Calvary Road Baptist Church

“ROUTINE CHRISTIAN THOUGHT”

Philippians 4.8; Isaiah 1.18

 

Paul’s friends in the Philippian church were having some problems. First, they were concerned about what Paul was going through. But he put them at ease by pointing out that the difficulties he faced in Roman imprisonment had actually provided opportunity for the gospel to spread. Nothing to be particularly unhappy about there. Second, they were a little concerned about their own worsening situation in Philippi. He dealt with that by pointing out what he was going through, what the Lord Jesus Christ had gone through, what Timothy had gone through, and what their own close friend Epaphroditus had gone through. Difficult? Yes. Arduous? Yes. However, who could deny that it was well worth it to advance the cause of Christ? Third, there was some concern about the possibility of Judaizers coming in and trying to teach heresy to the people. However, Paul, pointing out the Judaizer’s characteristics and the fact that they were enemies of the cross of Christ, seems to have dispatched that problem rather expertly. Fourth, there was the fuss between two church members. Folks, this was the real reason Paul wrote to the Philippians in the first place. The cause of Christ is too great a cause, the ministry is too sensitive to disharmony, and anything that would detract from unity is too insignificant, to allow these two church members to continue their spat without correcting the problem.

Those things done, Paul moves on to address the thought life of a Christian. Those Philippians almost certainly felt like they were beset on every side, surrounded by the imposing forces of spiritual darkness that controlled the world in which they lived, downtrodden by the grinding poverty, and outcast by their friends, neighbors, and relatives. No doubt, they faced the threat of debilitating discouragement. Paul knew what such discouragement was like. He had faced it many times himself, and even experienced it. Listen to what he wrote to the Corinthians in Second Corinthians 1.8:

 

“For we would not, brethren, have you ignorant of our trouble which came to us in Asia, that we were pressed out of measure, above strength, insomuch that we despaired even of life.”

 

So, not only did Paul know what it was like to go through what they anticipated going through, but he had also thought the thoughts they were thinking, and he knew that if they didn’t get a handle on their thought life they were effectively finished as a viable spiritual force in that city.

My friend, you too have to realize that unless and until you gain control of your thought life you will never be a consistently effective force for the cause of Christ. So, what does Paul do? He tells the Philippians how to think. Let’s stand and read Philippians 4.8 together so that you, too, can find out some things related to what really ought to be routine Christian thought:

 

“Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.”

 

First, THERE ARE THE CONCERNS OF A CHRISTIAN’S THOUGHTS

 

Friend, there are two general concerns of your thoughts:

First, and I think we can all agree on this, there are those things which make you anxious. You remember Philippians 4.6: “Be careful for nothing.” This statement marks as out of bounds those thoughts a Christian has which are related to anxiety and what we normally refer to as worry. Remember, as well, that such thoughts that are directed to concern for the church or the welfare of those you are responsible for is one thing, but to be anxious over your own fortunes is just plain sinful. Why is it sinful? It is sinful because it is selfish. Paul then proceeded to show the Philippians what to do when they felt overcome with anxiety or overwhelmed by anxiety. They were to make the matter known to God in prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving. In so doing, not only would the prayer request be something acted upon by God, but the additional benefit of God’s Own peace keeping your heart and mind through Christ Jesus would be an extraordinary blessing.

We should also ask what happens to those things that you are not worried about, not careful about, and not anxious about? Does God provide direction to you for the control of your thought life concerning those things that do not worry you? Yes, He does, my friend. Yes, He does. Philippians 4.8 begins,

 

“Finally, brethren . . . .”

