Wise Versus Foolish Responses

Posted by on May 26, 2015 in Discipleship, Featured

Wise Versus Foolish Responses

Discipleship-green

Editors note: The purpose of this series is to help our readers think through what discipleship is and how to embrace the Cross of Christ in all of life.

Proverbs 29:11 CJB, “A fool gives vent to all his feelings, but the wise, thinking of afterwards, stills them.”

Things have been a bit rough lately at work. The opportunity to spill out with angry words in response to the actions or even perceived actions of others seems to know no end. Let’s just say it has been a target rich environment of late with plenty of opportunities to practice wisdom with my tongue. Unfortunately, my tendency has been to behave on what Scripture would label as foolishness rather than in wisdom.

It is truly a difficult thing to think before you speak. Blurting out the first thing that comes to our minds is all too often the modus operandi of how we relate to one another. This is especially true in the heat of the moment, more so during those times when we have reached what we believe to be our wits end.

Admit it. We all have that maddening supervisor, co-worker, family member, or that individual that apparently never had demonstrated by the car salesperson what that wonderful thing called a turn signal is all about. We should also all admit (I have my hand raised high) that our response to such individuals is typically an unrighteous, foolish retort, something that seems to be a clever quip but is really nothing more than utter and shameful foolishness.

What does this tendency towards foolish behavior reveal in our lives? According to Proverbs 29:11, the fool gives vent to all his feelings. What does it mean to vent or utter all ones feelings? The answer can be found in the meaning of the Hebrew verb yatsa which means “to go out or go forth.” Of particular interest is the association of this particular verb with plants and planting. If we think about this for a second, the idea of emotional responses being something that germinates within our hearts which then sprouts forth from our mouth should make perfect sense. Uttering forth all your feelings foolishly is a practiced behavior, one that has its source in foolishness being rooted in your heart. Foolish responses are like weeds that sprout up immediately from a spiritually untilled soil.

The wise have a grasp of how to control their tongue. I love how the CJB states the last portion of Proverbs 29:11 – the wise, thinking of afterwards, stills them. When we dig a bit into some word meanings, the wise response becomes ever clearer. The Hebrew verb translated as stills or keeps is shabach meaning “to soothe, still, stroke.” The idea of calm and self-control is quite clear. Furthermore, the wise when pondering their response think of more than just the heat of the moment. They think of afterwards, specifically the impact and consequences of their words. This brings a whole new meaning to the old adage “think before you speak.”

So the next time you are tempted to lash out in anger, please keep Proverbs 29:11 in mind. It is many times far wiser to zip the lip than to foolishly let whatever comes to your mind slip out from your lips. Is being wise in this area of your life difficult? You bet it is! Is it vital that we grow in wisdom in this area of our lives? You bet it is! Perhaps this is why we should constantly be in a posture of prayer, constantly washing ourselves in the cleansing water of God’s Word, and always consuming the life-giving power of God’s Word. As we absorb what it means to be wise as outlined in Scripture, the Holy Spirit will till the soil of our hearts, uprooting the foolishness that so often results in diarrhea of the mouth. It is a must that we grow in this area of life as foolish words are like sharp barbs that tear apart and destroy relationships.

Be wise and ponder your words!

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Defying Isis: Preserving Christianity In The Place Of Its Birth And In Your Own Backyard

Posted by on May 26, 2015 in Church, Featured

Defying Isis: Preserving Christianity In The Place Of Its Birth And In Your Own Backyard

downloadEvery day we’re confronted with more news about Isis and the terror they are reigning on the world around us. Yet what is often not reported on not nearly enough is the massacre that is happening at the hands of Isis. This massacre is the persecution, and killing of Christians. Thousands of Christians arrive in refugee camps daily in countries like Jordan, Northern Iraq, and Lebanon. Churches have been demolished, crosses burned and replaced with ISIS flags, homes destroyed, entire communities displaced, religious conversions forced, human torture enacted, children slaughtered, and all in plain sight. ISIS is bound and determined to wipe Christianity off the map completely. Knowing this is why Johnnie Moore wrote Defying Isis: Preserving Christianity In The Place Of Its Birth And In Your Own Backyard.

