Living in peace

“Practice makes perfect!” How many times have you heard this expression? No doubt, countless times. Yet, we all know too well that “practice doesn’t make perfect!” I wish it did, but it doesn’t. The hope is that practice makes permanent. Nowhere is this more critical than in the Christian faith. Christianity is nothing if it is not practical. Or, perhaps I should say, “The Christian faith is no faith at all if it is not practiced.”

In 1 Thess 5:12-22, we come to one of the most practical passages on how to do church in the entire New Testament. Perhaps you have wondered, “What are the essentials for a happy, thriving church family? How can I make my local church a more spiritual place?” These eleven verses flesh out what it means to live soberly (5:6, 8). Paul provides four “checkpoints” that will enable us to function wisely in the body of Christ.

 

  1. Honor church leaders (5:12-13).

In this first section, Paul gives three specific exhortations on how to honor those in spiritual leadership.

  • Respect your leaders (5:12).Paul writes, “But we request of you, brethren, that you appreciate those who diligently labor among you, and have charge over you in the Lord and give you instruction.” The word translated “appreciate” (oida) ordinarily means “know.” However, in this context it means “recognize, respect, or honor.” The notion of appreciation is found in the second request in 5:13, so it seems best to understand this word to refer to respect. There is the need in every congregation to recognize and respect those God has raised up to lead, particularly those pastors and elders who “diligently labor” and provide “instruction.”

Someone has suggested five ways to get rid of your pastor:

(1) Sit up front, smile, and say “amen” every time he says something good. He will preach himself to death.

(2) Pat him on the back and tell him what good work he is doing in the church and community. He will work himself to death.

(3) Increase your offering in the church. He will suffer from shock.

(4) Tell him you’ve decided to share your faith and win souls for Christ. He will probably suffer a heart attack.

(5) Get the whole church to band together and pray for him. He will get so efficient that some other church will hear about him and give him a call. That will take him off your hands.

 

  • Esteem your leaders (5:13a).Paul urges the Thessalonians to “esteem them [their leaders] very highly in love because of their work.” The word translated “very highly” (huperekperissos) is a triple compound, which means abundant to the point of being excessive. You may say, “That’s laying it on a little thick, don’t you think? It’s one thing to esteem my leaders, I don’t know about holding them so high that it goes beyond all measure. That’s ridiculous!” Oh, really? I can tell you that to ignore this word is to ignore God’s Word to you. I have had so many people try to temper their encouragement because they are fearful that if they say something too positive it might “go to my head.” We frequently run the risk of taking our leaders for granted. Yet, Paul says we are to “esteem” our leaders because of their work. In both 5:12 and 13, he emphasizes recognizing and esteeming work.

It’s not easy to serve as a pastor, elder, deacon, or spiritual leader. The battles and burdens are many, and sometimes the encouragements are few. It is dangerous when a church family takes their leaders for granted and fails to pray for them, work with them, and encourage them. Practice makes permanent.

 

  • These verses should not be restricted to pastors only. They apply to anyonewho has a leadership position in the local church.

Do you know who is teaching your children in Sunday school?

Do you know your teenager’s youth leaders?

Have you ever tried to find the names of the leaders of the ministries that touch your family? You need to know them by name. You need to respect these spiritual leaders who freely and sacrificially serve the body.

Unless we are actively involved in volunteer service, we will never understand the great sacrifices that many of our fellow believers make. Today, will you look for a leader that you can encourage? Write an email or a hand-written card. Bring a gift to this leader. Verbally affirm this leader. Ask how you can pray for this person. Offer to help this person in their ministry or in their home. Practice makes permanent.

  • Live in peace with your leaders (5:13b). Paul closes this section by commanding the Thessalonians to “Live in peace with one another.” I think living in peace with your spiritual leaders means you speak highly of them and refuse to criticize them. I find it rather interesting that very few people will criticize leaders to their face, but they will shred them behind their back. I don’t think that it is because people are intimidated by most leaders, rather they know what they are saying is not honoring to God. Yet in churches throughout America, gossip and slander continue to be the most prevalent sins committed. In fact, more churches have been split by malicious gossip than by all the doctrinal heresies that have ever been invented. Thus, we should take this sin seriously. If you hear another brother or sister ripping on a leader, rebuke that person. Don’t tolerate this sin or you are an accomplice who will be held guilty. If someone is talking about my wife, I’m not going to listen in and remain quiet. I’m not going to worry about hurting that person’s feelings. Instead, I’m going to rebuke that person. Too many Christians are afraid of offending someone so we let a leader be run into the ground. This is sin! Perhaps today you need to make a commitment that you will not criticize a spiritual leader. Or maybe you need to commit to not listening in while others criticize your leaders. If there was more praise coming from God’s people, there would be more power in our ministries. Tragically, many members have never said a kind word to those who are in leadership. Today, commit to a ministry of encouragement.

[We should esteem church leaders. Why? Because this showcases the unity of the church.]

  1. Shepherd church members (5:14-15).

Having stated the responsibilities of the church to its leaders, Paul now considers the responsibilities of the church to each other. In 5:14, he urges church members to follow a four-fold job description.

  • Admonish the unruly (5:14a).“Unruly” (ataktous) is a military expression that means “to break ranks, to get out of line.” It refers to soldiers who are undisciplined, irresponsible, and idle. In the church there are unruly soldiers who are disrespectful, slanderous, and lazy. When a brother or sister becomes unruly Paul says we are to “admonish them.” Paul did this very thing with those who refused to work in 2 Thess 3:6-15.

The word translated “admonish” is an exceedingly strong Greek word that literally means to “put into the mind” (cf. 5:12). You might say we are to talk some sense into them. It implies a face-to-face confrontation, precisely the kind of situation most of us want to avoid at all costs. It is painful, difficult work. It is very scary. To lighten the severity of this responsibility, I always think of walking up to an unruly person, knocking on their head, and saying, “Hello, hello? Is anyone home?” Upon hearing a reply, I would cram God’s truth into their heads. Obviously, it is never this easy, yet it is often necessary to admonish a fellow believer. The key, however, is to do so with grace. Someone has that said for every negative statement people need at least five or six positive comments to overcome the discouragement that results from negative feedback. Generally speaking, any negative input should always be preceded by a few positive words and then followed up with a few more positive comments. Will you make a commitment to admonish unruly people in your life? Don’t call on a pastor. This verse is your responsibility. Practice makes permanent.

