Philippians 4:8-14(HCSB)8 Finally brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable—if there is any moral excellence and if there is any praise—dwell on these things. 9 Do what you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.
10 I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that once again you renewed your care for me. You were, in fact, concerned about me but lacked the opportunity to show it. 11 I don’t say this out of need, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. 12 I know both how to have a little, and I know how to have a lot. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being content—whether well fed or hungry, whether in abundance or in need. 13 I am able to do all things through Him who strengthens me. 14 Still, you did well by sharing with me in my hardship.
In Philippians 4:8 Paul exhorts us to develop a Christian thought life. Practicing verse 8 is essential if we want to develop and maintain healthy relationships. A Christian thought life is also integral to a life of joy (4:4) and peace (4:6-7) in every situation. Since our thoughts form our behavior, a godly thought life is also essential for the obedience to the scriptures and to a Christian life. Clearly, Paul’s thought life was at the heart of the what he had learned in every situation (Philippians 4:10-12(ESV) 10 I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that once again you renewed your care for me. You were, in fact, concerned about me but lacked the opportunity to show it. 11 I don’t say this out of need, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. 12 I know both how to have a little, and I know how to have a lot. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being content—whether well fed or hungry, whether in abundance or in need. So Paul is telling us the way to be whole people in our relationships with God, with one another, and within ourselves. “A beautiful mind is a terrible thing to waste” is an advertising slogan for the UNCF, and it is so true. God has blessed us with an amazing combination of physical abilities and a brain to help us think, plan, work, and enjoy life. So God wants to bless, strengthen, renew, guard and bless our minds, as we focus our thoughts and actions on him. Luke 10:27(HCSB)27 He answered:Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.
Romans 8:6-(HCSB)6 For the mind-set of the flesh is death, but the mind-set of the Spirit is life and peace. 7 For the mind-set of the flesh is hostile to God because it does not submit itself to God’s law, for it is unable to do so. 8 Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. 9 You, however, are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, since[g] the Spirit of God lives in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him.
We don’t know what we like we like what we know. We are constantly in a state of being told what to like by TV, media, music, magazines, advertisements, etc.
Those things are constantly shaping the way we think, act, talk, walk, dress, eat, spend our time, etc.
What we take in greatly affects our attitudes, thinking and acting.
Garbage in Garbage out
Romans 12:1-2(HCSB)Therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, I urge you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God; this is your spiritual worship. 2 Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God.
But before we look specifically at what Paul is teaching and how to obey it, we need to think about:
I. What Paul is NOT teaching: the power of positive thinking.
I need to focus on this for a moment because the Christian world has been infiltrated with the false teaching of “positive thinking,” popularized by Norman Vincent Peale and, with only slight variations, by Peale’s protege, Robert Schuller. If you are at all familiar with the teachings of these men, you know that they are not Christian in any orthodox sense of the term, even though they both have been welcomed into evangelical circles. Through their influence, the idea has crept into the American church that it is wrong ever to be negative or critical. This has resulted in the loss of discernment.
On July 27, 2009, the cover of “Sports Illustrated” featured an image of Florida Gators quarterback Tim Tebow then he went off to play for the Denver Broncos. The headline—“Tim Tebow: Man of Many Missions”—riffed on the way he’d created a fan frenzy with his unique blend of faith and football. The championship quarterback seemed poised to jump off the glossy cover with pursed lips that oozed determination and a simple Bible verse scribbled within the black grease underneath his eyes: “Phil. 4:13.”
Tebow’s highly churched Southern fan base didn’t need to look up the passage. No, most of them knew it by heart: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
Philippians 4:13 is one of the most popular verses in any of the 66 books of the Christian Bible, having been printed on millions of key chains and t-shirts, cellphone cases and coffee mugs. (If one wanted to argue the trinketization of Christianity, this Bible verse would be a good starting point.)
But it also one of the misunderstood, misused, and misinterpreted.
Like Tebow, Philippians 4:13 functions as a kind of mystical incantation for many Christians. They recite the passage when they need to draw power from another place to defeat an enemy or conquer a difficult task. It’s a talisman like Green Lantern’s ring or mind sorcery like Dr. Strange.
Need an example? Joel Osteen, self improvement motivational speaker of the largest evangelical mega-country club in America provided the following commentary on Philippians 4:13 in the January 21, 2013 edition of his “Today’s Word” devotional:
Most people tend to magnify their limitations. They focus on their shortcomings. But scripture makes it plain: all things are possible to those who believe. That’s right! It is possible to see your dreams fulfilled. It is possible to overcome that obstacle. It is possible to climb to new heights. It is possible to embrace your destiny. You may not know how it will all take place. You may not have a plan, but all you have to know is that if God said you can…you can!
