THE OTHER CHRISTMAS TREE

When I trim the tree for Christmas
It reminds me of a tree
that held a special present
Jesus bought with love for me.

He was born a tiny baby
laid within a manger bed
but the angels told the story-
He is Christ the Lord, they said.

He lived in humble service
Till the age of thirty-three,
Then the God-man of Christmas
Gave His life for you and me.

From a stable to a hillside-
He was born that all may hear-
There is a tree of Christmas
That the eyes of faith revere.

Sing the joyful news of Christmas
Christ was born to set us free-
For He died to bring salvation
on the other Christmas tree.

By: Connie Faust

Faith and its substance

Photo by Brett Jordan on Pexels.com

Scripture reference ( Hebrews 11:1-6)

Illustration: Imagine for a moment you are standing on the seashore, gazing at a large ocean liner. The sun is shining, there is no wind and the sea is calm. Suddenly, to your amazement, about 30 people dive off the end of the ship and cling to a lifeboat.

You shake your head in disbelief at their foolishness. Then, without warning, that great ocean-liner strikes an iceberg and suddenly sinks, taking with it all on board.

Those who looked like fools in abandoning the ship were actually wise, and those who seemed wise by staying on board, were in truth, fools!

We don’t have to have to much perception to see that this great ocean liner, mother earth, is slowly sinking. Economically, politically, and industrially, she is reeling to and fro. We have enough major problems to sink a ship—inflation, unemployment, starvation, violence, corruption, population explosion, drug addiction, etc.

The first words from the “captain of our salvation” in Mark 1:15 are to abandon ship (repent and believe the gospel), before judgement falls. In that day, those who have obeyed His word (exercised faith) will be seen by the world to be wise, and those who refused to obey the command will —sadly—–but surely—- perish.

11 Now faith is the certainty of things [a]hoped for, a [b]proof of things not seen. For by it the people of old [c]gained approval.

By faith we understand that the [d]world has been created by the word of God so that what is seen has not been made out of things that are visible. By faith Abel offered to God a better sacrifice than Cain, through which he was attested to be righteous, God testifying [e]about his gifts, and through [f]faith, though he is dead, he still speaks. By faith Enoch was taken up so that he would not see death; and he was not found because God took him up; for before he was taken up, he was attested to have been pleasing to God. And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for the one who comes to God must believe that He exists, and that He proves to be One who rewards those who seek Him.

Those words in Hebrews tell us that faith is the assurance of things hoped for. The conviction of things not seen. They tell us it is impossible to please God or be saved by God without faith. Faith it seems, is very important, not just in this life, but the one to come. So, let’s take some time and look into what the word of God says about faith and how it applies to us.

FOCUS ONE: The nature of faith 

 Genesis 15:1-6 (Abraham and the promise)

Almost ten years had passed since the original promises were given. Neither Lot his nephew nor Eliezer his steward could fulfill the promise. Who then is going to be his heir? That’s the 50 million dollar question on Abrams mind.

Questions abound, but here we see God graciously revealing Himself as the Lord of the covenant. God, more explicitly, makes the promise clearer to Abram. The heir would be his very own son who was yet to be born. Greater than that the Lord tells him that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars in the heavens. God reaffirms His oath to Abram and Abram believed! His faith, we read, was “accounted to him as righteousness,” that is, a God righteousness, not a works righteousness.

Abraham exercised great faith, and that is amazing considering the lack of evidence for those promises being fulfilled. So, it appears that there is a vital difference between knowledge and faith, so, lets explore that a bit further.

