean a beautiful mountain out in the distance, drawing your thoughts upward to the Creator.  That could mean a work of art that inspires.  That could mean the intricacies of human anatomy.  Or any number of other things that are honorable and worthy of respect.  The critical thing is that as we give our thoughts to these things habitually and regularly, that we do so in connection with God, that we connect everything to him and if it cannot be connected to him, then we have to wonder whether we should be giving our thoughts to it. 

 

Next Paul speaks about whatever is right.  The righteousness of Christ, revealed in the gospel should be the first thing that pops into our minds.  We have received an alien righteousness from God.  An alien righteousness – that’s not a righteousness that comes from outer space on UFOs, but a righteousness that does not come from us.  It’s Christ’s righteousness that is imputed to us.  We should mediate on this beautiful truth.  We should be reflecting on God’s righteous acts.  Then we should also appreciate righteousness, moral uprightness in others.  We can do that with believers whose righteousness comes from faith and who do things according to God’s law and for his glory.  But we can also appreciate and applaud when unbelievers act inconsistently and perform deeds, which just purely from a human, civic perspective, are righteous.  For instance, we can be thankful that when there are natural disasters, it’s not just Christians who are eager to extend assistance and help.  We can be thankful that police officers, whether Christians or not, endeavour to maintain the right.  We can be thankful that judges, whether Christians or not, are there to carry out justice, even if they do so imperfectly.  Where right is done, we can be thankful and we can think about such things with thankfulness.

 

“Whatever is pure” is next on the list.  Purity is about conformity to God’s standards.  Purity refers to being without blemish or stain.  In the Old Testament, the lamb to be offered was to be without blemish or defect.  It was to be pure.  This pointed ahead to Christ, the Lamb of God, who was indeed without blemish or defect.  When we fix our minds on whatever is pure, this is where we can start.  The Lamb of God, the pure giving himself for the impure, the clean for the unclean.  Christ washing us with his blood so that we become like him, pure, without blemish or stain. 

 

And what is true in principle of us, must also become true in practice.  Part of that is giving our minds to pure thoughts, rather than impure.  That refers to a wide swath of areas, including but not only the sexual.  Pure thoughts refers to whatever conforms to God’s law.  Instead of letting our minds dwell on unholiness and law-breaking, we train our minds to delight in holiness and law-keeping.  That applies to a lot of our interaction with popular culture, whether it’s music, TV shows, movies, magazines, websites, whatever.  Where do we focus?  On what do we fix our thoughts and with what do we fill our heads?  Are we making a habit of thinking about what is pure? 

 

Then “whatever is lovely.”  We could also say, “whatever is pleasing, acceptable, agreeable.”  Or whatever deserves our love and affection.  The gospel is all those things, as is the Saviour revealed in the gospel.  But then we can go beyond that and find other things that also deserve our love and affection, things on which we can and should fix our minds.  If we were to brainstorm together and pool our thoughts, I’ll bet that we could come up with a list of dozens of things.  But for those of us who are parents, just think about your children.  They deserve your love and affection.  You delight in them.  They are lovely.  As part of this, you can and should set your thoughts on them and reflect about how God has so richly blessed you with them. 

 

“Whatever is admirable” is the last “whatever” on the list.  The word in Greek is related to our English ‘euphemism.’  A euphemism is a nice way of saying something offensive or harsh sounding.  When we say “passed away” when we mean that someone died, that’s a euphemism.  In Greek eupheemos means something that we can say nice things about.  It’s something of good repute, praiseworthy, laudable.  We’re to let our minds dwell on things that can be praised, not only by men, but also things that can be praised by God.  If we’re habitually thinking about things that we know that God would not approve of, we’ve got a problem here.  As redeemed believers, we aim to think God’s thoughts after him.  If God delights in something, we should delight in it and see it as admirable.  If God hates something and sees it as abominable, we should hate it and see it as abominable. 

 

Paul then sums up all these things with two words:  the excellent and the praiseworthy.  We’re to give our minds and our thoughts to what God regards as upstanding and beautiful, to what God sees as excellent and worthy of praise.  No more of the ugly, the impure or the mediocre.

 

Now a couple of questions can be raised:  First of all, why?  Why should these be the things we carefully and habitually reflect on?  Consider the majesty and exaltedness of the God we serve.  More to the point, consider our Lord Jesus.  Where do his thoughts dwell, on what does he focus?  Doesn’t he delight in what is true, noble, right, pure, lovely and admirable?  If we are his body, if we are united to him, if our destiny is to be completely conformed to his image, that would give us the motivation to see these things become increasingly true of ourselves as well.

 

The second question is:  how?  How can we think about such things?  We hear so many voices distracting us.  We have so many temptations.  We’re prone to wander and we feel it.  Loved ones, the answer is in Christ and the power of his Holy Spirit dwelling in us.  It begins with looking to him in faith each day, fixing our eyes on him.  In practical terms, that means drowning out the distracting voices by using the active noise reduction of God’s Word, spending time reading it and studying it, and also bathing that time in prayer.  In God’s Word, Jesus Christ is revealed as our Saviour, the one who deals with the curse of sin and the power of sin.  It also means killing the temptations by letting his Word dwell richly in you – memorizing Scripture is a key discipline for us to grow as believers.  Finally, it means putting an end to the wandering by becoming a tree firmly planted by streams of living water, the living water of God’s Word which reveals salvation in Jesus Christ.  The living water of the Word as it’s read, studied and preached will, by God’s grace, cause you to grow.  Through all these things, God will work in us to give us the strength to have thoughtful, careful reflection about what matters for our new life.

