“How to Procure the Peace-giving Presence of God”
INTRODUCTION What is the Meaning of Philippians 4.8-9
Philippians 4. There is a Chinese idiom that literally means “practice gives birth to great skill.” It is used to describe how skill comes from repeated practice and is similar to the English expression “practice makes perfect!”
According to the story, during the Northern Song Dynasty (which lasted from 960–1127 A.D.), there was a very skilled archer named Chen. He never missed a bullseye and his students gave him the nickname “magic archer.” Chen was very proud of his skill and believed he was the best archer in the world.
One day, while shooting arrows, Chen attracted a large crowd of onlookers that began to cheer him on. Among the crowd, there was an old, oil peddler who just shook his head and did not seem at all impressed.
Surprised, Chen asked the oil peddler: “Can you do this?” The peddler replied: “No, I can’t.” Chen then asked: “What do you think of my archery?”
The oil peddler answered: “It is okay, but nothing special; all it takes is practice.”
This made Chen quite unhappy. One of his students said to the peddler: “No one can compare with my master’s skill in archery. How dare you underestimate my master’s skill?”
Without saying a word, the oil peddler took a bottle, placed it on the ground, and put a copper coin with a square hole in the center over the top of the bottle. He then poured oil from a wooden ladle into the bottle, without spilling a single drop on the coin.
The onlookers watched in amazement. The old oil peddler turned to Chen and said: “That was also nothing. I can do this because I have practiced it a lot. Skill comes from practice.”
With these words, the oil peddler left and the crowd became quiet.
Both those men acquired great skill from practice. But it took much practice. But we live in a microwave generation. We want everything right now and few people are willing to work hard for great reward.
That expectation carries over into our spiritual lives. Somebody said it’s like we expect a “spiritual hotpocket” of growth from God…that He should just zap us and we’re instantly mature! If I have those expectations and my life is filled with problems, I can’t understand how I got here. How many of us struggle every day or every week over the same sin issues over and over again all because we haven’t been willing to put in the hard work to overcome them and therefore procure and enjoy the peace of God.
But this is what Christians do who stand firm in the Lord. These are the strong Christians! Strong Christians put in the hard work to get the peace of God.
We’re in a section that’s emphasizing the theme of the whole letter of Philippians: Joyful Christian maturity. Philippians 4:1-9 emphasizes that Christian maturity is joyful and thus should be attractive to all of us.
Verse 1, in this way stand firm in the Lord! In what way? Unity verses 2-3; Strong Christians, those who stand firm, work on unity in the church; they also v. 4 rejoice in the Lord always despite the circumstances. Verse 5, they have learned through the practice of proper praying not to be anxious about anything, but instead they have God’s peace.
And now to conclude this section of what Christians maturity looks like, Paul focuses on our thoughts and behaviours. If we follow Paul’s counsel here, we’re promised the peace of God.
Philippians 4:8–9 8 Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things. 9 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.
Since this is a passage about strong Christians, those who stand firm in the Lord, we can deduce that the weak don’t control their hearts and thereby choose to dwell on displeasing-to-God thoughts. However, the strong guard their hearts, survey their thoughts and seek to determine whether this thought is worth dwelling on. If it’s not, they reject it and replace it with a thought worthy to dwell on.
Motivation: So don’t you want to have God’s peace even when life is difficult? When your spouse is doing or saying this when you’re kids this or that or when this or that at work happens? When everything in your life doesn’t seem to be going your way, you can still have peace! Proverbs 4:23 23 Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life.
That’s what it’s going to take to have God’s peace!
You must practice godly thinking to get God’s peace. I’m preaching on how to procure the peace-giving presence of God … or simply How to get God’s peace! This is part 2 in a sense, on how to get God’s peace. Last time, from verses 6-7, we discovered how to get the peace of God in our hearts by practising proper praying: Worship, be a beggar/know your neediness, be thankful, make your request from God. This morning we continue the theme of experiencing God’s peace in our hearts by proper thinking and behaviors.
The Appeal: To Dwell
Notice first the command at the end of verse 8, “dwell on these things.” What does it mean to dwell?
The word “to dwell” means “to think about something in a detailed and logical manner.” It means to think through something, to turn it over in your mind, to meditate on it, to think at length about something.
