"Here is a last piece of advice. If you believe in goodness and if you value the approval of God, fix your minds on the things which are holy and right and pure and beautiful and good. Model your conduct on what you have learned from me, on what I have told you and shown you, and you will find the God of peace will be with you." From Philippians 4
So much of our personal expression of Jesus’ goodness uses “outward language,” yet it was Paul’s joyous “inner life” that was belying his circumstances at every turn. Consider this famous set of verses through the lens, not of comfortable “American Christianity,” but instead as written by a Roman prisoner imprisoned because of adherence to a small and controversial new faith-movement:
1) “Delight yourselves in God, yes, find your joy in him at all times.” With chains clanking on his wrists, Paul is looking out the window of his prison-cell with a goofy grin on his face, writing the Philippians. He writes the words, “Rejoice in the Lord always…” and then laughs out loud. Then continues, “Again I say, Rejoice!” Brothers and sisters, our personal joy – meaning Jesus’ joy pouring forth from us – must be the Church’s great calling-card to the world. Our lack-of-joy, in the face of all that we already have in Him, may be the greatest issue in the American Church today…
2) “Have a reputation for gentleness, and never forget the nearness of your Lord.” The first phrase of this sentence needs to be read in light of the second. Paul, originally one of the least “gentle” people you ever could meet, now sits in house-arrest absolutely relishing the nearness (both locationally and, according to the Greek used, “the akin-to”-ness) of Jesus. Genuine gentleness is a natural byproduct of proximity to our Savior.
3) “Don’t worry over anything whatever…” Stop right there. Do you even begin to understand that both here and in Matthew 6:25, we are actually commanded not to worry about anything? Commanded. Not to worry. Even without Paul’s wonderful sentences that will follow these five clear words, we should be given pause by the seriousness of the language he utilizes. Then comes the promise: “…tell God every detail of your needs in earnest and thankful prayer, and the peace of God which transcends human understanding, will keep constant guard over your hearts and minds as they rest in Christ Jesus.” This language is perfect because, presumably, Paul was looking out the window at the Roman guards standing guard over him as he writes these words. And it’s with that level of personal watchfulness that the peace of God will watch over those hearts determined not ever to worry in His presence! My favorite wording of the privileged position we inhabit? “You can throw the whole weight of your anxieties upon him, for you are his personal concern.” (1 Peter 5:7)
4) “If you believe in goodness and if you value the approval of God, fix your minds on the things which are holy and right and pure and beautiful and good.” Again, don’t forget that Paul is sitting in house-arrest in Rome, calling us – in our relative ease – to mine down deep into the “holy, right, pure, beautiful and good” goodness of Jesus. Just scratching at the surface should never be enough for us; nor should we be barely delving down with any old hand-trowel. No, we should be – by the power of the Holy Spirit – drilling down deeper and deeper until we freefall into the caverns of gold that are to be found in Jesus! We should be swimming in the vats of His glorious grace, spiritual inheritors of a spiritual lifestyle like the cartoon character Scrooge McDuck!