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A New Year’s Encouragement (Philippians 3:12-14)

Introduction: Running our Race

In 1923 there was a celebrated contest between the track teams of Scotland and France.  They were neck and neck with just a few events remaining.  They began the 440, a sprint of just one lap around the track, and as the runners came to the first turn, bunched tightly together, one of them was pushed to the ground.  It was Eric Liddell, whom they called the Flying Scotsman.  He’d had been favored to win the race.  Now, he looked up from where he had fallen, already twenty yards behind the pack of runners.  What would most runners have done?  Most would have waved a fist, dusted themselves off, cursed a bit, and watched the outcome.  Probably there’d be a few words exchanged after the race about the French and their dirty play.  But Eric Liddell was no ordinary runner.  Liddell took off running down his lane, his head back.  Fifteen yards behind, ten yards, five yards, his head back, his face toward heaven.  As the leaders sprinted to the finish line, Eric leaped ahead and won the race, one that was immortalized in the movie “Chariots of Fire.”


In our passage, Paul speaks about the Christian life as a race, and one run with the same mindset as Eric Liddell.  It requires both forgetting what is behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead.  And there’s something about a New Year that makes it an important time for us to consider how we may do the same.


It’s too easy for us to let the past determine our future, and not the Lord.  Maybe we become satisfied with where we are.  Maybe it’s the opposite, we’ve failed so many times that we can’t see how anything could come of our lives.



Paul interestingly had plenty of reason for both attitudes.  First, he had plenty to boast about.  As he recalls his earlier life, Paul had religious accomplishment and pedigree of every kind.  He had lived a blameless life from his youth and was exceedingly zealous for God’s law.  He’d become a young member of the ruling assembly of Israel.  Paul had much to boast about indeed.  Nevertheless, when he came to know Jesus Christ, he recognized that it was worthless, or dung as the old translation vividly and accurately translates it.  Not his sins, he says, but his righteousness was only so much manure.  Everything that he had spent his life tallying up in the “gain” column, he suddenly counted as “loss.”  But though he had nothing to give God, God had everything to give to him in Jesus Christ.  The poet writes, “Upon a life I did not live, upon a death I did not die; another’s life, another’s death, I stake my whole eternity.”  Paul received forgiveness, eternal life, purpose, joy, and he became a child of God. 


Notice also that Paul was a man that had much to be ashamed of.  As he mentions here, in his blind zeal, he became an avid persecutor of the Christians, going from city to city to arrest them, bring them to trial for the crime of blasphemy, and personally to oversee them being put to death.  He was the chief persecutor of the church, and I guarantee you that Paul had done more against Christ in his day than any of you have ever done in yours.  Nevertheless, Paul not only left behind his boasted righteousness, he left behind his grievous sins.  Those things from his past were not going to control his future.  Christ was Paul’s future.  He expresses the same idea over and over here so that we don’t miss it:  he counted all things as loss “for [the sake of] Christ” (3:7).  Verse 8, “all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord” (3:8).  End of the verse, “that I may gain Christ” (3:8).  Verse 9, that I “may be found in Him” (3:9).  Verse 10, “that I may know Him” (3:10). 


And this is the first and greatest New Year’s encouragement I have for all of you who have been living for yourself, who have much to be proud of or much to be ashamed of or both.  Leave all your supposed good deeds and bad deeds behind you as so much dung.  There’s no power and not joy and no future in dung.  But there is power and joy and eternal life in Jesus.  And I plead with you to leave your past and to take hold of a future by means of God’s great redeemer.


Someone might say, “Let me see if I understand what Paul has written.  It’s not about what I have done, but what Christ has done:  his life, not mine, his righteousness, not mine, his deeds, not mine.  It’s all of grace not of works because we are undeserving.  Do I follow you?”  “Indeed.”  “Well, then, why do I have to do anything?  Have to do anything?  After Paul met Christ, the one he was persecuting, as God incarnate, do you think he could go right on in his course, putting Christians to death?  Did Christ not change his heart, his ambitions, his direction?


