The God of Peace Will Be With You
Philippians 4:8–9 – Philippians: Life Together
3rd Sunday of Easter – April 15, 2018 (am)
There are two commands in our passage today: think about these things (8), and practice these things (9). And then we’re told if we do this, if we obey, the God of peace will be with (us) (9). Do you want the God of peace to be with you? (9) Do you want to experience the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, (guarding) your (heart) and your (mind) in Christ Jesus? (7) Then we need to hear what Paul is teaching in this text. Let’s answer two simple questions.
What is Paul telling us to do here?
8 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. There’s the charge. But the list of virtues gets top billing, so they deserve careful attention. And that’s just what the charge calls for: think about these things; consider them (3:13). We may even say, calculate them, ponder them. Let them sink in and change how you live!
True – valid, reliable, honest, not false, dependable, genuine, authentic. There is such a thing as truth. And some truths are absolutely true; they’re always true, for everyone everywhere. And we can ponder such truth. Many these days want to say there is no such thing as absolute truth; and even if there were, we can’t know it. But that’s not so. Is murder ever acceptable, or rape, or stealing? If someone tells you there’s no absolute truth, take their cell phone. Tell them you like it better than yours. See how that goes!
Honorable – (only in pastorals) that which is worthy of respect, not base, noble, opposite of frivolous or trivial, serious, dignified, even majestic; it’s a quality commended in older men in Tit.2:2. Think about that: dignified, majestic. Do you know anyone like that? I knew such a man when I was younger, and he’s still etched in my mind as someone honorable. He always conducted himself with poise, always seemed to know what was right, and always had the right words to communicate it. I was just a high schooler at the time but he still treated me with respect, even when I acted foolishly. His life was in-order. He was an honorable man. He was the CEO of a very profitable, mid-size company, and he was an exemplary believer. His desk was clear; he said it communicates to people that nothing is distracting his attention to them and their need. Throughout my ministry life, then, my desk has been clear.
Just – right, morally upright and undefiled, not wrong, deviant, or misleading; it meets all obligations toward God and man; it directs our choices. It answers, “What is the right thing to do?” (Begg)
Pure – moral, sexual purity, chaste, not sleazy or self-gratifying. Wisdom from above is first pure (Jam.3:17). Christian leaders are to be pure (1Ti.5:22). What do you look at when you’re alone? Where does you mind go when you’re on the road? If we made a video of your thought life, what would it be rated?
Lovely (only here in NT) – pleasing, agreeable, amiable, not disgusting, calls forth brotherly love. This is the antidote to friction in relationships (Begg). Pondering lovely presses us to find good in everything, even people. It searches for something, anything, to hold in common even with the most disagreeable people.
Commendable (only here in NT) – attractive, deserving, not despicable, things of good report that build up and don’t tear down. This is that quality which is likely to win people. Things that are commendable are persuasive, convincing, compelling in their rightness. To deny the commendable is to deny virtue itself.
If there is any excellence – this is the most comprehensive Greek term for moral excellence; it was most associated with Stoic morality. This is the only place where Paul used this word. It refers to moral excellence on a human level. Along with lovely and commendable, it begins to suggest that Paul is intentionally listing virtues that reflect the Greek-speaking world outside the church—their high-mindedness, their poetic and philosophical affinity for moral virtue. Perhaps Paul wanted the church to raise the bar on qualifies of excellence, to stand apart among the people of Philippi who were so proud of their Roman citizenship. He wanted them to display a moral excellence that was like heaven on earth!
If there is anything worthy of praise – this could speak of things for which we praise God, but in context it actually appears to refer to anything worthy of praise in people. Are there any (excellent) or (praiseworthy) virtues being displayed in your circles? Dwell on them. Think about these things.
These last two are summary principles that keep this list at only six items. Then Paul gives his second command (9): practices these things, do what I’m doing. He uses four verbs to clarify what he means and divides them into two pairs.
The first pair, learned and received, refers to all that the Philippians gained from Paul’s teaching, like the gospel itself and the Word of God.
The second pair, heard and seen, refers to their observation of his personal walk with Christ. Together they suggest that Paul reliably practiced what he preached.
Still, imagine living in such a way that you could say this! Whatever you’ve heard me say, whatever you’ve seen me do, do that, and God Himself will be with you! Is this how we live? What we discern here, then, is that Paul is modeling what he’s calling the Philippians to do. And the meaning is much like as his message to the Corinthians: Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ (1Co.11:1). What the Philippians are (hearing) and (seeing) in Paul is the excellence of Jesus Himself. And Paul wants to see this excellence reproduced in them.
