8 Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things.
As we begin to preach through the book of Philippians, I decided to begin a simultaneous series of exhortations from Paul’s words here in the fourth chapter of that book. Paul is keenly aware that believers are ever susceptible to false ideas, doubts, sinful attitudes, and Satanic lies. Even as our tastebuds can, over time, become accustomed to foods that at first offend our palate, so our souls can become accustomed to filth that at first violate our conscience. Consequently, Paul commands us to meditate on those things that will build us up in the faith and empower us to excel still more in the service of Christ.
In Philippians 1, Paul prays that the Philippians “may approve the things that are excellent” (1:9b). Clearly if they are to “approve the things that are excellent”, then they must acquaint themselves with what qualifies as excellence. They must develop a taste for what is truly worthwhile. So Paul gives them a list here in Philippians 4 and urges them and, by implication, us to meditate on these things.
Before we consider the specific things, however, let us first consider Paul’s call to meditateupon them. He commands us, meditate on these things – in other words, give them your attention, mull them over, and let them shape your attitude and actions. Paul’s summons reminds us that meditation takes considerable time and effort. In the Scriptures to meditate is to consider deeply, to turn over in the mind, to reflect carefully. It engages the mind, the heart, the imagination, the emotions. While eastern religions like Buddhism liken meditation to emptying the mind, purging one’s passions, the Scriptures liken it to filling the mind or perhaps cleansing the mind of deficient ideas, thoughts, and assumptions, and shaping one’s passions.
So Paul exhorts us in Romans 12:2, “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” Paul wants us as Christians to be distinct, to have our character transformed into that of the Lord Jesus Christ so that in any situation we can discern what God would have us do. He wants us to be able to prove, to test, to approve the good, acceptable, and perfect will of God. This will only happen if we do not permit ourselves to be conformed to this world but instead find ourselves transformed by the grace of God. So how does God go about transforming us? By renewing our minds. And how are our minds renewed? By meditation on whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy.
So what of you? Have you been filling your heart and mind with what is excellent so that you can approve what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God? Have you been meditating on these things, turning them over, mulling on them, glorying in them? What are you permitting to shape your thoughts? Are you regularly singing the psalms and chewing on them? Are you regularly reading the Word, memorizing it, and meditating upon it? Are the things of God filling your soul? Or have you instead been meditating on evil things? Turning the sin of another over and over in your head? Anxiously worrying about the future? Assiduously feeding your doubts and fears? Becoming consumed with your social media feed? Conforming your thoughts to Hollywood’s view of the world?
Paul exhorts us to meditate on excellent things that we may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God. Reminded of our frequent failure to do so, let us confess our tendency to be conformed to this world. And, as you are able, let us kneel as we confess our sins to the Lord. We’ll have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession found in your bulletin.
7 For many deceivers have gone out into the world who do not confess Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh. This is a deceiver and an antichrist. 8 Look to yourselves, that we do not lose those things we worked for, but that we may receive a full reward.
For the last several weeks we have seen that John has emphasized the integral nature of truth and love. Truth and love are not competitors but companions. Last week we saw that love, in particular, has substance. This is love, John told us, that we walk according to God’s commandments. Love is not primarily an emotion but an action – keeping God’s commandments from the heart.
Today John reminds us again that truth matters. There were teachers in John’s day called Docetists who claimed to be Christians; they professed faith in “Jesus.” But the Docetist “Jesus” was a fiction of their own imagination not the Jesus who actually revealed Himself in history. The Docetists claimed that Jesus had only seemed or appeared to be an actual human being. In point of fact, however, he had been a spirit guide, come to teach us how to escape the prison house of our flesh and reunite with the Eternal Spirit. Jesus had not come in the flesh.
John’s evaluation of the Docetists is blunt. He labels them “deceivers” who had gone out into the world and who had no love for the truth. But John goes further. He writes that such a teacher is not only a deceiver but an antichrist. These teachers, John insists, are enemies of Christ notwithstanding all their fair words and profession of faith in him.
Judged by many today, John’s words are incredibly unloving. “How can he be so judgmental? Deceiver? Antichrist? Isn’t that a bit harsh?” But John’s words are merciful and gracious, a reflection of his deep love for his readers. How so? Because what the Docetists were teaching was damning. A Jesus who did not take on human flesh and offer Himself a sacrifice on our behalf is no Savior. Were these professing Christians to embrace such a “Jesus”, they would be damned and lose the reward, eternal life, for which they had been aiming. So John was being most loving, warning them that the liquid they were being urged to drink was not medicine for the healing of their souls but poison that would damn them to hell.
Once again, therefore, we see how imperative it is for us to take our notions of truth and love from Scripture. Love warns those who are in danger of the danger they are in. Love warns the people of God against the Jesus of Mormonism and Unitarianism and Liberalism and sentimental Americanism and Islam and the Jehovah’s Witnesses. The “Jesuses” they teach and embrace cannot save you; they are no more powerful than an imaginary friend. But the Jesus revealed in Scripture, God Himself in human flesh, can indeed save for He actually lived, died, and rose again.