He now knows that there is no greater joy than Christ.  And therefore Paul says, all I want now is to know him, to be more like him, to go forward with him.  And so after speaking against legalism in the first half of this chapter, Paul now warns against the opposite error, historically called “antinomianism,” a big word that means that since it’s all of God’s love and grace then God can save me if he wants but it won’t make any difference to me and my life.  Paul therefore describes his mindset of reaching ahead to the high upward calling of Christ, and in the next paragraph he urges all Christians to follow his example.  And I’ll cover it in two parts today.  Here’s the encouragement for running your race in the next year.  You heed to have a holy dissatisfaction and a holy devotion.


1. Dissatisfaction:  Forgetting what is behind

Paul had a holy dissatisfaction.  Twice he says that he has not arrived.  He is not finished.  He has not fulfilled all the purposes that Christ has for him.  His goal was to know Christ to be like Christ and to fulfill all Christ had in mind for him.  Now if Paul had not arrived, then clearly we haven’t arrived either.  And this is the mindset we’re to have.  A mark of those who follow Jesus is that we are not satisfied.  The reality is the more we come to know God, the more we will come to sense our need to grow and desire to do so.  But when Christians become satisfied, they cease to grow and act and feel as they should.


Christ allows no room for a bland, tepid, mediocre life that strives to be neither hot nor cold.  We are all called to a single-minded, determined pursuit of Christ and all he is and has taught us to be.  Therefore I say that the first essential running the race in the coming year is a dissatisfaction deep inside of you to that will lead you to forget what is behind and lay hold of Christ and His purposes for you.


Now, what does he mean, forgetting what is behind.  Normally in Scripture, forgetting is a very bad thing.  Forgetting is one of our biggest problems in living the Christian life.  We forget God’s blessings.  We forget his mighty works and how he has cared for us in the past, and so we worry.  We forget about how he’s freed us from our bondage of sin.  We forget about the joy of the Lord, and we run after other things.  So many of our problems stem from forgetting.  But, we see here that there are some things that we should forget.  And of course, it’s not erasing the memories of the past.  But it is a conscious refusal to let the things of the past hinder our spiritual advance.  Remember Eric Liddell on the course, knocked down, 20 yards behind in a 440.  He was not satisfied just to stay there and watch the others.  He ran and he won.  And you’re called to do the same.


If we look around and compare ourselves to those around us, we may feel adequate as a Christian.  After all, hey, I’m in church and those other people aren’t.  If we compare ourselves among ourselves we might not do to badly.  But that is foolish.  We have fallen so far short of our calling and God’s glory.


Paul had reason to forget his past, and so do we.  We’ve all done things for which we’re ashamed.  But God remembers our sins no more against us.  Didn’t we read that earlier?  And having been forgiven, we’re free to be new people in Christ, with a new heart and a new Spirit within us that urge us onward.  We can let go of past guilt and look forward to what God will help us become. 


We have past burdens, bitter relationships, besetting sins, and so forth.  Anything can slow you down in the race when you dwell on it.  But the past does not define you.  Our culture does not define you.  Your friends do not define you.  Your significance is not bound to how well you live up to anyone’s expectations. God defines you.  And God has made you his child for his future for you. 


Paul remembered that he was chief of all sinners in his persecution of the church.  He brought that up frequently in his writings.  He didn’t forget his past sins in that sense.  It helped him remember God’s mercy and grace and power to change a heart and life.  And remembering what he was saved from helped him run the race ahead.  So again, what is it you should forget?  Don’t live in the past, says the bumper sticker, there’s no future in it.


The psychotherapy world tells you that you are a product of all the things that have happened to you in your past.  They say that’s the greatest thing that defines what you are.  And that would make sense if there were no Creator and no Redeemer.  If people were just the product of meaningless, purposeless evolutionary processes, then your identity really would be defined by the sum total of your past.  But that is not the case for you, child of God.  God is far greater than your past.  The future is what matters.  Too many Christians are trying to run the race by looking backward!  No wonder they stumble and fall and get in the way of others!  Dear friends, the first thing you need to run a good race in the year to come is a holy dissatisfaction.  Do not be satisfied with what you are and what you’ve done.  Lay hold of Christ and what he’s laid out for your future.  This leads to our second encouragement from this passage.  We need not only a holy dissatisfaction but also a holy…


2. Devotion:  Reaching toward what’s ahead

"I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. … One thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil 3:12-14).