This book has three sections. In the first section, the author explains what ISIS is doing—namely burning our churches and killing our pastors, slaughtering God’s people, and making our children their soldiers, along with enslaving our wives and abusing our daughters, and more. In section two, the author explains how ISIS is in our backyard since all of their training is done via the internet. In chapter six the author gets into how we defeat ISIS. He explains that we need to educate ourselves about ISIS, give to those preserving and rebuilding society, and don’t underestimate or oversimplify the crisis, and befriend people. I thought it was interesting here that there was no mention of going to war with ISIS nor in the rest of the book. Part three looks at what we are losing. Here the author explains the history of IRAQ and all the history we’re losing.

A lot of people are writing and speaking about ISIS these days. It seems nearly every day when I look at my Facebook newsfeed there is almost always something on ISIS and our failure to do much if anything to help the people over there. As Johnnie’s book shows there is a lot that is being done, but there is a lot more work to do. As Johnnie rightly notes we need to get to work. We should not remain silent as our brothers and sisters are being persecuted and killed. Instead, we must raise our voices because of the gospel. We must speak out against the injustice that is being done to our brothers and sisters in Christ who are being sold into sex trafficking and or killed.

Whether you agree with all of Johnnie’s conclusions or not, Defying ISIS is a very needed and helpful book. This book will help you to understand the problem that ISIS is in a way that will help you to pray intelligently, become informed, and call you to action on behalf of our brothers and sisters in Christ. I highly recommend this book and believe you’ll be informed and challenged by this excellent book.

Title: Defying Isis: Preserving Christianity In The Place Of Its Birth And In Your Own Backyard

Author: Johnnie Moore

Publisher: Thomas Nelson (2015)

I received this book for free from Thomas Nelson for this review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

 

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The Ultimate Antidote For Anxiety

Posted by on May 25, 2015 in Discipleship, Featured

The Ultimate Antidote For Anxiety

Editors note: The purpose of this series is to help our readers think through what discipleship is and how to embrace the Cross of Christ in all of life.

Discipleship-greenAntidote #6: Practicing Paul’s Pattern

Whereas the points to ponder in verse 8 were character traits, the list in verse 9 focuses on the means of communication by which the Philippians encountered the gospel and observed its life-changing power. “What you have learned and received” sums up the message that Paul and Silas brought to Philippi. That message is good news (“gospel”), and its subject is Christ himself (Phil. 1:5, 15, 17–18). Christ’s divine and human person and His redemptive mission (2:6–11) were the only theme that Paul cared to convey (1 Cor. 2:1–2; Col. 1:28).

What they had “heard and seen” in Paul was the fruit of God’s grace, as the Holy Spirit had caused the gospel to take root in his life. This second pair of verbs alludes to the situation that Paul mentioned in Philippians 1:30, namely, that the believers of Philippi had seen Paul suffer in the past, while he was among them, but now heard from a distance that he still suffered. In his current imprisonment and legal crisis, Paul is prepared for whichever outcome God has planned for him, affirming one single-minded resolve: “it is my eager expectation and hope that … with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (1:20–21). Paul has shown his friends how faith in Jesus works out in practice, in the midst of life’s trials. Just as Christ is the Savior, who captivates Paul’s belief, so also Christ is the Lord, who controls Paul’s behavior.

What the Philippians heard and saw in Paul was the effect of Jesus Christ transforming a selfish, sinful man into the beauty of his own image, in holiness and love. When we read the virtues listed in verse 8 in the light of Paul’s gospel-focused message and lifestyle in verse 9, we see that he is not just saying, “Think good thoughts, like the upright pagans.” Rather, he is calling us to ponder the dimensions of Christ’s perfection. Christ is the standard of truth, honor, justice, purity, beauty, and praiseworthiness.

So Paul sets the pattern for how pondering Christ’s perfections progresses on to practicing them in daily living. Fixing and feasting your minds on Jesus must ignite the fire of your will and motivation, so you are eager to express your love for him by loving others. In that move from ponder to practice, God’s Spirit quietly conforms our desires to the mind-set of Jesus, so we are no longer preoccupied with our safety or rights, no longer intimidated by threats, no longer paralyzed by anxiety. As trusting children, we learn to let our wise and mighty Father deal with factors beyond our control. Set free from that burden of protecting ourselves from harm and loss, we begin to practice the self-forgetting servanthood of Jesus, as we have seen it reflected in people such as Paul.