FOCUS TWO: Hebrews 11:1-3 (faith the substance)

Here we can quickly gauge that there is a difference between (knowledge) and (faith). Knowledge is based on experience while faith is based on testimony. We exercise faith ever day in our society. For example, a check is accepted by faith (the issuer promised that he has the money in his account). one commentator explains: “Gospel faith rises above this everyday type of faith in one major essential: belief in the divine testimony. We have never seen God, heaven, angels, etc. The divine word, however, testifies to their existence. FAITH takes this divine testimony and acts upon it. Faith appropriates all the promises of God and proceeds on the basis of those promises. Faith gives substance to things that are not yet seen. By faith we apprehend the presently invisible and gain greater assurance of its reality.”Faith is taking almighty God at His word, asking no questions. That is what Abraham did and that is what all these people in the hall of faith recorded here did!

But faith also has many benefits.

  1. Jeremiah 17:7-8 (Blessings of)

These words remind me of Psalm one, they are almost identical. Here as in Psalm one the writer is describing the blessedness which comes to the person who trusts in the Lord. The basic idea here in a life of faith is stability (like a tree planted).

“The tree that has found a source of sustenance by putting down deep roots also yields its fruit in season, even though drought surrounds it. The roots of the life of the blessed man are found in God, in whom is his trust. Such a life, such faith, produces holiness and righteous deeds.”

  • Philippians 1:6 (God will complete what He started)

Another wonderful benefit and great encouragement is found in these words. God is the originator of our faith in Him, He is also the completer of this walk of faith (cr. Rom. 8:28-30). But faith in check writers or governments no matter how trustworthy, can never save us from our sins. That is why:

3. John 20:27-31 (Faith in Jesus is essential)

Thomas struggled with believing the Lord rose again. He did not believe the testimony of his fellow disciples and he made the statement that he would not believe unless he could See His hands and place his finger in them(look at verse 25).

8 days later the Lord appears again and Thomas is with them. The Lord gives him the opportunity to “touch and see,” but he doesn’t, he cries out “my Lord and my God.” Please take notice to what Jesus says in verse 29. “Because you have seen me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed.”

Faith in the word of God saves. And that is even more blessed, according to Jesus, for those who do not have the opportunity to touch Him and walk with Him!

God’s word tells us how to be right with Him. It tells us how we can be forgiven and reconciled to Him. One place we see this is in John 3:16-18, 36:

God so loved the world

He gave His only Son

The one believing

Should not perish BUT have everlasting life!!

The one who believes (trusts in His promise) is born again, forgiven, justified.

The one who does not trust in His promise will not be forgiven or justified and will suffer the wrath of God for all eternity. I hope each one of us here today are trusting in His promise of salvation through Christ Jesus.

If you could imagine a place on earth that never saw the sun. Day in, day out, it is covered with a thick cloud. From the time a person was born, until the time he died, he never saw even a tiny glimpse of the sun.

Now, suppose you visited this place and tried to convince the inhabitants of the reality, beauty, and power of the sun. “where I come from,” you say, “a huge yellow ball rises up over the sea each day and floats across the sky, no strings attached, giving warmth and light to those upon the earth.”

“The reason you don’t experience it, is because you are cut off from it by the clouds.”

Although the thought may seem fantastic to those people, the fact that they don’t believe in it, does not change the reality that it exists.

Friends, each of us are born separated from the reality of God’s love by our sins. The cloud of sin cuts us off from the warmth and light of God’s love. The love of the unseen God may seem somewhat unbelievable to us, nevertheless, it is a reality.

Let us look to Christ who saves us by faith Let us walk in this life by faith not sight And one day our faith will be made sight!

Illustrations by Ray comfort

NEW BOOK REVIEW

WESTMINSTER SHORTER CATECHISM FOR KIDS

I recently began going through Spurgeon’s Catechism with my son when my wife, who does most of our homeschooling, told me about this book. There are two books (Workbook One, which covers the first ten questions, and Workbook Two, which covers questions 11-20).

What more significant conversations can we have with our children than those regarding their creator, the entrance of evil into the world, and the suffering and misery that comes from it? The Bible does not shy away from such conversations, and neither should we. It reveals the world as it truly is, and despite the seemingly endless “vanity” of it all, there is hope, and His name is JESUS! These workbooks are easy to read and VERY helpful for parents who struggle with having more in-depth conversations with their children regarding more profound subject matter.

