Right thinking, right behaviour

I want to follow up on an aspect of last week’s sermon that I did not into depth with when I talked about Elijah’s depression and God’s restoration of him.  That aspect is the role of our thinking in the formation of our view of the world and our actions.

David Riddell, NZ Christian counsellor, noted that ‘stink’ thinking will be followed by ‘stink’ feelings, which in turn will be followed by ‘stink’ actions.[1]

What people think will have an impact on how they behave. Experiencing negative thoughts all the time is bad for people. Such thinking can cripple the human spirit.

Our thinking can make us sick, our thinking can lead to wrong actions. Think of Elijah and his depressive thoughts (1 Kings 19): Remember - A desperate feeling of wanting to end it all, a tendency to lay the blame on others (Everyone is against me), seeking escape through sleep, loss of appetite and a desire to go back into the past (where is my dummy to suck on). A persecution feeling (I am the only one left)

I am not talking secular psychology here but a biblical principle.

Philippians 4:8 Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever [2]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. 9 Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.

First of all, the passage talks of thinking right thoughts.

It starts with what we choose to fill our minds with.

R W de Haan in one of his devotionals wrote: While driving, I sometimes see a small group of vultures sitting on the roadway tearing apart the carcass of some unfortunate creature. These ugly birds are on the lookout continually for what is loathsome and repulsive! Some people are like that. Nothing seems to satisfy them more than what is sinful, corrupt, and immoral. The books and magazines they read, the TV programs they watch, the conversations they engage in, and the activities they pursue reveal a vulture-like appetite. How much better is the spiritual diet the Bible suggests [in Philippians 4:8][3]

Romans 8:5-6

For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.

William Henriksen has a great agricultural word picture: Anything at all that is a matter of moral and spiritual excellence is the right pasture for the Christian mind to graze in. Nothing that is of a contrary nature is the right food for his thought.2

Dietitians will say that we are what we eat, and that applies to our mind also. We become what we put in there.

Mark 7:20-23 He said, “What comes out of a person defiles him. For from within, out of the human heart, come evil ideas, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, evil, deceit, debauchery, envy, slander, pride, and folly. All these evils come from within and defile a person.”

Proverbs 4:23 says, “Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life.

Or in another version: “Be careful what you think, because your thoughts run your life

Interestingly there are health benefits to right thinking.

A US study tracked 2000 adults over 65 years old. Optimistic faith filled people had better health habits, lower blood pressure and feistier immune systems and were half as likely to die in the next 10 years as negative people.

Another study found that 90% of the most optimistic faith filled people were still alive at the age of 85, whereas only 34% of the most negative, pessimistic people made it to that age.[4]

In this, I am not talking about the Power of Positive Thinking but about what we put into our minds which affects what comes out.

There is a famous sculpture called the Thinker. Rene Descartes coined the phrase:  Cognito ergo sum. I think therefore I am.  I take that and say what we think is what be become.

Colossians 3:2 Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.

Secondly the passage uses the term –‘whatever’ – not used in the way teenagers use it!  What it means is that the list of virtues are not just of Christian goodness, but wherever we find any of those virtues.

Paul knew that the Philippians were being persecuted by the society in which they lived, so they were tempted to reject everything outside the church as indelibly tainted with evil.  He wanted them to realise that even though sometimes society is hostile and evil, it is still part of God’s world and contains much good that the believer can affirm[5]

Charles Spurgeon preached: if there is any movement in the world that will help forward things that are true, honest, just, pure, lovely, and of good report, “think about these things,” and so think upon them as to increase their influence among the sons and daughters of men. If there is any really good movement in the world, help it, you Christian people. If it is not purely and absolutely religious, yet if it tends to the benefit of your fellow-men, if it promotes honesty, justice, purity, take care that you are on that side, and do all you can to help it forward.[6]

We can benefit from pondering examples of those virtues wherever they occur, even in the non-Christian world.

We can look to non-Christian peace makers like Mahatma Gandhi for example.

The modern church can mimic the church at Philippi when we restrict our inputs to only provable Christian input.

The church should applaud and learn from unbelieving expressions of truth and beauty. Mature Christians should feel no compulsion to read only literature written by other Christian, to view only movies and play that fellow believers have produced, or listen only to Christian music[7]

But we should never forget that the touchstone of what is true and good is the Word of God that every moral expression within the wider unbelieving world should be measured against the standard of the gospel as preserved in Scripture.[8] Measure the non-biblical input by the standard of the Bible.

Quite a timely reminder seeing that this month is the Bible Society Bible month.

Third, verse 9 says that thinking should be translated into action.

It is clear that our thinking and meditating is not to be just a theoretical exercise. It is to be thinking with a purpose, and that purpose lies in the sphere of action.[9]

God does not want us just to have head knowledge but wants action to flow out of that knowledge.

William Backus, Christian counsellor, mooted the term Misbelief Therapy (which is a type of CBT): Our subconsciously held core beliefs affect our conscious beliefs, which affects our self-talk, which affects of feelings and emotions which determine our behaviour and actions[10]

There is an anonymous poem which echoes this same concept:

Sow a thought, and you reap an act; Sow an act, and you reap a habit; Sow a habit, and you reap a character; Sow a character, and you reap a destiny. —Anon.

Right thinking leads to right actions; Wrong thinking leads to wrong actions.

Mahatma Gandhi never became a Christian, but he made a statement that we who follow Jesus would do well to think on. When asked to put his message into one short sentence, he replied, "My life is my message."

Paul knew that there were opposing claims of righteous behaviour and when he wrote these words, there was no New Testament canon [Bible] to turn to. So, Paul wrote to the church at Corinth (twice: 1 Cor 4:16 and 1 Cor 11:1) and said Be imitators of me, as I am in Christ

Paul asks the Philippians to follow the distinctively Christian patterns of behaviour they learned from his words and deeds.[11]

He was to be their example.  And the same can apply today. Are you a pastor or church leader, or ministry leader, or home group leader?  Your thoughts and actions should be such that you could say to others “be imitators of me, just as imitate Christ”.  That is hard standard to achieve but a great one to aspire to.

And final phrase to come out of this Scripture is:

and the God of peace will be with you.

That is the fruit of right thinking and right behaviour.  In the verse before (V.7) about worrying says the peace of God which surpasses all understanding will be ours if we just trust God to transform our thinking.

Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” (John 14:27).

This is not about trying harder, it is about being discerning about what we put into our minds.

It’s about choice.

It’s about filtering what we dine on.

It’s about allowing God to transform our thinking which will lead to a transformed life.

It is not about trying harder.

 

 

 

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[1] David Riddell Living Insights P16

[2] William Hendriksen Philippians 199

[3] http://www.preceptaustin.org/philippians_illustrations_4

[4] John Ortberg The Me I Want to Be 248

[5] Frank Thielman Philippians NIV Application Commentary 220-221

[6] Charles Spurgeon, Spurgeon Commentary: Philippians. 149–150

[7] Thielman 225

[8] Thielman 226

[9] Hendriksen 200

[10] David Riddell Living Wisdom School of Counselling Level 1 & 2 1996, 23

[11] Thielman 222