The Mental Makeover: Philippian Series #9
We are going to have a check-up from the neck up and discover how to get our thinking and minds right. So many of us need a spiritual formula to deal with depression; to deal with anger; to deal with resentment; to deal with self-pity, worry, and fear.
The passage that we study in this chapter is written from a slimy prison; but, as you read it, you’d think he’s writing from a luxurious hotel. You almost expect him to say, at the end, “I wish you were here.” He’s in the Mamertine Prison.
What does that have to do with you? Well, there’s more than one kind of prison. Iron bars make a prison, but there are other things that make a prison, too. Maybe you are living in a dungeon of despair. Some are behind walls of worry; some are shackled with the chains of poor health; some know the iron bars of disappointment, the chains of circumstances, the fetters of fear. There’s more than one kind of prison, and what Paul has to say here is so incredibly relevant.
Paul is in prison, and he can’t get out. So, he just decides, “Well, if I’m here, I might as well remodel the place.” He does it, but he does it on the inside, not on the outside. We read in Philippians 4:11: “I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content” (Philippians 4:11).
What are these five principles to the peace of God? Well, let’s read Philippians 4:4-9:
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice! Let your gentle spirit be known to all people. The Lord is near. Do not ]be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and pleading with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is 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.
I. The Old Math Of Life
Our first principle to peace is to learn to rejoice in the presence of the Lord. We read: “Rejoice in the Lord always: and again I say, Rejoice. Let your gentle spirit be known unto all people. The Lord is near” (Philippians 4:4–5).
Paul was not in that prison by himself; he was in there with the Lord. So, step one is Rejoice in the presence of the Lord. Paul expresses an incredible thought. “The Lord is at near” (Philippians 4:5). Paul didn’t mean, “His Second Coming is near.” He meant, “The Lord is here; the Lord is at hand. I am in this prison. But, I’m here with Jesus, and I rejoice in the Lord.” What an incredible thing for us to learn—that no matter where we are, how lonely the night, how dark the road, how dismal the prison, how big the problem, Jesus Christ is always there.
The only way that we can make this make sense, is when he says, “Rejoice in the Lord always” (Philippians 4:4). I mean, you don’t rejoice in your circumstances; you don’t rejoice that you’ve been put in a prison with vermin, and deprivation, and suffering, and cold. No, it’s the fact that nothing can separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. This joy is to be continual, not sometimes. “Rejoice in the Lord always” literally means, “all of the time.”
The joy of the Lord is a thermostat, not a thermometer. A thermometer registers conditions; a thermostat controls them. Happiness is related to the thermometer. If your hap is good, you’re happy; if your hap is bad, you’re unhappy. Your condition of happiness goes up and down with your circumstances. But joy remains constant, because Jesus is constant. Do you know what most of us need to learn to do? Practice the presence of God. I mean to understand that He is always there and, no matter what circumstance we find ourselves, not to become a thermometer, but to set the thermostat. If you don’t have any joy, it’s because Jesus is not real to you.
Jesus Christ, when He was facing the cross, spoke of His joy. “In that hour Jesus rejoiced in the spirit, and said, I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes: even so, Father; for so it seemed good in thy sight” (Luke 10:21). And, just before He was crucified, He said to His disciples, “These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full” (John 15:11). “Thou wilt shew me the path of life: in thy presence is fullness of joy” (Psalm 16:11).
The Apostle Paul said: “They have locked me in, but they can’t lock Jesus out”—“Rejoice in the Lord always…The Lord is near.” If you want to have a good mental attitude, find joy in Jesus, not in circumstances. Circumstances change; He never changes. You can never be shut away from Him. Rejoice in the Lord always, because He’s always with you. He will never leave you nor forsake you. Set the Lord before your face. Consider Him; contemplate Him; praise Him; love Him; enjoy Him. Don’t rejoice in circumstances; rejoice in the Lord.
II. Rely on the Power of God
We need to rely on the power of the Lord. Paul says, “Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God” (Philippians 4:6). What does that mean? It means, if you’ve got a problem, tell God about it. “In every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving…” (Philippians 4:6). Don’t worry about anything.
Do you know one of the most damaging emotions that can come to you is worry? Worry will do the same thing to you mentally that sand will do to machinery. There are few forms of dissipation that hurt your body more than worry. We should not look down on the man who overeats, or the man who smokes cigarettes, or the man who drinks alcohol or takes drugs, if you’re given over to worry. Worry is a form of dissipation. The word—the very word worry means “division.” It has the idea of being pulled apart. Over here, on the one hand, is hope; and, over here, on the other hand, is fear. A person can be pulled between hope and fear.
Jesus emphatically warned us against worry. He said that worry is worthless. He said, “Which of you by taking [anxious] thought can add one cubit unto his stature?” (Matthew 6:27). I mean, the very best thing you could say about worry is that it doesn’t do any good. Four times in that passage He says, “Take no thought.” And, the word literally means, “no anxious thought.” It’s not foresight but foreboding when we worry about things that are in the future. He says it does no good. It’s like a rocking chair, it gives you something to do, but it doesn’t get you anywhere.