 

  • Encourage the fainthearted (5:14b).The word translated “fainthearted” (oligopsuchos) literally means to be “small-souled.” In the Greek Old Testament this word refers to discouragement due to trials. Paul, then, could be referring either to those who were shaken by the persecutions that the church had to endure (2:14; 3:1-5) or to those who were anxious about various aspects of Christ’s return (4:13-5:11). In the church, the fainthearted can describe those who are overwhelmed with problems. It especially includes those who shrink before persecution, who fall under great temptation, who face trials at home, at work, at school, who find the Christian life one continual struggle. Paul says we are to “encourage” such people. That is, we are to put courage into them. We are to verbally affirm hurting people. We are to use our words to breathe hope into them. A word of encouragement can make the difference between giving up and going on. We must teach the “small-souled” that the trials of life will help to enlarge them and make them stronger in the faith. Who do you know that you can encourage today? Practice makes permanent.

 

  • Help the weak (5:14c).The word “weak” can refer to physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual weakness. This third group of people is a step beyond being fainthearted. They have completely run out of gas. They are the ones who are exhausted, burned out, wrung out, and worn out. They are morally, spiritually, and physically drained. They feel as if they cannot go on. Often, these are most easily overlooked. The weak drift in and then drift out and a growing church never sees them. They slip in late, sit toward the back, and slip out as soon as the service is over. They are on the periphery, looking, searching, and hurting. The greatest way that you can help the weak is by praying for them. Practice makes permanent.

 

  • Be patient with everyone (5:14d).If we get involved with others, patience is our greatest need. Remember what Charlie Brown said: “I love the world. It’s people I can’t stand.” It’s easy to feel that way, so we need a great deal of patience. Who are the children or teens that are driving you crazy right now? They may be our future pastors and missionaries. When my brother and I were growing up, we were the wild hellions at our church. My next door neighbors predicted that my brother and I would end up in Juvie! Who would have guessed I would become a pastor? No one but God, I’m sure! A simple rule is: Be as patient with others as God is with you.

 

Paul closes this second section in 5:15 with a very relevant verse: “See that no one repays another with evil for evil, but always seek after that which is good for one another and for all people.” This verse is speaking of Christian relations in both the local and universal church. The phrases “one another” and “all people” are used elsewhere in 1 Thessalonians of fellow believers in the local church and surrounding region. The idea is if we can graciously forgive and bless our spiritual family members, we can live in peace with unbelievers as well. Thus, when others reject you and even oppose you, continue to serve in love and be ready to forgive. We show our love for God by making a conscious decision to love His children. Of course, this requires divine enablement. We tend to want to bury the hatchet in our brother or sister’s back! Yet, to return evil for good is natural; to return good for evil is supernatural.

Who is really getting on your nerves: a boss, a neighbor, a classmate? Maybe it is a spouse, a parent, or a sibling? How can you be especially kind to this person? What tangible acts of blessing can you pass on to this person? Will you do so today? This will free you from a root of bitterness (cf. Heb 12:15).

[We should shepherd church members because this is how we express love for God.]

  1. Discover God’s Will (5:16-18).

The age-old question that pastors are frequently asked is: “How can I find God’s will for my life?” Paul says that we don’t need to worry about finding God’s will, we merely need to find God and then His will finds us. Paul puts it like this: “Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” In these three verses are three commands that will help us to discover God’s will.

 

  • Be joyful (5:16).This is one of approximately 70 New Testament commands to rejoice. This ought to remind us that choosing joy is a decision of the will. While happiness depends on what is happening around us, joy is independent of happenings. This means we must remember that nothing merely happens by chance. God is working out His sovereign plan in our lives, therefore we must rejoice. This doesn’t mean life won’t hurt, but even in the midst of the hurts we can rejoice, because we know that God is at work and in control. Consistent rejoicing is only possible if we remember three principles. First, we must remember who God is (Phil 3:1). Nehemiah 8:10states, “the joy of the Lord is your strength.” Joy has its roots in a deep thankfulness for who God is. If we focus on God’s character and attributes (e.g., sovereign, merciful, faithful, loving), we will always have plenty of cause to rejoice. Second, rejoicing is possible if we then begin to recall what God has done, is doing, and will do. We can especially rejoice in what God has given us in Christ (John 4:36; Acts 13:48; Phil 4:4). As we focus on our Lord, we will exude joy. Someone once said, “A coffee break is good; a prayer break is better; a praise break is best.” Can you rejoice in the Lord today? Finally, we can also rejoice in what God is doing in and through other believers. Paul only uses the word “joy” one other time in 1 Thessalonians and he uses it of his own joy for the spiritual maturity of the Thessalonians (3:9; cf. 2:19-20). As we begin to keep our finger on the spiritual pulse of God’s kingdom program, we will observe that He is doing great things throughout our country and world. Even though you may not feel like God is at work in your life, can you take your eyes off of yourself and see how He is at work elsewhere?

 

  • Be prayerful (5:17).Praying without ceasing means praying repeatedly and often. The idea of the present tense imperative is not that believers should pray every minute of the day, but that we should offer prayers to God repeatedly. We should make it our habit to be in the presence of God. The Greek adverb translated “without ceasing” (adialeiptos) is used outside of the New Testament of a hacking cough. Have you had a cold recently? Then you know what it’s like to cough spontaneously, right? There are times you just can’t stop yourself. The same ought to be true of prayer. We should be continuously offering up prayers to the Lord because we just can’t help ourselves. We often go through life in such a hurry and so overwhelmed by our problems that we think we don’t have time to pray. That sense of hurriedness can be spiritually devastating.

Carl Jung said, “Hurry is not of the devil; it IS the devil.”

When you pray, you are forced to slow down. You are forced to shift the focus of your thoughts from yourself to God. You stop thinking of how impossible everything is for you, and you start thinking of how possible everything is for God. You stop thinking of how weak you are, and you start thinking of how powerful God is. If you’re a stay-at-home mom, this may mean that you pray when you’re getting ready in the morning, when you’re home-schooling your kids or driving them to school, when you’re cleaning the house or doing the dishes. If you’re a career man or woman, you can pray during your commute, when you stretch at your desk, during your lunch break, before you return home for the day. Practice makes permanent.

 

  • Be thankful (5:18). The apostle Paul didn’t say to give thanks “for” all circumstances, but “in” all circumstances. Thanksgiving was the fuel of Paul’s prayers. Note: the Greek word eucharisteite(“give thanks”) is an active, present tense imperative. This means that thanksgiving is not an option or a suggestion; it is a command! If we are to be properly devoted and alert in prayer, we must consciously focus on expressing gratitude to God. All of life’s circumstances are not good, but there will always be something in those circumstances for which to give thanks. Paul uses the word “thanks” only one other time in 1 Thess 2:13, where he thanks God for the Thessalonians receiving the Word. This demonstrates that there are many things that we can be thankful for. What are you thankful for today? Will you express gratitude to God and others? Gratitude is likely the greatest evidence that you and I are filled with the Holy Spirit. God has blessed you and me, but He expects us to respond with hearts full of gratitude.

