The Peace of Knowing Christ, Part 3
The Peace of Knowing Christ, Part 3, 9.27.20
Have you all heard of “Babylon Bee?” Babylon Bee is a satirical Christians “news” outlet. They publish lots of very funny stories. All of their stories are satire. They feature a mix of political and Christian humor. If you’re looking for a good laugh, you should look at their website from time to time.
One story I found recently that I got a real chuckle from is titled,
Reformed pastor completes brief 47-year-long sermon series on book of Romans.
Now that is funny. Listen to how the story reads,
Wrapping up the [sermon] series that began during the Vietnam War, Reformed minister Michael L. Foster preached the final sermon in his brief, 47-year-long study on the book of Romans Sunday morning. The last message was a short, breezy, 1-hour exposition of Romans 16:27d, which reads, "Amen."
Now, dear friends, I promise I won’t take that long to get through the book of Philippians. We’re nearing the end. While I do like to go slow, I never want to go that slow. But, then again, I have not gone through the book of Romans yet, so I’m not making any promises. 😊
It is a joy to be with you this morning to open God’s word. Let’s go ahead and do that by turning to our passage this morning, which is Phil 4:8–9. Let’s go ahead and read it together.
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.
As indicated by the title of my sermon this morning, were are still studying the topic of peace. As you can see in verse 9 where Paul mentions “the God of peace,” Paul has more he wants to share with us regarding this important subject of peace. This topic of peace Paul began in Phil 4:6. Look with me there.
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.
We covered this passage two weeks ago. This passage presents us with the way to battle our anxiety. The way that Paul provides in this passage is prayer. To fight your anxiety and to protect yourself from anxiety, you must pray.
Last week we investigated v. 7. Read with me there,
And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
In this passage Paul communicates the result of our obedience to v. 6. If we obey v. 6, if we pray as we are instructed to in v. 6, the peace of God will protect us.
In v. 6 we investigate a commandment and in v. 7 we investigated a promise. The way we access the promise in v. 7—God’s peace—is by means of the commandment in v. 6—prayer with thanksgiving. Prayer is the way we attain the peace of God.
As we will learn this morning, though, that is not the only directive we must take to attain the peace of God. What we are going to see this morning, based upon vv. 8–9, is that there is another avenue we can and should take for attaining peace. That avenue is holiness. The main idea this morning is going to be with. To have peace with God, we must lives holy lives.
Holiness Involves Morality
Let’s go ahead and look together at the text of Scripture, specifically v. 8. We will begin our investigation of these two verses by beginning in v. 8. Verse 8 reads,
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.
For this point, we are going to tackle this list of virtues that Paul commands us to think about. And for this portion of Scripture, I have this point for the sermon. The point is, “Holiness Involves Morality.”
All Truth is God’s Truth
Before we examine this list, it is important to understand what Paul is doing here. A number of commentators mention that this list of virtues that Paul mentions here are some of the same virtues that pagan, non-Christian Greek authors mentioned in their writings during the first century. Paul’s list here is similar to lists that non-Christian, pagan authors mention in their writings. Paul here is not opposed to these non-Christian virtues lists. Rather, he says something very similar to what they say. Now in our second point, specifically when we investigate v. 9, we will see that Paul does say something different about these virtues than do these non-Christian writers say, but nonetheless in this point, it is important for us to recognize what Paul is doing. Paul and non-Christian writers in the ancient world are saying similar things about morality.
What Paul recognizes features an important theological point for us to consider. God’s truth is inescapable in this world. It surrounds the believer and the non-believer. Also, the non-believer recognizes the truth of God. Now they might not confess that this truth comes from God, but God’s control and governance of this world does not need the recognition of humans. And in this day and age of conflict and turmoil, we need to recognize this. God is in control. The world knows this, even though they don’t confess it.
Further, as Christians we need to recognize and appreciate God’s revelation of himself wherever it is found. Paul says this same thing in our passage. Go ahead and look with me at the passage. Notice how Paul introduces this virtu list in v. 8. He says, “Whatever, whatever, whatever.” And also he says, “if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise.” Whatever is true; if there is anything worth admiring,” Paul commands, “then we Christians should admire it.” Paul is indiscriminate about finding these virtues in the world. Wherever you can find truth, goodness, and beauty, Paul teaches, admire it and live it out. Wherever and whenever.