The Westminster Shorter Catechism interestingly introduces the story of redemption. In the first book, questions 1-10, Caroline Weerstra and Thomas Trouwborst, expand the topic of each question posed in the catechism by bringing in two or three “lessons” about the question asked. The workbook helps us expand and penetrate the thinking of our children so they can think through each question logically and biblically. They also help us as parents explain and develop the truth in scripture by using other scriptures that help give us a complete picture of God’s character, nature, and purpose in history.

Each question is asked, and an answer is given, just like in the Shorter catechism itself. Then the authors provide three lessons that go along with the question posed. The lessons are short but helpful, often with a brief review. Your child can write their answers directly in the book – they provide “fill in the blanks” for that purpose. Or, they can write their answers in a notebook, but you can also walk through it together verbally if that suits your style of teaching better!

I enjoyed how they bring in other scriptures to shed greater light on the particular question being answered and sometimes have comparisons, such as what Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes 1 compared with what Isaiah wrote In Isaiah 65.

There is also a “Let’s think” section that get’s your child reflecting on your discussion on a more personal level; LOVE THAT!

I appreciate their motivation for this project: “We believe that our rich Reformed heritage should be carried on to the next generation. However, memorization is NOT enough. Children learn best when they UNDERSTAND. . . This workbook series introduces children to the Westminster Shorter catechism and promotes memorization, while also providing clearand concise explanations of vocabulary and theological concepts.

Workbook one covers (Who is God?) the first ten questions of the Shorter Catechism. “It begins with a basic discussion of the purpose of man and the nature of God and moves on to introduce a biblical view of creation.”The second workbook “teaches primarily about the fall of mankind,” and God’s provision of a redeemer. The marvelous message (good news) of salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ!

I included a picture of these books. I imagine you can find them many places, but just in case, their website is www.commonlifepress.com

THE SECRET OF CONTENTMENT (pt.2)

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BRIEF INTRO: In our previous study, Paul was rejoicing in the Philippians revived ministry to him. For various reasons, they could not support him financially or even send anyone physically to “share in the cause of the gospel” with him. But now Epaphroditus had arrived, and Paul is greatly encouraged by their great benevolence towards him for the sake of the gospel.

In this study, we will be focused on some essential lessons that Paul had learned during this time in his apostolic ministry.

11 Not that I speak [a]from need, for I have learned to be [b]content in whatever circumstances I am. 12 I know how to get along with little, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. 13 I can do all things [c]through Him who strengthens me.

 FOCUS ONE: The value of learning (4:11-13)

At first glance, it is self-evident in our reading of this part of the letter that Paul “wasn’t all that and a bag of chips,” as an apostle. He was a man, redeemed by grace, like all repentant sinners, and in his Christian walk and ministry experiences, he had to be taught some things. Contentment in life’s circumstances is not innate within us; it is a character trait that has to be learned and honed in the day-to-day experiences we face.

Paul shared with the Corinthians precisely what the life of an apostle looked like daily. He wrote to them of the ever-changing circumstances that he faced in his effort to proclaim Christ crucified and risen (2 Corinthians 11:23-33)! 

23 Are they servants of Christ?—I am speaking as if insane—I more so; in far more labors, in far more imprisonments, [a]beaten times without number, often in danger of death. 24 Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent adrift at sea.26 I have been on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers at sea, dangers among false brothers; 27 I have been in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and [b]exposure.28 Apart from such [c]external things, there is the daily pressure on me of concern for all the churches. 29 Who is weak without my being weak? Who is [d]led into sin [e]without my intense concern?

30 If I have to boast, I will boast of what pertains to my weakness. 31 The God and Father of the Lord Jesus, He who is blessed forever, knows that I am not lying. 32 In Damascus the ethnarch under Aretas the king was guarding the city of the Damascenes in order to seize me, 33 and I was let down in a basket through a window [f]in the wall, and so escaped his hands.