 

These three verses are God’s will for you.” Most of us want to know what God’s specific will is for our lives—who we’re supposed to marry, where we’re supposed to live, what job we should have. Yet God tends to give us freedom in these areas. But if He does want to reveal Himself more specifically to you, He isn’t about to do so until you first obey His general will. His general will is that you be joyful, prayerful, and thankful. Do you want specific direction? Do you want to know the will of God? It is found in 5:16-18. Be joyful, prayerful, and grateful. If you’re not obeying these commands, you’re not walking in the Spirit. You’re out of the will of God, no matter how many gifts of the Spirit you might be exhibiting in your life. You may say, “Well, I don’t like that.” I don’t like it much either, but I didn’t say it. God said it. The Bible is not only a sword, it is a hammer. Have you been hammered by the Word of God? Will you seek to obey these three commands so that God can reveal more of Himself to you?

[We must discover God’s will. How can we do this? By pursuing God and seeking to discover Him.]

  1. Worship with wisdom (5:19-22).

In this fourth and final section, Paul tells us how to worship in spirit and truth (cf. John 4:23-24). He writes, “Do not quench the Spirit; do not despise prophetic utterances. But examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good; abstain from every form of evil.” Paul uses “quench” metaphorically to speak of hindering the operations of the Holy Spirit. People who refuse to submit to the above commands “quench” the Spirit. Those who usurp the ministry of the Spirit in the local church throw cold water on God’s work in the congregation. Do you know what it means to quench the Holy Spirit? What do you do when you quench your thirst? You drink some water and the thirst is put away. When you quench a fire, you put it out—you smother it. How do you quench the Spirit of God? You quench the Holy Spirit by not doing something He tells you to do.

Paul now relates this specifically to prophecies. The gift of prophecy is when a man or woman of God speaks a word to build up the body of Christ. Paul says, “Don’t despise prophecies.” Yet, he also commands us to examine every prophecy. This can be done by asking four questions: (1) Does the prophecy agree with Scripture? (2) Does the prophecy edify those who hear it? (3) Do other believers agree that the prophecy is from God? (4) Does the person with the prophecy present it humbly?

 

Paul is saying, basically, look before you leap. You don’t have to be cynical, but it doesn’t hurt to be a little skeptical. Investigate. Test things. Don’t allow yourself to be spoon-fed. When you hear a sermon or read a book about spiritual matters, think it through. Compare it with Scripture. Don’t be gullible. Reason it out. Test everything, Paul says, and hold on to that which is good, reject that which isn’t good. It’s not always easy to think things through, but it’s necessary. The more you practice discernment, the stronger you become spiritually.

Paul has said, “Practice makes permanent!” Will you make it your goal to practice Christianity? Will you live out your faith so that your life makes a difference in your world?

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Walk His way

One day, Frederick the Great of Prussia was walking on the outskirts of Berlin when he encountered a very old man walking in the opposite direction. “Who are you?” Frederick asked his subject. “I am a king,” replied the old man. “A king!” laughed Frederick. “Over what kingdom do you reign?” “Over myself,” was the proud old man’s reply. This old man was on to something. Each of us is “monarch” over our own lives. By that I mean we are responsible for ruling our actions and decisions. To make consistently good decisions, to take the right action at the right time, and to refrain from the wrong actions requires character and self-discipline. To do otherwise is to lose control of ourselves—to potentially destroy our witness or disqualify ourselves from ministry. When we are foolish, we want to conquer the world. When we are wise, we want to conquer ourselves. This begins when we do what we should, no matter how we feel about it.
Today, in 1 Thess 4:1-12 we will learn how to do what we should. It is important to recognize that we have arrived at the center of the book of 1 Thessalonians. To clearly see this, it will be helpful to return to the theme of the letter found in 1:9-10. In these two verses, Paul summarizes the three components of the argument of his book. He writes, “(1) For they themselves report about us what kind of a reception we had with you, and how you turned to God from idols (2) to serve a living and true God, and (3) to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, that is Jesus, who rescues us from the wrath to come.” The first section entails 2:1-3:13; the second section deals with our present text (4:1-12); and the third and final section encompasses the remainder of the book (4:13-5:28). The structure of the theme verses in 1:9-10 point readers to the center of the letter: “to serve the living and true God.” Or as I shall suggest, “walk His way.” In the twelve verses of 1 Thess 4:1-12, Paul exhorts us to walk His way by being sexually pure, loving other believers, and working not meddling.