 

Understand that this “finally” does not mean that Paul has gotten to his final remarks. This word translated “finally” does not have the force of finality that would indicate that. Rather, this word refers to what’s left over of the immediate concerns that have not yet been addressed. It wraps up what Paul began in Philippians 4.1 by way of instructing Christians how to “stand fast in the Lord.”[1] Therefore, I take this word “finally” to refer to verses 8 and 9, to be dealing with the rest of the things Paul has not yet dealt with in our immediate context, which is the Christian’s thought life so that the believer will be enabled to stand in the Lord. To put it another way, Paul has already shown to us what to do with our thought life when we are aroused with anxiety and the alarms of concern are going off. Now he deals with the rest of our thought life; what principles should govern the routine thoughts of every Christian.

 

WHICH BRINGS US TO THE VARIOUS CATEGORIES OF A CHRISTIAN’S THOUGHTS

 

In this verse Paul provides for us a list, a very unusual list, of eight words. Several of these words are found only here in the New Testament. As well, several of these words puzzle many commentators, since they seem to allow Christians to value even some things that are not Christian in nature or origin. You’ll see what I mean as we look at these words individually:

First, “Whatsoever things are true.” As with the other words, Paul seems to allow for the possibility that there is truth outside the Bible by writing, “whatsoever things are true.” To be sure, nothing can possibly be true if it in any way conflicts with the truths found in God’s Word. But, is there truth outside the Bible? Of course, there is truth outside the Bible. The hypotenuse of a right triangle squared is equal to the sum of the squares of the other two sides. Everyone who has ever taken geometry knows this to be true. Yet, it’s not taught in the Word of God. Is that possible? Yes. The Bible contains truths related, directly or indirectly, to the redemption of mankind through Jesus Christ, the Son of God. However, the Bible never makes a claim to contain all truth. Therefore, what Paul seems to be referring to here is that which is true but which may not necessarily be in the Bible. Physics, chemistry, geometry, calculus, statistics, geology (rightly interpreted), astronomy (rightly interpreted), and biology (rightly interpreted). These and other disciplines are all built on discoverable truths not found in the Bible. That’s fine, so long as those engaged in the discovery of truth don’t draw false conclusions and try to surmise that there is some conflict between discoverable truth and God’s Word. The Christian need never fear truth.

Next, “Whatsoever things are honest.” This word seems to refer to that which is honorable, noble, worthy of respect. Again, discernment is required of the Christian. Michelangelo was a practicing homosexual. His lifestyle choices were an offense to God. But was he an artistic genius? Of course. Who in his right mind would deny that? Distinction can be made between his noble skill and his rebellious sex life. How about the Parthenon in Athens? A beautiful building? Stunning. The work of genius. Without parallel in the world today. We can make that statement, knowing that it was a temple built and dedicated to the worship of false gods and the practice of sexual promiscuity.

Third, “Whatsoever things are just.” Ever found yourself in a situation in which an unsaved person showed to you that you were wrong? This guy, having no guidance from the Word of God, pointed out to you the injustice of the course of action you were on. Ever happen to you? It’s happened to me. No sinner can be just in the sight of God but through faith in Christ. That said, are the unsaved totally devoid of any and all understanding of what it means to be just? Not at all. So, when you see that which is just, even if it’s origin is not Biblical, don’t deny what it is.

Fourth, “Whatsoever things are pure.” You’ve known unsaved people with morals and ethics that are higher than most so-called Christians you know. Our culture decries some other cultures as barbaric and primitive. But the interesting thing is that the men and women of those cultures are virgins when they marry. They may do a lot of things we don’t like, but they don’t fornicate and they don’t adulterate and they don’t divorce. And you know people in our own culture who are lost, but they never gossip. They are lost, but they are never disloyal. In short, in some respects there is a purity to them, after a fashion.

Fifth, “Whatsoever things are lovely.” Ever listen to a Beethoven symphony? Ever look at the Mona Lisa? Ever go over to the Huntington Library and look at “The Blue Boy” and “Pinkie?” Ever look at a Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird? Ever watch a hummingbird? Ever watch Michele Kwan or Christine Yamaguchi or Peggy Fleming skate? Ever look at the roses over near the Museum of Natural History? Those things are undeniably lovely. And they have nothing directly to do with the gospel or God’s Word.