But we live in a busy world filled with a-musements,… activities without thinking…a-muse (muse means to think, the “a” negates that…) amusements… activities without thinking…in our busy world filled with amusements we’re not trained to think godly by our culture. You didn’t wake up one morning with this ability.
So let me ask you …
“What efforts are you making to hide God’s word in your heart that you might not sin against Him, as Ps. 119:11 says? That’s what we’re doing together on Wednesday nights; we’re memorizing Scripture together. I trust those who attend are working on that on your own time.
But no matter where you are or what you’re doing, you know how to do this word dwell. For example, if you are a worrier, you know how to meditate. When you worry, you think at length about the thing that you are worried about, so much so it causes those horrible worry feelings. Also those who are angry or bitter. If you are angry or bitter you turn those things over in your mind that cause you to be angry or bitter. And you’re heart responds with those feelings of anger.
So I know you know how to dwell on thoughts in your mind; you just need to reject dwelling on bad thoughts and begin dwelling on good thoughts.
2 Corinthians 10:5 5 We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ,
Every thought that goes through your mind needs to be either imprisoned and executed because of its crime against God or every thought in your mind needs to be praised and promoted for it’s obedience to Christ!
And so you are aware then that your thoughts are behind each of your sins! That’s why Jesus says, as we read this morning, in Matthew 5 that anger is as bad as murder…why? Because it is the heart, the thoughts that are angry lead to murder. God is the judge of the heart.
As God’s judgment all the way back in Ge. 6:5 says, that every intent of the thoughts of your heart are only evil all the time. In your natural state, that is your experience, even apart from your experiencing it to be so.
Are you aware of which thoughts lead you to your sin? Have you deeply considered by reflecting on your own thoughts and how you act on them…have you considered how that leads to you sinning? Thoughts are powerful things…you dwell on something long enough, it’ll cause you either to sin or grow in Christ.
What to dwell on (v. 8)
So, what am I to dwell on?
In verse 8, we have a list of words that describe the things that we must dwell on. To dwell on each one of these is going to take wisdom with the Scripture and wisdom with your own heart, that is skill like an archer or like the oil seller who could pour oil through a very small whole without spilling anything. You must work at this or be subject to the attacks of the world, your flesh and the devil your whole life. Your enjoyment of God will be diminished and thus will be your overall joy in life.
ILL: One of the greatest things you can do for your loved ones is to teach them how to think in a godly way.
EXP: For example, learn to think on what is true, not what is false or a lie. Because of your sin nature, you are an expert at dwelling on lies.
Think of Adam and Eve. Satan comes to the garden… “Has God really said that you shall not eat of that tree? Isn’t God holding out good from you…I mean, He knows that you’ll be like Him, knowing good and evil.” “You won’t surely die!” What does Eve do? She dwells on that lie! She turns it over in her mind, looks at it, considers that lie, until she is so enticed to sin that she gives in.
APP: You too often dwell on lies, also! “I’ll be happy if only… [spouse, job, kids, money, some event happened, I get married, whatever.]” “I wouldn’t be so angry if you didn’t… or if that didn’t happen.” Those are lies! You’ll be happy when you know God, when you obey His commands, as we’re discussing this morning. Your enjoyment of this life is not a mater of improving your circumstances, but of growing in your walk with God.
APP: Reject those thoughts and think on true things: God is good, He knows what’s best, He’s proven it before, I trust Him now! He’s my everything!
If you do this, you’ll get God’s peace…end of verse 9 … and the God of peace will be with you. If not, no peace.
EXP: Second, honourable. This word refers to things of dignity, nobility. Think on things that are worthy of respect and reverence. Something worthy of a righteous king to bother himself with.
And so don’t think things that are ignoble, base, vulgar, flippant, or cheap. You know, not everything is a joke and you don’t need to constantly fill your mind with cheap things!
ILL: I know of a former pastor and everything was a joke to this guy! You couldn’t go 2 sentences without some sort of attempt at cracking a joke. It seemed he didn’t have reverent bone in his body. Well, some unfortunate things happened and he’s out of the ministry today. And he couldn’t keep his thoughts on honourable things!