1. Serve God by being sexually pure (4:1-8).
In these first eight verses, Paul explains that God’s will is for us to become holy (“sanctified”) like Jesus. In 4:1-2 he writes, “Finally then, brethren, we request and exhort you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us instruction as to how you ought to walk and please God (just as you actually do walk), that you excel still more. For you know what commandments we gave you by the authority of the Lord Jesus.” Paul begins this chapter with the word “finally.” Have you heard the latest definition of an optimist? It is someone who believes the preacher is almost finished when he says “finally.” From a purely statistical point of view, it is interesting to note that in chapters 1-3 there is a total of 43 verses, and in chapters 4-5 there are a whopping 46 verses to add to the total! So the question is, “What does Paul mean when he says ‘finally?’” I would suggest it is almost like a change of gears as he moves into overdrive. He ups the ante. He raises the stakes. The word “finally” serves as the punch line. In chapters 4-5, Paul moves from the theological to the practical. Paul continually affirms believers in their position and encourages them in their practice. In 1 Thessalonians, he affirms that the Thessalonian believers are positionally chosen (1:4), yet he exhorts them to practically live out this positional truth by walking in obedience (2:12). In this passage, he encourages the Thessalonians with their present “walk”—their lifestyle of faith. The Christian life begins with a step of faith, but that step leads to a walk of faith. Christianity is not a sprint; it is a walk of perseverance along the way marked out for us by Jesus Christ. The biblical metaphor “walk” is an appropriate term that most likely came into use because Christianity was originally called “The Way” in Acts. What is of particular interest here is that Paul uses the word “walk” to bookend this section. The Greek word peripateo (“walk”) is used twice in 4:1 and again in 4:12 where the NASB renders it “behave.” Hence, the thrust of this passage is that you and I would walk with God, which entails seeking to please Him by receiving His instruction and obeying His commandments. Will you make a conscious decision to walk His way? It will be difficult, if not impossible, to continue to work through this passage unless you choose as an act of your will that you are going to obey God, whether you like it or not and whether you feel like it or not. I urge you with all that I am to walk His way.
Now the $6 million question is, “How do we please the Lord and walk His way?” There’s a simple answer—by doing the will of God. In 4:3-8, Paul insists that Christians must maintain their sexual purity. In 4:3-6a, Paul gives three specific instructions.
o Abstain from sexual immorality (4:3b).Paul bluntly states, “For this is the will of God, your sanctification; that is, that you abstain from sexual immorality.” The word “abstain” means “to keep as far away from as possible, to have nothing to do with.” As believers we should never ask how far we can go and not step over the line. Instead, we should attempt to do everything to stay as far away from the line as we possibly can. This leads to an obvious question: What does Paul mean when he uses the phrase “sexual immorality?” In brief, the answer is everything immoral! Sorry about that! I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but that’s what the Bible says. The phrase “sexual immorality” comes from the Greek word porneia, which is a broad word that includes premarital sex, extramarital sex, homosexuality, and every form of pornography. This term covers sins of the mind, body, eyes, ears, and lips. Paul forbids all expressions of porneia because he is concerned with our “sanctification.” The word “sanctification” means “to be separate to God, to be distinct.” This word occurs in its various forms four times in 4:3-7. Sanctification does not mean saying “no” to anything that is fun; it means progressively growing to be more like the Lord who said, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” In 4:3, Paul clarifies a very important aspect of God’s will: Christians are to avoid sexual immorality like the plague. Certain things in the Christian life are not open to debate. Many Christians ask, “What is God’s will for my life?” in the midst of practicing sexual immorality. I would dare say that God will not clearly reveal His will to those who are practicing sexual sin. If we want to walk His way, we will abstain from sexual immorality.
o Control your own body (4:4-5). Paul writes, “[The will of God is] that each of you know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor, not in lustful passion, like the Gentiles who do not know God.” Paul states that it is God’s will for us to be able to sexually control ourselves—to “gird up our loins.” In our flesh, our natural tendency is to say, “I just can’t help myself” or “I’m a guy or I’m a gal” or “I am in love.” Do you know what I find so interesting about these justifications? In the most intense heat of the moment, any one of us could bring our passion to a screeching halt. If a police officer walks up to your parked car and knocks on your steamed-over window, I bet you could stop. If an angry husband armed with a shotgun walked in on you with his wife, I would guess you could stop in a hurry. We can always stop what we are doing…the issue is one of motivation. Paul expects us to live in “sanctification and honor, not in lustful passion, like the Gentiles who do not know God.” Many of us have been far too hard on those who do not know God and too light on those who do know God. I don’t know about you, but I expect pagans to live sexually immoral lives. Sinners are supposed to sin, it’s a part of their job description. What’s unacceptable is when saints live sexually immoral lives. Our problem is not with our society; our problem is with our church and the church of Jesus Christ throughout our country. Many believers need to be told, “Either be pure…or stop calling yourself a Christian!” If we want to walk His way, we will learn to control our own body.
o Protect other men and women (4:6a).Paul writes, “[The will of God is] that no man transgress and defraud his brother in the matter.” The word “brother” in this context indicates any person. The point is, God cares for people. He doesn’t want us to take advantage of any of His creations. Sexual sin steals from others. It steals both from the person and from their present or future mate, parents and other family members, and present or future children. This is no different than stealing someone’s property. We have no more right to have sex with someone’s spouse because they are attractive to us than we have a right to steal their car because it appeals to us. This phrase is a sign saying, “Trespassers Will Be Prosecuted.” If we want to walk His way, we will protect other men and women.

Young people and singles are thinking, “What kind of sick humor is this? God puts this sex drive in us then says, ‘Oh, but you have to wait.’ It’s cruel.” This is kind of like buying your 16-year-old son a brand new Lamborghini, parking it outside, and then saying, “It’s yours. It’s paid for, but there are no keys, and you can’t drive it.” So every day he has to walk by and look at it, sit in it, but cannot drive it. He has the car but nowhere to go. Is God crazy? No, He is very smart. God understands there are consequences to premature oneness. His design is for you and me to have this beautiful thing called intimacy and oneness in marriage, where two become one for life. When we choose to ignore God’s design, there are consequences.
[Tear off a single piece of scotch tape, and begin sticking the tape to different people’s pants, shirts, and foreheads.] Each time I stick this tape on someone, when I pull it off, pieces of that person’s clothing stick to the tape. The more people I stick the tape to, the more adhesive was lost. This piece of tape is designed to stick things together, yet the more I use it on people’s clothing, the less sticky it becomes. The same thing happens with our sexuality. Sexuality is who we are. We want to be able to stick together through thick and thin so that we can enjoy the oneness waiting for us. When we go outside God’s principles, our stick-ability in marriage is diminished. Many of us are married and wonder why we don’t have the ability to have a cohesive relationship. This may be the reason why. God is not a killjoy. He’s just smart. He said oneness is what we are to pursue.

