June 28, 2015
How do you view the world? When you think about the world does it bring fear or wonder and amazement to your heart? Do you want to travel and see the world, or let the world pass you by? Augustine said, “The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.” Do you have the world on a string? Is the world your oyster? Or does the world get you down? Are you trying to change the world? Are you out to conquer the world?
We all view the world in various ways. In Phil. 4:8-9 Paul talks about how Christians view the world. And in some ways what Paul has to say is surprising. You see, while some people shun the world, in Phil.4:8-9 Christians are encouraged to view the world with the eyes of Christ.
I. TAKE THE BEST THIS WORLD HAS TO OFFER .4:8
Two verses I often heard while growing up in the church were 1Jn.2:15-16. It says, “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life, is not from the Father but is from the world.” As Christians we were taught to not be worldly. And that is what the Bible says.
What is so interesting about this verse in Phil.4 is that Paul is telling the Philippian believers to embrace the very best that can be found in the world. This is the only place in Paul’s writings where he has this kind of list of virtues. New Testament scholar, Gordon Fee says that in this verse Paul draws from Hellenistic moralism and the Jewish wisdom that he grew up with. In other words, while believers are not to be worldly minded, we are to affirm and embrace the very best that is found in this world.
Paul is not just telling us to have nice thoughts about these things, but rather we are to give focused consideration to these things. And Paul has a list of what we are to focus on. Now Paul is not writing to philosophers. He is writing to average people like you and me. So, for example, Paul says that we should give consideration to whatever is true. Truth could take us into a very deep conversation. But basically truth is what corresponds to spiritual and material reality. Whatever we have come to understand to be true by learning and experience we are to embrace. And of course, since we believe there is a God who has revealed himself in Christ and his Word, we believe that truth has its ultimate foundation in God. We live our lives based upon truth. Because truth is practical, we are concerned about truth in our speech and living. In fact, Paul says in Rm.1 that unbelievers have suppressed the truth about God and in turn, the gospel as well.
Whatever is honorable refers to that which compels our respect. I remember watching the changing of the guard at Arlington National Cemetery. The gravity and discipline shown by those guards compels respect. Their intent to honor those who died for our freedoms compels our honor and respect.
Whatever is just or right is related to the word for righteousness. Of course, for us as believers that which is right and just must be in keeping with the character and ways of God. Throughout the days of our life, all of us are constantly making determinations about what is just. We seek to do our best based on the Word of God, the facts as we understand them and our cultural norms regarding justice. Sometimes what a culture determines to be just conflicts with the Word of God. At that point we hold true to the Word of God.
Next Paul says, “whatever is pure.” This refers to whatever is not marred or tainted by evil. We know that little children are not sinless, but they are innocent by virtue of their lack of knowledge and maturity. There is a purity about children because their hearts are easily revealed. They do not understand the depths of evil and they have not learned how to hide themselves like adults. We appreciate someone who seems to operate with pure motives. There is no guile or deceit in them.
Then Paul writes, “whatever is lovely.” This refers to anything that is good, beautiful, and delightful. A sunset, a symphony, a painting, a flower, Harriet Tubman, Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King Jr, Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi, and Oskar Schindler, are all examples are that which is lovely and good. And finally Paul says, “whatever is commendable.” Any conduct on the part of a person that is good and virtuous ought to be given consideration by believers. Whenever we see something that speaks of excellence and is praiseworthy, that is what we want to dwell in.
Augustine pointed out that all truth is God’s truth, whether it comes from the science laboratory or the writer’s pen. That which is in keeping with God’s love and goodness is praiseworthy, whether it comes from a Christian, a Buddhist, or an Atheist. As followers of Christ, not only do we desire to do good to others, but we want to encourage goodness in this world. So we give consideration to these matters. We seek to be a force of goodness in the world. We take delight in all that is lovely and beautiful.
II. BRING IT ALL UNDER THE LORDSHIP OF CHRIST. 4:9
There is much in this world that is good. But we must never forget that this world is under the powerful influence of the evil one. What is more, every person enters into this world with a self centered heart that quickly reveals itself. The more I have observed humankind, the more I am convinced that people are not essentially good in their hearts. I agree with Jeremiah when he says that, “the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?”