This is Paul’s pursuit of Christ, which he encourages others to follow.  What does it mean for you and me?  From the passage it means at least communion, conformity, and commitment.  It means that I am seeking more communion with Christ.  My heart longs to know his presence, fellowship and direction at all times.  The very thought of pure, uninterrupted, free communion with God in Christ at all times fills my heart with joy.  And I am seeking total conformity to Christ.  I want to be like my Redeemer in love and life, in thought, in word and in deed.  I wish to be like him in character and compassion, in kindness and tenderness and goodness and holiness.  And third I am seeking total commitment to Christ.  I want to know his will and walk in it.  I want to bring honor and glory to my God and Savior.  I want to enlist everything for this most worthy cause.  Be gone all self-ambition!  Be gone all self-seeking!  Let me live for Christ alone.  This is the goal we must have if we’re to run the race going forward, this clear-sighted devotion.


In 1951, Florence Chadwick became the first woman to swim the English Channel in both directions.  One year later, she set out to swim the 26 miles between Catalina Island and the California mainland.  A few small boats surrounded her as she swam, in order to watch out for sharks and to come to her aid if she became hurt or grew tired.  After about fifteen hours (!), a thick fog set in off the Southern California coast—so thick that she could barely see the boats that were accompanying her.  But she continued on.  But after another hour, she began to cry out to the people in the boats to be taken out of the water.  Her mother, who was in one of the boats to encourage her, called out and told her that she was close and that she could make it.  But Florence was exhausted.  She stopped swimming and was pulled into the boat.  When she got on board, she 12 found out that the shore was less than half a mile away.  And at a news conference the next day, she said, “All I could see was the fog.  I think if I could have seen the shore, I would have made it” (quoted in Randy Alcorn).  And friends, if we would turn our eyes in this coming year from life’s vain things, if we would lift our gaze from the fogginess of all the distractions of life, we could keep our eyes on our goal.  We would see the Lord our Righteousness.  And if we could but see him, brothers and sisters, the sight of his glory would provide every ounce of strength and endurance that we could ever need to finish this race!  Oh, if only we would look to him more!


We seem to accept the lie that sin has far more authority over us and our circumstances around us than it actually does.  And when we’ve fallen we decide merely to watch the finishers.  But there is something about the start of a New Year that says, stand still no longer but run!  Instead of soaring many are sitting and souring!  Run!  God provides us the joy of direction.  Hear again, “I press on” (v. 12), “reaching forward” (v. 13), “I press toward the goal,” (v. 14), “Have this mind” (v. 15), and “let us walk” (v. 16).


Paul reached forward to eagerly to embrace Christ and the path God had for him.  This does not imply in the least that his path was without trouble.  Think about where Paul was right as he wrote this letter.  Paul was in a Roman prison awaiting trial before Caesar himself.  But God had a good purpose in his life and calling, and Paul was ready to go anywhere, even to death, if that was the way that God would glorify himself in Paul.




Lesson #1:  Stand firm by moving forward (4:1)

Philippians 4 begins, "so stand fast in the Lord, beloved" (Phil 4:10).  This whole thing is about pressing on and moving forward and running hard.  So the way to stand firm is to run.  That’s the key to stability in the Christian life – keep moving forward.  It’s kind of like riding a bike.  If you try to stay stationary on a bike it’s very difficult to balance.  But once you get moving forward, even a little child can balance.  And the faster the bike moves the more stable it is.  The slower you go, the more unstable you are, and if you go too slow, you tip over.  That’s how it is with the Christian life.  If you want to stand firm so that you’re still in the faith when Christ returns, keep running.