In 4:6b-8, Paul shares three incentives to pursue sexual purity.
o Avoid God’s judgment (4:6b). Paul writes, “[Abstain from sexual immorality] because the Lord is the avenger in all these things, just as we also told you before and solemnly warned you.” In the course of his ministry in Thessalonica, Paul has warned these new believers that they must be men and women of purity. For those believers who choose to be sexually immoral, Paul warns that “the Lord is the avenger.” The word “avenger” (ekdikos) is only used here and in Rom 13:4, where it refers to the governing authorities that bear the sword and will pour out wrath on the one who sins. The leading Greek dictionary defines this term as “one who punishes.” This is a very scary word! Paul probably has in mind the judgment seat of Christ (2 Cor 5:10) when Jesus Himself will elevate our sexual purity or lack thereof. It is also likely that God “gives us over” (Rom 1:24, 26, 28) to the consequences of our sin in this life. Believers who cheat are often cheated upon by someone else. What goes around comes around! An immoral Christian teenager may learn the hard way that condoms fail 20-30% of the time. In today’s culture, this is playing Russian roulette with our lives. A gun will give you one in six. A condom will give you one in five, or less. Gals, you may get pregnant and guys you may get a venereal disease. Another severe consequence can be the memories that will stay with you for the rest of your life. There is a chemical called epinephrine in your brain. It is released during physical contact, and what happens is people get married to a wonderful person and all of a sudden the memories of previous encounters come flooding back. There is a term for this called “sex ghosts.” Can we get over some of these consequences? Yes, with God’s grace we can; however, in Gal 6:7 Paul writes, “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap.” God is an ethical God. He keeps books on sexual issues and He is a very good accountant. These are all the laws of the harvest. If we want to walk His way, we will take the avenger dead serious.
o Fulfill God’s call (4:7). Paul writes, “[Abstain from sexual immorality] for God has not called us for the purpose of impurity, but in sanctification.” God “calls” us to both salvation and sanctification. He takes the initiative in both our everlasting life and our spiritual growth. We simply respond to His work in us. Throughout the course of our Christian experience, God issues an upward calling, a high calling, a calling to sanctification, to ministry, and to heavenly reward. We fulfill our destiny by heeding His call and walking His way.
o Honor the Scriptures and the Spirit (4:8). In the final verse of this first section, Paul issues a warning: “So, he who rejects this is not rejecting man but the God who gives His Holy Spirit to you.” Paul says, “If you don’t like what I’ve written, please understand that your “beef” is with God. You are rejecting Him and His authority. Likewise, if you do not like what I have said, your problem is not with me, it is with God. I am just the mailman…I deliver the mail. I am the doctor, I give the prescription.” Before you complain too much, please understand that sexual immorality was even more prevalent in Paul’s day. In the first place Thessalonica was a seaport, which meant that people from all over the Mediterranean world stopped there in transit from one place to another. The sailors and visiting merchants brought with them the usual desires for sexual gratification. More importantly, the Greek religions of that day practiced sacred prostitution. That involved hiring a prostitute at a pagan temple as part of your acts of worship. The famed orator Demosthenes described the moral climate of ancient Greece this way: “We keep prostitutes for pleasure, we keep mistresses for day to day needs of the body, we keep wives for the begetting of children and for the faithful guarding of the home.” So long as a man supported his wife and family there was no shame whatsoever in extra-marital relationships. Given the moral atmosphere of the day, there must have been enormous pressure on those young Christians to lower their standards to conform to the world around them. But Paul will have none of it. He orders them to abstain from every form of sexual immorality. Fortunately, 4:8 ends with a very hopeful phrase. It mentions “God who gives His Holy Spirit to you.” The word “gives” is a present tense verb. In this case it means that God gives and keeps on giving the Spirit to you. You have the Holy Spirit always within you. Therefore, when God commands you to abstain, He also gives you the power to obey. What a wonderful thought. You are not in this battle alone! Your weakness is His strength. Do you need help? You’ve got it!
Perhaps, you’ve found yourself lost in the above instructions and incentives. If so, here are some other suggestions that may be helpful to you.
o Recognize your position in Christ. You are a “saint” who is dead to sin.
o Ask God for grace and mercy. Acknowledge “it” could happen to you. Plead the blood of Jesus.
o Saturate yourself with Scripture. Read God’s Word to shore up your strength.
o Pray when you are tempted. Satan flees when we pray.
o Have an accountability partner. Make sure he or she asks you brutal purity questions.
o Beware of raunchy music. Research proves that teens who listen to music with sexually graphic or degrading lyrics are far more likely to be sexually active (51% vs. 29%).
o Exercise with a vengeance. Cardiovascular workouts will so tire you out that your drive can be diminished.
o Refuse to live together before marriage. Data from Rutgers University now suggests that 90% of couples who live together before marriage will end in divorce.
o Invest in your marriage. Pour your time and energy into your spouse. This is the best distraction.
Before we move on, I really want you to hear that it is never too late to walk with God. Many of you have already sinned sexually. It is God’s will that you move on. God makes it clear that He will welcome you back and restore you to fellowship. As we trusted the finished work of Christ for salvation, so we trust His finished work on the cross for our sin (1 John 1:9-2:2). What Paul is saying in this section is that through our relationship with God, we can have the power and the discipline to stay sexually pure; or if we have already messed up, we can begin right now. God is simply waiting for you to confess your sin, receive His forgiveness, and go and sin no more. Or, if you prefer, walk His way.
[Why should you serve God by being sexually pure? For the simple reason that God loves you and wants the best for you.]
2. Serve God by loving other believers (4:9-10).
The transition from holiness to love is not a difficult one (cf. 3:11-13). God’s love is a holy love, so our love for God and for one another ought to motivate us to holy living. The more we live like God, the more we will love one another. If a Christian really loves his brother, he will not sin against him (4:6). Paul writes, “Now as to the love of the brethren, you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves are taught by God to love one another; for indeed you do practice it toward all the brethren who are in all Macedonia. But we urge you, brethren, to excel still more.” In these two verses, Paul reminds the Thessalonians that they should demonstrate “the love of the brethren.” The Greek word behind this phrase is philadelphia, which means “brotherly love.” In the New Testament it is used exclusively of the love Christians are to show to each other. Outside of the New Testament philadelphia is used only of love for blood brothers or sisters. The idea seems to be that believers should have a fondness for one another. This only occurs when the agapelove of 4:10 is first implemented. The word “love” (agapao) in 4:10 is a different word for love than in the first phrase of 4:9. The word here is a self-sacrificing love produced by the Holy Spirit. This requires believers making a conscious decision of their wills to love and forgive one another. Paul reveals that the Thessalonians are exuding love for not only one another but all the brethren in their entire region. They are a model church, yet Paul urges these believers to “excel still more.” How can we accomplish this? First, it is important to recognize that the church is made up of individuals and families. Therefore, it is essential to love believers closest to you. If you don’t love those people closest to you, you won’t love the body of Christ at large. So if you are married, the most important person in your life is your spouse. You need to love your husband or wife with every fiber of your being. Obviously, you can do this by being sexually pure. But you can also listen to your spouse, verbally affirm your spouse, and support his or her dreams. If you have children or grandchildren, you must love those precious souls with unconditional love. One way I have found of doing this is adopting an area of their interest. If they like a sport, a type of music, or a particular hobby, do that with them—even if you don’t like it. If you are a student or a single, you are called to first and foremost love other believers in Christ. This means prioritizing your friendships with those in youth or college groups above those of your coworkers or friends. As a church, we are called to love people within our body. One of the most tangible ways you can do this is by simply reaching out to people on Sunday morning. This is as simple as greeting someone who looks new or lonely and seeking to befriend that person. Additionally, we are expected to love those believers outside of our church walls.

