Text: Phil 4:1-9 Preached at Werribee Church of Christ 5/12/04
And the people bowed and prayed, to the neon god they’d made. If you’re somewhere within cooee of my age, you’ll recognise those words as a line from a famous song sung by Simon and Garfunkel. The Sound of Silence was written by Paul Simon in 1964; still captures in quite a startling way the pervasive influence of electronic media and entertainment on our lives today. .. Now please note – that was written 40 years ago .. so it’s primarily about TV .. CDs, world wide web, DVDs, computer games weren’t even invented.
The words speak louder still today. Here are a few more lines:
People talking without speaking,
People hearing without listening,
People writing songs that voices never share
And no one dare
Disturb the sound of silence.
Those lyrics speak of a world full of silence … between people. Another line in the song says it’s a silence that grows like a cancer .. people disconnected from each other, alone with their dreams … communication lost .. all because eyes, ears, hearts and minds are focussed on the box in the corner – And the people bowed and prayed, to the neon god they’d made.
1000s of years earlier the writer of Proverbs wrote: “Watch your heart diligently; because it’s the source of your life.” (Pr 4:23) In other words, what you place at the centre of your life, what you dedicate your time to, what you think about, what you take in, what you fill your mind with .. that will determine the person you become. In a sense, the writer was saying “You are what you think.” What you do with your mind will impact who you are.
So my title this morning is “Your mind matters”. In Phil 4:6 Paul urges the Philippian Christians to bring every matter of concern to God in prayer; and then in v7 he says if you do that God’s peace will guard your hearts and your minds. In Scripture “your heart” generally means a kind of composite of who you are in your inner person (emotions, dreams, passions, desires..). “Mind” is clearer and closer to the way we generally use that word. So it’s the way you think and the decisions you make.
Being a mature disciple of Jesus means knowing and pleasing God with both your heart and your mind .. experiencing him in worship and in prayer both with your emotions and with the exercise of your mind .. using your mind and your emotions to know God. Jesus spoke to a woman at a well in a hot Samaritan desert in Jn 4. He told her (Jn 4:23) that true worship is worship “in spirit and in truth”. And very briefly, I understand that to mean worship which is both deeply emotional and based on a commitment to understanding the truths of God’s word. ..
As I talk with Christians here in this congregation and elsewhere, I note that there are many followers of Jesus who do a lot of thinking about God and what he says, but barely know what it is to experience his presence and be touched by his Spirit .. and then there are others who easily seek after the work of the Holy Spirit, who know what it is to experience joy and delight and wonder in the Father’s embrace – but rarely apply their minds to wrestling with the deep truths of the Scriptures. .. Far too rarely do I meet people who know and worship God with full hearts and earnest minds. But that balance must be always a goal of every believer who wants to please God.
That’s a balance the Scriptures consistently hold before us .. and the particular appeal I think Paul is making to us through Phil 4 is that we would pay attention to our minds, exercise our minds to the glory of Christ. So this morning my thoughts are directed to the question of making decisions with our minds towards godliness. Three decisions I think Paul asks us to make: Choose joy .. Choose peace .. Choose health.
Most of us think instinctively that qualities and attitudes like joy and hope simply happen to you as a spin-off from what life dishes out. So if your life is like a ‘Country and Western’ song, and your wife leaves, your truck breaks down and your dog dies .. then it’s just inevitable that you’ll feel miserable and hopeless, and there’ll be nothing you can do about it.
The Bible acknowledges that in the world we live in, a world in rebellion against God and the rule of his Son, there will be times when we will experience pain and sadness and even deep anguish. Read just as one type of example the lives of the prophets – Elijah, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Hosea .. at various times these men said “Lord, I’ve had enough ..” But Scripture also says that what you do with your thought life, the way you think, the decisions you make .. these things will affect the state of your heart, and to some extent at least it’s in your power to choose what your mind focusses on .. and by that very choice to determine what goes on inside you.
