Philippians 4:4-9 22 January 2023 Princeton Christian Church
Sometimes it is easy to see and believe that life is just full of troubles. Well, it is no different today than it was back in the early days of the church. The Apostle Paul, in his letter to the church at Philippi, urges the Christians there to focus on the positive not the negative.
Back several decades ago there was a popular song, not a Christian song, but it spoke of accentuating the positive and eliminating the negative.
As we begin this morning, let’s turn to Paul’s letter -- Philippians 4: -4-9.
Paul shows us how to deal with the anxiety that creeps into our lives and begins straining us and weighing us down.
Jesus warns us in Luke 21:34 to “Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with the anxieties of life.”
This morning, has your heart been weighed down with worry and anxiety?
Are you laughing less than you once did?
Do you see problems more than you see opportunities?
Would those who know you describe you as becoming more negative and critical?
Do you assume that something bad is going to happen?
Most days would you rather stay in bed than get up?
Do you magnify the negative and dismiss the positive?
If we answered “YES” to most of these questions or even a few of them, then the Apostle Paul urges us to refocus our thinking on the good and not on the bad – that is, the Positive and not the Negative.
There are a lot of books that have been written about Positive Thinking and the Power of Positive Thinking. And it almost sounds like Paul is promoting “The Power of Positive Thinking,” but it is much more than that.
Positive thinking can attempt to deny the negative. Paul is not asking us to Deny the negative. We know it is out there. But Paul is asking us to refocus on the Positive. Positive Thinking can attempt to deny the negative—Paul is not asking us to deny that the Negative exists, but he is encouraging us to refocus on the positive.
It doesn’t mean that we don’t see the negative stuff in life, or that we ignore, or pretend that it isn’t there. But we decide instead that the negative issues of life will not dominate our lives.
People who constantly dwell on the negative tend to be very unsatisfied with themselves and others, and even with God.
One thing that we know for sure is that life is full of up and downs – good days and bad days – some positive and some negative. We need to ask ourselves this: “What do I focus on the most?”
Do you ever find yourself mulling over a negative event that happened to you?
Maybe your boss at work criticized your work in front of all of your co-workers. And then you come home, and your spouse is angry with you for some little thing you said or did. And, oh, the agony – your best friend blocks you on Facebook! And it was over some little insignificant thing you said.
All day long and all night long you run that negative scenario through your mind. You get angrier and angrier. Each time you think about it you become more anxious; you begin to think about how you can come back at that person. How can I get even with them and set them straight? You are thinking about revenge. How you can hurt them like they’ve hurt you.
Paul was certainly no stranger to good times and no stranger to inconvenient times as well.
He writes, “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty and to have little. I have learned to be content in any and every situation…”- Philippians 4:12.
Paul realized that if he would dwell only on the terrible things that he had done, or the terrible things people had done to him, there would be no contentment or joy in his life. There would only be misery and heartache.
If we want to overcome worry and anxiety, we have to make a switch in our thinking. We have to exchange from all the dreadful things that take us down and concentrate on the good things in life.
Let’s be real here. If we had a choice, we would always prefer the good things of life and make every effort to avoid the bad. But we don’t. And very often it is that we can’t.
Because the situation is out of our hands. Someone else would have to make that move.
But think about this. Although we may not have a choice of whether a situation is good or bad, we do have a choice on what controls our minds and on what or who we focus our thinking.
Proverbs 4:23 as: “Above all else, guard your heart [mind], for it is the wellspring of life.”
Paul gives us more teaching on this in his letter to the Romans (12:2)- “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world but be transformed the renewing of your mind.”
And, to the church at Corinth in his second letter to them: 2 Corinthians 10:5- “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”
Again, there are two ways of thinking or approaching any situation in life: Negatively or Positively.
Here are some of the things that accompany Negative Thinking.
1. Self-Pity - We all fall into this trap sooner or later. Life is hard for all of us. There is no one here this morning that hasn’t been impacted in some way by hardship and heartache.
Self-Pity happens when we think that we are the only one who has ever gone through what we are going through now. We convince ourselves that we have been treated unfairly while EVERYONE around us – our neighbors, our co-workers, our fellow Christians – are living a perfect life without any hardship or heartache. And then, the Party begins. You know that Pity Party that takes place in our head
2. Blaming - Blaming is an attempt to shift responsibility for your problems onto someone else.
You’re just not content with the way your life is going, so you find another person who seems to be the source of your problems. You have to blame someone. That person could be anyone – your spouse, your children, your parents, your friend, your neighbor, or your boss; maybe the person sitting next to you in worship. In your mind, you just cannot accept the possibility that you are at fault.