Because at the end of the day, even the truth that the pagans believe is from God. An ancient Christian, by the name of Justin Martyr, who lived during the second century, he said this, which so powerfully captures the point that I am making,
The truth which men in all lands have rightly spoken belongs to us.
Justin Martyr is exactly right. All truth is God’s truth.
Now with the background discussed, lets proceed to understanding these virtues.
The first virtue of holiness need to focus on is truth. Paul says, “whatever is true.” Truth is central for holiness, absolutely essential. That’s what we want to base our lives on, the truth.
Truth is no respecter of persons. It does not matter how smart you are, how much money you have, or from what family you come from, you cannot control what the truth is. The truth controls you. You cannot pay it enough money to change it. It looms large as our judge and guide. We forsake it to our doom; we accept it for our salvation.
To be holy, we must strive for the truth, cling to the truth, uphold the truth, and never sacrifice the truth. Never lie. Always be a person of integrity. Wherever it is found, uphold, proclaim, maintain, and protect the truth.
The second virtue of holiness is honor. Paul says, “whatever is honorable.” Honor is a part of holiness. Honorability refers to being worthy of respect. To live in a way that demands from other people respect.
Think of the Christian who maintains his commitment to the truth, even when that commitment comes at great cost to the Christians. Think of Christians having to suffer for the truth, having to undergo mistreatment because they hold onto the truth. That is being honorable. That is a life worthy of respect and emulation.
To live a holy life is to be honorable. To live a holy life is to have others respect you, deem you dignified and noble. You can’t buy respect form people. You have to earn it. That’s what honorability is.
Third, justice. Paul says, “Whatever is just.” Holiness involves just living. To live justly means to live fairly, to live in accordance with principles of equity. It means to be principles. To treat others not based upon favoritism or prejudice.
Forth, purity. Paul says, “whatever is pure.” Sin makes us dirty. Sin has the power to pollute us. Holiness is the opposite. Holiness is a pursuit of purity. It is a living of pure life. With purity one thinks of sexual purity. To not be stained by this immoral generation and all of the filth it offers us.
Fifth, lovely. Paul says, “whatever is lovely.” Here we are taught that holiness involves other people to take pleasure. When someone lives a holy life, other people will find such a life attractive, beautiful, lovely, delightful. You think of the Lord Jesus. The attractiveness of his life is what draws us to him. That’s what holiness is. It is appealing to others.
Sixth, commendable. Holiness involves a life that is commendable. The idea here is similar to the notion of honorable. Holiness is praiseworthy and worth highlighting.
Seventh, excellence. This word refers to moral excellence. This word can summarize this whole list. What is holiness about? Holiness is about moral excellence. Following God in a way that is impeccable, pure, unstained, excellent.
Last, praiseworthiness. Paul writes, “If there is anything worthy of praise.” An idea similar here to the word for honorable and commendable. Holiness is the pursuit and embodiment of praiseworthiness.
Bringing this point to a conclusion, I want you to see that morality matters. It matters how we live. Yes, we are not saved by works but works still matter. Morality matters. Holiness is about morality. It’s about moral excellence. We need to uphold these virtues.
Holiness Entails the Gospel
Holiness, while it does involve morality, it also entails more than that. Holiness is not less than moral living, but it is more than moral living. For us to live holy lives, we must live moral lives plus something else. What is that something else? That something else is the gospel. Here we move to my second point. Write this, “Holiness entails the gospel.”
Tying the Verses Together
Paul doesn’t just leave us with morality. Look what he says in v. 9. He writes,
What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things.
Paul provides for us a paradigm for understanding the list of virtues that he mentioned in v. 8. That list of virtues is a list that Paul shared with the pagans of his day. Both Christians and non-Christians in Paul’s day and today say that morality is important. Christians and non-Christians can and do believe that the virtues that Paul mentions in v. 8 are important.
But Paul interprets these virtues for us differently than how the pagans interpret them. See the pagans of Paul’s day would applaud v. 8, but their sermon would end there. Their “Bibles” would have Phil 4:8, but not Phil 4:9. In Phil 4:9, Paul offers us something that is uniquely Christian. Paul holds his life up as the example. And based upon its connection with v. 8, I want us to view these virtues in v. 8 in light of v. 9—that is, in light of what Paul says about himself. Paul says to us, what you learned, received, heard, and saw in me, that is what you are to uphold. Well what is it that the Philippians learned, received, heard, and saw in Paul?