Through such things as these, Paul matured in his faith and learned what it means to be content in “any and all circumstances.” We do not like adversity; we would rather not experience danger and hardships in our lives. To truly be hungry is an experience that we have not had to endure in our western culture. Honestly, how many if any of these terrible things have we had to endure in our lifetimes?

I believe that our western Christianity in general suffers, and our personal growth in Christ is impeded because we are so blessed in America. Currently, we are not being hunted down and stoned or experiencing starvation. We have warm homes and comfortable beds to sleep in, and the vast majority of us are not experiencing sleepless nights because of our constant journeys around the globe.

But even so, we all experience troubling circumstances in our lives that are “God’ ordained,” things that are “granted” (1:29) for Christ’s sake in our lives to grow us and conform us more and more into the image of the Lord Jesus Christ!

It is through these experiences that Paul learned contentment (autarkes). The philosophical sense of the word among the Stoics was that of self-sufficiency. “Man up,” we say these days, but in the NT, we find this word is given a new dimension as part of godliness (1 Timothy 6:6). Paul finds its ultimate defining quality NOT in himself but in “the One who strengthens me” (4:13).

FOCUS TWO: 

Paul progressed in His Christian walk by moving 

A. From wondering to knowing

We begin our walk of faith with a sense of optimism and excitement. We may even believe, at first, that blessing upon blessing is coming our way now that we are in Christ and that no evil thing will hurt us. God is love, right? And a loving Father will certainly not allow hardship and persecution to befall us.

Saul, now Paul, went from persecutor to persecuted (Acts 9). From social and religious privilege to understanding all of that was “rubbish” and not helpful in “gaining Christ” (Phil3:8). He “grew up” in his knowledge and application of faith in Christ, no matter what circumstances he found himself in. 

B. From concern to contentment

God in His kindness, allowed Paul to experience such things. He learned that no matter what trial and tribulations he faced, no matter what hardships he had to endure, no matter what benefits he had to forgo, and no matter who would betray him, he could be content. Paul could still move forward serving His God, strong in his faith, and accomplish things independent of perceived necessities because his satisfaction was not found in men but in God! Paul’s satisfaction and sufficiency were in Christ (2 Corinthians 12:9; Philippians 4:13).

C. Anxiety over circumstances to confidence in Christ

“Paul has such strength as long as Christ keeps pouring the power into him. A living Christ on the inside is more than sufficient to endure the circumstances on the outside. What Christ wants Paul to do, Christ enables Paul to do. Where the finger of God points, the hand of God provides the way.”

This is the” secret” to contentment. It has to be learned in the school of life, not in any self-help books or talk shows.

D. The value of giving goes beyond the gift and extends to profit or fruit, evidenced growing in a believer’s life (v.17).

Based on Paul’s previous statements (4:11-13), his interest in the Philippians was not merely what he could gain from them, rather the profit (fruit) which would grow in their account. 

Paul has been using the language of financing throughout this section, and that language continues. In other words, Paul speaks of their faithful generosity as something that will provide interest growing in their “spiritual” account. Their spiritual growth was Paul’s constant concern, and he knew that God keeps good records! The “heavenly” deposits, if you will, that God “the good bookkeeper” will add to their account.

So, he concludes this epistle with much rejoicing in his heart and encouragement to these believers to continue trusting their Heavenly Father (v. 19,20).

FOCUS THREE: Benediction: (4:20-23)

From verse 10 forward, Paul wrote in the indicative (Explication verbi dei), simply stating facts and explaining what was going on in his life and mind—reminding them of past events. In verse 20, he moves into the exclamation mood because he is expressing an element of emotion. It is like he Pauses in his thinking for a moment and praises God!