APP: Are you filling your mind with cheap and frivolous things? Things that don’t matter? Do you constantly need some base or vulgar things to keep you entertained? Then the God of peace will not be with you! You’ll live a life displeasing to God as well as to those around you.
Whatever is true, whatever is honourable, third whatever is right.
EXP: You need to ponder the things that are morally right. What makes for righteous living…that’s what you need to be thinking about.
That would mean reject thoughts that are immoral, that aren’t right before God.
APP: You must dwell on morally right behavior. Let’s get specific: if you have a problem with lust, anger, or pride, you need to spend a lot of time dwelling on the opposite of those sins.
ILL: For example, I can choose to scare myself at night when I go outside when it’s dark … or not. What if I run into a skunk, maybe a coyote is out there, some gnarly beast… yah! And I can scare myself, I’ve done it before, but I learned to reject those thoughts. Or I can worry about my family when they go to Edmonton, that they’ll get into a car accident and they’ll all be killed and then I can plan the funeral in my head and whatever …I mean I can go down those paths but when my little heart does go down that path, instead of planning their funeral, I rebuke myself and purposefully turn to greater, morally righteous thoughts.
Are you given to anger, dwell on patience from the Scripture. Is it some lust? Dwell on the facts of Scripture that tell you that God is sufficient to satisfy you.
The battle for the Christian life is a battle of the mind.
Whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is right, 4th, whatever is pure.
EXP: “Pure” refers to all areas of moral purity. Make sure you’re focusing on things that are morally praiseworthy and reject the impure.
APP: I don’t know how you can watch certain things on the TV or the computer and still obey the command to dwell on things that are pure. You don’t hear me harking on TV watching, video games, or movies very much, but this is a passage that applies directly.
Psalm 101:2–3 2 … I will walk within my house in the integrity of my heart. 3 I will set no worthless thing before my eyes….” Let alone something not pure.
There are unfortunately even Christian leaders glorying in the filth that they watch! But you can’t expect to be feasting your soul on filth and have the peace-giving presence of God with you.
EXP: These are things that agreeable and pleasing, like a wonderful fragrance from a rose that makes you want to stop and smell the roses!
You should dwell on lovely things …but if it’s “stinkin’ thinkin” you must avoid it like a skunk…get those stinkin’ thoughts out of there!
Sometimes you’re taken in by disgusting or distasteful thoughts and you can’t stop thinking about them. It could be your failures from the past, sins you’ve committed or actions that are under the blood.
Don’t go there! You need to have a battle plan on how to think correctly about those things. You need to realize that it’s impossible to expect that you never think about your past. But when you do, think about your past correctly. For example, if you sinned and you’ve trusted Christ, think how lovely Christ is to have forgiven you of all your sins! Purposefully reject bad thoughts and dwell on the loveliness of your Saviour and the wonder of His love for you! Have thoughts prepared in advance even, ready to go when the time comes. Continuously meditate on the loveliness of your Saviour!
 Good repute
EXP: Whatever things are of good repute. That is, whatever things have a good reputation. These are those things that are spoken highly of by godly people. Of course, those things of good reputation would have to line up with the Scripture.
Excellence/Worthy of praise
Paul closes verse 8 with a couple of catch-all phrases…
Philippians 4:8 8 …if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.
In case he missed something, I suppose. But he’s piling on these words and phrases… by all means, give your attention to these things…if there is something in the world that qualifies and it’s excellent or praiseworthy, give yourself to it! Dwell on those things!
EXP: But keep in mind that some things can be true, but it might not be lovely.
APP: You shouldn’t always be thinking about evil … sometimes you have to think about some sin to deal with it properly or because you’re reading about it in the Bible…we need to be warned about sin…, but think about sin in the context of Phil. 4:8.
Don’t always muse about how bad everything is, how bad the evangelical church is, or constantly dwelling on how our country is going downhill, this injustice in the world or that thing that person did…This is not good thinking if you’re constantly dwelling on those things…and it won’t give you the peace that you long for!
TRANS: To get God’s peace in your heart, you need to think right … but also do right!
An Appeal to Mature Living (v. 9)
Philippians 4:9 9 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.