3. Unwillingness to Change - Once you mentally immerse yourself in and conclude that everyone else is to blame, the logical effect is that you cannot or will not change. That type of negative thinking tends to reinforce itself, or recharges itself, becoming stronger and more destructive over time.
So, once we have stood our ground and vowed never to change, we never have to face our problems honestly. We think “It’s not ME who needs to make any changes. I’m not the problem here. I have every right to be hurt, and I’m not going to give it up. That’s just the way I am. And now, is the time to bring God into it. God made me this way.”
4. Then, there is Anger and Bitterness - That’s what negative thinking will always eventually lead to.
All the things that accompany Negative Thinking: Self-pity, blame-shifting, refusing to take correction and make personal changes: These will always result in Anger, Defensiveness, and Bitterness.
You remember every miserable, mean, unfair thing anyone ever did to you or against you. You stew to the boiling point in your juices over the slightest negative remark made by others. You adamantly reject any possibility that your life could be different.
You hold a Grudge, although you say you don’t. You give the “look that could kill” or TURN your HEAD when you see this person who ruined your life coming toward you. You gossip about them. You hate them and you believe everyone else should hate them too. After all, look how they ruined my life”
Our thoughts matter. Negative thinking leads to Negative Living.
Now let’s turn our thoughts to Positive Thinking
Paul spells out the positive things which we are to think about: That which is “True, Noble, Right, Pure, Lovely, Admirable, Excellent, and Praiseworthy.” Let’s take a LOOK at each of them:
THINK ABOUT THAT WHICH IS….TRUE
This truth is everything that God is, and everything that Satan is not. Jesus describes Satan as “The Father of Lies”- John 8:44.
Have you ever noticed that most of the things that we worry about, never happen? Or at least, never happen in the way we imagine they will. In fact, most of the things that we get upset and angry about, are exaggerated by our thinking. I believe that is Satan at work filling our minds with lies and deceit to keep us in a state of turmoil and anxiety.
Our FOCUS is to be on TRUTH.
Truth is noble. This word refers to honor, esteem, and respect.
When we start attacking people in our minds… No matter who it is – your spouse, your neighbor, your teacher, the checker at the store… whoever – you might direct your anger toward. We are throwing TRUTH out the window.
There is no honor or respect, only disgust, and misery.
Our focus is to be on what is right.
The word RIGHT, as Paul uses it here is a legal term. It describes what is RIGHT under the LAW. It speaks of fairness and justice enacted on all people regardless of who they are. It describes righteous words and deeds. It does away with all partiality, prejudice, and favoritism. That, I think most of us can agree on, is something that is certainly much needed in today’s culture.
Then, Paul turns his focus on Purity.
Purity speaks of that which is clean and wholesome, as opposed to that which is dirty or defiled, or corrupt. It describes one who is morally pure.
Purity would ask the questions: What do you feed your mind on? What kind of books do you READ? What kind of music do you listen to? What sites do you visit when browsing on your computer or smartphone?
Next, Paul focuses on being Lovely
While we might think “y’all can’t be as lovely as I am. We can’t be lovely in the sense of our appearance. However, this word, as Paul uses it here, refers to those things that aim toward love and grace. It describes the pleasant and enjoyable things of life. Good things that bring a smile to your face. God doesn’t forbid us to enjoy the things that life offers – as long as they don’t violate His Word.
Paul then mentions our focus on being Admirable.
This word speaks of those things that are good to hear. It describes the good report that comes from home or work or church. It tells of the hearing of the pleasant things; those that are positive, not negative; things that are constructive, not destructive; things that build up, not the things that tear down.
Paul concludes this list with several additional attributes we should dwell upon.
This describes anything of moral goodness. It speaks of virtue — anything that brings out the best in a person – things like kindness, self-sacrifice, heroism
To be praiseworthy a person is worthy of begin recognized. It can speak of an amazing human accomplishment. Or it can speak of anything worthy of recognition. It can speak of an amazing human accomplishment. Or it can speak of any of the attributes of God. Praiseworthy can be anything that meets God’s approval.
This is quite an extensive list that Paul provides to us. You don’t have to memorize the list, although if you make a point of memorizing Scripture, this is a great passage to memorize. Paul is merely reminding us that if we constantly dwell on all the serious stuff of life that happens to us, we are never going to experience the joy that God wants us to have.