This is an example of the way many Christians today understand and interpret this verse. For them, the “all things” that Christ empowers them to accomplish includes fulfilling their dreams, climbing to new heights, and embracing their destinies.
Do you want that job promotion? To find your soul mate? Have better sex with your spouse? Make more money? No problem. You can accomplish “all things through Christ.” Unfortunately, this way of interpreting and applying Philippians 4:13 couldn’t be further from its actual meaning. To understand what Paul, the author of Philippians, actually meant, we have to read the verse in context.
Philippians is one of the “prison epistles,” which is to say, it was written during one of the many times Paul was a jailbird. So it isn’t surprising that the book draws heavily on the themes of humility and self-sacrifice. When you imagine Paul penning this letter in a dank first-century prison cell—not exactly the new heights and destiny imagined above—you already begin to feel uncomfortable about popular interpretations.
But more than the setting, we must recognize that Philippians 4:13 is part of a larger idea. When we look at verses 11 and 12, the thought begins to take shape:
Philippians 4:11-12(HCSB)11 I don’t say this out of need, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. 12 I know both how to have a little, and I know how to have a lot. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being content—whether well fed or hungry, whether in abundance or in need.
Paul isn’t telling Christians that they should dream bigger dreams; he is reminding them that they can endure the crushing feeling of defeat if those dreams aren’t realized. He’s not encouraging Christians to go out and conquer the world; he’s reminding them that they can press on when the world conquers them.
Contrary to popular belief, the Bible does not teach “God will give you the strength to do whatever you set your mind to.” (Actually, anytime a foundational view in your theology begins with, “God will give you”, stop and do a double-check.) [tweetable]God is not a heavenly bellhop or divine sugar daddy or cosmic power plant to fuel your dream-quest.[/tweetable] Instead, the Bible teaches, God is a sustainer when life feels unsustainable.
And if you’re like me, this is a “good news” message. Because my experience is that life is messy and thorny and unpredictable and chock full of disappointments. Most of them, a result of my own doing. I don’t need a God who motivates me to pursue my career dreams or chase down opportunities for personal advancement. I possess that drive on my own. Instead, I need a God who hunkers down in life’s trenches with me, who isn’t afraid to get mucky and messy and wade with me through tragedy and pain and failure.
The God of the Bible—Jesus—is better than we’ve imagined because he gives us what we actually need: strength to survive our moments of weakness and a sense of freedom even in life’s prisons.
Go write that under your eyes.
The positive thinking heresy has further spread through the so-called “Positive Confession” heresy, also called the “Health and Wealth” or “Name it and Claim it” teaching, that whatever you confess positively by faith, God must do it. This heresy attributes power to faith itself, and says that even if you are sick, you must not give a negative confession by admitting it, but must claim your healing by affirming, “I am well!”
Also a number of purportedly Christian sales companies or successful salesmen have utilized a form of this error through a sales motivational teaching called “positive mental attitude.” You’re never supposed to entertain negative thoughts. You’re supposed to use “positive self-talk,” have faith in yourself, and visualize yourself as successful and wealthy so that it will become a reality.
All of these errors are based on the heresy of Science of Mind, taught by Ernest Holmes, the founder of the Church of Religious Science, that your mind can create reality, that through thinking positively, you can do anything or achieve any success you want. The variations mentioned above, though claiming to be Christian and appealing to Philippians 4:8 as support, are satanic in that they appeal to the flesh, promote self, and do not confront people with the need to be subject to the lordship of Christ. (Dave Hunt deals with many of these errors in his two books, The Seduction of Christianity and Beyond Seduction [both by Harvest House].) But, clearly, Paul is not teaching the power of positive thinking in Philippians 4:8.
Since as fallen creatures we are prone to Satan’s lies and deception, the only way we can know the truth and walk in it is to steep ourselves in God’s Word. We should know the Word so well that we automatically run everything we encounter through the grid of God’s Word. We live in a day that is geared toward emotions and strongly influenced by the supposed “virtue” of tolerance. Our culture assumes that love means being tolerant and accepting of everyone and everything, even if God’s Word plainly declares that something is an abomination. If you go with the flow, you will be carried far from God’s absolute standard of moral truth as revealed in His Word.
We also must resist the pragmatism of our culture, which determines the true by whatever works. If something works, which means, it brings you happiness (at least at the moment) or it accomplishes what you want, then it must be true. But God’s Word doesn’t always line up with what works. In fact, it’s clear that sin often brings pleasure for a season; if it didn’t we wouldn’t be so enticed by it. Many of the “positive mental attitude” methods are effective in making you a successful sales person. But the question is, Are they biblical? We must test everything by God’s Word, not by feelings or pragmatism.