Next, “Whatsoever things are of good report.” This has to do with commendable conduct. Criticize Mother Teresa’s religion all you want to, but don’t ever criticize her work of feeding and clothing the poor of Calcutta. Say what you want about Winston Churchill, but he saved England. This phrase would describe Jackie Robinson’s integration of major league baseball. This phrase would describe Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” speech and his letters from a Birmingham jail. This phrase would describe Neil Armstrong’s walk on the moon. Good report.

Seventh, “If there be any virtue.” This has to do with moral excellence. The guy who finds $1,000,000 and turns it in to the authorities. The 72-year old man who saved a guy from being run over by the commuter train in New York some years back. The Lithuanian businessman who left home and fortune to return to his home country as its president after the collapse of the Soviet Union, where he faced ridicule and scorn and poverty and the likelihood of failure, because he was a patriot.

Finally, “And if there be any praise.” This applies to anything that is commendable and laudatory. If it’s an ideal or conduct that deserves an “Attaboy,” it falls under this category. It may not be heroic. It may not require courage or sacrifice. But if it helps people, if it improves the human condition, if it’s what you’d like to see others doing, then it’s praiseworthy.

 

WITH RESPECT TO THESE EIGHT CATEGORIES, THERE SHOULD BE CONSIDERATIONS OF A CHRISTIAN’S THOUGHTS

 

What Paul is leading up to is using these eight categories as a way of formulating your thought life. You’ll notice that Paul listed six adjectives, and then used two nouns after the word “if.” If there is anything that meets these six categories, and then if they also meet the two categories of these two nouns, “virtue” and “praise,” then you are directed to “think on these things.”

Think about this, Christian. You are to think about what you are to think about. You are to cultivate your thought life. And this word “think” doesn’t mean to just let thoughts run through your head. It means to “take into account.”[2] Things that are properly described by these six adjectives and these two nouns are the subjects, ideas, concepts, and realities that you are supposed to dwell on in your mind, that you are to make a part of your thought life. In other words, Christians are supposed to be thinkers.

 

Lest you get terribly confused, Paul is not denying, here, that the “whole world lieth in wickedness,” as John wrote in First John 5.19. But though Satan does control this vast world system that comprises the cultures of the human race, this does not negate the fact that there are places where light shines through. Man, you see, still has the image of God imprinted into his being. So, though man is a fallen and corrupted being, and while there is absolutely no capacity to improve himself in the sight of God, God did give to man certain skills and capacities and abilities. And the natural revelation of this physical universe around us has an impact on the human race, as well.

What Paul is saying can be summed up thusly: Not everything worries you. Not everything makes you anxious. Those things that do should be taken to God. But for the rest, sift out those things in this life that are categorized in this verse, and think on these things when your mind is not otherwise occupied on things related to God and grace and the gospel. In short, Christians should be thinkers as well as doers, within these guidelines on what things to think about. It grieves God when Christians do not cultivate their thought life along these guidelines.

 

SERMON:

 

Lest you imagine the Word of God sanctions an approach to life involving positive thinking for all mankind, the way Norman Vincent Peale, Robert Schuller, and Joel Osteen advocate, let me disabuse you of that notion. Before you devote yourself as a Christian to thinking along the lines Paul advises in our text, there is another matter you would do well to attend to. For the next few minutes allow me to speak exclusively to those of you who are not believers in Jesus Christ.