To answer this question, turn with me to Phil 3:8. Paul was all about the gospel. That’s all he did. He preached, taught the gospel. We see this in Phil 3:8.
Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.
This is what the Philippians had learned, received, heard, and saw in Paul. This is the paradigm. It’s all about the gospel, baby. It’s all about Christ.
Now bringing this to our passage. The virtues in 4:8 need to be run through the grid of Phil 3:8. If it’s all about Christ, then what purpose does morality play? Morality is important but it’s only important in light of the gospel. Morality cannot save you, dear friends. It cannot save you. One of the distinctives of our doctrine here at CBC is that we teach that man cannot be saved based on morality. Morality is a false security for salvation.
However, in light of the gospel, Jesus empowers us to live moral lives. He empowers us with the Spirit to have victory over our sins. Morality, in light of the gospel, becomes a powerful tool for the Christian. Gospel-centered morality, which is holiness, is the way we manifest to the world the goodness of God, the way we grow in our relationship with Christ, and the way we model our Savior Jesus Christ.
Holiness is not less than morality, but it is more than morality. Morality cannot and does not save you from your sins. The gospel does. In light of the gospel, morality, virtuous living, takes on a whole new meaning. Morality in light of the gospel becomes a gift to the believer as a way for the believer to grow in their knowledge and understanding of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Holiness Requires a Response
So bringing the first and the second point together, we might say that holiness is about morality as interpreted through the lens of the gospel. Holiness is not a works righteousness. That is, we are not saved by holiness. We are not saved by godly living. No. Holiness is the fruit of God’s righteousness having been given to us. Holiness is the evidence of God’s salvation in us and not the cause of it. Holiness is also not just, “You can live any old way” type of Christianity. Morality matters in the Christian life. We are not free to live any way we want. We must live upright lives. Specifically, Paul gives us two commands for this gospel-rooted morality. Holiness requires a response from you. To be holy, we must respond to this gospel-centered morality. How do we respond to it? Paul gives us two different yet complimentary ways.
The first way that Paul commands us to respond to gospel-centered morality is to “think about it.” Look at the end of v. 8. Paul says,
Think about these things.
“These things” here is a reference back to the true, the worthy of respect, the just, the pure, the lovely, the commendable, the excellent, and the praiseworthy. Paul calls us to “think about” on these matters.
Now this word for “think about” we need to investigate a bit. Some other ways we might understand this verb are like this,
to give careful thought to a matter, think (about), consider, ponder, let one’s mind dwell on
There is a temptation in life towards thoughtlessness and lack of reflection in life. So many people go through life without ever thinking about the important questions. Even the most educated of persons can be thoughtless about the important questions of life. I recently read a book written by a Christian pediatric oncologist. In this book, the doctor recounts various miracles that she witnessed as she helped dying children. When she was faced with the first patient who died under her care, this Christian doctor asked her supervisor how young doctors we supposed to deal with feelings of depression and anxiety that resulted from seeing young people suffer. Her supervisor responded that shouldn’t think about those feelings, but instead should just stay busy and work hard.
Thoughtlessness must be avoided, dear friends. Holiness demands that you think about truth, honor, justice, and purity. Holiness demands that you contemplate how to live your life in light of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Holiness demands self-reflection and contemplation.
Not only are we supposed to be reflective about our holiness, we are also supposed to practice holiness. Look with me at v. 9. Paul says,
practice these things
This word “practice,” this is what it means. You ready? It means,
Whenever I witness to someone, the conversation can go something like this. I’ll ask them, do you believe in Jesus Christ—that he lived, died on the cross, and rose from the dead? Many times I will get the answer yes. Yes, I do believe that. A follow up question I sometimes ask is this, “Well do you live a life that glorifies Jesus Christ?” On numerous occasions this is the answer I will get. “I try.” Now, is that response a direct answer to my question? It isn’t. I did not ask, “Do you try to live a life that glorifies Jesus Christ?” No. Instead my question was, “Do you live a life that glorifies Jesus Christ?” I take it that their response indicates that they are dodging my question.