Behavioral psychologists have told us this about worry: 40% of what we worry about never happens; 30% has already gone past, and worry can’t change it; 12% is needless worry about health; 10% of the things we worry about are miscellaneous matters that don’t deserve worry; only about 8% of the things that remain could be counted worthy of worry, if you were a worrier, but of those they could be divided into two categories— those you can do something about, and those you can’t do anything about. Now, if you can do something about it, do it, and quit worrying. If you can’t do anything about it, worry is not going to change it.
Worry is worthless; it is also wasteful. Jesus said, “Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof” (Matthew 6:34). Worry doesn’t take the sorrow out of tomorrow; it takes the joy out of today. Worry pulls tomorrow’s clouds over today’s sunshine. Worry doesn’t help you to get ready for tomorrow, because God doesn’t give you strength for tomorrow. “As your days are, so shall your strength be” (Deuteronomy 33:25).
When you bring tomorrow’s troubles into today, you overload today. Worry is the interest you pay on borrowed trouble. When you get to tomorrow, you are less ready when you get to tomorrow, because you arrive to tomorrow out of breath, because you’re trying to live today’s strength with tomorrow’s troubles. Thus, you are overloaded today, and you’re worn out before you get to tomorrow.
Worry is wicked. Jesus said this is the way the Gentiles act: “After all these things do the Gentiles seek” (Matthew 6:32). You’re acting like a pagan.
Paul does not say, in a cavalier way, “Don’t worry.” He tells us exactly what to do. “Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God” (Philippians 4:6). Worry about nothing; pray about everything.
The cure for worry is prayer to God who is right there with you. It is prayer that is a place of power, provision, and peace. Pray about everything, but unlock the morning with prayer. Refuse to worry. “In every thing by prayer and supplication…” (Philippians 4:6). If it’s big enough to concern you, it’s big enough to concern God. Don’t get the idea that there are some things that are too small to tell God about. Pray about it.
Sometimes we think we need God for the big things. We need God for everything. “Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving…” (Philippians 4:6). Well, you may say “I don’t want to bother Him about the little stuff.” Can you think of anything that’s big to God? It’s all little stuff to Him, and He’s concerned about it.
III. Reflect On The Provision of the Lord
Paul says, when we are asking God to help us, to do it with thanksgiving. Look again, if you will, in verse 6: “Be careful for nothing . . . with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God” (Philippians 4:6). If you ask God for more and don’t thank Him for what He’s already done, I doubt you’re going to get your prayers answered like you ought.
Did you know that there’s no higher expression of faith than thanksgiving, and worry is the highest expression of unbelief? Take a moment to think about that statement. Refuse to worry. Tell God about it. Thank God for what He has done and for what He’s already going to do. Paul is encouraging a spirit of thanksgiving when he’s in a slimy dungeon. Why? Because of the blessings that he had. Sometimes, we just have to get things in focus. We begin feeling sorry for ourselves, and we fail to understand the blessings of God.
The word think and the word thank are related. Don’t take things for granted; take them with gratitude. “Blessed be the Lord, who daily loadeth us with benefits, even the God of our salvation. Selah” (Psalm 68:19). Selah means, “think about that.” “It is of the LORD’s mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not. They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:22–23).
Thank Him. If you are in a dungeon, thank Him for your spiritual blessings. If you are in a dungeon, thank Him for the simple blessings. I’ve learned this, as I’ve gone through life: Unthankful people are always unhappy people. Some people, rather than being humbly grateful, are grumbly hateful. I think we’ve all met them. They are filled with bitterness, and fear, and negativism, and selfishness, and self-pity.
IV. Rest In The Peace of the Lord
Paul states, “And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7). The peace of God is there to guard and protect you.
When Paul was in prison, he most likely was guarded with Roman guards both day and night. He was a very important prisoner. Paul looked around, and he saw those soldiers guarding him. He said, “I’ve got something better than that guarding me. I’ve got the peace of God that is guarding me.” He had the joy of the Lord to gladden him and the peace of God to guard him. Christ was in this prison with him. What is the peace that he had? It’s the peace of God, not the peace of circumstances.
Bible peace is not the subtraction of problems from life; it’s the addition of power to meet those problems. You don’t keep this peace; this peace keeps you. It’s peace that passes understanding. You can’t get it from a bottle; you can’t get it from a syringe; you can’t get it from a psychiatrist, a psychologist, a well-meaning friend, or a book. You get it from God. Jesus said, “My peace I leave with you” (John 14:27). It’s peace that the world cannot give, and it’s peace the world cannot take away. Find your peace in Him. “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee” (Isaiah 26:3).
V. Renew In The Plan of God
What is the purpose of God? Paul writes, “Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honorable, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there by any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things” (Philippians 4:8). You can choose your thoughts like you can choose your friends.
We need to understand that we can be selective in what gets into our mind. You can allow filth, debauchery, and negativism to come into your mind. However, you can just say, “There’s no room in my mind for you right now.”