So Paul does close with a parental “to-do” list of sorts: rejoice in the Lord, be gentle in hope, pray with thanks, ponder and practice the beauties of Jesus. We could even add to these that, in some circumstances, there are other practical steps that we may take to address the occasions of our anxiety. If you have accrued looming debt by living beyond your means, begin to practice responsible stewardship before the Lord—spending less, paying off overdue bills, and saving more will be God’s means to bring some relief to your stress. If the strain in your relationship with another believer has persisted because you are afraid to speak the truth in love or too proud to confess sin and seek forgiveness, consider your discomfort God’s prod, prompting you to pay the price of gospel-grounded peacemaking.

The ultimate antidote to anxiety is not to be found in what we do but in what God has done and is doing for us. Appropriately, therefore, we close our survey of God’s antidotes to anxiety by returning to the twin promises about the peace of God and the God of peace in verses 7 and 9.

Antidote #7: Protected by the Peace of God and the God of Peace

Christ, our Champion, promises the protection of God’s peace through the presence of the God of peace (Phil. 4:7, 9). As we stop wasting energy in futile worry and turn instead to thankful prayer, “the peace of God … will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” The word guard is a military term that often refers to a soldier’s duty to ensure that prisoners do not escape (see 2 Cor. 11:32; Gal. 3:23). Another purpose of a military guard was to protect a target of attack, as Roman forces had stepped in to keep an angry mob in the Jerusalem temple from tearing Paul apart (Acts 21:27–36). That is the scenario that Paul paints here. Our hearts and minds are under attack and need God’s protection. The Philippians faced intimidation that threatened their hearts with fear, perhaps by threatening their bodies with harm (Phil. 1:28). So Paul promises that peaceful calm will replace worry when we pray to God with thanks for grace already given.

This peace “surpasses all understanding” because, as one scholar put it, “believers experience it when it is unexpected, in circumstances that make it appear impossible: Paul suffering in prison, the Philippians threatened by quarrels within and by enemies without.”

Do not confuse feeling anxiety with lacking faith in Christ and his care! The military mission of God’s peace, as it occupies its guard post to protect believers’ hearts and minds, is not to numb us to life’s pains or to blind us to its threats. It is to draw our troubled hearts to the truth that will strengthen us to stand: we are “in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:7), and not even the worst that life or death throws at us can sever us from his love (Rom. 8:34–39).

Now, when Paul speaks of “the peace of God,” he has in view not only a mellow state of mind for individuals. He also refers to two other dimensions of peace, one deeper and one wider. The deeper peace is God’s reconciling mercy that ended the hostility between us rebels and himself. About this deeper peace Paul writes to the Roman Christians, “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 5:1). Because God has made peace with us through his Son, no danger of the present or threat of the future can separate us from his love (8:35–39). If you think you can achieve lasting peace of mind by mantras or meditation, without receiving peace with your Maker through humble trust in Christ and his cross, you are self-deceived. The peace that lasts through time and into eternity is found only in the peacemaking mission of Jesus the Son of God.

God’s peace also extends wider than my personal peace of mind or yours. Christ’s peacemaking mission to reconcile us to his Father has created a community of peacemakers and peacekeepers. When our hearts and minds are guarded by God’s peace, our motives are ruled by his reconciling, unifying love as we relate to others. This is the oneness to which Paul just called Euodia and Syntyche. Paul instructed believers to bear with “one another and, if one has a complaint against another, [to] forgiv[e] each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts” (Col. 3:13–15). Patience, forgiveness, love, harmony are all about interpersonal relationships among believers. In this family context, “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts” means that Christ’s peace, rather than personal self-interest, must set the agenda for our attitudes and interactions. The Philippians, too, need the power of God’s peace to protect their hearts from the self-centered focus that has fed their worries and prolonged their friction, as do we.

Notice the “package” in whom God’s protective peace is delivered: it comes to us “in Christ Jesus.” Paul has kept Jesus in view all along. He is the Lord in whom we rejoice, the Lord who is near, our greatest reason for thanks, the apex of virtue, the theme of Paul’s preaching and practice. Here Paul speaks his name. God’s peace comes to us “in Christ Jesus,” as we rest in his saving work, completed for us, and as we trust in his living person, now praying for us at God’s right hand and present among us by his Spirit. Paul directs our attention toward Christ himself as the ultimate Peacemaker (see Eph. 2:14–19).