What does this look like in real life?
It looks like (graciousness) with people, (letting) your reasonableness be known to everyone (5)—to people of all types, and in all kinds of circumstances. Living in Phi.4:8-9 sees situations of inefficiency or irritation or even injustice as opportunities to display gospel fruit, gospel virtues, gospel maturity. It sees unpleasant circumstances as unique opportunities for the light of the gospel to shine forth, to stand apart from typical human responses that everyone else feels are fully justified. This past week Noelle and I were enjoying some ice cream at Oberweis on 59. A family was sitting at the next table—father, mother, and teen-aged daughter—and something gave me the impression they were a Christian family. Well, their order was lost in the back, and one of the employees, a teen-aged boy, came to their table, profusely apologized, explained, and asked for their receipt in order to see what they had ordered, and fill it. But the whole time that boy was talking, not only did the father not say a word, he never even looked up from the screen on his phone. Clearly, he was annoyed. And to his credit, I suppose, he never spoke a word of displeasure or rebuke. But he communicated his displeasure even more clearly without words! The only indication he gave that he even heard the boy talking came when he handed over his receipt, still without a word, and still without looking away from his phone. Was that a Phi.4:8-9 response? Some Christians might say: Yes, I think so. I mean, at least he didn’t pop off at the boy like others would have! After all, the kid was there for one reason: to serve people ice cream. And he blew it! But let’s press on and ask: Really? Was that man’s response honorable and just and lovely? How about commendable? Worthy of praise? We said: At least I didn’t pop off at him. But it’s possible all we can say is: At most I didn’t pop off at him! But a Phi.4:8-9 response hasn’t yet broken the horizon! A Phi.4:8-9 response would be more likely to seize this moment to encourage that boy, to affirm to him that you’re glad it happened to you and not some other person who wouldn’t recognize that people are more important than ice cream! Now that would be honorable!
A Phi.4:8-9 perspective responds to people with graciousness. But it also notices, and spotlights, and (honors) graciousness in people, entirely apart from their motives. We might perceive that a customer service representative who’s handling our complaint is working very hard trying to be nice. Phi.4:8-9 nudges us, for the sake of the gospel, to notice and receive that niceness with explicit gratitude. I can’t imagine listening to problems like this all day long! I really appreciate your kindness. That can’t be easy to express, but you’re doing a great job. And then you go back to your own issue. That is honorable. That is lovely. That is commendable, and worthy of praise.
A Phi.4:8-9 mindset, heart-set, defends truth in much the same way. It (thinks) on whatever is true, and so becomes true. But it also expresses and defends (what) is true in a way that is honorable and lovely and (excellent). Perhaps we simply pose questions rather than making assertions that what we see is not true. Or maybe we introduce alternatives that are are true rather than just boldly confronting what is not true. For instance, we might ask: Isn’t there something about abortion that just doesn’t quite seem right to you, doesn’t seem fair, or just? Or, perhaps say: I’m so glad fire departments are installing these baby boxes as an alternative for women who struggle with the thought of abortion.
A Phi.4:8-9 mindset also settles conflicts, just like it did here in Philippi. Remember, Paul is still giving instruction to this body on how to help Euodia and Syntyche agree in the Lord (2-3). And you can hear from our examples so far how that is so!
But it’s not always about encounters out in the world, or in the church. A Phi.4:8-9 mindset also shows itself in our communication with God. In our PT meeting this past week we noted how the prayers of the NT have at least two things in common: 1) very spiritually-minded requests that are clearly rooted in Scripture, and yet 2) a great, personal concern for the other’s well-being. Jesus’ own prayers were like this (Joh.17:20-23): I ask that those who believe in me may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. … I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you… loved them even as you loved me. Clearly spiritually minded and biblical, and very concerned for the other; this is prayer that flows from a mind and heart that have been (thinking) on whatever is true and honorable, just and pure, lovely, commendable, (excellent), and (praiseworthy).
This is what it looks like in real life. This is where we’re led as we hear and obey Phi.4:8-9, as we think on these things (8) and practice these things (9) by faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, who embodies these virtues.
Let’s now remember His death together with thanksgiving (6) for the cleansing and new life He enables.