How are you going to think the right things? Well, let me put it another way: how are you not going to think the wrong things? By thinking the right things. God has wonderfully made you, where you can’t think two thoughts at one time. So, if you’re thinking what you ought to be thinking, you won’t be thinking what you ought not to be thinking.
This is the cure for stinking thinking—if you will think on the right things. I am going to give you the tests as to whether or not you will admit anything into your mind.
A. The Reliance Test
The reliance test answers the question, Is it true? Can you bank on it? Can you rely on it? “Whatsoever things are true” (Philippians 4:8). Do you know that we live in a generation today that doesn’t ask, “Is it true?” We ask, “Does it work?” Don’t let anything come into your thoughts and life and consciously dwell there. Don’t absorb it into your heart, into your philosophy. Don’t dwell on it; don’t let it be a part of your thought patterns, if it is not true. And of course, the Bible is the prime source of truth.
B. The Respect Test
The second question is, “Is it honorable?” “Whatsoever things are true”; and then, he says, “Whatsoever things are honorable” (Philippians 4:8). Do you let dishonorable things get into your mind? Are there things that are not worthy of your respect? Things that are not worthy to really occupy your time? Some things are not bad because they are vile; they’re bad because they’re inane—just silly, stupid, and not worth it.
C. The Rightness Test
“Whatsoever things are right” (Philippians 4:8). The word right, here, means, “straight,” as opposed to “crooked.” Don’t let any crooked thinking come into your mind. Do you think straight? Do you think in a straight line?
I think many of us let things that are crooked come in. I mean, we don’t lay down a measuring rod by what we do. We just kind of go this way and that way a little bit. Paul says that there are certain things that are not going to get through the gate. Anything that is unreliable, disrespectful, or not right should not come through the gate. The rightness test answers the question, is it right?
D. The Reverence Test
Now Paul highlights, “Whatsoever things are pure” (Philippians 4:8). The word pure, here, means “free of contamination.” What it was used for is to ask, “Is this animal—or is this object good enough, and is it pure enough to be used in worship? That is, could it be offered to God?
When Paul says, “Whatsoever things are pure,” he is asking, is this something that I would not be ashamed to offer to the Lord? Could I take this story, take this movie, take this friendship, and say, “Lord, I worship you with it?” “Well,” you say, “you’re not supposed to worship God with everything.” Yes, we are supposed to worship God with everything. The Bible says, “Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). Is this relationship a relationship I could say, “Lord, I offer to you?”
Is there anything that you’re doing that cannot pass the reverence test? That is, you could not offer up to God—any relationship, any activity, any meal, any recreation, or any business deal. Then, don’t let it into your mind.
E. The Relationship Test
Paul says, “Whatsoever things are lovely” (Philippians 4:8). Now, the word lovely, here, doesn’t mean “beautiful.” But it literally means, “causing you to love.” Does it cause you to love? If there’s something that comes into your mind that causes you to criticize unjustly, or brings division between human beings, then it is wrong.
This word lovely is a combination of two words, which actually means, “toward love.” Does this thought move you toward love? Does that mean I have to approve of what other people do? Absolutely not!
F. The Refinement Test
We read, “Whatsoever things are commendable.” (Philippians 4:8). Actually, this word means things that are “high-toned.” That means that it sounds good.
No doubt every church has a few gossips. If you think about it, gossip is a form of insanity. I’ve never met a gossip who knew they were a gossip. This is what they say: “You know me; I don’t gossip.” And then, they start to gossip. Well, if a person’s doing something, and they don’t know they’re doing it, I think they must have unfurnished rooms to rent upstairs. They love to listen to ideas that are not of good report or not commendable.
People use their ears for garbage cans. They say, “You know, I don’t know why people always come and tell me these things.” I know why they tell you those things. They know you want to hear them. You know, they know that you will allow them to track mud on the carpet of your mind. Do you know people like this? But with the refinement test these are things you ought to put up at the gate of your mind, and do not allow them to come in.
Paul wraps it up, and says, “If there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things” (Philippians 4:8). You can absolutely take back that conquered ground, and you can say, “I’m only going to let these thoughts in my mind.” You don’t have to think about anything you don’t want to think on.
All of us are thinking about something. You cannot control your thought life by keeping your mind in neutral. You will think something, and if you’re not thinking something right, you’re going to think something wrong. If you’re not thinking something good, you’re going to think something bad.
And, the way to not think bad thoughts is not by trying not to think bad thoughts. Try not to think of a submarine, right now. Are you sure you’re not thinking about a submarine, right now? The only way not to think about a submarine is not by trying not to think about a submarine, but by thinking about something else. People who are trying not to think about a submarine are thinking about the submarines they’re trying not to think about. Isn’t that right? Sure.
Learn to think God’s thoughts after Him. We should use Paul’s standard here in Philippians 4 as the grid through which everything must come, before it finds lodging in your mind. He teaches us, “If you will do this, you will have the peace of God in your heart.” Verse 9: “Those things, which ye have both learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me, do:”—now, here’s the promise—“and the God of peace will be with you” (Philippians 4:9).