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Fighting for Joy, Growing in Humility, Knowing Christ and the Peace that Passes Understanding: A Study of Philippians (42): Do As I Do

Series: Fighting for Joy, Growing in Humility, Knowing Christ and the Peace that Passes Understanding: A Study of Philippians

Sermon by J. Ligon Duncan on May 25, 2008

Philippians 4:8-9

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The Lord's Day Morning

May 25, 2008

Philippians 4:8-9

Fighting for Joy, Growing in Humility,

Knowing Christ and the Peace that Passes Understanding: A Study of Philippians

“Do As I Do”

Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III

Amen. If you have your Bibles, I'd invite you to turn with me to Philippians 4:8-9. A couple of weeks ago we were looking at Philippians 3:17-4:1, and we said that Paul was teaching us how to fight worldliness there. One of the ways that he told us to do this was by carefully following the godly examples of believers around us. As we look at believers in their various professions and callings in life pursuing God, living a godly life, resisting the temptations of the world and the flesh and the devil, we ourselves are given an example about how to be heavenly minded, how to pursue godliness, how to resist worldliness in this fallen world. So, following examples is one of the tools that Paul gave us to add to our arsenal in the battle against worldliness, and in particular he encouraged us to follow his example. He said in effect, ‘Do as I do. If you want to defeat worldliness, if you want to grow in grace, look at what I do. Look at how I live and follow my example. Do as I do.’

Well, Paul is back to that theme again today. You see it especially in verse 9, where he urges us to follow the practice that they have seen and heard from him. So not only what he taught but how he lived he commends to the Philippians as a help to them in their growth in grace in the fight against sin and worldliness.

And you’ll also notice, as you look at verses 2-7 of Philippians 4, that a pattern emerges in which Paul gives exhortations and then follows that list of exhortations with a promise. In Philippians 4:2-7, he gives four exhortations…exhortations that are meant to be part of our growth in grace in the Christian life, and he concludes them with a promise that the peace of God will surround and flood their understanding and desires.

Now you’ll notice as we read the passage today that once again Paul will have a series of exhortations, and he’ll follow it with a promise — a promise very closely related to the promise that he has stated in verse 7. That promise comes at the end of verse 9. So the pattern again is exhortation followed by promise. Bear this in mind as we read God's word, and before we do, let's look to Him in prayer and ask for His help and blessing.

Heavenly Father, this is Your word. It's not the words of men. It's not our ideas about God. It's not our reflection on reality. It is Your word of self-revelation to us. In it You tell us about yourself, and about Your Son, our Savior; about our sin; about the way of salvation; and, about the way of life. Every word of God is true and tested. Every word of God is inspired and authoritative. Every word of God is profitable for faith and practice. But because we are often so blind and so distracted, we ask for Your Holy Spirit to help us see and behold wonderful truth from Your word today. This we ask in Jesus' name. Amen.

Hear God's word in Philippians 4:8-9:

“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me–practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.”

Amen. And thus ends this reading of God's holy, inspired, and inerrant word. May He write its eternal truth upon all our hearts.

How often do you think? I mean really think. How deeply do you reflect on the most important things of life? Are you so caught up in the hustle and bustle of every day that you find yourself, like I do, at the end of a long day filled up with all sorts of stuff… at about 10:30 at night wondering if you've thought about anything of eternal significance?

I had a professor in college in the history department who was responsible for teaching the Renaissance and Reformation course and the History of the Enlightenment course, and when I would go to him for meetings as my class professor, I always enjoyed sitting outside his office waiting for my appointment because he had interesting cartoons and sayings on his door. One of the sayings that I still remember went something like this: “Some people would rather die than think. Many do.” I liked that saying; it made me think every once in a while!

But the pace and preoccupations of our lives, especially in our contemporary world, conspire together against deep thinking. They do that together by preoccupying us with the trivial so that we never get around to the profound and the permanent, and by filling up our minds with the trivial so that there's no room left for anything really important, and by keeping our schedules so packed that there's no time to do any deep reflection.

Well, in this passage the Apostle Paul makes it absolutely clear how important it is for our living of the Christian life to think deeply–to meditate, to reflect upon the truth of God's word. In fact, he says it is absolutely of strategic importance to the Christian life that we do so.

Perhaps you had the same initial reaction that I had when the Apostle Paul in Philippians 3:17 said, “Do as I do” — Paul, how in the world can I do what you do? How can I follow the one who saw Christ face to face? How can I emulate your example? Well, Paul in this passage lays out a pattern whereby we can do just that. He's going to teach us four huge truths about living the Christian life. Let me just outline them for you and point you to the parts in the passage where they come from.