Now is my question valid? Is that question of, “Do you live a life that glorifies Jesus Christ,” a valid question to ask people? Or, is that placing the bar too high? Is that going beyond what it is that Scripture teaches?
Our faith must be informed by the Word of God, amen? That is our authority, right? So what verb does Paul use hear, dear friend? Does he say, “try to practice” them? Or, “try to do them?” No. He says, according to the ESV, practice them. According to the KJV, he says, “do them.”
Holiness, dear friend, is more than contemplation and its more than effort. Although it’s not less than those matters. We must contemplate holiness and we also must try to live holy lives. No doubt. But we also need to put holiness into practice. We need to do! Doing is more than trying. Doing involves trying but it is more than that.
So, dear friends, my questions to you is, “Do you live a life that glorifies Jesus Christ?” I’m not asking if you try. I’m asking if you do? Do you, dear friends?
Holiness Results in God’s Presence
There is tremendous benefit for following Christ. Tremendous benefit. Yes, there is a cost. Over and over again the Bible says this. Over and over again, the Bible says we must count the cost, that we will suffer lost for the sake of Christ, that we will be maligned and misrepresented because of our faith. All of that is true. But, dear friends, the advantageous of following Jesus, of pursuing holiness, far outweigh the challenges and difficulties that are associated with it. And as we’ve explored last week, God’s promise features heavily in this passage. Look at the end of v. 9. Paul writes,
And the God of peace will be with you.
God of Peace
Very interestingly here, Paul refers to the “God of peace.” In v. 7, Paul mentioned the “peace of God.” And now in this passage Paul mentions the “God of peace.” This phrase, “the God of peace,” refers to God’s inner state and to a gift that God gives.
God’s inner state is one of inner peace. God is never irritated, bothered, short-tempered, or anxious. God is never uneasy. He exists in a state of complete perfection. He exists in a state of control, well-being, shalom.
Because of his kindness, he gives this peace that his has in his nature to us, to Christians. He gives this to us. As the God who is infinitely peaceful in himself he gives this peace to us. He deposits it to us. He is a God who overflows with generosity and kindness. He grants us a tast of what it is that he himself experiences as God.
This God of peace, Paul promises, will be with those who live holy lives. “The God of peace,” Paul writes, “will be with you.” Paul refers here to God’s presence. God is present with his people.
During anxious times and difficult times, what it is we need is the presence of others. As I’ve mentioned before, Kathryn and I experienced some challenging times while in Dallas. The most challenging were when Kathryn’s epilepsy flared up around the time that our youngest son, Ethan, was born. Kathryn was seven, eight months pregnant and would fall face down right on top of her pregnant belly. Some very trying times. Very trying.
Sometimes at the end of those tough days, after we put the kids to bed, Kathryn and I would just sit on the couch, hug, cry, and pray together. In times like that, what else do you have? During those times of difficulty, Kathryn’s presence, the fellowship that I had with her, it brought me peace. It brought me stability. It comforted me. And my presences, my fellowship with her brought her peace, brought her stability. The presence of each other through that time of instability brought both of us peace.
During times of difficulty and anxiety, the presence of another person can and does bring peace. Someone to hug. Someone to talk to. Someone to help you carry your burdens. For me during that time in my life, it was Kathryn. It was my wife. For Kathryn, it was me.
Now for as great as my wife is, God is better, dear friends. God is infinitely superior to my wife. God is infinitely superior to me. God is infinitely superior to all of us. The benefit and blessing that my wife is and was is a pale comparison to what the God of peace is.
In our trials of anxiety, despair, and difficulty, what we need most is the presence of the God of peace. In his presence, there is infinite peace. This peace manifests itself in our lives as an inner strength and stability. An inner sense of security and belonging.
In our lives, we all are struggling with anxiety and distress. We all need peace, dear friend. Our hope is this passage. Our hope is that the God of peace would be with us.
For your personal life, for your marriages, for your families, for your work life, for our church, we need this peace. Anywhere and everywhere discord, disruption, and dispute is located is where we need the God of peace to be with us. We need the God of peace to be with us. We need his love, his care, his peace. He promises to be with us. What we must do is live holy lives, reflecting on and practicing a gospel-centered morality, not as a way to save ourselves, but as a way of showing forth our salvation.