How many of you folks have ever driven a car that had a manual transmission that you had to double clutch in order to shift gears? Used to be that every car and truck had to be double clutched in order to shift. You depressed the clutch and shifted into first gear. Then, as you let out on the clutch and pressed the accelerator to speed up, you depressed the clutch to shift out of first gear, let the clutch out while you were in neutral to spin up second gear, and then put the clutch back in to shift into second gear. How many of you remember that on a car or truck you used to drive? Then a wonderful little invention, the synchro-mesh ring, was invented. The synchro-ring would spin up the next transmission gear you were shifting up into or down into, depending on whether you were accelerating or decelerating. Most of you who have driven transmissions with a clutch benefited from the synchro-rings without ever realizing it, until one of them wore out and your gears started grinding when you tried to shift. You see, you have to synchronize the gears in a non-automatic transmission, either by double clutching or by using synchro-mesh rings, so you can shift gears without destroying the gears in the transmission.

There is something else some of you are familiar with that required synchronization in order to work properly, the modems on early computers. If you had a computer with a modem and you ever dialed onto AOL or one of the other online services, then you remember hearing your modem (that’s the thing you plugged the phone line into on your computer) synchronizing. Here’s what usually happened. You could hear your computer dialing a telephone number. Then you heard a racket that sounds like radio static. But it was a lot more than just noise. It was your computer throwing out a noisy signal while the computer it was connecting to over the phone line did the same thing. The two computers did that so they could match their signals and synchronize with each other to efficiently transmit e-mails, or faxes, or some other kind of data.

So, you see, in the mechanical world, such as transmissions, and in the computer world, such as with computer modems, there must be a proper synchronization. In the spiritual realm there must be synchronization, as well. Turn to Isaiah 1.18:

 

“Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.”

 

God, Who is rich in mercy and full of goodness, is willing to do business with you, is willing to deal with you, if you will first synchronize with Him. As a transmission gear must accommodate the drive gear to mesh together and properly function, and as your computer’s modem must accommodate the big computer at the other end of the Internet connection in order to mesh together and properly function, so too must you respond to God’s directive to meet with Him at a certain point of truth in order to deal with Him about your salvation. Please do not force my analogies too far, lest they prove to be ridiculous. Just recognize that to enable you to reason together with God there is an initial starting point. And until you are in agreement with God on that proper place to begin there will be no reasoning between you and God.

What is that starting point? Where must you be in agreement with God to reason with Him? “Though your sin be as scarlet.” “Though your sins be as scarlet.”

Scarlet speaks of three things:

 

First, SCARLET IS A STAIN

 

“Though your sins be as scarlet.”

 

Have you ever thought of your sins being stains? That’s what they are, you know. Stains. And what is a stain?

 

Ÿ  A stain is something that ruins a fine garment.

Ÿ  A stain is something that cheapens and degrades value.

Ÿ  A stain is something no one in his right mind wants.

Ÿ  A stain is what is left behind after that which caused the stain is long gone.

Ÿ  A stain is a reminder.

Ÿ  A stain is contamination.

Ÿ   

And in this regard is the statement not precisely true? “though your sins be as scarlet.”

And what is a sin? Is not a sin, like a stain, something that ruins the garment of life? Does not sin, like a stain, cheapen and degrade the value of life? All things being equal, does a man want to marry a virgin, or a woman who is not a virgin? Does a boss, all things being equal, want to hire a man convicted of thievery, or a man never convicted of thievery? Like a stain, sin leaves behind a record, Revelation 20.12. And just like a stain is a reminder, so the books of your sins in heaven will be constant reminders to God of your sins. A stain is contamination of a fine garment, as sin is contamination of the soul.

 

Ÿ  When you lie you stain yourself.

Ÿ  When you cheat on a test at school or at work you stain yourself.

Ÿ  When you gossip you stain yourself.

Ÿ  Even when you engage in religion, when you pray, when you attend church only to sit and not to worship and learn and serve, it’s a stain. “Though your sins be as scarlet.

 

Next, SCARLET IS A DEATH

 

There are three kinds of people on earth who deny the existence of coincidence; the CIA, the mafia, and gospel preachers. This being so, I see no coincidence in the fact that to obtain the color scarlet an insect had to die. You see, the color scarlet in the days when the prophet Isaiah lived came from a grub. In order to get the color scarlet a number of scarlet grubs were gathered and then squished, to obtain the scarlet stain for dyeing clothes.