What does it mean that our love should “excel still more?” It means that we should increase in our sympathy for those in need, patience for those who are struggling, and tolerance toward those with whom we disagree. We can’t be satisfied with our past performance. We must excel still more in our love for others. Research shows that when the unchurched are asked what they are looking for in a church, the answer is always the same: They are looking for a caring church. Not just a friendly church, a relevant church, or a church with plenty of programs for the kids. As good and essential as those things are, they don’t touch the deepest heart cry of this generation, which is for a place where they can be loved truly and deeply. When the people of the world find such a place they stand in line to get in. This was the primary attraction of the early church. They had no buildings, no fancy programs, no large budgets, no radio, no TV. They had none of the things that we consider essential for success. Yet nothing could stop them. In just three centuries, Christianity conquered the Roman Empire. How did this happen? It was said of the early Christians, “Behold, how they love one another.” If we want to walk His way, we will love other believers.
[Why should you serve God by loving other believers? It pleases God and serves as a witness to the world.]
3. Serve God by working not meddling (4:11-12).
In this third and final section, Paul argues that our work is a witness. People are watching. We are witnesses! He puts it like this: “And to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life and attend to your own business and work with your hands, just as we commanded you, so that you will behave [“walk”] properly toward outsiders and not be in any need.” These challenging words should be understood in the context of 4:13-5:11, which teaches Christ’s return. Furthermore, in 5:14 there is yet another warning against slackness.
o Lead a quiet life. Paul states “make it your ambition to lead a quiet life.” It is a life that does its best to avoid unnecessary contention and to be at peace with all men insofar as it is humanly possible. The word translated “make it your ambition” (philotimeomai) can also be rendered “aspire.” Paul’s point is: There is a time to share Christ, but more often than not, it is better to listen and draw others out. Don’t have pat answers for all the suffering in the world. Seek to learn from others. Have a pleasant demeanor. Do not have fits of anger or jealousy.
o Mind your own business. Do not be a busybody. Don’t meddle in other people’s affairs. Say no to gossip and slander. You don’t need to know the latest and greatest news on someone else. You have enough to be concerned about yourself.
o Work with your hands. The upper classes of Rome and Greece despised manual labor. That’s why they owned so many slaves. They hated to work with their hands. But Christianity brought in a new ethic based on personal responsibility and hard work. Jesus was a carpenter and Paul himself was a tentmaker! It’s important to understand that Paul isn’t being metaphorical here. He literally worked with his hands as a tentmaker whenever he could so that he could support himself while he preached the gospel. Even though he was highly educated, he didn’t mind hard work in the least and he didn’t find manual labor embarrassing. So Paul says “work with your hands” so that you can provide for the needs of your own family and not give the gospel a black eye. If you’re looking for true welfare reform, it begins right here.
The point is this: God longs for us to use our work as a witness. He wants us to represent Him in our thoughts, attitudes, and actions. As we do so, we will see others drawn to Christ.
Let me say it again: Walk His way. When you walk His way life is not usually easier but God is glorified in and through you, and eventually the world sits up and takes notice. Will you be a Christian who is characterized by sexual purity, love for the brethren, and a godly work ethic? If so, you can change your world. For when you learn to conquer yourself and allow God’s Spirit to reign in and through you, your life and the lives of others will be changed for eternity. Walk His way.

Pursuing Peace – Philippians 4:1-9

Police first contacted the man at the Lamplighter Motel in Longmont, CO after a guest in the next room called police because the man was ranting for more than an hour about killings, graveyards, and people getting “what’s coming to them.” Officers spoke to the man, who said he would be quiet. Police then waited for a few minutes, and then they heard more ranting about killings and graveyards, complete with incessant expletives. When police spoke to the man again, he threatened his own life. He wouldn’t answer the door or several phone calls to his room. That’s when officers decided to call in SWAT teams. Police evacuated about a dozen guests from the motel. When all the guests were out of the motel, police fired a 12-gauge beanbag round to smash the window. SWAT teams then maneuvered a remote-controlled robot to break out the rest of the window and pull down the drape. SWAT officers broke down the door and arrested the man for failing to leave when ordered. He was then taken to Longmont United Hospital before being transported to Boulder County Jail. The great irony in this account is that the man’s name is Lovall Peacen Bliss—when put together is “Love all, peace, and bliss.”

Tragically, as Christians, we often don’t live up to our name either. We often lack love, peace, and bliss. Peace is particularly elusive. Today your life may be anything but peaceful. You may have interpersonal conflict in your marriage, family, workplace, and church, yet there is hope for you. PEACE IS NOT THE ABSENCE OF CONFLICT; IT IS THE PRESENCE OF CHRIST. In fact, “peace of mind comes through the mind of Christ.” In Philippians 4:1–9 Paul provides two challenges to deal with conflict and experience Christ’s peace.

1. Turn your conflict into compassion (4:1–3). In this first section Paul discusses the glory of the church and then quickly transitions into its gore. He begins with some of the most passionate and intimate words in the New Testament: “Therefore, my beloved brethren whom I long to see, my joy and crown, in this way stand firm in the Lord, my beloved.” The conjunction “therefore” (hoste) is not the typical word translated “therefore” (oun). In this context, this word may be better rendered “so then” (NET, HCSB) because it both draws on previous material and expresses a logical conclusion from it. Verse one serves as a “hinge” verse that swings back and forth between the preceding and following contexts. Paul reminds his readers that they are citizens of heaven who are just passing through this life (3:20–21). The phrase “in this way” confirms this link back to 3:20–21. Yet 4:1 also looks ahead to 4:2–9 and encourages believers to maintain unity and treat Christians with love and respect.
Paul definitively expresses his love for the church in 4:1. Perhaps you’re thinking, “Paul sure is sappy!” Indeed, he loves the body of Christ. Twice in this verse Paul uses the description “beloved” (agapetoi). He loves these believers with all his heart. He also addresses the Philippians as “brothers and sisters.” They are members of the family of God. Finally, he tacks on that he longs to see these brothers and sisters (cf. 1:8; 2:26). Paul is not afraid to verbalize his affection for these believers. Can you honestly say that you love your church? If so, how do you communicate this to them? There should be some verbal expression of your love for other believers. Maybe you’re thinking, “I’m not an encouraging person.” Well, then, become such a person! You don’t have to say, “I love you” or “I am longing for you” like Paul did. However, you do need to verbally stretch yourself so that the body is aware of your love.

Paul also calls the Philippians his “joy and crown” (4:1). These believers are his present source of joy in life. Moreover, they are his future crown when he stands before the judgment seat of Christ (cf. 1 Thess 2:19). Paul receives significance in this life and in the life to come for establishing the Philippians in the faith. Many American Christians pursue pleasure, position, power, prestige, popularity, possessions, and performance; however, Paul pursues people. He recognizes that only people and God’s Word are eternal. Everything else will fade away like a mist in the night. Are you spending your time or are you investing your time? How would you answer if Jesus returned today and asked, “Who is your joy and your crown?” Who have you personally mentored and discipled? Who have you invested in?