First of all, he's going to tell you the important of meditation in the Christian life. You see that in the very last words of verse 8: “Think on these things.” What's Paul talking about? He's talking about Christian meditation.

Secondly, he's going to tell you about the importance of cultivating godly affections and desires; that is, desires that are set on the right thing, desires that want the right thing, desires that admire the right thing, desires that are fixed on the right thing. You see that even in the list that he gives in verse 8: things that are true and honorable, and just and pure, and lovely and commendable, and excellent, and worthy of praise. What's he doing there? He's reminding you of how important it is for you to lock in on things that you ought to desire, because the world isn't going to come knocking at your door offering you a list of things that you ought to desire. It's going to come knocking at your door with a list of things to desire, but they won't necessarily be the list of the things that you ought to desire.

Third, he's going to show you the pattern of Christian discipleship in two verses. In two verses he's going to tell you how it is that you grow in grace. And then, finally, he's going to close with a promise.

So, he's going to point to the importance of Christians meditating on God's word and on things which are true and commendable; he's going to talk about the importance of cultivating godly affections or desires; he's going to show you the pattern of the Christian life; and, he's going to point you to a promise. Let's look at these four things together briefly today.

I. The important of meditation in the Christian life.

The first thing that he does is he calls us to Christian meditation. Notice his words: “…think about these things” (end of verse 8). Christian, think about these things. This is a call to Christian meditation. He's saying you will not grow in the Christian life unless you are deliberately locked on to a pattern of mediating on and reflecting about and thinking deeply on the truths of God's word, and things which are true and commendable.

Now, notice that the kind of meditation that Paul is calling you and me to is entirely different than the kind of meditation that you most frequently encounter in programs on television and on the radio and in the self-help Psychology and Religion section of your local bookstore. Almost all of those practitioners of meditation will tell you that it is vital to empty your mind, that meditation is about emptying the mind. You will never find that instruction in Scripture!

Notice that Paul's mediation is not about emptying the mind: it is about filling the mind up with God's word and that which is true and commendable, and then working that around, over and over and over. In fact, the very practice of emptying the mind in meditation is a dangerous, dangerous practice. The point of meditation, you understand, is so that we hear God's word. Forms of mediation and even a prayer that tell us that we need to empty our minds, to wait, to listen for God to speak to us, are assuming that God has not already spoken to us. And He has! God's already spoken.

The problem is not that God's not spoken; the problem is that we're not listening! Have you ever talked to your children…? You’re going to tell them something really important. You've been thinking about it for several days. You know, ‘I'm looking for the right time, the right place to tell him [to tell her] this really, really important thing.’ And you notice this blank, dull stare, indicating to you that that child, though three feet proximate to you, is in fact one million miles away from what you’re having to say. Well, that's our problem, too. God speaks to us clearly and importantly in His word, and our minds are a million miles away. Meditation is designed to help you listen to what God has already said.

Have you ever had the experience of a significant person in your life — maybe it was your Mom or your Dad, or an older Christian who had taken you under his or her wing and taught you things about life — have you ever had them tell you something really, really important, but you didn't realize how important it was until years and years later? You know, they said something to you that you might not have appreciated at the time, but somehow it lodged in your mind, and years and years later, it came back to you how thunderously true and important that thing was. What happened? Well, for one thing you matured, and you’d had enough life experience to appreciate what had been said to you. But another thing that happened is you listened to what they said. It might have taken five years or ten years or fifteen years, but you finally listened to what they said. That's what Christian meditation is designed to do.

Meditation is the activity of calling to mind and thinking over and dwelling on and applying to yourself the various things that you know about the works and the ways and the purposes and promises of God, from God's word. And meditation humbles us and encourages us, and reassures us; and especially, mediation connects the mind and the will — the head and the heart — so that the truth we know is worked deep down into our soul so that it begins to affect what we desire. We often talk about how do you move the — whatever it is — the twelve or eighteen inches from the head to the heart. Well, one of the biblical answers to that is through meditation, through dwelling on, reflecting on, thinking over, looking at every side of the truth in meditation and reflection. The idea is for the truth to so take hold of our desires that we begin to desire the right thing rather than the wrong thing, the permanent thing rather than the temporary thing, the lovely thing rather than the ugly thing, the true thing rather than the false thing.

Now 24/7 on your television, on your radio, on your computer, on your iPodĀ®, and on your cell phone through text messages you are being bombarded with the trivial and with the crude. If you do not deliberately plan to think on what is true and commendable, it's not going to come knocking to your door. And so Paul is saying, ‘Christian, if you want to grow, you've got to have a plan for how you are going to think on these things.’ That's the first thing that he says.