Now we’ve already seen some examples right here in Philippians of Paul demonstrating exactly that. Can you remember when we read chap 1 a few weeks ago? In 1:12 he says that being in prison has actually served to advance the Gospel – because the whole palace guard who’ve been chained to him in rotation have heard the gospel. That’s Paul doing just what he urges his readers to do in chap 4 – he’s rejoicing in the Lord, in a situation which to all natural appearances provides nothing to rejoice about! ..
And he does it again further on in the same chapter, when he talks about some so-called Christian preachers who’ve come to town, who are preaching Christ with impure motives, hoping to gain personal power at a result. Paul would rather that wasn’t happening; but in 1:18 he says whatever the motives, Christ is being preached – so I rejoice .. and then he adds that he’s got even more to rejoice about because he’s confident of God’s deliverance in the end.
So when in chapter 4, Paul says “Rejoice, and keep doing it, and I really mean it” – he has already practised what he’s preaching. The common element in all of Paul’s own rejoicing and his appeal to his readers to rejoice as well .. is the work of the Gospel. Please have a look at 4:3. 4:4 is where he says “Rejoice!” That follows straight after 4:3 where he gives recognition to a number of people who have struggled beside me in the work of the gospel. .. Note that: the labour has been tough .. but it’s about the Gospel .. so rejoice!
So why should we at the WCoC at the end of 2004 rejoice? .. Answer: Even though we are struggling (struggling with the slow pace of finding a permanent pastor .. struggling with some long-established ministries needing to close) .. the Gospel is being preached. .. People in our church and other churches are enjoying opportunities to be equipped to bring the Gospel to others through Festival Victoria. Rejoice! .. People are being drawn to Christ through coffee ‘n chat (for example), and through the witness and ministry of individual people in our church (I know that because I’ve seen it and heard it). Why rejoice? – Because the Gospel is being preached. How can you rejoice? Answer: By doing what Paul does, and keeping your mind focussed on the work of the Gospel. If you focus your thoughts on the struggles, you’ll moan. If you think about the way the Gospel is changing lives around you, you’ll rejoice. How do you keep on rejoicing? By making sure that the work of the Gospel keeps centre stage in the life of the church.
You can choose joy.
And you can also choose peace. As joy is a consequence of setting your mind on the Gospel, so peace is a consequence of deciding to trust your concerns to God instead of worrying about them yourself.
In v7, Paul points to the possibility of an unnatural peace, a peace that doesn’t make logical sense (surpasses all understanding). And if you have that peace, it will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. He’s using a military metaphor. Your emotions and your thought patterns are an object of Satan’s attack. If he can have his way with what you think about and how you feel, then he hopes to cripple you in your service of God. He will attack you. But if God’s peace is at work in your life, then it will stand guard over your thoughts and your feelings, and protect them.
How then do you have that peace? The previous verse has the answer: v6 – You exercise your mind, by making a decision about what you’ll do with matters that concern you. Your life is not an empty void. Paul knows that. He has a personal testimony which he describes for example in 2 Cor 11,12 as made up f frequent floggings, shipwrecks, imprisonments just to name a few. If you are warm and vertical (which is how I once heard someone describe being alive), and especially if you are serving Christ, then you will have matters to concern you. But Paul’s saying when it all boils down, you have just two choices for dealing with them. .. You can worry about them, or you can talk to God about them. .. And if you do that, then God’s extraordinary peace will protect you inwardly. Peace will be a consequence of your decision to seek God instead of worrying.
Not long ago, I was spending many long hours wondering what we would live on when my ministry here at Werribee ends. Would I have another ministry to take up? God spoke to me clearly through the testimony of a ministry colleague about trusting God to provide, even if I couldn’t imagine where that provision would come from. I was shamed, because I’ve counselled others about trusting God, I’ve preached about trusting God, I even have personal testimonies from the past of seeing God provide in amazing ways .. but it doesn’t get any easier to hand your life’s circumstances over to God. Worrying is far more natural. .. But again, I said yes to God’s invitation to trust him yet again. And in one sense nothing has changed – I still don’t know where God’s future provision will come from. But there was a lightness in my inner spirit I can hardly describe, when I yet again handed my concerns to him and yielded to his purpose.