Paul closes out 4:1 with a call for the church to “stand firm” (stekete). This refers to a soldier remaining at his post no matter what happens around him. Let the enemy attack as it will, the soldier’s orders are clear: Stand firm! This command is necessary because we struggle standing firm. Left to our own devices we will retreat or surrender. As we age, our physical bodies begin to sag and droop. That’s bad, but it is somewhat expected. Do you know what’s far worse? When we age and begin to sag and droop spiritually. Sometimes it has nothing to do with age; we just let ourselves go spiritually. This is a grave danger because in our conflict with Satan and others, we will be sitting spiritual ducks—weak, anemic, and lethargic. We must always remember: Peace of mind comes through the mind of Christ.”

In 4:2–3, Paul transitions from the glory to the gore. The church is a family and Paul confronts his family members directly. He writes, “I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to live in harmony in the Lord. Indeed, true companion, I ask you also to help these women who have shared my struggle in the cause of the gospel, together with Clement also and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.” Paul calls two ladies out by name! These ladies’ names have been in Scripture for a long time, and they are going to remain for an even longer time. So why did Paul do this? Apparently, he is lovingly sending a message. These ladies are not mere pew potatoes; instead, they are influential ladies who likely played a prominent role in the church. At the very least, they were coworkers with Paul in the advancement of the gospel. Thus, Paul knows that this conflict needs to be dealt with quickly. So he confronts tenderly, but directly by first urging both ladies to “live in harmony in the Lord” (lit. “to think the same thing”). He is saying, “You’re both at fault. You need to be of the same mind. You may have all kinds of differences. Live in harmony with the Lord. Disagree agreeably. You don’t need to have uniformity, but you do need to have unity.” He then calls in reinforcements: a “true companion,” most likely an elder. He asks this leader to “help these women” settle their problems. To use modern slang, Paul says, “Help a sister out!” This is imperative because a little schism can bring down the whole church. Better to nip these fights in the bud.

The grizzly bear is the meanest animal in the forest. It can terminate the life of any other creature with one swipe of its paw. There is one animal that the grizzly bear will not attack, however. He has even allowed this animal to share a meal with him, even though it is his adversary. The animal I am talking about is the skunk. The grizzly bear does not like the skunk, but he has decided it is better to coexist with him than to create a stink! Sometimes it is better to learn how to get along with the skunk in your life than fight him and make your situation even worse. If the truth be known, there are skunks in every church, and you are one of them (and so am I). Since we are all skunks at one time or another, it makes sense for us to grant one another grace and strive to be at peace, so far as it depends upon us (Rom 12:18).

Please seek to avoid the temptation to run away from your conflicts. When things are tough, it is easy to assume that you would have it so much better somewhere else. We all feel this way from time to time. It’s a miracle we are still here. However, at the next church you’re going to have more problems. There is so escape from problem people. At least here you know who the problem people are. Why start over?

The key to this section is found in the phrase the “book of life.” This phrase refers to a book in heaven where the names of believers are recorded (Rev 21:27). Before humankind was created, God wrote the names of His children in this book. I should add that there is no eraser on His cosmic pen. The “book of life” is like a family photo album that contains the names of all those who are heaven bound because they have believed in Christ. Paul’s idea is that we believers ought to do everything we can to get on the same page, because we’re in the same book. You can choose your friends, but you’re stuck with your family. And healthy families aren’t defined by the absence of conflict, but by the way they work through it. Since you and I are going to spend eternity with brothers and sisters in Christ, we need to ensure that we are in harmony down on earth. We must maintain the unity of the church. We must seek peace. The reason is simple: Your name is written in the book of life. Peace of mind comes through the mind of Christ.
[As individuals and as a church, we must turn our conflict into compassion so that we maintain Christian unity and glorify God. In 4:4–9, Paul imparts another challenge.]
2. Turn your conflict into action (4:4–9). This is a great section for you doers. In these six verses, there are seven commands. It’s not enough to have compassion; action is also essential. In 4:4 Paul writes, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice!” Paul begins with two commands to “rejoice.” The object of our rejoicing must be “in the Lord” (cf. 3:1). If we would concentrate on rejoicing in the Lord so much of life would fall into place. This command to rejoice is to be fulfilled “always.” This means in every circumstance, particularly those that are adverse. The fact that the verb “rejoice” is an imperative shows that rejoicing in the Lord is not a natural thing to do. Perhaps you have seen the cartoon that pictures a middle-aged man, pot-bellied, with a frown on his face, wearing a T-shirt that reads “Please don’t ask me to have a nice day.” Or you may identify with W.C. Fields who said, “I start off each day with a smile, and get it over with.” Joy is tough! Even Christians struggle exuding joy, especially in the midst of conflict. Paul, however, is challenging you and me to rejoice even in the midst of a good church fight. When conflict comes, rejoice that there is at least one other person in the church to fight with. Rejoice that the person feels strongly enough to fight. He or she could have left the church and not cared enough about you to fight with you. So rejoice over the conflict God has given you.
Paul continues his action items to deal with conflict in a godly fashion. In 4:5a he writes, “Let your gentle spirit be known to all men.” In the midst of conflict, be gentle. Win your enemies over with gentleness. A gentle answer turns away wrath. If someone doesn’t like you; if someone is out to get you, show them gentleness. The word translated “gentleness” (epiekes) is probably best understood as “yielded rights.” We are to be gentle or yielded people. The use of “be known” seems significant here. People are to realize our yieldedness experientially. They should realize that we are a people who do not cling to our rights by seeing us in action.

Moreover, it is likely that Paul’s use of the word “gentleness” echoes Psalm 86:5 in the Greek Old TestamentPs 85:5. The English translation, “ready to forgive,” likely reflects Paul’s meaning. “Ready to forgive” conveys the desire and predisposition to forgive, which the word conveys, and which I believe Paul has in mind when he uses it in Philippians 4.

Paul wants you to be ready to forgive when someone hurts you and your family with slander and gossip. He doesn’t want you to have a critical or cynical attitude; he wants you to do so with grace and love. Yahweh is the model. No matter how many times I sin against Him, He is always ready to forgive. He lavishes unconditional love upon me. He zealously yearns to forgive me no matter what I have done. Since God has this kind of love for me, why would I struggle forgiving anyone in our church family? Here’s a simple question: Would the people who know you best consider you a gentle person? Would that word even pop into their minds when they think about you? Or to make the question harder: Would the people you like least consider you a gentle person? That’s the real test. Anyone can be gentle around nice people, but only the spirit of Jesus can enable you to respond gently to people who mistreat you. My hope is that even those who dislike me would say, “While I don’t appreciate Wayne’s personality, his gifts, his philosophy of ministry, or his preferences, he is at least gentle and respectful.”