But in verse 21, interestingly, he uses the imperative mood when he tells them to “greet every saint in Christ Jesus.” It is a command. It is in the aorist middle, which relates to their action only, not timing. 

The apostle wanted all the saints at Philippi to receive his greeting without partiality. Timothy and Epaphroditus, who were with him and others serving in the cause of the gospel in Rome, would be included in the “brethren who are with me.”

Those in Caesar’s household most likely refers to a significant amount of people, not just Caesars’ immediate family (cooks, food tasters, princes, soldiers, etc.).

Paul concludes this epistle as he begins, desiring the grace of God be upon them!

I hope you enjoyed this study as much as I did. I am thinking about doing a study through the gospel of Mark, and so I am in need of some time for study and preparation. I will post some random studies for a brief time and then go through Mark with you. God bless.

THE POWER OF GOD TO CHANGE LIVES!

EXTENDED READING: MARK 1:21-28

DEVOTIONAL READING: VERSES 27–28

27 And they were all amazed, so they debated among themselves, saying, “What is this? A new teaching with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey Him.” 28 Immediately the news about Him spread everywhere into all the surrounding region of Galilee.

During Christ’s earthly ministry He not only taught the people about God, their creator, sustainer, and savior, He also displayed the power of God in His many miracles and healings that He performed. This scripture displays one such time in the life of Christ when He and His disciples walked into a town known as Capernaum.

His teaching had authority behind it, unlike that of the Scribes and Pharisees. His authority extended into the realm of healing people from various diseases and demon possessions, as is testified to hear by Mark. The audience was amazed at what had just taken place, a man who was possessed by an evil spirit inside the synagogue, was freed from his bondage by Jesus Christ!

God’s power to change lives was on display then and is still active today! If this Jesus has the power to cast out demons, how much more able is He to free us of our bondage, our sins that so easily entangle us? 

John”s testimony was : “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29). Will you look to Him today and have have your sins forgiven?

PRAYER: Father, I pray for anyone reading this devotional that does not know Jesus and has not yet received His saving grace. Please draw them to yourself, grant them repentant faith and new life in Christ. Help them understand that you are able to remove the bondage of sin that they are under and replace it with thy righteousness thru Jesus’ finished work on the cross. Amen

THE SECRET OF CONTENTMENT (CHRIST!)

PHILIPPIANS 4:10-23

BRIEF INTRO: At the beginning of this letter to the Philippians, the apostle had written about their “participation in the gospel from the first day until now” (1:5). He acknowledged that they consistently cared for, prayed for, and participated with him as much as they could over the years regarding the gospel ministry. In the verses that we will be looking at in this study, the apostle again picks up on that theme, if you will, and expresses his great joy at their “revived concern” for him.

I have broken down this section of our text into three parts: The value of giving, The importance of learning, and then conclude our study with the benediction. I will be looking at this section like a sandwich: The bread is about Christian giving from the top and bottom of verses 10-19. The filler will then be what we learn in verses 11-13. Let’s begin! Are you ready?

10 But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly, that now, at last, you have revived your concern for me; indeed, you were concerned before, but you lacked an opportunity to act.

14 Nevertheless, you have done well to share with me in my difficulty.

15 You yourselves also know, Philippians, that at the [a]first preaching of the gospel, after I left Macedonia, no church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving except you alone; 16 for even in Thessalonica you sent a gift more than once for my needs. 17 Not that I seek the gift itself, but I seek the [b]profit which increases to your account. 18 But I have received everything in full and have an abundance; I am [c]amply supplied, having received from Epaphroditus [d]what you have sent, [e]a fragrant aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God.

FOCUS ONE: The value in Christian giving (4:10, 14-18)

Paul now reveals to these believers the great joy he experienced when their messenger, their “missionary” to him, arrived with all their varied gifts and supplies that Epaphroditus brought. This incredible act of benevolence towards him and subsequently to Christ (v.18) was a cause of joy to his soul.