 

This new life also involves a call to meaningful action and that’s what we see in verse 9.  Paul has one more “whatever,” but it actually covers four different things.  At least, at first glance they appear to be four different things.  In reality, there are only two. 

 

Paul speaks here about the Philippian believers putting into practice what they learned or received from Paul.  “Learning” and “receiving” here are basically the same thing – they refer to what happens when someone teaches.  And what was it that Paul taught them?  It was what he himself had received from Jesus Christ.  He taught them the gospel.  For instance, he taught them about peace and reconciliation with God through the blood of Christ.  He taught salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.  Then he also taught them what a redeemed life looks like.  He taught them that believers recognize Jesus as Lord over every aspect of their lives. 

 

For us today, that means first of all that like the Philippians we have to put the gospel into practice by believing it and cherishing it, never forgetting the elementary principles of our salvation in Christ.  As often as we hear the gospel, we ought to accept it and believe it, never taking it for granted.  Second, it means that we too put into practice the recognition of the Lordship of Jesus Christ.  The Lord Jesus has authority over the sex we have, the money we spend, the food we eat, the web sites we browse, words we speak, places we journey, attitudes we project, ideas we entertain, friends we embrace.  Jesus is Lord over the shows we watch, the drinks we consume, the hobbies we enjoy, and the work we do.  As believers redeemed by grace we recognize that Christ has all authority over all people and all things without any exception and our lives grow to reflect that recognition.  We say that “Jesus is Lord” and we put that belief into practice in our lives.   

 

Paul also speaks about what the Philippian believers have heard and seen in him.  This refers to Paul’s example in speech and deed.  This is related to what he said in Philippians 3:17, “Join with others in following my example, brothers, and take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you.”  Inspired by the Holy Spirit, Paul has said things like this elsewhere in the New Testament.  It almost sounds arrogant.  But we have to read these kinds of passages through the lens of what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 11:1, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.”  See, it wasn’t so much about following Paul, but following Paul as he followed Christ.  This was especially relevant in the time of the apostles when the gospels were not yet written.  The apostles were pictures of how Christ lived and walked because they were eye and ear-witnesses to his life.

 

Today we no longer have apostles, but we have the complete Word of God.  That Word of God contains the testimony of the apostles to the example of Christ, both the witness as to how he himself lived and as the apostles lived in his immediate footsteps.  There is no question that the Bible teaches us to follow Christ’s example, walk in the steps of the master.  But at the same time we recognize that there is still a difference between Christ and ourselves.  There are things that he did and that he said that we cannot do and say.  There remains a difference between the Creator and the creature.  To understand where we can follow Christ’s example, we can look to the Apostle Paul as a fellow creature.  We could survey his life and look at all kinds of different things, but let’s just focus on one aspect:  his humility.  This comes out in various passages of his letters.  For instance, in Romans 7 he calls himself a wretched man.  In 1 Timothy 1, he acknowledges himself to be the worst of sinners.  And then in Philippians 2, he calls the believers in Philippi to follow in the same path, not because of Paul, but because of Christ, “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus…” – and then he goes on to rhapsodize about Christ’s humiliation and exaltation.  So, as Christ was humble, as Paul is humble – put it in practice!  “In humility count others better than yourselves…”

 

Our text concludes by saying, “And the God of peace will be with you.”  That simply means that obeying these instructions, living out of faith, the Philippians (and us) will have God present to bless them.  The God of peace who has come near through Jesus Christ will be constantly present through his Holy Spirit to help them and us.

 

God’s Word leads us to be people whose thoughts and lives, whose words are deeds are centered on the true, the noble, the right, the pure, the lovely, the admirable, the excellent and the praiseworthy.  Those things are exemplified in Christ and the gospel – what we want above everything else to be known as being for.  Brothers and sisters, let’s now pray that God would strengthen us with his Word and Spirit so that we can reflect thoughtfully on these things and live meaningfully in the light of them. 

 

Let us pray:

 

Our Father, O God of peace,

 

We confess Jesus Christ as our peace with you.  He is the truth.  He is noble, right, pure, lovely and admirable.  So is the gospel which reveals him.  In the gospel, we know that we find what is truly excellent and praiseworthy.  Help us with your Spirit and Word to let our minds dwell on these things, not only as they’re revealed in your Word, but also manifested everywhere in creation.  Father, please help us not only to take every thought captive to you, but also to meaningfully live what we believe.  Help us to live in recognition of the Lordship of our Saviour.  Give us strength with your Spirit and guide us with your Word so we follow his example where we ought to.  We pray that through this, we, your redeemed people, would ever more be for the praise of your glory.  We pray in Christ who is our peace, AMEN. 




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

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