In Philippians 4:9, Paul inverts the wording of verse 7, speaking now not of “the peace of God” protecting us but of “the God of peace” present with us. The God of peace is with us now through the indwelling of his Holy Spirit. God’s peace is not a prescription electronically transmitted from a doctor’s office to a pharmacy, to be picked up and self-administered by the invalid. No, this divine Physician of our souls makes house calls! The peace of God guards our hearts because the God of peace comes near us by his Holy Spirit. The Immanuel promise, “God with us,” which we celebrate at Christmas, did not apply only to the thirty-three years that Jesus walked this earth. It is still in force. Before his death, Jesus promised, “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you” (John 14:18). After his resurrection, he assured us, “I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:20).

Admittedly, the troubles in the world are easy to see, whereas God’s presence by his Spirit is invisible. But as Jesus told Nicodemus, though we cannot see the wind or discover its origin, we hear its roar and see trees swaying by its power (John 3:8)! So the unseen Spirit of Christ shows his presence in our lives in many surprising ways, making us calm when we expect to be panicky, and moving us to serve others when we once lavished all care only on ourselves.

The Only Cure

Do you need antidotes to anxiety? There are lots of remedies on the market, I suppose. You could consult your physician, or check the self-help section at your bookstore. But only one cure was designed by the Manufacturer who knows how you are put together from the inside out, the One who knows why your heart is unsettled by the uncontrollable factors of life. To find the peace that you long for, to silence the worries that keep you awake at night, what you need is nothing less than God himself as your Friend and Father, your ever-present Protector.

You need to find your joy in the Lord, whether there are figs on the tree and grapes on the vine or not. Fix your hope on Jesus’ coming, and you will find the strength to react to hostility with gentleness rather than retaliation. Set your heart’s “anxiety alarm” so that when you start wallowing in worry, you know that it is time to rehearse God’s good gifts—especially Jesus, God’s great gift—and then bring the hassles that make you fret to your Father. Instead of exhausting your mental energy on the futile “what if?” treadmill, focus your thoughts on the true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, praiseworthy Son of God, who loved you and gave himself for you.

 

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A Christian’s Pocket Guide to Loving the Old Testament by Alec Motyer

Posted by on May 25, 2015 in Featured, Theology

A Christian’s Pocket Guide to Loving the Old Testament by Alec Motyer

9781781915806m“Without the Old Testament, we cannot know Jesus properly.” (21) Though Jesus is most clearly revealed in the New Testament (especially the Gospels), it is without a doubt that readers will miss much of what is being revealed about Him if they first do not have a proper understanding of the Old Testament which points to Him. An essential understanding of the Old Testament and it’s Christward focus is critical to understanding Jesus and the New Testament. “The Old Testament is,” as Motyer later says, “in many ways, a book standing on tiptoe, straining forward into the future.” (42) What we need are Christians who love the Old Testament for the same reason they love the New Testament – it’s all about Jesus!

To this end, Old Testament scholar and long-time teacher, Alec Motyer has written A Christian’s Pocket Guide to Loving the Old Testament: One Book, One God, One Story with Christian Focus Publications (2015). Through fourteen short and highly readable chapters, Motyer has provided readers with a fundamental and essential sketch of the Old Testament that will put them on the right track to understanding the central thrust of the Old Testament.

Beginning with an explanation of the threefold nature of the Old Testament (Law, Prophets and the Writings) and covering areas like the Passover as a means of one way of salvation, the Christward focus of the OT, the role of the Prophets and Psalms, Motyer writes to his readers as if they were going to be first-time readers of the Old Testament. For someone who has had a successful career in the academic world, Motyer has written a book that is aimed at the bottom shelf.

One thing that stands out throughout the book is the unified nature of the Old Testament as it presents one God and points to Christ. God is always calling His people out of idolatry to worship Him alone as the only one to who they owe their worship. Additionally, the OT points to a single person as the accomplisher of their salvation – the Messiah, Jesus Christ! To miss the Christward focus of the book is to miss the essence of the OT altogether.

As with all of the Christian Pocket Guide books from Christian Focus, I highly recommend Loving the Old Testament. It can be easily read in one sitting, used as a devotional guide, and would work great in a small group setting to help Christians become better oriented when they read the Old Testament. There is a lifetime of study and insight packed into this little book that every seasoned Christian can benefit from.