He says that this was a “revived concern” for him. He means that those circumstances, perhaps many and varied, kept them from sharing with him what they wanted to for some time. Take notice that this lapse of support was not intentional on their part, rather than they “lacked opportunity.” Whatever hindered them from showing their concern for him has now apparently been removed, and with great joy in their hearts and renewed vigor, they send one of their own, one whom they love dearly, Epaphroditus, to minister to Paul. This is not a rebuke but a recognition of their faithful care and concern for him.

Paul reminds them of several things regarding their ministry to him: First, they were the only church that shared with him at the beginning of his preaching the gospel (v.15). Perhaps some were unable, maybe he was duly supplied and not in any immediate need, maybe some were able but didn’t meet his needs at times as 2 Corinthians 11:9 seems to suggest (The Macedonians referred to are the Philippians Acts 16:12)!

But these folks faithfully sent gifts towards the apostles’ needs (v.16). Their giving was abundant and well-pleasing to Paul and God, whom they ultimately serve (v.18). Please don’t be thinking that Paul was only in it for what he could get from these churches, not at all. He was a humble, faithful, selfless servant who thought MORE about the benefit their giving would be to them than he did of any help it would be to himself. 

Paul was not looking for any more from them. He felt that he had received everything from them possible and was “made full,” or amply supplied (v.18). their generosity was above and beyond what he could have asked for, and he was delighted with their sacrificial giving as a church on his behalf as an Apostle of Jesus Christ.

“Paul looked beyond the most recent gift (vv. 10,14,18). He indicates that such gifts are spiritual investments that pay eternal dividends” (v.17). With much joy in his heart and thanksgiving on his lips, Paul encourages this church by telling them, “what you have sent, a fragrant aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well- pleasing to God” (v.18).

Paul uses this type of OT phraseology elsewhere in His writings. In Ephesians 5:2, he used it in speaking of the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ. We see this as well in Leviticus about an offering that pleased God. It seems that he wanted to express to them his great praise and acceptance of their gifts and sacrifices on his behalf. Our great God is ultimately the One who meets the needs of His children. He uses other people at times to be His hands and feet, but ultimately, He is “the giver of every good and perfect gift” (James 1:17). He is the One who provides for our needs “according to His glorious riches in Christ Jesus” (James 1:19)! God indeed used this church to meet someone else’s needs, and He will do the same for them (v.19).

There is a wellspring of application here:

  1. Our hearts challenge us as it applies to our giving. 
  2. Are we giving to “the cause of the gospel” as we should?
  3. Are we consistent at it?
  4. Are we sacrificially investing ourselves in those who sacrificially give of themselves in gospel work (missionaries)?
  5. Are we trusting God to supply all our needs as we give to other’s needs?

I admit that these questions challenge me; how about you? Perhaps we need to be in prayer over these things. Maybe it is time for “a revived concern” on our part. I will be praying with you.

We will continue with this study next week.

EXAMINE YOURSELVES

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EXTENDED READING: 2 Corinthians 13:1-10

DEVOTIONAL READING: Verses 5-6

Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you—unless indeed you [a]fail the test? But I expect that you will realize that we ourselves [b]do not fail the test.

Just the other day I had to “examine” a particular tool that I wanted to use in my next remodeling project. It didn’t have power when I plugged it in and that was odd, I just used it the previous day. One day something works well and is acting as it should, but slowly, subtly, something or things change and what once was taken for granted now became an issue.

It can be like that in our Christianity as well. In these verses above Paul urge the Corinthian believers to engage in serious self-examination. He wanted them to assess the nature of their commitment to God by looking closely at their own lives. You and I need to do the same if we hope to uncover the problems that tear down our relationships with others and our Heavenly Father. 

I examined my power tool in every possible way to determine the problem that needed fixed. We need to examine our hearts in much the same way. It might be helpful to write your observations down and compare your notes. Paul warns that there are some who’s faith may not be genuine. Make sure that is not you.

