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Thursday, July 9, 2015

What Do Your Actions Show: A Philippians 4:4-9 Devotion

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice! Let your gentle spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things. The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.” Philippians 4:4-9 [NASB]
Paul taught the Philippian Christians in the previous chapter things would not give them salvation – neither status nor physical things. He taught and encouraged them to press on for the higher calling. Paul meant they were to grow more Christlike and with that process become more perfect and complete in Christ – more holy. He affirmed he had not yet attained that calling, but had hope of its occurrence when he went to live with Christ in heaven. Paul believed and knew with his whole being salvation from his sins through Jesus Christ would give him eternal life in heaven with the Father as a co-heir with Jesus Christ.
With chapter four, Paul gave comfort to the believers in Philippi. In verses five, seven, and nine, he spoke about the Lord. He said the “Lord is near,” “the peace of God will guard their hearts and minds,” and the “God of peace will be with you.” Knowing that God is near will give courage to any believer to be and do as God expects His children to be and do. Since God is near, nothing could overcome them. On top of knowing the Lord is near, knowing the Lord will give you His peace is comforting. In the mist of any circumstance, we can rely upon God knowing He will take care of us. The peace that comes from knowing and believing this is great. Christians do not have to fret or worry. Paul noted another aspect of this peace in verse seven. He said, “And the peace of God which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. The phrase “the peace of God” speaks of the way that leads to peace – salvation. A person has this peace of God because he or she is assured of his or her salvation. Even if a believer is killed, he or she knows without doubt he or she is not eternally dead. Eternal death is separation from God, but Christians have eternal life. They are saved from their sins and will be in God’s presence. Salvation begins while alive and continues to eternity.
Within these six verses Paul spoke of actions and attitudes of a Christ-follower. First, though, he told the Philippian Christians to rejoice, to feel and show great joy. He emphasized it by repeating it. Why should the believers rejoice? Paul explained it in the previous chapters and sums it in these verses as noted above  - the Lord is near and He gives His children His peace. Rejoice is the first external action Paul taught the Philippian believers to do. He told them another external action to do.
Paul said, Let your gentle spirit be known to all men.” Gentleness becomes apparent to other people through actions. Gentleness is a mildness of temperament, a fairness. This mildness comes from an internal calm and care for others. Gentleness comes from the attitudes within a person. Gentleness can be known to other people when this mildness of temperament is acted upon in one’s daily life. It comes from inside a person and is enacted externally. Gentleness can be lived internally, too, by kindly considering others. From this kind consideration, gentleness is lived out in relating to people. In verse eight, Paul speaks about the internal qualities of a believer, just as he spoke of the fruits of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23. From the living out of the internal qualities of a person, that person’s likeness to Christ can be seen by people. Jesus taught this same thing in the Beattitudes in Matthew 5.
Other external actions Paul taught the Philippian Christians while considering the Lord’s nearness and the hope of salvation He gives them are praying and seeking God’s help while thanking Him for who He is and what He will do. Knowing of the Lord’s great love that would provide salvation and knowing He wants to be near brings out a state of thankfulness at all times. Praying, seeking God’s intervention, and thanking Him are external actions, but they come from an internal awareness – of awe and knowledge  - of God and His power and love.
So far, Paul taught in this Bible passage four things for the believers in Philippi to continue doing – rejoice, be gentle, pray, ask, and be thankful. Each of these comes from an internal awareness of who they are in relation to who God is and what He did. Next, in verse eight, Paul taught them to consider and meditate on eight virtues, virtues that come from God. Meditating on something is considering it and acting upon it. These eight virtues of God Paul wanted the believers to consider, absorb, and act upon so they become more like Christ and show who God is to those they encounter. The believers, like Paul, were Christ’s emissaries. Paul told them to consider and meditate on:
·         whatever is true – correct and right
·         whatever is honorable – virtuous and honest
·         whatever is right – righteous like God, guiltless
·         whatever is pure – sacred, clean, pure from all fault
·         whatever is lovely – acceptable to God, delightful, pleasing
·         whatever is of good repute – spoken well of, spoken of favorably
·         whatever is of excellent – virtuous of thought, feeling, and action
·         whatever is worthy of praise – commendable, exemplary
Thinking on these eight attributes can make a person acquire them as part of his or her personality and character if he or she chooses to live by them. These eight attributes come from God – His being – and involve a change of attitude of a sinful person, which can occur when a person accepts Jesus as his or her Lord and Savior. Paul became more Christlike throughout his life, as did the disciples of Christ and most other believers in Jesus Christ.
Paul closed this section of his letter to the Philippians reminding the believers there they learned these attributes, received them into themselves as they meditated upon teachings by disciples of Christ, and heard and saw them through Paul’s words and actions. These attitudes and actions worthy to be emulated Paul taught and commanded the Philippian Christians practice them. They were to take them into their minds, consider them and put them in their hearts, then act upon them. This is a very Hebrew idea. Moses used this idea with the Israelites when he told them in Deuteronomy to keep all the commandments of the LORD. The word “keep” comes from the Hebrew word shamar and means to hear, listen, and do. In the Hebrew thought, a person cannot hear something without actively listening and considering it and then acting upon it. Paul meant this same thing in verse nine when he commanded the Philippian Christians “practice these things.” He gave the added incentive that God’s peace would be with them when they practiced these worthy things.
When a person sins, the Spirit of God convicts him or her about his or her sin. That conviction gives no peace to the person. God’s peace comes into a person’s life when he or she confesses his or her sin and accepts God’s forgiveness. Added peace comes when the person’s relationship with God grows and he or she becomes more Christlike. Then the person knows the Lord is always near and will always take care of him or her. Becoming more Christlike means taking on the attributes of Christ, which are the fruit of the Spirit. Paul taught the Philippian Christians to recognize, meditate on, and practice eight worthy attributes in verse eight.
When reading and studying this passage, we must ask ourselves questions. Do we see and recognize these attributes of which Paul spoke? Are we practicing them as we live? Are we near to God? Do we have the peace of God guarding us? I do not know about you, but in studying this list of attributes Christ portrayed and considering myself, I recognize I need to grow more. To do this I will have to study God’s Word, pray to Him for the power to overcome the temptation that leads me to fall short of these goals, and practice the attributes. As I do these, my relationship with God deepens and I begin to look more like Christ. I begin to emulate Him and portray His/these characteristics.
What about you? On which characteristics/attributes do you fall short? Before that even, do you have the peace of God that comes from knowing He has saved you from your sins and brought you to Himself? We each have a ways to go to be Christlike. We must each, like Paul said, press on for the upward calling.
What will you do about this today?