I received this book for free from Christian Focus for this review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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Weekly Roundup 5/18/2015-5/23/2015

Posted by on May 24, 2015 in Resources

Weekly Roundup 5/18/2015-5/23/2015

weekly roundupThis is our weekly roundup of posts for 5/18/2015-5/23/2015. If you have any feedback on how we can serve you our readers better, I would appreciate it.  Thank you for reading and allowing us to minister to you throughout this past week through these posts.

Monday 5/18/2015-

YOU CAN FEAR GOD or YOU CAN FEAR MAN by Chris Poblete  http://servantsofgrace.org/you-can-fear-god-or-you-can-fear-man/

Discipleship From The Beginning by Matthew Fretwell http://servantsofgrace.org/discipleship-from-the-beginning/

Saturate Being Disciples of Jesus in the Everyday Stuff of Life reviewed by Dave Jenkins http://servantsofgrace.org/saturate-being-disciples-of-jesus-in-the-everyday-stuff-of-life/

Tuesday 5/19/2015-

Spurgeon’s Sorrows: Realistic Hope for Those Who Suffer From Depression reviewed by Mike Boiling http://servantsofgrace.org/spurgeons-sorrows-realistic-hope-for-those-who-suffer-from-depression/

Self-Sufficiency, True Christian Contentment and the Sufficiency of Christ by Dave Jenkins http://servantsofgrace.org/self-sufficiency-true-christian-contentment-and-the-sufficiency-of-christ/

Wed 5/20/2015-

40 Questions About Creation and Evolution reviewed by Mike Boiling http://servantsofgrace.org/40-questions-about-creation-and-evolution/

Two Antidotes to Anxiety by Dave Jenkins http://servantsofgrace.org/two-antidotes-to-anxiety/

Thursday 5/21/2015-

Discovering Delight: 31 Meditations on Loving God’s Law reviewed by Mike Boiling http://servantsofgrace.org/discovering-delight-31-meditations-on-loving-gods-law/

More Than A Prophet: Jesus The Son of God Who Saves Man and Slays Sin from John 4:16-19 http://servantsofgrace.org/22-more-than-a-prophet-jesus-the-son-of-god-who-saves-man-and-slays-sinsermon/

Five Signs You Might Be Making Disciples of Your Church Instead of for Jesus by Jason Garwood http://servantsofgrace.org/five-signs-you-might-be-making-disciples-of-your-church-instead-of-for-jesus/

Friday 5/22/2015

Living Without Worry How to replace Anxiety with Peace reviewed by Dave Jenkins http://servantsofgrace.org/living-without-worry-how-to-replace-anxiety-with-peace/

Reconciling the Call to be Productive with the Messiness of Life by Matt Perman http://servantsofgrace.org/reconciling-the-call-to-be-productive-with-the-messiness-of-life/

Saturday 5/23/2014

How to Enjoy Reading Your Bible by Keith Ferrin reviewed by Craig Hurst http://servantsofgrace.org/how-to-enjoy-reading-your-bible-by-keith-ferrin/

Three Antidotes to Anxiety by Dave Jenkins http://servantsofgrace.org/three-antidotes-to-anxiety/

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Three Antidotes to Anxiety

Posted by on May 23, 2015 in Discipleship, Featured

Three Antidotes to Anxiety

Editors note: The purpose of this series is to help our readers think through what discipleship is and how to embrace the Cross of Christ in all of life.

Discipleship-greenAntidote #3: Gentleness in Hope

Paul’s next instruction, “Let your reasonableness be known to everyone” (Phil. 4:5), directs our attention from the Lord, the source of our joy, to other people, who are often the source of our stress. The key term, which the ESV conveys as “reasonableness,” appears only five times in the New Testament. “Reasonableness” is an acceptable translation, but the NIV’s “gentleness” is better—or “clemency, graciousness, forbearance,” or even “magnanimity,” The term refers to the calm and kind disposition that enables a person to offer a nonviolent, even generous, response to others’ aggression. Aristotle explained “gentleness” as a willingness to forgo one’s own rights, according to the letter of the law. So this word nicely captures the thrust of Paul’s earlier exhortation about the way that Christians should treat each other: “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others” (2:4). Elsewhere Paul uses this word to teach that elders must not be quarrelsome, but gentle (1 Tim. 3:3). All believers should be gentle rather than quarreling (Titus 3:2). Paul associates gentleness with meekness as displayed by Christ (2 Cor. 10:1).