If my consistent experience is any indication, then Paul is right. Worrying is easy. But you can choose peace.
And – you can choose health. What I mean by that is that you can make choices about where you focus your mind, which can make you spiritually healthy.
8 Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Let me come back to where I started this morning. What you fill your mind with, what you take in, determines the person you become. I think this single sentence of Paul’s speaks of the things we place at the centre of our lives. What we place at the centre will fill our minds, in ways we’re barely even conscious of. And one activity which has become utterly central to our lives in the past generation or two is the talking box, as I described at the start. And the people bowed and prayed, to the neon god they’d made.
Here’s a question to ponder: Could you lock your television away in the hall cupboard for a month, and not have severe withdrawal symptoms? Consider a few figures:
• 98 per cent of homes in western nations have a TV,
• and the average person watches 3-4 hours of television per day, more if we include videos and computer games.
• By the age of twenty-one, we have spent the equivalent of three full years of our lives in front of the talking box, and watched an estimated 40,000 screen murders.
The average family home with primary age kids and one parent home with the kids has the television on almost the whole day. If that’s not your stage of life now, think back .. it probably was not so long ago. A typical viewing pattern looks like this:
7.00am morning cartoons
11.00am news and current affairs program
12.00pm midday soaps or movie
3.00pm kids’ after-school programs
6.00pm home from work, slump in front of evening news
7.00pm family eats dinner in front of TV
8.30pm kids put themselves to bed because the parents are watching evening TV dramas
That is a lot of television watching. Imagine spending four hours a day on any other activity: four hours every day at the pub, or at the supermarket, or at the gym. We would instantly recognise that we were doing that activity to excess, that we had an obsession with it. But not so with our TV viewing. The screen is like a magnet. It has the ability to govern our lifestyle. And the people bowed and prayed, to the neon god they’d made.
A woman said to a psychiatrist: “Doctor, doctor, my husband thinks he’s a television. What can I do?” The psychiatrist replied: “Make an appointment for me to see him tomorrow at four o’clock”. She recoils, “What – and miss my favourite program?!” Even funnier if not so true! One teenager was asked how she’d like to miss 40-hrs TV instead of 40-hr Famine. A firm ‘No’ was the reply. She would rather go without food than miss her favourite programs.
Remember Pr 4:23: you become what you think… So what quality of people are we turning ourselves into? What goes in? What values are shaping the way we view ourselves, other people, God and the world? Ultimately, the issue with TV is not merely how many hours we watch, but whether we submit to its authority by uncritically allowing it to tell us and our kids what’s true and right in the world.
Consider a quote by Kim Hawtrey: “Summed up, the gospel according to television and movies is this: that you are what you own; that getting the best of the other guy is the only game in town; that image matters more than character; that uncommitted sex is normal and acceptable; that lying is sometimes necessary (just don’t get caught); that the most important person in the world is you; and that God is not necessary to a fulfilled life”. And the people bowed and prayed, to the neon god they’d made.
Paul said “Watch your thought life. Make sure that what you allow to fill your mind has about it the character of God, and exalts him, and seeks his glory and his pleasure.” In another place Paul spoke of “taking every thought captive to Christ” (2 Cor 10:5). A true disciple is a disciple on the inside. God cares as much for what you think and who you are as what you do. What you allow to occupy your thought life will impact who you are.
Determine today what you will do with your mind to the glory of God. Choose to find joy in the work and the effect of the Gospel. Choose to find peace by praying instead of worrying. Ps 119:15 I will meditate on your precepts, and fix my eyes on your ways. Read your bible more, and watch the TV less. Choose to feed your mind with what will produce the likeness and the mind and the pleasure of God.
[I acknowledge my debt to Kim Hawtrey in his book “The True and Living God” pp49-56, from which I have quoted or rephrased.]