Prayer: Father, we hear these solemn words of Paul and are at first fearful to test ourselves in this way for fear of what we may find. Please grant us the courage, faith, and resolve to make sure that our professed faith is genuine and that we are approved by You. Amen.

FINALLY, BRETHREN

PHILIPPIANS 4:8-10

BRIEF INTRO: Now that Paul has addressed the issue of disunity within this local church and especially the two women at its heart, He signals that he is coming to an end of his writing. Yes, he appeared to signal this before (3:1), but with approximately (according to one commentator) 40% of his letter yet to come, it seems logical to deduce that he does not mean to signal “finality,” but rather is using the term in the sense of “furthermore,” or “adding to that.” In our text, he is using the exact Greek phrase to signal the true final words of his epistle to them.

In our previous study, we observed the apostle exhorting this church (Rejoice, be anxious for nothing, and make known, are all in the imperative – commands) to practice specific positive biblical virtues. Today, in our study, he continues with this appeal by directing them to the things their minds should be dwelling on. Paul desires that these Christians “keep on thinking and doing what is morally and spiritually excellent.” This involves meditating on such higher and nobler things and then putting them into practice. And, as we will observe again, they are encouraged to follow his example.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is [a]lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, think about these things.As for the things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.

FOCUS ONE: In these verses, we find six adjectives that are to lead Christians into a higher, more reflective sense of thinking, introduced by the word whatever. Some view these things as “old-fashioned ideas,” while others view them as a “Charter for Christian Thought.” Either way, Paul is reminding them AND us “that careful, logical, and noble thinking produces noble living; high thinking produces high living; and holy thinking produces holy living,” as a man thinks in his heart, so is he (Proverbs 23:7). Such things were exemplified in Jesus Christ (2:5-11) and are produced within us by the working of the Holy Spirit, who indwells each believer.

So, let’s put them in order, and I will give a brief definition of each that I hope will help us grasp the greater sense of each and help us engage the obvious battle for the mind that such thinking elicits (Hebrews 5:16-26).

We are to dwell on:

  1. Whatever is true
  2. Whatever is honorable
  3. Whatever is right
  4. Whatever is pure
  5. Whatever is lovely or lovable
  6. Whatever is good repute or attractive

We should notice that Paul changes the sentence structure to conditional clauses at the end of the verse (if there), so those things are not included in this list but will be discussed later.

Truth is reality, in it is a sense of validity, reliability and is the opposite of what is not. It exemplifies God’s character and should characterize the Christian as well. Honorable is dignified, worthy of reverence, and seems to combine a sense of gravity with dignity. Paul used this word in his pastoral epistles, referring to the qualifications of a church leader.

Right refers to what is upright, conforming to God’s standards, and worthy of His approval.

Pure emphasizes moral purity, that which, in KJV language, is “unsullied.”

Lovely is used in the sense of what is pleasing, agreeable, or amiable. Not to be confused with what is pleasing to the flesh, but the Spirit!

Good repute directs us to what is praiseworthy and rings true to the highest standards—God’s standards, not ours or our cultures.

Some people become discouraged when they read things as we have in this epistle. “have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ” (2:5).” “Work out your salvation with fear and trembling” (2:12). And, “let your mind dwell on these things” (4:8). But we shouldn’t because, in all these exhortations to Christ-like-ness, God is actively working within us to conform us into the image of His Son (1:6; 2:13; 4:7,9)!

FOCUS TWO: Paul has changed his sentence structure at the end of verse eight to conditional clauses (if there), “A rhetorical device that forces the reader to exercise his own discernment and choose what is excellent and praiseworthy.” It appears that the apostle would have these believers, and us secondarily, focus our minds on these things because when we do, we will be living in obedience to Gods Word, we will be walking in unity, and we will “appear as lights in the world” (2:15)!