Before a person knows Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, he has a depraved mind (Romans 1:28(HCSB)28 And because they did not think it worthwhile to acknowledge God, God delivered them over to a worthless mind to do what is morally wrong.. He lives in the lusts of his flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind (Ephesians 2:3(HCSB)3 We too all previously lived among them in our fleshly desires, carrying out the inclinations of our flesh and thoughts, and we were by nature children under wrath as the others were also. God must supernaturally raise us from our state of being dead in our trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1(HCSB) and impart to us a new nature that is able to obey Him (Ephesians 4:22-24(HCSB)22 You took off[a] your former way of life, the old self that is corrupted by deceitful desires; 23 you are being renewed in the spirit of your minds; 24 you put on the new self, the one created according to God’s likeness in righteousness and purity of the truth.. Paul says that “the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so; and those who are in the flesh cannot please God. However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him” (Romans 8:7-9(ESV). As he goes on to explain, the Holy Spirit gives us the power to put to death the deeds of the flesh and to live in obedience to God.
Listen to and read sermons from godly men. The sermons and commentaries of John Calvin, Jonathan Edwards, Charles Spurgeon, J. C. Ryle, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, and other giants of the faith are available in print. Read the biographies of these and other godly men and women. With a few exceptions, avoid most of the modern Christian best sellers, and spend your time reading the works that have stood the test of time. These men walked with God, and they will feed your soul.
2 Corinthians 10:3-6 (ESV)For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete.
As believers, we are no longer conformed to this world because we no longer belong to the spirit of this age.
Colossians 1:13-14 For he has rescued us from the kingdom of darkness and transferred us into the Kingdom of his dear Son, who purchased our freedom and forgave our sins.
Therefore, rather than continuing to conform to this world, we are to be transformed by having our minds renewed.
Where do we put our time and energy? Do we spend more time thinking about the things of the flesh, or do we spend more time on God’s word and the application of it in our lives? Whatever you do, it will be seen by your fruit, whether it be the fruit of the spirit, or the fruit of the flesh. Where we get into difficulties though is when we think it is okay to mix the two, for they cannot live together in harmony, they are opposite to each other. We have to put in a lot of time with the spirit to overcome the natural flesh. One of the most difficult things to overcome with man’s thinking is being stuck in the present, rather than thinking like God and thinking beyond to the future kingdom. We can get stuck with all the human activities that take up our time, the lusts and pleasures of the world. We can get bogged down with trying to acquire possessions, or money, or worldly status.
1 Timothy 6:7-8(HCSB)For we brought nothing into the world,and we can take nothing out. 8 But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these.
That’s completely opposite to worldly thinking. The world bombards us with marketing telling us that unless we have the newest, the biggest and the best we will never be happy. But God says,
Matthew 6:33(HCSB) 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be provided for you.
Seek the kingdom of God first, not second, and then whatever else is deemed necessary will be added. We can really see the difference between the mind of God and the mind of man here. The natural eyes of man see a beautiful Ferrari or Lamborghini, it sees a magnificent mansion, it sees a high flying executive job with an office at the top of a wonderful skyscraper, it sees endless holidays on a hot sunny Mediterranean beach. I’m sure you can think of many other things too. It would be so easy if Satan came as a red man with horns and a tail but he comes as your hearts desire, he comes after you with the things of this world that captivate your attention. When our attention is on the world and not on the kingdom we become susceptible to being deceived with things that are not sinful in itself but easily becomes an idol. It is interesting to note that Paul says that we must be transformed by the renewing of our “minds.” The mind is the key to the Christian life. The reason why non-Christians do not respond to Christian truth is because they cannot discern spiritual truth
1 Corinthians 2:14 But people who aren’t spiritual can’t receive these truths from God’s Spirit. It all sounds foolish to them and they can’t understand it, for only those who are spiritual can understand what the Spirit means.
The gospel is a call for the unbeliever to repent of his sin and embrace Christ by faith. The Greek word Metanoia translated “repentance” carries the notion of a change of mind. Our thinking must be changed (transformed) from old, ungodly ways of thinking into new, godly ways of thinking. What we know in our minds to be true forms a conviction in our hearts of that truth, and that conviction in our hearts translates into action. Therefore, we must first renew our minds.The only way to replace the error of the world’s way of thinking is to replace it with God’s truth, and the only infallible source of God’s truth is found in his revealed word, the Bible. Transformation through renewed minds comes as believers expose themselves to God’s Word through the faithful teaching of it each week in church, prayer, worship, personal Bible study and group Bible study. A solid church that believes in preaching the Word, reading the Word and singing the Word is invaluable in helping us renew our minds.
James 1:5-8(ESV)5 If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. 6 But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. 7 For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; 8 he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.