As I said, no surprise and no coincidence, for the Bible says that “the wages of sin is death,” Romans 6.23. It surprised me not at all to discover that this color is obtained only when living things die. There must always be a close association between sin and death.

When Adam and Eve sinned against God they died. And James 1.15 shows that sin, very naturally, leads to death:

 

“Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death.”

 

And, eternally, sin leads to the second death in the lake of fire. So, there is the stench of death about you because of your sins.

Have you ever noticed that God never warns us about sin in the same way we warn each other about sinning? We warn people not to commit fornication because of the possibility of sexually transmitted diseases, or because of the possibility of illegitimate children, or used to be because of the possibility of public shame and humiliation. And all those things are or were once true, but they are never the basis for God’s warnings. God’s concerns are for far greater consequences than our concerns. God’s concerns are the spiritual consequences of sins, not primarily the physical or emotional or social consequences. And what are the spiritual consequences of sins? Death. Nothing less than death. The wages of sin is death.

 

Finally, SCARLET IS THE COLOR OF BLOOD

 

There’s an awful lot of blood associated with sin in the Bible. Ever notice that? Sin leads so often to the shedding of innocent blood. Sin required the shedding of the innocent blood of sacrificial animals for atonement under the Mosaic Law economy. And that had to take place in the courtyard of first the Tabernacle and then later the Temple.

Imagine what it must have been like for those hundreds of animals a day being slaughtered and their blood drained to atone for the sins of the Israelites who brought the sacrifices. On one of my trips to Israel I was led under the Temple Mount where there was a hole dug in the rock directly under where the Temple had been. And the purpose of the hole in the rock, about the size of a man’s fist? It was a drain hole that ran from the Temple down to the brook Kidron to carry away the blood spilled and then washed away from all the sacrifices. Can you imagine the stench? Can you imagine the flies? Worse than any slaughterhouse you have ever been in.

But the blood of bulls and goats could never actually take away sins, only atone, only cover up sins. For sins to be removed, for sins to be remitted, for sins to actually be cleansed, the blood of Jesus Christ was required. And truly, the blood of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, cleanseth us from all sin, First John 1.7. How so? Because Jesus Christ is God’s Son. Jesus Christ is the eternal Son of the living God. Jesus Christ is God become a man. Jesus Christ is the one with a body prepared by the Father for sacrifice and the shedding of blood.

Oh, the horror of it all. How repulsive. How disgusting. Ah, but this is what sin is, you see. It’s repulsive and nauseating to God.

 

Ÿ  Nothing sweet about sin.

Ÿ  Nothing wonderful about sin.

Ÿ  Nothing beautiful about sin.

Ÿ   

And it’s made all so much worse, you see, when you disguise the horror of sin by hiding its true nature, by hiding its real effects, and by hiding from view that one and only remedy for sin, the blood of Jesus Christ.

 

Synchronized. Being on the same wave length. For there to be any substantive dialogue between you and God, for there to be anything that leads anywhere, you have to start here. You can’t start with you being a good person. You can’t start with God letting bygones being bygones. You can’t start by pretending sin isn’t really the staining, deadly, bloody thing that it really is. No. You have to begin with sins, your sins, being the hateful, disgusting, wicked, selfish, defiling, dreadful, and horrible things God says they are, worthy of death. That’s where you start on the road that leads to “they shall be as white as snow.”

Your responsibility in this matter? God said through the prophet Isaiah, “Come now, let us reason together.” Address this matter of sin in the sight of God. And should you desire to discuss this matter with me after the service, please come and speak to me.



[1] Gerald F. Hawthorne, Philippians - Word Biblical Commentary, Volume 43, (Waco, Texas: Word Books, 1983), page 185.

[2] Bauer, Danker, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other Early Christian Literature, (Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press, 2000), page 598.


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pastor@calvaryroadbaptist.org