II. The importance of cultivating godly affections and desires

Here's the second thing: He calls you to the cultivation of your desires and affections by pointing your desires to that which is true and right and good. Notice what he says: Think on what is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and worthy of praise.

In other words, when you are bombarded by a powerful desire that is enticing you to focus on and enjoy something that is either wrong or trivial, you can't fight something with nothing. The answer to fighting that powerful enticement to desiring something that is wrong or trivial is not to say “Stop it!” Chances are, if you are a Christian, you already know you ought to stop it. Your question is, “How?” And the answer is there has to be a desire that is opposite and greater than the desire that is enticing you to what is wrong and trivial if you’re going to be able to fight that desire. Now how are you going to encounter the desire that is opposite and good if you do not think on what is true and honorable and just and pure, and lovely and commendable, and excellent, and worthy of praise?

In other words, the very activity of meditating is so that you will begin to desire something better than that which is being offered to you.

You know, you could be a Christian woman, and you might walk into a room and within a nanosecond you've sized up all the other women in the room. You've sized them up as to what they’re wearing. You've sized them up as to their physical appearance. You've compared yourself — “Am I prettier than she is? Am I better dressed than she is? Am I smarter than she is? Am I more popular than she is?” That might be a tendency you have, and it might be a pre-occupying tendency. It might be a tendency for a variety of reasons. Certainly the world is commending you to think that way. You understand that. The world is commending you as a woman to think that way, to value yourself as an object, and this might pre-occupy your time. But in fighting that tendency you might instead determine first of all, “What do I want my heavenly Father to see, when He sees me?” and then to begin to meditate on what is true and honorable, and just and pure, and lovely and commendable, and thus to be thinking more about those things than the thing that you’re tempted to do when you walk in the room.

Or, you may be a Christian man, and you may be in a profession that requires you to see and live in the midst of and experience some of the ugliness of life, to the point that it is frankly depressing. You know… you might be in the financial services industry and you might see families year after year, month after month, tearing themselves apart when it comes time to settle an estate.

Or, you might be in the legal profession and you see people killing one another in marriages and families, and in work relationships. And you do your best. You serve as a faithful Christian, but the corroding influence of being in the midst of seeing all of the ugliness of life wears on and wearies your soul. How do you battle that unless you settle your affections on the things that really matter, what is true and honorable, and just and pure, and lovely and commendable?

The Puritans made it a practice of meditating on six great things from God's word: the majesty of God; the severity of sin; the beauty of Christ; the certainty of death; the finality of judgment; and, the misery of hell. And those six things they thought were absolutely essential for cultivating heavenly-mindedness.

Paul is saying the same thing here, although he's directing us to consider what is true and honorable, and just and pure, and lovely and commendable everywhere–not only in God's word, but everywhere! Many of you know and love the Christian author, John Stott. He's written dozens and dozens of wonderful Christian books. One book that you may not know that he's written is about bird-watching. He loves to look at birds, and he's written a little book about what he's learned from birds about the Christian life. [Now, really, he's learned it from the Bible, but he's seen it illustrated in the life of birds.] And in the introduction to the book, he whimsically calls it “ornitheology”–not ornithology (or, the study of birds)–but ornitheology (learning about God from the study of birds). But what's he doing? He's doing exactly what Paul is commending here. Even, John, as you look at that beautiful bird that you went up to the Fair Isles in Scotland to see, what are you doing? You’re trying to focus your mind on that which is true and lovely, and commendable and honorable.

You may be thinking over this Memorial Day weekend the sacrifices that people have made for the freedoms that we enjoy. That would be an appropriate thing for us to meditate upon; in fact, it would be inappropriate for us not to meditate upon it, given the freedoms and the privileges that we enjoy as citizens of this great nation. And when you think about it, it enables you to think on things which are honorable and commendable–a man laying down his life, giving up his family and his future for the freedom of his fellow citizens. That is a commendable and honorable thing, and of course it leads us, having meditated upon it, to think about the greatest man who ever lived and how He laid down His life for the sake of His friends. And so the very meditation on these things moves us to thinking about the gospel itself.