We can become paralyzed by fear or failure.  Some are so afraid that they might do the wrong thing that they do nothing.  We need to learn to err on the side of action, because we tend to default to negligence.  So many won't do anything unless they hear a voice from heaven telling them precisely what to do.  Why not default to action until you hear a voice from heaven telling you to wait?  For example: Why not assume you should adopt kids unless you hear a voice telling you not to?  Wouldn't that seem more biblical since God has told us that true religion is to care for the widows and orphans (James 1:27)?


Too many people are sitting around crossroads for direction from God waiting for him to give them the go-ahead to move, making plans, preparing, year after year goes by and they're not moving.  They want to be so careful, and make so many preparations, and wait so long for clearer and clearer guidance – putting out “fleeces” (God, if you want me to do this ministry, then make it rain on the left side of the hallway at church…).  When Christ comes back and says, “Why were you just sitting there?” they're going to say “I was waiting for you to give me the go-ahead.”  Christ might say, “The go-ahead?  I told you – this is a race!  I gave you go ahead when I fired the gun to start the race the day you became a Christian.”  In a race you start running and keep running until you get to the finish line.  You don't stop at every turn and wait for permission to proceed.


Lesson #2:  Be humble and holy, not merely real and authentic

In case you haven’t noticed, being real and authentic is the new cool.  For example, Americans are spending a fortune on hipster gear so that people will admire them for appearing that they don’t care how they dress.


For the Christian, this trend to be real and authentic can either be helpful or not so helpful.  It can be helpful if it makes us, like the Apostle here, more humble, honest about our sins, eager to glorify God’s grace, and wary of religious hypocrisy.


However, it can be bad when it has the opposite effect, when people try to be real and authentic without being godly and humble.  When this happens, it makes people complacent in their sin and not ashamed.  It makes people proud of how broken they are so that they even look down on genuinely holy Christians.  It makes people reluctant to say that the Lord has delivered them from some certain sin.  It makes us and others comfortable in our “messed up” state.  That’s bad.  If you’ve grown up around religious people who look down on real people, it might seem like a breath of fresh air to be around the real people who look down on religious people.  But you’re just exchanging one form of pride for another.  It’s bad to have authenticity without humility.  That’s the opposite of humility, actually, because such people crave the respect and admiration and attentions of others because they seem so real.  Paul was real.  And Paul had the highest standards of holiness for himself and others.  He was authentic, and he was intimidating.  That’s the way it should be.  So, dear friends, the lesson is, be humble and holy, not merely real and authentic. 



John Newton said what I want to say, far better than I can say it, as he looked over his own life, and looked to where he was heading: — “I am not what I ought to be — ah, how imperfect and deficient!  I am not what I wish to be — I abhor what is evil, and I would cleave to what is good!  I am not what I hope to be — soon, soon shall I put off mortality, and with mortality all sin and imperfection.  Yet, though I am not what I ought to be, nor what I wish to be, nor what I hope to be, I can truly say, I am not what I once was; a slave to sin and Satan; and I can heartily join with the apostle, and acknowledge, ‘By the grace of God I am what I am.’”


Thinking and Doing Joy (Philippians 4:8-9)

IntroductionContext of anxiety

Rejoice in the Lord, Paul commanded, “And again I say rejoice!” (4:4).  And Paul promised that if we present our requests and anxieties to God in prayer, with thanksgiving, that "the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard [our] hearts and minds in Christ Jesus" (verse 7).  Well, what do you do when you have prayed hard, but anxious thoughts just keep coming up?  Here in today’s passage Paul gives us further training in our pursuit of joy.  He exhorts the Philippians to embrace exalted thoughts and pursue excellent deeds, for these will enhance God's presence and peace for our joy.  That’s the subject for today, but let’s start with the context of our anxieties.


One research psychologist, Elinore Kinarthy, reported that the average person has more than two hundred negative thoughts a day—worries jealousies insecurities cravings for forbidden things, etc.  Depressed people, she reports, have as many as six hundred.  Sometimes we feel that we’re at the mercy of our thoughts, but that is not the case.  God's Word rather instructs us to be careful what we think about and what occupies our minds because our lives are a product of what we think.  Our series is on fighting for joy, and obviously our joy depends largely on what’s in our mind.  We’ve got to learn to deal with our thoughts.