So reminded that merely invoking the name “Jesus” is not sufficient but that the Jesus we invoke must be the Jesus who has revealed Himself in Sacred Scripture, let us kneel and confess that we often prefer our own thoughts of Jesus to the Jesus revealed in the pages of Scripture.
4 I rejoiced greatly that I have found some of your children walking in truth, as we received commandment from the Father. 5 And now I plead with you, lady, not as though I wrote a new commandment to you, but that which we have had from the beginning: that we love one another. 6 This is love, that we walk according to His commandments. This is the commandment, that as you have heard from the beginning, you should walk in it.
Last week we emphasized that though it is common for people, including Christians, to pit truth and love against one another, the Scriptures do no such thing. In Scripture, truth and love are not competitors but companions. John continues this theme today – rejoicing that the believers walked in truth and calling the church to love one another. Truth and love go together.
So when we see truth and love united together and both being implemented by a group of people; when we see believers who are eager to understand the Word of God and, simultaneously, eager to put it into practice and sacrifice on behalf of one another, what should be our response? John tells us. He writes in verse 4 – I rejoiced greatly that I have found some of your children walking in truth, as we received commandment from the Father.
As children of our heavenly Father, we are to rejoice greatly when we see others walking in God’s truth. Nothing should give us a greater delight than to see folks growing and maturing in the faith. That, John tells us, is something worth celebrating.
So consider a couple implications of John’s words. First, walk in the truth. John forces you to ask, “Am I delighting in the Word of God and so striving to bring delight to others who fear God?” We all know how demoralizing it is when those we thought were on our side suddenly start compromising with the enemy: when Judas betrays the Master with a kiss; when Benedict Arnold sells the colonies out of personal spite; when fellow Christians turn away from you in time of trial or hardship. Betrayal stings. So the first admonition is to treasure the truth – don’t betray the Father and so demoralize the brethren. Instead walk in the truth and so bring delight to those who fear and reverence God. Be a cause of joy to God’s people and a cause of grief to His enemies.
Second, rejoice in those who walk in the truth. The national media, our President, many of our elected officials including some of our local city officials, want you to rejoice in wickedness, to rejoice in those who despise God and show contempt for His Word. They want to shape your celebrations, to shape your delights. Don’t let them. Rejoice in what is good and true and beautiful. In other words, celebrate Christmas with gusto. Rejoice with the wise men, rejoice with Joseph and Mary and Zacharias and Elizabeth and Simeon and Anna. And call Herod, Herod the Tyrant rather than Herod the Great.
So this morning, reminded that we are to walk in the truth and to delight in those who do the same, let us confess that we are often prone to weakness, that we often cower in the face of criticism, and that we are tempted to rejoice in wickedness rather than in righteousness. And as we confess our sins to the Lord, let us kneel as we are able.
The Elder, To the elect lady and her children, whom I love in truth, and not only I, but also all those who have known the truth, 2 because of the truth which abides in us and will be with us forever: 3 Grace, mercy, and peace will be with you from God the Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father, in truth and love.
It is common for Christians to pit truth and love against one another. On the one hand are those Christians zealous for truth: we must dot every “I” and cross every “t” and those who cross their “t” at a slant are suspect theologically. These folks become so zealous in their pursuit of the “truth” that no church is good enough, no teacher faithful enough – except for that internet teacher across the country with whom it is not necessary to engage personally.
On the other hand are those Christians zealous for love: we must be tolerant and accept one another no matter what. Are you teaching that Jesus’ resurrection is simply a myth and fable that celebrates the enduring power of the human spirit? That’s okay – we both believe in the resurrection, don’t we? Are you counseling married couples that it’s okay to divorce in order to achieve their personal happiness? That’s alright – we both believe in marriage, don’t we? Let’s all just love one another and accept one another and get along because, after all, “God” is love, isn’t he or she or it?
But John treasures both truth and love. He writes to the elect lady whom he loves in truth. He does this in company with all others who have known the truth, because of the truth which abides in us. And so he pronounces God’s blessing upon the elect lady and her children in truth and love. For John truth and love are not competitors but companions.
The relationship between truth and love – a passion for what God has revealed in His Word and for God’s people – is like that between our bones and our flesh. Truth is the skeletal structure; love is our flesh. Truth by itself is cold, hard, lifeless and as scary as a skeleton. Love by itself is a formless blob, unable to hug, unable to proect, unable to move. Our flesh and bones working together enable us to do all that which we want to do. And, spiritually, truth and love perform the same function. Each alone is lifeless and useless but together they enable us to glorify God and love our neighbor.
So John reminds us today not to pit truth and love against one another. We are to embrace with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength what God has revelaed in His Word – and we are to use what we’ve learned to love and cherish those whom God puts in our path.
Reminded of our tendency to pit truth and love against one another and to neglect one for the other, let us seek the Lord’s forgiveness and His grace to treasure them both. And as you are able, let us kneel together as we confess to the Lord.