Bible Study from Calvary Chapel Newberg
with Tom Fuller
Loving or Leaving the World
Today we?re going to zoom through all of two verses in Paul?s letter to the Philippians. This final chapter is so jammed packed with good things for a healthy Christian life that I want to make sure we spend ample time on each one of them.
Last time the Apostle talked about living a life of rejoicing. In verse 4 he said ?Rejoice in the Lord always.? Joy is a uniquely Christian thing. It goes well beyond happiness. We can actually have joy in the presence of difficulty because of the hope we have in the salvation of Jesus. He then talked about what to do when anxiety begins to push out our joy. Anxiety is defined as ?a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease, typically about an imminent event or something with an uncertain outcome.? We all experience it, even Paul; even Jesus. Anxiety left unchecked can turn into panic and severe depression. So Paul offered that instead of letting anxiety consume us, we should take our concerns to God, tell Him about the situation, and ask Him for help. In that, God offers not answers (though He does hear and answer our prayers) but peace.
Peace (Greek: to join) is the equivalent of the Hebrew Shalom. Shalom means: security, safety, and prosperity. It is a state of tranquility in the mind because a person is secure in their salvation, safe in the hands of God who is in ultimate control, and prosperous in that God has given us ?everything required for life and godliness? (2 Peter 1:3). In fact, peace and contentment could go hand in hand?and Paul addresses contentment in the midst of need later in the chapter. Peace doesn?t mean the absence of anxiety; it means the presence of something more powerful?our relationship with God and His presence in our times of trouble.
So the presence of joy, the presence of peace, and the lessening of anxiety are available to the Christian. Sometimes that?s very hard on us. Some of us actually thrive (or think we thrive) on anxiety. Without something to be fretful over, we?d have nothing to occupy our minds. If that?s you, or really anyone?Paul says he wants our minds to be occupied with praising and talking to God and with His shalom?and something more. That something more is what we?re going to talk about today.
In today?s society there is so much negativity. Watch, listen, or read the news and it?s all about the bad things that are happening. Even we Christians can fall prey to that tendency?to see only the negative and only talk about how bad things are. Paul has a different path he wants us to tread with our minds. It doesn?t mean we have this Pollyannaish view of the of the world?no, we need to be discerning about what is like God and what is not?but what consumes our thoughts? Let?s find out Paul?s vision:
To understand what Paul is asking his Philippian friends to do, we need to look at the end of the verse first and especially the word ?dwell?: ?By reckoning up all the reasons to gather or infer; i.e., to consider, take account, weigh, meditate on a thing, with a view to obtaining it.? This isn?t just ?think about these? but ?take them into account? or the idea of selecting them for meditation and imitation from a list of things. So what should we ?take into account?? He uses the word ?whatsoever.? The idea here is that Paul, and we, are of two worlds. We live in this age but are actually a part of the kingdom of heaven. But that?s not to say that this age is bereft of anything good.
Essentially Paul is saying to look around and select out good things to dwell on in our thoughts. In verse 9 he will complete that thought by also encouraging them to imitate his behavior as it conforms to the character of Jesus?but we?ll get to that.
Sometimes as Christians we feel like there is nothing in this age of any value at all and that we should be almost monastic in our segregation from this age. We cloister ourselves in a Christian bubble and put blinders on when we leave the church. But we have to remember that it was God who created this world and humanity. He created us in His image and when He was done He said it was ?very good? (Genesis 1:31). We?ve messed it up pretty badly, but His creation is still wonderful and echoes of what He created can be found everywhere, if we look for them. Paul gives us some guidelines to help in that search:
True: The Greek alethes means: true, honest, and genuine. It literally means: not concealed or hidden. For Paul, this would have meant anything that aligns with God?s reality. Pilate said: ?What is truth?? as if to say there are no absolutes. Often the real truth is hidden behind a veil of lies. When someone speaks truth, we should appreciate it, no matter who says it.