When we’re anxious or preoccupied with some trouble in our life, we don’t have to put forth any effort at all to think about it.  Our minds just seem to go by themselves.  In fact, it takes all your effort just to stop thinking about that thing.  And even then, the thoughts come right back.  What then?


Some religions call people to empty their minds, and others call for a kind of thoughtless obedience.  Christianity is very different.  Christianity is a thinking religion.  Not to short change feeling, but no lasting change occurs in our lives without the transformation of our minds.  Grace advances in us as we ponder, reflect, consider, and apply the truth as it is in Christ Jesus.  Your thoughts have a great power to harm your soul and your life, and your thoughts can be powerful for good or for evil.


And so it shouldn’t surprise us that the prophets call the wicked to forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts (Isa 55:7), just as Jesus traced murder to hatred and adultery to lust.  On the other hand, God says, “I will put their laws in their minds.”  I will cause my people to love them and contemplate them and then apply them to their lives.  Romans 8:5 puts it this way, “For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit” (Rom 8:5, ESV).


Here is the connection between thoughts and deeds, between thinking and doing.  And if we’re fighting for joy, we’ll have to fight on both fronts.  In the original, verses 8-9 are a single sentence with two commands, one for what we think and one for what we do.


1. Thinking toward joy (4:8)

The command is in verse 8, “meditate on these things” (Phil 4:8).  We’ll consider what those things are in a moment.  But let me begin with the obvious.  If we’re going to have joy, we need stronger, better, purer, more powerful thoughts and desires.


Unlike what some new age people today are saying, your thoughts don’t affect reality.  But surely your thoughts affect you.  Your thoughts don’t determine what happens around you, but they do determine what you choose to do about it.


Have you ever gone through a neighborhood where houses are so dilapidated that it’s hard to imagine people living there?  A back yard so full of trash that you couldn’t even walk through it?  Weeds, doors hanging off the hinges, holes in the roof.  How can someone live in a house and give no attention to keeping it up.  Most of us would never let our house get like that, but we do let our thought life get like that.  They give no attention to putting it in order, no effort to protect it from the elements or to clean it up or to maintain it.



We’re living in the middle of a health food craze.  “You are what you eat,” they say.  There’s something to that.  But the Bible says that you are what you think.  You know the proverb, “As [a man] thinks in his heart, so is he” (Prov 23:7).


Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones made the point that we would all be much better off spiritually if we spent less time listening to ourselves and more time talking to ourselves.  There is a constant dialogue going on in your every waking hour.  Your flesh is constantly going off about something, and you can just passively listen, and let it be in control of your thought life , or you can stand up and take control


Notice that Paul repeats the word whatever each time.  Instead of just rattling off the list (whatever is true, noble, right, pure…) he repeats that phrase whatever before each word.  When you want the reader to take the whole list as one, big, single concept, then you just give it quickly with no words in between.  But when there are words in between each item like we have here, the purpose is to make the reader slow down and consider each one individually.


“Whatever things are true,” in context, all that Paul has just taught us.  Think on the great love and mercy of Christ for you, chapter 1.  Consider how the Son of God became a servant and gave his life for your sake, chapter 2.  Think on how you have a righteousness from God in Jesus Christ, chapter 3.  Remember that your citizenship is in heaven, and what it means to live lives worthy of the gospel.  Meditate—fill your minds—with whatever’s true.  We need to push out the lies with which the devil holds people captive.  Whatever we think about, be it parenting, work, news, politics, or the fashions of the world, we need to think about from the standpoint of the truth.


In context, it’s especially important when dealing with anxiety to put off the false.  People so often are anxious about assumptions and what-if’s and fears—nothing to do with truth and reality.  In fact, the greater the anxiety, the farther our thoughts wander from the truth.  We start imputing motives and thinking the worst.


