Think on these things

Last Tuesday night was 31 October, now more commonly known as Halloween, and a non-NZ custom that is gaining popularity due to the promotion by businesses looking at yet another way of making money from punters.

Halloween originated from the ancient Druid celebration of Samhain. The day to mark the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter, and they believed that the change of seasons was a bridge to the world of the dead. It was considered a ‘thin place’ where there was cross over between the dead and living. And that is the origin of the costumes: to scare off harmful spirits. Ghosts and witches and hobgoblins and black cats and demons abounded on that night, and many people left treats outside their door to please the spirits. It was a night of fear and appeasement.

Even though for most people now, it is just a time of fun, I think Christians should keep away from its practices because of its link with the dark side – of ghosts, ghouls and the dead.

It seems to me that there are far better things to be thinking about and being involved with. 

Rather than just being nay-sayers to Halloween, we offered an alternative to that festival by having a light party, celebrating life and not death.

I want to talk today about taking our focus away from the dark side and look at where that focus should be

Philippians 4:8 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.

Truth, honour, justice, purity, pleasantness, worthiness, excellence, praiseworthiness

These are the things we should be focusing our attention on.

This list of virtues are the ones recommended for the guiding of our thoughts.

There is a wonderful story of a vulture and a hummingbird:

Both the hummingbird and the vulture fly over the desert. All vultures see is rotting meat, because that is what they look for. They thrive on that diet. But hummingbirds ignore the smelly flesh of dead animals. Instead, they look for the colourful blossoms of desert plants. The vultures live on what was. They live on the past. They fill themselves with what is dead and gone. But hummingbirds live on what is. They seek new life. And they fill themselves with freshness and life. Each bird finds what it is looking for. And so do we all!

I want us to listen to a song, called Garbage In, Garbage Out

That is the question: what are we putting into our minds; what are we focusing on?

Just as the worldly mind is the surest passport to the downward path, so a mind drilled in the things of which God approves is the steadiest way into practical holiness.[1]

Hear me on this, it is not that we need to only be reading Christian books, listening to Christian music, watching Shine TV to the exclusion of all else. We can choose to do, see, watch, listen to other things that fit the criteria listed in Philippians 4:8.

Paul wrote these word to the church at Philippi. Since the Philippians were being persecuted by the society around them, they were tempted to reject everything outside the church as indelibly tainted with evil. Paul reminded them that, although society sometimes seems hostile and evil, it is still part of God’s world and contains much good that the believer can affirm.[2]

This view is upheld by the great Baptist preacher Charles Spurgeon:

 

Be on the side of every cause that may be thus described. If it vindicates truth, uprightness, reverence, religion, chastity, holiness, be on that side. If there is anything the reverse of this, do not have anything to do with it. But 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.[3]

It is not fortress Christianity where everything outside is evil and to be shunned; it is seeing the good that exists outside the church and working with the good in the world to achieve God’s purposes.

whatever is true: these are things that are the opposite of dishonest and unreliable things. Similar thoughts are mentioned in Ephesians 4:15, speaking the truth in love and 4:25 putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors.

whatever is honorable: this refers to what is dignified and worthy of respect

These two categories are often bracketed together. Mathew Henry in his cute 16th Century English says they  mean a regard to truth in our words and engagements, and to decency and becomingness in our behaviour, suitable to our circumstances and condition of life.

whatever is just: refers to conformity to God’s standards of justice.

whatever is pure: refers to what is wholesome, not mixed with moral impurity

These 2 are often bracketed together to mean being agreeable to the rules of justice and righteousness in all our dealings with people, and without the impurity or mixture of sin

whatever is pleasing: speaks of what promotes peace rather than conflict.

whatever is commendable: relates to what is positive and constructive rather than negative and destructive.

These 2 are often bracketed together to mean that will render us beloved, and make us well spoken of, as well as well thought of, by others.

if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise,

Again these 2 are often bracketed together as a summary of the other virtues: anything really virtuous of any kind and worthy of commendation.

Those should be our focus, regardless of whether or not it Christian sources or not.

We should not be ashamed to learn any good thing of bad men, or those who have not our advantages[4]

But remember though that the touchstone of what is true and good is the Word of God and that every moral expression within the wider unbelieving would should be measured against the standard of the gospel as preserved in Scripture.[5]

Proverbs 4:23 says, “Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life.” Someone once made the comment that “The food that enters the mind must be watched as closely as the food that enters the body” and another wrote, “Watch your thoughts, they become your words; watch your words, they become actions; watch your actions, they become habits; watch your habits, they become character; watch your character, for it becomes your destiny. To obey what Paul is saying, we must exercise control over our thought life.[6]

The commentator William Hendriksen has a lovely turn of phrase: Anything at all that is a matter of moral and spiritual excellence, so that it is the proper object of praise, 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[7]

We should be grazing in the good field and not grazing in the fields of darkness; eating/consuming goodness, and not the dark rubbish of the world

Don’t be the turtle on the Greenpeace ad who eats plastic bags rather than feasting on wholesome jellyfish because he has mistaken them for food. The result for us will be that of the turtle: death.

Garbage in, garbage out.

You can’t eliminate all the troublesome things that go through your mind, but you can certainly reduce the number of negative thoughts.

“You cannot keep birds from flying over your head
but you can keep them from building a nest in your hair” Martin Luther

We stop them nesting by focusing on the virtues espoused in Philippians 4:8

We sift through the garbage of the world and discern the virtues that Paul tells us to focus on.

An old Indian was explaining to a missionary that the battle inside of him was like a black dog fighting a white dog. “Which dog wins?” asked the missionary. “The one I feed the most,” replied the Indian. Paul says, “Feed your mind on the pure truth of God’s Word.”

Philippians 4:8 Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.

 

 



[1] J A Motyer The Message of Philippians 212

[2] Frank Thielman Philippians 221

[3] Spurgeon, C.  Spurgeon Commentary: Philippians.  (pp. 149–150).

[5] Thielman 226

[6] https://bible.org/seriespage/lesson-25-christian-s-thought-life-philippians-48

[7] William Hendriksen Philippians 199