Here Paul expands the circle of those to be treated “gently” beyond the borders of the church. We are to display such forbearing kindness to “everyone,” including those who are making our lives miserable. As children of a Father who sends sunshine and rainfall on the just and the unjust (Matt. 5:45), as brothers and sisters of the beloved Son who died for us while we were his enemies (Rom. 5:10), believers should extend kindness rather than retaliation to those who harass and oppress them.

Paul cinches this summons to gentleness with a promise, or a reminder, or both: “The Lord is at hand.” This brief statement can be interpreted in two ways. On the one hand, most recent interpreters understand it to refer primarily if not exclusively, to the eschatological “nearness” of Jesus’ second coming. Although no one knows the timing of Christ’s second coming, the New Testament assures us that our Lord will not needlessly delay, but will come “soon” (Luke 18:7–8; Rev. 22:7, 12, 20). James urged suffering believers to wait patiently, “for the coming of the Lord is at hand” (James 5:7–8). Paul has just reminded the Philippians that we “await” the future appearance of the Lord Jesus Christ from heaven (Phil. 3:20–21). Because our coming Lord will give joy beyond our wildest imaginations, we can now be gentle in hope.

On the other hand, Paul may intend us to understand “the Lord is at hand” as an assurance of Christ’s nearness to us even now through his indwelling Holy Spirit, as the psalmists affirm: “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit” (Ps. 34:18; see 145:18). Paul has mentioned the heart-transforming work that God is performing in and among believers (Phil. 1:6; 2:12). So “the Lord is at hand” may motivate our gentleness by assuring us that, even now as we undergo injustices, we are not alone. Or Paul may intend “the Lord is at hand” to convey both truths: the Lord is near now by his Spirit, bringing aid in our sufferings, and he is coming soon in his glory, bringing suffering to an end.

Antidote #4: Praying with Thanks

Paul’s “let everyone see your gentleness” shows a better way to respond to trouble than lashing out at other people. Now his “replace worry with prayer” (Phil. 4:6–7) turns our hearts back toward God, urging us to approach him not with grumbling or questioning (see 2:14) but with gratitude and expectant petition. Paul is echoing Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. Having invited us to address God as “Our Father” (Matt. 6:9), Jesus went on to show that God’s children do not need to worry over life’s necessities:

Therefore do not be anxious, saying, “What shall we eat?” or “What shall we drink?” or “What shall we wear?” For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. (Matt. 6:31–33)

Here Paul compiles a rich inventory of prayer-vocabulary—prayer, supplication, requests—to emphasize the freedom of access that is ours to bring every sort of concern to our Father. We “make our requests known” to him, obviously, not because he would be ignorant of them unless we informed him, but rather because speaking them aloud expresses our dependence and trust that he cares for us personally and delights in his children’s speech.

Notice the ingredient of “thanksgiving” that is to be blended with our requests. Gratitude preserves our prayers from going sour with complaint or degenerating into a list of self-centered demands. Thanksgiving is the natural response to a generous gift, freely bestowed. In polite society, we sometimes say, “thank you” just because it is expected. But real thanksgiving bubbles up from the heart when we are delighted by a gift beyond anything we expected, unearned and undeserved. That is the thanksgiving that must permeate our prayers as we bring our requests to the Father.

If we were to ask Paul the reasons to thank God, no doubt he could go on for hours. But if we asked him to pick the very best gift, he would take us to his explosion of amazement in 2 Corinthians 9:15: “Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift!” He would explain that the gift that goes beyond words is God’s Son, Jesus, as he wrote to the Romans: “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” (Rom. 8:32). So this antidote to anxiety is to feast your heart on God’s gracious gift of Christ to the point that you burst forth in thanks, as you bring your worrisome problems—rejection, resistance, recession, or relationships—to your loving heavenly Father. Rather than fretting like orphans left to fend for themselves, you can bring your griefs with your gratitude to God, confident that, whatever his answer on the particulars, his peace will guard your heart in Christ Jesus.