Honorable: serious and reverent. To be venerated for character and deeds. This basically refers to anything worthy of respect. What is something that is honorable that you can think of? It?s honorable when someone gives his or her life to save another. I respect a police officer as they work to uphold the law and treat it with respect and honor.
Just: right, just. Keeping the commands of God. To be right you have to be true. Psa. 89:14 ?Righteousness and justice are the foundation of Your throne; faithful love and truth go before You.? When a guilty person is punished or an innocent person set free might be an example. Justice is also fairness.
Pure: Not carnal. Free from fault or besmirched by evil. It comes from a word that means to be dedicated as an offering in the temple. When young men and women commit to waiting to experience physical intimacy until marriage. The words and actions of a child not influenced by sin are often pure.
Lovely: acceptable, pleasing. This is a more general word and means in essence: ?the things that we love.? It could be a symphony or a painting, a sunrise or an act of kindness.
Commendable: things spoken in a kindly spirit, with good will to others. It carries the essence of agreeing with others who say good things about something. I like conversations where good things people have done for others are the focus.
Moral excellence (a good translation of ar?tes). When someone makes the right decision about a moral dilemma. Often films and books can be this way. The protagonist is presented with a moral choice, which they struggle with but eventually make the right call.
Praise: literally ?as a tale told to another?. The idea of sharing good things.In this case it is sharing the good things of God.
In essence, Paul is saying that we should not just reject the culture around us, but take into account the parts of the culture that reflect the character of Christ and the gospel.
How can we do that? Appreciating a sunset for the painter who creates it new every day. Passing on a story about giving hugs indiscriminately. Noticing the beauty of a piece of music not just for its tonal qualities but for the incredible math that goes into music. Discussing science and physics and how prominent scientists are now claiming the whole universe if a big math problem?God being the ultimate mathematician! We can look at situations where truth came out and justice prevailed or where an innocent person was set free or when someone had the guts to do what is morally right in the face of pressure and resulting in personal sacrifice.
Things like this can be discussion starters. Paul used it in Athens when he started his sharing of the gospel by noting the statue to an unknown God (Acts 17). He didn?t blast them as idolators (though they were) but commended the statue and told them the real story behind it (?what you worship in ignorance, this I proclaim to you?).
By doing these things Paul is not telling us to venerate or worship the culture. Just look for the echoes of God?s character around you, appreciate it, and use it as a bridge to speak of our wonderful Savior.
So now Paul goes back to what he said a little earlier in terms of how their behavior should be shaped.
Paul is saying: ?If you want to have God?s character (?the God of peace will be with you?) then pay attention to what I?ve said and taught, and the way I live my life (as it reflects God?s character).? Having a godly role model is so important.
Notice that he says ?learned and received.? It is one thing to hear something, but another to actually incorporate it into your life. I would encourage you to really tear into the studies we do in the Scriptures?what are things that you have learned that ought to change your thinking and acting?
One way we can look at ?the God of peace will be with you? is that right praying (verses 6-7), right thinking (verse 8) and right living (verse 9) lead to a peace over your life that can only come from God. It?s a settledness, and a grounding.
Too often in this culture we focus on those that are morally outrageous, openly rebellious against authority and we talk of fairness only in so far as we get what we want, even if we don?t deserve it.
The prophet Isaiah talks about this attitude:
(Isaiah 5:20) Woe to those who call evil good
and good evil,
who substitute darkness for light
and light for darkness,
who substitute bitter for sweet
and sweet for bitter.
21 Woe to those who are wise in their own opinion
and clever in their own sight.
22 Woe to those who are heroes at drinking wine,
who are fearless at mixing beer,
23 who acquit the guilty for a bribe
and deprive the innocent of justice.
Let us instead of what Paul calls ?sober judgment? (Romans 12:3). Think correctly but also appreciate the good. Another problem is we have the wrong role models. Our role models should be those that exhibit the character of God!