And there is our promise. The God of peace will be with you…the peace-giving presence of God in your heart. Wonderful!
In verse 9, those things learned and received…that’s what Paul teaches!
The things heard and seen in him…that’s how Paul lives!
What he teaches and how Paul lives, that’s what we’re striving for! To receive his teaching and to live it out as he does.
Mature thinking is the foundation of mature living
Paul no doubt practised verse 8, righteous thinking. He did and his life showed it, verse 9.
So notice that mature thinking is the root for mature living. Mature thinking is the root for mature living.
ILL: As someone said … sow a thought, reap an action; sow an action, reap a habit; sow a habit, reap a character; sow a character, reap a destiny.
The reason you live the way you live is because you have been thinking the way that you have been thinking.
When you’re character is given over to whatever sin, it’s difficult to root that out. It takes effort! You need to come to the end of yourself and cry out to God, and put in the effort; until you do the hard work, you’re not going to get anywhere.
You have to be diligent to think rightly. It all begins in your mind and what thoughts you entertain in your mind.
Mature thinking is the only structure
But of course it doesn’t stop with just right thinking. You have to be diligent to act rightly, too. You can’t just think about it all day; do something! We have to put those right thoughts into actions. Theology and righteous thoughts are designed to produce righteous actions. But you have to act on them.
As James 1:22 says 22 But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves.
In other words, you could have a mastery of the Scripture and never put it into practice. But the true Christian will put something at least into practice.
As Jesus said … John 13:17 17 “If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them. “ You have to know and do.”
The means of mature living
So if you want to live a mature Christian life, you’ll need to put the hard work into thinking correctly and into living out the instruction you receive and turn godly thoughts into godly actions. As you practice that and live that out, you’ll have less anxiety, worry, and fear, anger and more of the peace of God…. “The God of peace will be with you.”
Reject bad thoughts
Accept good thoughts
Receive mature instruction
To summarize … to get the peace-giving presence of God in your heart, you need to repent of sinful and bad thoughts that don’t line up with Philippians 4:8. You need to dwell on good thoughts that line up with Philippians 4:8.
Next, from verse 9, receive godly instruction and live that out.
Paul says whatever you have “learned and received” from him… Those are the things that you are to dwell on. That’s godly instruction from the Scripture. Receive mature instruction.
And finally imitate mature believers.
Imitate mature believers
Philippians 4:9 9 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.
We can imitate Paul in the Scripture and we have godly examples in this church; do what they do, practice what they do. Get to know them and seek them out for help.
What issue are you having? How do they live to counteract that?
CONCLUSION What is the Meaning of Philippians 4.8-9
But this takes work and I fear that we may be too lazy or otherwise fail to respond to this message. The way I illustrate the difficulty of this with my family is with pathways in the forest. Behind our house, we have a wooded area and on the south side of our property there is a path with no trees. That path is very easy to go down.
Just like that, our hearts have paths. And those paths are your thought pathways, the path you travel down when you think about something.
If the path in your heart is well-worn because you always go down that path and think that way about that situation, and it is also a bad path that displeases God, it’s kind of like that path on my property that has no trees. It’s very easy to go down that path! You’ve formed a sin habit!
What you need to do is let that path grow up and build a new path! You need to repent and deliberately think new thoughts. Don’t ever just let your thoughts wander aimlessly; purposefully control your mind.
But it takes effort! Like if we were to cut down trees to build a path on the other side of our property. That’s hard work!
You’re not going to grow if you don’t learn to repent of those bad thoughts in the very moment you have them and learn to cling to good thoughts that please God. You have to resist thinking so wrongly and constantly push your thoughts down the righteous path. And if you don’t, you’ll ruin your life and live a life displeasing to God!
That’s not what you want! You want peace! This is the way of receiving the peace of God. Will you put the effort in to change?
Tell the Lord you repent, tell Him you hate your sin, tell Him you want to change and to grow! And make a plan to conquer your thoughts that cause you to have a lack of peace.
Isaiah 26:3 Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee.
If you trust in the Lord, you’ll keep your mind on the Lord and He in turn will keep you in perfect peace. That verse Isa. 26:3 was the basis for a hymn, number 352. Like a river glorious.