It’s like the man who wanted to go borrow a jack from his neighbor.  On the walk next door he thinks, It’s about dinner time – I’m probably going to interrupt his dinner.  If I were him, I would be annoyed if someone came and bothered me during dinner.  Then he’ll probably worry about whether I’m going to damage it, because my truck is heavy.  I’m sure he’ll act all friendly, but he’ll probably be secretly irritated at me.  And from now on he’ll have an attitude that I owe him a favor.  The more he thinks, the madder he gets at his neighbor.  Now at the front door, he pounds on it.  And when his neighbor opens, he says, “You can just keep your stupid jack if that’s the way you’re going to be about it!” and he storms off.  It’s only funny because we know how our thoughts run away from us into things that we don’t know are true.


The same goes for worry.  We start imagining worst-case scenarios, conjuring up various painful outcomes until we’re all upset.  But it’s not reality.  If we would stop and ask, “Do I know these things to be true?” the answer would have to be no.  It’s amazing the impact just this first question can have on anxious thoughts.  I think it’s first because it’s so powerful.  Just the question, “Is it true?” filters out so many anxious thoughts that you hardly need the rest of the list.  Put up some guardrails of truth in your mind and resolve that from this point forward, I’m going to stay within the bounds of what I know is true.  Fight for joy by putting off the false thoughts and filling your mind with the great and glorious truth of God.


Second, Paul says, think on whatever’s noble or some of you have honorable.  The word can mean dignified, venerable, esteemed, awe-inspiring, that which commands respect, august, majestic, worthy.  God has called us to a great and good life, one of blessing to others and glory to God.  We should give our minds to ponder these things that will bring our lives significance.  The Christian has great, noble purposes to consider.  Are you applying your mind so such things?  Go to the Word of God, and let the high, lofty, majestic, venerable thoughts fill your mind. 


So it is with whatever’s just or righteous, same word.  And whatever is pure.  Our world is bombarding our minds with things that are unrighteous and impure.  There’s a saying that goes like this:  We may not be able to prevent birds from flying over our heads but we can certainly prevent them from building nests in our hair.  So it is with the unrighteous and impure influences around us.  We can’t avoid them, of course, but we can keep our minds from dwelling on them.  We can feed our minds on nobler things.  In what ways are you constantly applying your mind to what is righteous and pure?  You’ve got to graze in the right mental pasture.  You’ve got to eat the right food for thought.  Meditate on these things.


Next whatever’s lovely, referring to things that are beautiful.  Are we meditating on and treasuring the wonders of the glorious things of God.  Also, whatever is of good report or commendable or admirable, which is to say whatever is worthy of praise.  If there’s any virtue, and if there’s anything praiseworthy, meditate on these things.



Now, kids especially, let me draw out one application of this passage for us today.  Our generation is faced with more of an assault on the mind than any previous generation through a constant exposure to a wide range of media, songs, movies, internet, and so on.  Don’t rely on the world to be your filter.  Christian, you must take responsibility for your mind.


Let’s say you bought a brand new house.  And in that brand new house, there’s a nice brand new wall to wall carpet in your living room, off-white.  It’s been raining for two or three days and your newly planted yard is all mud.  Now someone comes to visit your new house and they walk through your new yard and their boots are covered with mud.  Now, with your brand new house and your brand new carpet, you might ask them to take their boots off before they came in.  I doubt you’d let them just walk through your new house on your new carpet and muddy up that off-white wall to wall.  Why?  Well, first, you value the carpet.  And you know how difficult it is once that carpet has been soiled like that ever to get it back to its pristine condition.  You’d want to protect your precious carpet.


Well, listen.  You mind is more valuable than carpet.  And isn’t it interesting how with what they watch, hear, read, talk about, people allow all sorts of things to trample through their mind with muddy shoes and dirty up their thoughts as if it’s not a difficult thing to keep clean.  What are we welcoming into our minds?