Let me be crystal clear. As Paul is giving these exhortations, he's not giving you the gospel. He's telling Christians who already have received the gospel how you live the Christian life. If you’re not a Christian today, the exhortations that I'm giving today are not how you become a Christian. They’re how you live, having already become a Christian. If you’re not a Christian, the first thing you have to deal with is with the claims of the gospel which say you are a creature made by God, whether you acknowledge it or not. You are a sinner and estranged from God, whether you acknowledge it or not. Without forgiveness for your sins, you will not experience satisfaction in this life or heaven in the next. But God in His mercy has sent His Son to die in your place that, if you will believe on Him, you will be reconciled to God; you will know satisfaction and joy in this life and in the life to come eternally. That is the gospel. And meditating on what is true and pure, and just and right, and lovely and commendable, and excellent, will lead you to reflections on the gospel. That's the second thing that Paul says.

III. The pattern of Christian discipleship

The third thing is this: Paul gives us a pattern for Christian discipleship here. Look at the words that are used in the exhortations: think; learn; receive; hear; see; practice.

Do you realize that in these two little verses Paul has given you a four-part pattern for Christian discipleship? Listen to it real quickly: Meditation; Instruction; Direction; and, Application.

The first thing he says is “think on these things” — last phrase of verse 8 — “think about these things.” In other words, what's your first step in growing as a disciple? Meditating on the word of God — reflecting on, deliberately reflecting upon, the content of God's word and on what is true and honorable and just, and so on. So it begins with reflection. This is part of really, really listening.

Second, instruction. Notice that Paul does not think that our desires, that our affections, are innately right. They’re not innately set on the right things. Therefore, what do we need? We need instruction. We need our desires to be instructed. It's not just that we need to know stuff; it's not that we need just a little information transfer. It's that our desires need to be directed in the right direction, and so he says what? ‘What you learned and received from me, practice that.’ In other words, he wants our desires to be instructed by what we have learned and received from the preaching of God's word.

Third, direction. Look again in verse 9, where Paul says ‘What you heard and saw in me, this practice.’ Notice that Paul emphasizes that truth cannot simply be conveyed by a television, or a radio or a CD. You have to hear and see the truth lived out. That's why a TV preacher can't show you how to live the Christian life. How did Paul show the Philippians how to live the Christian life? He taught the truth, and then he lived and suffered and died right before their faces, so that they could see how a real flesh and blood disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ lives and suffers and dies. They heard and saw the truth. They got direction.

Let's say you were going to take up football, and the coach called you up in June and he said, ‘Look, don't worry coming to practice. I've got a book for you on football. Just read that book, show up on the first Friday night in September. We’re going to play our archrivals.’ Would you be up for that? You’d get slaughtered! No, you need him all summer long saying, ‘No, no, no, no! This is how you do it. Let me show you. This is who you block. This is who you tackle. This is how you block. This is how you tackle. Do that again...again…and again… and again.’ Over and over — direction is what you need. You need to hear and see, and so the Apostle Paul says what's the pattern for Christian discipleship? Meditation and instruction and direction.

And then there's application (end of verse 9). Put all this into practice. So, you’re getting ready for the piano competition. You play it once and get it, and then you just show up at the competition, right? No. You play it 300 times…500 times…600 times…1,000 times, 1,200 times. And then you go and you play in the piano competition. You do it over and over, and over and over again. You put the truth into practice.

So there it is, the pattern for Christian discipleship: Meditation; Instruction; Direction; and, Application.

IV. A promise.

And then comes a promise. And this promise is even better than the promise that Paul gave in verse 7. Isn't it fascinating? The exhortations come in verses 2-6, and then the promise in verse 7. And what's that promise? “The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” But the promise in verse 9 is even better. Follow these exhortations, and what does Paul say? “And the God of peace will be with you.”

Did you catch that? In verse 7, he says follow these exhortations and the peace of God will be with you. In verse 9, he says follow these exhortations and the God of peace will be with you. Did you catch the difference? The peace of God…the God of peace. The God of peace himself, the God who gives peace, the God who gives the peace of God will be with you.

It's really striking, this promise of the experience of the presence of the God of peace. Paul says it in the most shocking way: Practice these things and the God of peace will draw near to you, and you will know His presence and you will know His peace because He has drawn near to you as you obey His word.

Let's pray.

Our heavenly Father, we all know the battle against worldliness. We all know the encroachment of it upon our hearts. We need every weapon that we can muster, and so we thank You for Your word which provides us a panoply — a myriad of remedies, of responses, of tools to use against the enemy. So we pray that You would grant that we would take heed by the grace of Your Holy Spirit these exhortations, and thus know the comforting presence of the God of peace. In Jesus' name we pray. Amen.

Now let's practice fixing our eyes on what is good and lovely, using hymn No. 565, All for Jesus.

[Congregation sings.]

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.

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