Dear reader, these are things that should occupy our minds. These are things that occupy our Lord’s mind. How can we grow in holiness, serve one another, be effective witnesses for Christ, or have intimate, powerful prayer lives if we allow our minds to be engrossed with things that are opposed to the things the inspired Word of God teaches us? 

We often struggle with applying the knowledge we acquire, so our loving Heavenly Father provides us godly examples to imitate (3:17; 4:9). No, we are not to imitate men who walk in the flesh, but we are graciously encouraged to emulate those whose lives are imitations of Christ! Such people exhibit the application of such truths in their daily walk, which, in turn, helps us visualize what conformity to God’s word looks like when it is fleshed out.

As for the things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.

FOCUS THREE: Paul had become their teacher shortly after his arrival in Philippi (Acts 16). What they had learned, what they had observed in his life, took place in the short period he was with them (Acts 16:40), and he wanted them to continue practicing these things. 

He uses four verbs that are formed into two pairs (Exegetical Commentary). The first pair, “learned” and “received,” describes the Philippian’s instruction by Paul. He is the person who taught them Christian doctrine and Christian living. The next pair, “heard” and “saw,” depicts their personal observation of the apostle – both his speech and his conduct.

In my meditation on these things, it became clear to me just how much we need both. As Christians, we can’t lead balanced lives if we only have one avenue of personal growth absent of the other. Preaching and teaching are essential, but if it is lacking any application to my daily life, to my walk of faith, it will serve to wound me more than aid me. Let me explain my thinking: I can fill my head with all kinds of bible facts, doctrine, and theology, but if that “knowledge” sits in my head, if I don’t know what it is supposed to look like in applying it in my life, or I’m not encouraged by observing it in others, what use is it to me? 

Real-life illustration: Many years ago, I was a member of a small local church in my hometown. I was a member there for many years and also preached and taught there often. I often overheard a few gentlemen express their disgust at the topic the pastor would be preaching or teaching on that Sunday. Many times I would hear one or the other say: “Why doesn’t he teach on Romans 7 and 8 or Hebrews 5,” I already know all about 1 Corinthians 13.”

Do you see the problem? What good was the “knowledge” about Christian love to them? I observed their rudeness, pride, and self-focus all too often while I was there. They didn’t need more knowledge; they needed to apply what they knew in their own lives and relationships with others.

Paul lived what he preached. His life spoke more eloquently than his lips, I read somewhere. Life examples like that are models that we can follow, confidently trusting that “the God of peace will be with you!”

BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU SAY

In speaking of a person’s faults,
Pray don’t forget your own;
Remember those with homes of glass
should seldom throw a stone;
If we have nothing else to do,
But talk of those who sin,
‘Tis better we commence at home,
And from that point begin.

We have no right to judge a man
Until he’s fairly tried;
Should we not like his company,
We know the world is wide;
Some may have faults – and who has not?
The old as well as the young –
Perhaps we may, for aught we know,
Have fifty to their one.

I’ll tell you of a better plan,
You’ll find it works full well;
To try my own defects to cure
before of others’ tell;
And though sometimes I hope to be
No worse than some I know,
My own shortcomings bid me let
The faults of others go.

Then let us all, when we commence
To surrender friend or foe,
Think of the harm one word would do
To those we little know;
Remember, curses, sometimes, like
Our chickens, “roost at home,”
Don’t speak of others’ faults until We have none of our own.

James J. Boucher

HEAVEN

There will be no unemployment
In that land beyond the sky;
There will be no wage reduction
In that sweet, bye and bye.

There will be no breadlines forming
On that morning bright and fair;
When the saints of earth are gathered
To a better home up there.

There will be no big depressions
For there’ll be no greed for gain;
Every soul will have a blessing
Every heart be freed from pain.

There will be no strikes or lockouts
Earthquakes, warfare, sin, or shame;
For we’ll gather with our Savior
Singing glory to His name!

Author unknown