Colossians 3, “Seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God.  Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth.  For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. … Put to death … fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. … [For] You have put off the old man with his deeds, and have put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him” (Col 3:1-10)


Kids, I know it’s always a struggle with parents over what you should watch or listen to.  The question shouldn’t always be, “What’s wrong with it?”  The best guide to your media consumption is this:  Is it true?  Is it noble?  Is it right?  Is it pure?  Is it lovely?  Is it of good report?  Does it have virtue?  Is it worthy of praise?  Choose these things, thinking right.  There are many Christians who focus on obeying God in their actions, but neglect the thinking side.  Here’s the prayer of Augustine, “Set love in order in me” (City of God, XV.22).  Start desiring and pursuing thoughts of joy.  And second Paul teaches us about…


2. Living toward joy (4:9)

Christianity isn’t only a thinking religion.  It is, and must be, a practical religion. Paul exhorts them, verse 9, “The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace will be with you” (Phil 4:9).  Many of you have a translation like “practice these things” (ESV).  The world often has that sense, especially here in context.  In verse 8, where we’re told to meditate on certain thoughts, set our minds on them.  Here is the parallel command.  Give yourself to certain actions, practice them.  The Christian life isn’t primarily about what you’re not doing.  It’s about what you are doing.  We need to give ourselves to pursue the deeds what will bring us joy.


A thief who becomes a Christian will not put to death his thievery simply by stopping stealing.  Paul says he needs to start giving to people in need.  Someone who has a destructive tongue will not put to death his evil speaking by being silent.  He needs to learn instead to build people up. 


One writer says, “Sin is best killed in the soul and removed from the life, not by kicking it repeatedly, though that must be done to weaken it, but by crowding it out with virtue until there is no room left for it within our hearts and our behavior.”


There’s little joy in simply putting off sin.  You know the old saying, “Nature abhors a vacuum.”  Do you remember the story that Jesus tells about a house that’s swept clean, but then left empty.  And then even more devils return and take up residence.  Jesus concludes, “the last state of that man is worse than the first” (Matt 12:45).  And also with us.  Put off sin, yes, but put on Christ.  Die to self, yes, but live to God.  And isn’t life really the point of what God is doing in us? d


Here’s John Owen, “There is more to growing a healthy garden than weeding it.  Good seeds must be planted, watered, and fertilized!  Then God must give the growth.  So it is in a life of holiness….  We can kill sin only when we cultivate the virtues of Christ and the graces of the Spirit in sin’s place.  And the only way to cultivate this kind of character is through the regular practices of Christian community: peacemaking, Scripture intake, admonishing one another, worship, and grateful prayer. These are the practices that help us set our affections on Christ and put our mouths out of taste for the deadly pleasures of sin by giving us greater satisfaction in him” [James I. Packer, Sin and Temptation: The Challenge To Personal Godliness, ed. by James M. Houston (Portland, OR: Multnomah, 1983) p. 71].



Pascal, that great French mathematician and philosopher I keep quoting to you, said, “All men seek happiness.  This is without exception.  Whatever different means they employ, they all tend to this end.  The cause of some going to war, and others avoiding it, is the same desire in both, attended with different views.  The will never takes the least step but to this object.  This is the motive of every action of every man, even of those who hang themselves.”


It’s crucial that we learn to filter the thoughts that come into our head.  People have dead bolt locks on the front door of their house, but let anything in the door of their mind.  Or change the picture.  Imagine a person who just eats whatever he sees.  Grass from his front yard, a rock, garbage—whatever’s right in front of him he just puts it in his mouth and swallows it.  That’s the way anxious people tend to be with their thought life.  There’s no discernment or controls over what they allow their mind to dwell on.  Their thoughts just go wherever the currents push them.


God’s word teaches us how to be discerning eaters.  Before you start dwelling on some thought that pops up, do you do what you do with food.  Examine it, make sure it’s edible, make sure it’s not poison, and make sure it’s healthy before consuming it. 


In our fight for Joy, the Lord would have us think about things that are excellent and praiseworthy, and put into practice all we have learned.


A bleeding savior, seen by faith,

A sense of pardoning love,

A hope that triumphs over death,

Give joys like those above.


To take a glimpse within the veil,

To know that God is mine,

Are springs of joy that never fail,

Unspeakable!  Divine!


These are the joys that satisfy,

And sanctify the mind;

Which make the spirit mount on high,

And leave the world behind.