Paul concludes 4:5 with a fascinating phrase: “The Lord is near.” This word “near” (eggus) seems to refer to both location and time. In the midst of church conflict, the Lord is near in proximity. He hears the words you speak. He knows your thoughts and motives. He’s in your midst. He wants you to interact with other believers in a gentle manner, knowing that He is part of every conversation and response. Hence, He doesn’t want you to exclaim, “He’ll never change!” or, “She’s sinned against me.” Additionally, the Lord may return at any time. He is at hand. He is at the door. Knowing this, we can give up our rights since Jesus will soon take care of them. In both cases, we can give up our rights on Christ’s behalf. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to go into glory with a whole lot of gore. I want to ensure that I have pursued peace with my fellow believers. I don’t want the Lord Jesus to have to clean up my mess and settle my interpersonal conflicts in glory. Remember, peace of mind comes through the mind of Christ.

Phil 4:6 is the verse that you want me to skip. Paul writes, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” The first word in the Greek text is “nothing” (meden). Paul’s emphatic point is there is nothing you can worry about—absolutely nothing! The implication is that anxiety or worry is a sin. Unfortunately, most believers prefer to coddle worry and not call it “sin.” It’s difficult for many of us to call a behavior that we commit on a daily basis sin. We would much rather label adultery, homosexuality, or pornography “sin” because we may not be guilty of such behavior. Yet, it is obvious that there are more Christians addicted to anxiety than to all the other addictions combined. The word translated “anxious” (merimnao) describes being divided and pulled in different directions. I would guess that this describes you just like it describes me at times. Worry is a sin all of us grapple with on a daily basis.

Some years ago a professor at a leading American university studied the things people worry about. His research discovered that: 40% never happens; 30% concerns the past; 12% are needless worries about health; 10% are about petty issues; and 8% are legitimate concerns. That means that 92% of our “worry time” is wasted energy. But Paul is saying that we are not to worry even about the 8%. Why is that? Because when we worry we’re really saying that God can’t take care of us, that our problems are bigger than His promises. What did you worry about this week? How much time did you spend worrying? What did your worrying accomplish? Absolutely nothing, right? You may now have an ulcer, though. Seriously, I heard recently that over 100 diseases can be directly attributed to worry!

Worry is a burden God never intended you to bear, but if you choose to bear it He will allow you to suffer the consequences. Will you confess your worry to the Lord? Unless you call worry sin, there’s no need for the Prince of Peace to come and deliver you from your sin. Peace of mind comes through the mind of Christ.
Paul indicates that the cure to anxiety is “worry about nothing, pray about everything.” Verse 6 uses no less than four different terms for prayer:
(1) “Prayer” (proseuche): This is the broadest word for communication with God.
(2) “Supplication” (deesis): The word used here conveys the sincere sharing of personal needs and problems.
(3) “Thanksgiving” (eucharistia): Our prayers should be accompanied by a heart of gratitude for all that God has done for us in the past.
(4) “Requests” (aitema): This word speaks of specific petitions rather than vague and hazy generalities. Paul makes it clear that worry and prayer cannot coexist at the same time. You can either pray or worry, but you can’t pray and worry. What God wants is for you to counter worry with prayer. Therefore, when you are tempted to worry, why not attempt to pray? It may be just a five second “arrow prayer” shot up to heaven. Prayer is critical as we seek to break this cherished evangelical sin.
In 4:7, Paul promises, “If you choose to pray instead of worry, God will cover you.” He writes, “And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” The phrase “the peace of God” occurs nowhere else in the New Testament. When you pray instead of worry, God’s experiential peace will flood your being. The verb “guard” (phroureo) is a military term which refers to a sentry’s responsibility to protect a camp or castle as he marches around securing that which is valuable and strategic. The peace of God will watch over and warn us against any intruders. If the peace of God is not ruling or standing sentry over our inner man, then an unwanted intruder has already entered. When God’s peace floods our lives, it will protect our valuable hearts from wrong feelings and our strategic minds from wrong thoughts. The enemy is unable to get in when God’s peace protects us. As we rest our case and transfer our troubles to God, “Corporal Peace” is appointed the duty of marching as a silent sentry around our minds and emotions, calming us within.
Paul not only discusses how we should pray (4:6–7), he also reminds us how we should think and what we should do in the midst of conflict and church strife (4:8–9). Paul gives six characteristics, followed up with a summary and comprehensive command: “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” (4:8).

These six character qualities do not need to be further studied because Paul tacks on “if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise.” Paul is writing in broad, sweeping terms of any behavior that is godly. The interesting twist in 4:8 is that Paul is still speaking of conflict in the local church. Yet, we typically apply these character qualities to specific areas of our lives that are unrelated (e.g., “whatever is true” = integrity at work; “whatever is pure” = purity on my computer). While these applications are beneficial, it is better to apply these qualities directly to conflict (e.g., “whatever is true” = I need to find truth in my conflict; “whatever is lovely” = I need to believe the best about my adversary).
Paul urges you to “dwell” or “think” on godly characteristics that will help you in the midst of conflict. The word here is the verb logizomai, a term from which we get the mathematical term logarithm. In this context, logizomai means to carefully and calculatingly contemplate these virtues the same way that you would work out a mathematical problem. Similarly, church conflict is like a complex math problem that you must carefully and strategically think through until you solve the problem.

We have seen that when we pray, we experience the peace of God (4:6–7). Now we will see in 4:8-9 that when we “practice” we experience the God of peace. Paul transitions from attitude to action and lays down his final command: “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.” Paul is no “ivory tower teacher;” he is a man who lives “in the trenches” with those he seeks to teach and to lead.
As far as we can know, Mahatma Gandhi never became a Christian, but he made a statement that we who follow Jesus would do well to ponder. When asked to put his message into one short sentence, he replied, “My life is my message.” This could be the title of Paul’s biography. Likewise, Paul wants and expects his readers to follow in his footsteps. Thus, he says, “Keep on practicing these things” (present active imperative). Do not be just hearers, but doers (cf. Luke 11:28; Jas 1:22). When hearing is followed up with doing “the peace of God will be with you.” As you practice God’s Word in conflict in sour relationships, God will be present in a powerful way.
Please slip a rubber band on one of your wrists. Now whenever you recognize you’re not rejoicing, flick yourself. When you sense a lack of gentleness, hurt yourself. Five minutes from now when you find yourself filled with worry, nail yourself. When you begin thinking about ungodly characteristics, snap yourself silly. When you are convicted over your lack of living like a doer of the Word, draw that rubber band back and prepare to say “ouch!” If you’re really audacious, take off your rubber band and use it on someone else! God wants to change you and those around you. But sometimes there needs to be negative reinforcement. This is how things work in almost every family. Yet, God’s heart is that you would recognize you are His child. He loves you. He wants you to have peace of mind, but it can only occur by having the mind of Christ.