Antidote #5: Pondering Christ’s Character

The promises in Philippians 4:7 and 9, with the wordplay connecting “the peace of God” and “the God of peace,” show that Paul’s directives in 4:8–9 are linked to his previous summons to joy in the Lord, gentleness in hope, and prayer with thanksgiving. Moreover, these last two prescriptions for our worrywart hearts are bound to each other by their parallel structure: first a list, then a command “ponder these things” (4:8), and then another list, followed by “practice these things” (4:9).

Paul knows that the thoughts that occupy our minds and the images that capture our imaginations shape our characters and find expression in our behavior. As Israel’s ancient sage observed, “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life” (Prov. 4:23). Jesus confirmed that the heart’s secret thoughts are the fountain from which our outward actions flow (Mark 7:14–23). So Paul speaks first of letting our minds dwell on qualities that reflect the perfections of our Creator (Phil. 4:8), and then he calls us to practice the pattern that we have heard in the gospel and seen in those who live Christ-focused lives (4:9).

Paul tells us to think about, or to ponder, “whatever is true, … honorable, … just, … pure, … lovely, … commendable, … any excellence, … anything worthy of praise.” Many of these words are rare in Paul’s letters and in the New Testament as a whole. Although Paul uses the adjective true rarely, he often insists that God’s truth—God’s utterly trustworthy and accurate portrayal of reality—must control believers’ minds and, consequently, our behavior. Because “the truth … in Jesus” means that we have shed the control of deceitful desires, our legacy from the original Adam, and have been clothed with “righteousness and holiness” characterized by truth (Eph. 4:20–24), our conduct must follow suit: “having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor” (4:25). Paul uses honorable or its related noun six other times (and he is the only New Testament author to do so), always with reference to men and women whose spiritual maturity, dignity, and authority make them worthy of others’ respect.

In this context, just refers not to the legal standing that belongs to believers through Christ’s imputed righteousness (as Paul used a related noun in Philippians 3:9; see Rom. 1:17). Rather, it describes that which conforms to God’s perfect norm of equity. For example, masters must treat their slaves “justly and fairly” (Col. 4:1). What is “pure” is free from defilement or pollution. It includes sexual purity and fidelity (Titus 2:5; 1 Peter 3:2; and, metaphorically, 2 Cor. 11:2–3), but it extends well beyond the realm of sexuality. In Philippians 1:17 Paul used a related term to describe the unworthy motives of some who preached Christ “out of rivalry, not sincerely.”

Lovely appears nowhere else in the New Testament. Its uses elsewhere in ancient Greek suggest that it refers to the quality that warrants and attracts admiration. Similarly, commendable makes its only New Testament appearance here, although Paul once uses a related noun to describe the varying responses to his ministry, “through slander and praise” (2 Cor. 6:8).  Finally, Paul commends to our reflection “anything worthy of praise”—a term that he uses eight times elsewhere to refer to praise directed toward God (Phil. 1:11; Eph. 1:6, 12, 14) or toward human beings who deserve commendation (Rom. 2:29; 13:3; 1 Cor. 4:5; 2 Cor. 8:18; see 1 Peter 1:7; 2:14). Paul urges us to fix our thoughts on themes that are not only intrinsically virtuous because God approves them but also visibly virtuous, attracting the approval of human beings who care about integrity, purity, and justice.

Paul realizes that not everything that is considered “lovely” or “commendable” by society at large would meet with God’s approval, so he adjusts his grammar slightly at the end, calling us to exercise discernment: “if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” The term rendered “think about” is not the one that Paul has used so frequently in this epistle (phroneō), but instead one that expresses “taking into account” or assessing that which deserves approval. As we survey the virtues celebrated in society, we must blend our appreciation with discernment. Paul is applying complementary truths that Scripture teaches elsewhere: (1) though the human family is fallen and flawed by sin, God’s common grace still sustains even in unbelievers a sense of what is true, honorable, just, pure, and praiseworthy; yet (2) true virtue can be defined only by its supreme standard, the character of our infinitely holy Creator, revealed to us in his Scriptures and in his Son. Therefore, in the next verse, as Paul’s exhortation moves from thought to action, from pondering to practice, he places the common virtues just listed into the specific framework of the gospel of Christ.

Monday we’ll conclude this three-part series looking at the cure for anxiety.

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