Instead, Paul is urging us to focus on Godly things. Focus on our blessings instead of our problems.
Dwell on the HOPE that is based on faith in Jesus Christ.
Dwell on PROMISES that are based on God's unchanging integrity and power.
Dwell on PEACE that is based on God’s presence and work in our lives.
Dwell on ASSURANCE that is based on God's unfailing grace.
These are the things that last for eternity and are stored up in heaven for us based on God’s dependability to carry out His promises.
There is an Old Testament prophet who starts out with such positive thinking about how mighty God is and what He can do, only later to find himself wanting to die, resulting from anxiety and depression brought on by negative thinking.
His name was Elijah- You will find his story in 1 Kings 18 & 19.
Elijah was on Mount Carmel engaging in a confrontation with the pagan priests of Baal who turned the children of Israel from God toward idol worship. The King and Queen of that time, Ahab and Jezebel, were to blame for the influence of the Baal priests.
Elijah challenged the Baal Priests to a duel to prove whether Baal was God or if Jehovah (Yahweh) was God. An altar had been built. Two bulls were prepared for sacrifice: one for the Baal priests, and one for Elijah. A huge crowd of people gathered to watch. Reputations were at stake. Whose god was the Real God? Elijah was very much alone. The pagan priests had an army of supporters and fans in the audience.
Elijah said, “You call on the name of your god, and I will call on the name of the Lord, and the GOD who answers by FIRE, He is GOD”- v. 25. The people thought that was a good idea. It was a straightforward process. Elijah told the pagan priests to take their best shot. Shout out loud so your god can hear you. And they did.
All morning there had been the comical useless scene of sincere, grown men dancing and screaming; cutting themselves in order to gain the attention of their god. Nothing worked!
Elijah taunted them, “Shout LOUDER! Surely, he is a god! Perhaps he is deep in thought, or busy, or traveling. Maybe he is sleeping and must be awakened”- v. 27. The people cried, danced, screamed until the evening, and nothing happened.
Finally, it was Elijah’s turn. He repaired the altar of the Lord, which had been torn down. He set the wood on the altar and prepared the animal sacrifice in place. Then, just to add drama to the demonstration, he drenched the whole thing with water.
Then he prayed, “. . . let it be known today that you are God of Israel and that I am your servant and have done all these things at your command. Answer me, O Lord….”- vv. 36-37.
With force, fire flew from heaven and consumed the entire sacrifice – altar and all. I assume it consumed the water as well.
Can you imagine the excitement among those who witnessed that event?
Talk about excitement. One man against a spiritually depraved nation, a powerful king and queen, and several hundred priests. Elijah was overflowing with enthusiasm, took a stand and came out VICTORIOUS with the help of God. I think we can call Elijah’s attitude one of Positive Thinking.
The spiritual high Elijah had on the mountain was great, but just a short three days later the prophet of God hit rock bottom in his own spirit and fled to the wilderness.
After receiving death threats from Queen Jezebel, Elijah had received DEATH THREATS from Queen Jezebel.
When Elijah received word of the death threats, “he was afraid and ran for his life a day’s journey into the wilderness. There he asked that he might die, saying, ‘I have had enough, Lord. Take my life . . .’”- 1 Kings 19:3-4.
But it wasn’t enough! God had many more plans for Elijah.
He began to focus on the negative, and that’s when anxiety and fear took over.
As you read on in 1 Kings 19, Elijah was so down that he just slept all the time, An Angel of the Lord had to awaken him at least twice so he would eat something to keep his strength up.
Elijah had forgotten all about what God had just done for him on the mountaintop—how He displayed His magnificent power that brought the Priests of Baal to their knees. But now Elijah is running for his life—hiding from the queen, ready to give up.
In the midst of Elijah’s pity party, God speaks to Him- 1 Kings 19:9b-13
We don’t need such amazing and dramatic events to know that GOD is there.
When Elijah ran for his life in the wilderness, he felt sorry for himself thinking that he was the only one left serving God—that everyone else had turned to Baal.
But then God told him that there were “7,000 in Israel who had not bowed down to Baal”- 1 Kings 19:18.
God is saying to Elijah, “I’ve always been here for you—in the good times as well as the bad. Just open your eyes and keep focused on the positive, and you will see Me working in both the big and insignificant things.”