2020-6-28 Think Carefully on These Things

Cornerstone EPC                                                                              Sunday morning
Franklin, NC 28734                                                                          June 28, 2020

“Think Carefully on These Things”
Philippians 4:8-9

(An earlier version of this sermon was preached on Sunday morning, June 12, 2016, at Cornerstone EPC.)

I sound like a broken record to myself.  I refer each week in this place to the woes afflicting our land in that week.  The list of woes does not shrink just now, but grows—and those woes, once on our list, tarry there.  By now we know what the woes are.  Today let’s talk about something else.  In place of inordinate preoccupation with ill tidings, which damages our souls, let us think—at length and in depth—about the things God prescribes through Paul.  Let us give our full attention once again to the reading of God’s Word in this place.

(HERE READ THE TEXT)

Just as Paul, led by the Spirit, teaches the Philippians the truth of today’s text, so also that same Spirit teaches us—and all who wear Christ’s Name.  Let us consider now these qualities that the Lord approves, each in its turn.  First, the Lord teaches us to think carefully—to reason at length—on things that are true (Greek alethes [alhqhV]).[1]  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 on 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—and to behave in such a manner ourselves.  The Spirit also implores us to honor those who act in ways that display dignity and respect toward God and others.  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 truly we need much help with this in our culture.  God also would have us think about things proper, right, and fully justified in their settings.  By thinking along this line, increasingly we will seek just actions, just results in jurisprudence, and just treatment of others in everyday life—and this conforms to God’s expressed 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 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.”  In the face of this, recall that there is much beauty in our world.  We who know Jesus Christ can rejoice in His Being, 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.  We may also approve an educator who teaches with great skill, compassion, and encouragement. We may approve those in business who think win-win, who strive to bless clients, suppliers, employees, and the like, even as they reap blessing from God for themselves.  Think on these 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 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 clear.  Let us learn from those farther advanced in Christ than we.  Let us receive from them all they have to offer.  Let us also listen to those farther along in Jesus that 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.[2]  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.

AMEN.

[1] For the material relative to the Greek words in today’s text, I am indebted to Johannes P. Louw and Eugene A. Nida, eds., Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains (New York: United Bible Societies, 1989).

[2] A statement I have heard attributed to Martin Luther.