Cornerstone EPC Sunday morning
Franklin, NC 28734 June 12, 2016
“Think on These Things:
Text: Philippians 4:8-9
We begin today with an illustration that I use every week—a hook, or a lead. A hook, when applied to popular music, is the first sixteen or so measures of the song. Usually the listener decides either to listen to the whole song or not based upon their view of the hook. A lead is similar; it is the first few sentences of a book, story, or article. The reader decides in those first sentences whether he or she will continue reading—or will stop reading. When I begin to preach, and when others listen later to our podcast, folks decide usually in the first half-minute whether they will listen to the rest—or, alas, that they will stop listening.
The hook, or the lead, for a thirty-minute local newscast often is bad news. Over the course of nearly a quarter-century in pastoral ministry, I have lived in several media markets. Invariably the newscast, no matter my address, begins with seven to ten minutes of generally bad news—crime, tragedy, and the like. When my children were smaller, I just waited for ten past the hour and watched the weather forecast, the sportscast, and the like. I suppose this occurs because bad news sells—else, I suppose the news would be full of other stories that sell better.
I am not advocating blithe ignorance this morning. After all, it is necessary at a certain level to know the bad news. Too much of this, however, damages our souls. At times we note an overwhelming amount—or a painful degree—of bad news, and these overwhelm our souls. More often, though, we preoccupy ourselves with such news—and this eats away our souls like lemon juice eats car battery post corrosion. We have the corrective for this in God’s Word. Let’s hear it—to our souls’ immediate and long-term profit.
(HERE READ THE TEXT)
In place of inordinate preoccupation with ill tidings, which damages our souls, think—at length and in depth—about the things prescribed by God through Paul. Just as Paul, led by the Spirit, teaches the Philippians this truth, so also that same Spirit teaches us—and all who wear Christ’s Name. First, the Lord teaches us here to think carefully—to reason at length—on things that are true (Greek alethes [alhqhV]). God would have us think on things in accordance with historical fact, on things real and not imaginary, and on things truthful and honest. As we meditate on true things—especially the Lord, His ways, and His will as declared in Scripture—our souls heal in the midst of this bad news world.
Second, the Lord teaches us to think on things honorable (Greek semnos [semnoV]). By this, the Spirit through Paul teaches us to think deeply upon appropriate, befitting behavior implying dignity and respect. In an era in our country where people are simply lost concerning things honorable—even people who routinely attend public worship—Paul’s Spirit-led directive helps us to think on higher ways, and that to our souls’ well-being.
Third, the Lord would have us think on things just (Greek dikaios [dikaioV]). He would have us think about things that square well with what God requires in His moral law. He moves us in our text to think on things conducive to right relationships with others—and how much help we need in our culture with this. God also would have us think about things proper, right, and fully justified in their settings. By thinking along this line, we increasingly will seek just actions, just results in jurisprudence, and just treatment of others in everyday life—and this conforms to God’s express requirement for us: to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with our God (Micah 6:8).
Fourth, the Lord teaches us to think deeply on things pure (Greek agnos [agnoV]). That is, we are to think on things relatively free of moral taint, spot, blemish, and so forth. Notice that, since the Fall in the Garden of Eden, there is nothing perfect in all creation; even creation itself suffers the effects of sin’s entrance into the world. Yet there are things less corrupted in this world—new snowfalls and clear mountain streams come to mind, to name but two. Let us think on these and like things.
Fifth, we are to think on things lovely (Greek prosphiles [prosfilhV]). In so doing, we think deeply on things engendering righteous pleasure in people—such as things beautiful, agreeable, and the like. This involves an activity that the philosophers call aesthetics, which seeks to answer the questions, “What is beauty?” and “What is the beautiful?” So much of what characterizes art today, for example, is a thrusting of the ugliest imaginable scenes and ideas before us—and some artists do this to say, in effect, either, “This is how the world appears to me,” or, “This is how I feel.” Yet we who know Jesus Christ can rejoice in His God-man-ly self, in His creation of lovely things, and His making all things beautiful in His time (Ecclesiastes 3:11). Let us think on this line—as well as the others.
Sixth, we are to dwell on things commendable (Greek euphemos [eufhmoV]) before God. In so doing we approve things deserving approval, and we esteem well things deserving good reputation. We might approve, for example, legitimate authority wielded in a wise, Godly manner—in government, in law enforcement, and in other spheres as well. Think on this and other things commendable as well.
Seventh, God would have us think on things excellent (Greek arete [areth]), that is, things of high quality or virtue. We can think of folks who perform excellently in the classroom, or on the concert stage, or in athletic contest, or other arenas. These excellent displays merit our close thinking and appreciation. We can think on high ideals—and their expression in virtuous acts—such as heroism, self-sacrifice, and the like. These are things worthy of praise (Greek epainos [epainoV]), as are all the foregoing. Let us think on all these things, and they will help our souls to heal and flourish in a bad news world.
Much of verse nine enjoins us to practice what Paul and other particularly Godly folk practice. Paul tells the Philippians to practice what they have learned, received, heard, and seen in him. This is akin to his statement to the Corinthians, “Follow me, as I follow the example of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1). The lesson for us is reasonably clear. Let us learn from those farther advanced in Christ than we. Let us receive for them as well all they have to offer. Let us also listen to those far along in Jesus than we, and let us watch their lives closely—in order that we may imitate them insofar as they conform to Christ. To all of this God attaches a promise: the God of peace, who gives the peace of God (Philippians 4:7) will be with us each and all. This is a precious, welcome promise indeed.
No matter what you see, hear, or otherwise perceive, don’t imitate Chicken Little; for the sky is not falling. In fact, as is ever the case, God is on His throne, and Satan is on His chain. Do, however, walk wise in Christ. Think on the things enjoined here, and practice in a manner consistent with the Word of God—imitating those folks especially conformed to that Word. We do these, of course, not in our own power, but in the power of God. Let us so live, and let our souls flourish in the merciful goodness of our three-in-one God
 For the material relative to the Greek words in today’s text, I am indebted to Johannes P. Louw and Eugene A. Nida, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains (New York: United Bible Societies, 1989).
 A statement I have heard attributed to Martin Luther.