So while Paul encourages believers to enjoy and promote that which is excellent in the world, he also calls believers to bring every good thing in the world under the Lordship of Jesus Christ. You may be asking, “Where do you see that in v.9?” Well, I see it in Paul’s admonition to practice what we have learned and received and heard and seen in his life.
Before Jesus ascended to the Father, he commanded his disciples to go into the world making disciples, teaching them to do all that Jesus commanded. Disciples are followers of Jesus. Well, here is Paul. Paul is a follower of Jesus. Paul is holding himself up as a worthy example of what it means to follow Jesus. In other words, we look to the life of Jesus and we learn from the life of Paul about how to follow Jesus.
Specifically in this letter we are pointed to the humble sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Jesus took the roll of a servant in dying on the cross for our sins. He took no thought for his status as God, but gave himself up to death for our deliverance and salvation. And Paul tells us to have this mind in us that was in Christ Jesus. Not only that, but Paul urges us to adopt as our main goal in life to get to know Jesus as we live life in and with Christ. This is why Paul writes in Phil.3:8-9, “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him.” Along with this, Paul encourages us to rejoice in our life with Christ.
As we live in the world and seek to affirm and embrace all that is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, and commendable, what we bring to these things as Christians is very important. The tendency of the world is to take these good things and use them for self promotion and self-fulfillment. This eventuates in various forms of idolatry. If we are not careful, we will also be like the world, pursuing self-fulfillment. So while we find great joy and delight in much that is found in the world, it is not our primary love. We do not love the world or the things in the world. Our primary love is God and his Son, Jesus. And we do not live to gratify our bodily desires, and our goals and ambitions. We live for Jesus Christ. I believe Paul is telling us that the way to enjoy the best that this world has to offer, is to enjoy it through the eyes and priorities of Jesus. When the character and virtues of Christ are embraced by our heart, mind, and body, then what the world has to offer is kept in its proper perspective. We don’t count on this world to secure our lives.
Is there an optimal volume for listening to music? You know, for some people the louder the better. But too much volume distorts the music. Normal conversation takes place at 60 decibels. Prolonged listening to music at higher than 85 decibels will eventually ruin your hearing. Many MP3 players crank out the music at 105 decibels, which is 100 times more intense than 85 decibels. So there is a volume control. This volume control allows you to optimize your listening pleasure.
There is much in the world that is wonderful and beautiful. But apart from Jesus Christ, it won’t be long before these wonderful things take over our lives and become idolatrous. Idolatry always leads us away from God. But when we bring everything under the rule of Christ by surrendering ourselves to the Holy Spirit and allowing the word of God to dwell in us richly, we can enjoy the wonderful and beautiful things of this world in a healthy, joyful way.
Now obviously doing this requires both thought and action on our part. For one thing, we must set God and his word foremost in our minds as we direct our steps in the way of Christ. The more we are centered in Christ, the better able we will be to discern what is good in this world. Not only that, but you see that Paul ends v.9 by saying, “and the God of peace will be with you. There is a quote attributed to Charles Spurgeon. It says, “I looked at Christ and the dove of peace flew into my heart. I looked at the dove and it flew away.” Even the best things of this world will distract us from Christ and rob us of his peace. We must keep our eyes on Jesus.
Catherine Marshall tells of her friend, Marge who had an experience aboard a plane bound for Cleveland while waiting for takeoff. As she settled into her seat, Marge noticed a strange phenomenon. On one side of the airplane a sunset suffused the entire sky with glorious color. But out of the window next to her seat, all Marge could see was a sky dark and threatening, with no sign of the sunset.
As the plane’s engines began to roar, a gentle Voice spoke within her. “You have noticed the windows,” he murmured beneath the roar and thrust of takeoff. “Your life, too, will contain some happy, beautiful times, but also some dark shadows. Here’s a lesson I want to teach you to save you much heartache and allow you to ’abide in Me’ with continual peace and joy.”
“You see, it doesn’t matter which window you look through; this plane is still going to Cleveland. So it is in your life. You have a choice. You can dwell on the gloomy picture. Or you can focus on the bright things and leave the dark, ominous situations to Me. I alone can handle them anyway. The final destination is not influenced by what you see and hear along the way.” “Learn this, act on it and you will be released, able to experience the ’peace that passes understanding.’”
Well, how do you view the world? If you view the world through the eyes of Christ you will find much joy in the world and promote much goodness in the world as you reveal Christ in you to the world. Amen.