Philippians 4:4-13 (17th Sunday after Pentecost—Series A)
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT
October 9, 2011
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our text this morning is from the Epistle lesson, Philippians 4:4-13:
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.
There is a classic scene in the movie The Blues Brothers with John Belushi and Dan Akroyd playing the roles of Jake and Elwood Blues. They are on a “mission from God” to raise money to save their old orphanage. To do that, they are putting their band back together. They end up in Matt “Guitar” Murphy’s diner. His wife is played by none other than the queen of soul herself, Aretha Franklin, and she gives Matt, who has been asked to rejoin the band, something to think about. Take a look. watch?v=qE41YPdPuis
Today, it’s not queen of soul giving us something to think about, but rather the God and Lord of our Souls through the Holy Spirit-inspired pen of St. Paul. The things we are to think about and to take into consideration make up a list of “whatevers”: whatever is true, honorable, just, morally pure, lovely, commendable, morally excellent, and worthy of praise. Paul commands that we continually keep these virtues, which are the fundamental ideals of life according to God’s design, in the forefront of our minds, in our very consciousness, so that they inspire and guide all we do. We also do these things! As James 1:22 says, “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only.”
Since this is the case, how are we doing at thinking about these virtues and putting them into practice? I, for one, could do better. Are you like me in that I have a tendency to consider a lot of things, but most of them are not on the same level as truth, honorableness, justice, or pureness? I tend to stay on the level of things like the weather, what I am going to wear, what I am going to eat, who won the ball game, what bills are due this week, and what meetings I need to go to, and so on. These are what we might call lower level thoughts. Lower level things and thoughts are not unimportant. They have to be considered and taken into account. If I came to church in my pajamas, you might be wondering if I hit my head. If it’s pouring down rain and I don’t take that into consideration and walk out without an umbrella, whose fault is it that I get soaked? So lower level thoughts and actions are necessary, but the Lord doesn’t want us to remain on that level all the time because there are other areas, higher level thoughts and actions, that are also very important.
In our most recent Wednesday evening class “Living in God’s Family” we talked about these two different levels of thinking in connection with conversation in the church. What is the nature and quality of the conversations that we have with one another as Christian sisters and brothers, as the family of God? We often speak about matters of personal preference. “Oh, I like your dress.” “That was a great Bible class topic.” “The hymn we sang just didn’t work for me today.” “I really like the snacks at coffee hour.” In the church we talk to one another about matters of administration and finance. “Can someone help take the trash barrels out this week?” “We’re painting. Want to lend a hand?” “Are the bills paid? Do we need to do better with our giving?” “Please be here for the committee meeting at 7:00.” All important matters for our life together in Christ’s church.
However, these all fit into the category of lower level conversations. These are lower level categories that we think about and have in the forefront of our minds. And don’t get me wrong, we need to think and act on these things, but we also have to think and act on higher level matters like our identity as disciples of Jesus and our mission as Christ’s Church.
Our Epistle lesson today begins, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice!” I don’t know about you, but it gets hard to rejoice over things like paying the bills. I don’t particularly express joy when I take out the trash. There’s not a lot of rejoicing, I mean real celebrating, over what you or I am wearing or what we eat. But, all that changes when the focus of our thinking and acting moves to the virtues of Philippians 4:8.
Think about these things: whatever is true. It is true that the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guards our hearts and our minds in Christ Jesus. It is true that we have peace with God and the gift of peace from God because Jesus breached the gap, the dividing wall of hostility that used to separate us from God. Jesus reconciled us to God through His sacrificial death on the cross which paid in full the debt of our sins. Romans 5:1 assures us, “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” As Christians, we constantly keep in the forefront of our thoughts and lives this wonderful truth, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save me, a sinner.”
Think about these things: whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely. Our identity as the forgiven and redeemed people of God in Christ Jesus forms who we are in our thinking and in our doing. As Christians who are temples of the Holy Spirit, our thinking centers on the things of God and how we might live out the life of discipleship in the Church and in the world. We consider and act on what is honorable: keeping the Lord first in our lives, holding His name in highest regard, keeping His Word sacred as we gladly hear and learn it. We think about and do what is just and right as we honor our parents and others in authority. We don’t steal, murder or hate, or lie about others. Rather we love our neighbors as ourselves with the same self-sacrificing love with which Jesus loves us. We also think about things that are morally pure, things that are truly lovely: living a chaste and decent life in what we say and do, husbands and wives loving and honoring one another. We treat all human life from inside the womb to the bedside of the elderly as sacred, a gift from God.
Think about these things: whatever is commendable, excellent, and worthy of praise. This is our mission as Jesus’ disciples. He commended to us the task of making others His disciples by sharing with them the excellent Gospel of our Savior, Jesus. We are Christians who are about the task of showing love to the unlovable and help to those in need. All the while we do everything in the name of Jesus who strengthens us. We are Christians searching out opportunities to serve the Lord and other people, especially by telling them about our Savior and Friend. That is something truly worthy of praise—a person hearing the Good News of forgiveness through Jesus’ cross and resurrection, a sinner brought to repentance and faith. Jesus tell us in Luke 15:7, “Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.” So rejoice in the Lord always! Celebrate what the Spirit does through the Gospel you share! Let the peace of Christ fill your own life as you think about these virtues and then, in the power of the Holy Spirit, live them!
Today, the Lord challenges you and me to “Think!” Consider how you are better able to think about higher level things like your Christian identity and mission. Consider how you can keep in the forefront of your minds and actions whatever is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent and worthy of praise. As you think about these things and do them, rejoice. Celebrate what the Lord has done in your life in bringing you to faith in Jesus Christ through the Gospel. Celebrate what the Lord is doing in your life as you live and serve as a child of God. And most certainly celebrate and rejoice in what He will be doing as you show the love of Jesus to others. Amen.