The Expository Files

 

 An Attitude Well Pleasing to God

Philippians 4:4-9
 

 
God is concerned with what we do, what we say, and what we think. However, what we do, say, and think is all the result of the kind of attitude that characterizes our minds. Our English word "attitude" comes to us through French, Italian, and Latin from a Greek word that meant "to fasten." It is something that has fastened itself to our minds. Sometimes the term refers to a bodily posture showing a mental state or mood. Brethren used to discuss if there is any specific “attitude” for prayer, such as kneeling, that is commanded. Sometimes it describes any manner that shows one's disposition, but we usually use it to identify the disposition itself, that is, one's nature, temperament, or frame of mind.

The book of Philippians is filled with exhortations by the apostle Paul to the saints at Philippi about having a good attitude. In chapter one he talks about his own attitude of desiring to magnify Christ whether by life or death, and in chapter twp he encourages the brethren to have the mind or the attitude in them that was in Christ. Listen now to what he tells them in Philippians 4:4-9: “Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice! Let your gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand. 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 understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things. The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace will be with you.” In this text, the apostle gives some specific advice on how to maintain an attitude well pleasing to God.

Joy
He says that we need to have an attitude of joy. “Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice!” (v. 4). Sometimes we use the words joy and happiness pretty much as synonyms, but there are times when it is important to make a distinction. Happiness in primarily an outward emotional reaction to pleasant circumstances, but joy is a deep, inner characteristic that continues to exist even in unpleasant circumstances and in fact serves to sustain us through those bad times. That's why Jesus could say, “Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:11-12). In fact, we often define the word translated “blessed” as meaning happy or fortunate.

We all experience trials, difficulties, and problems in life that make us unhappy, and there is nothing wrong with feeling unhappy in such situations. But as Christians, we can still rejoice even when we are sad. Remember, Paul said, “Rejoice…always.” But how is that possible? We can rejoice always “in the Lord.” Paul helps us understand what this means in Romans 12:12 when he says, “Rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation, continuing steadfastly in prayer.” No matter what happens to us in this life, Christians can rejoice in their hope. Did not Jesus say, “For great is your reward in heaven”? Children of God can get through whatever tribulations we face because we have hope. Charles Wesley put it this way:
Rejoice in glorious hope! Our Lord the Judge shall come,
And take His servants up to their eternal home.
Lift up your heart, lift up your voice,
Rejoice, again I say, rejoice!

Gentleness
Paul also says that we need to have an attitude of gentleness. “Let your gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand” (v. 5). The King James Version uses the word “moderation.” The New King James footnote gives the alternate translations of “graciousness or forbearance.” McKnight says that the word "means meekness under provocation, readiness to forgive injuries, equity in the management of business, candor in judging of the characters and actions of others, sweetness of disposition, and the entire government of the passions." A form of the same word is used in Titus 3:2, “to speak evil of no one, to be peaceable, gentle, showing all humility to all men” where it is translated “gentle.”

Basically, we should treat others as we expect others to treat us. We want people to be nice to us, so we should be nice to them. However, there is another reason that Paul gives. “The Lord is at hand.” He does not say coming of the Lord is at hand, but the Lord Himself is at hand, that is, He is near, both to mark how we behave and to assist us in doing what is right. “And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account… Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:13-16). Since nothing is hidden from His sight, we should come boldly to the throne of grace that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help us be gentle and forbearing.

Prayer
Then, Paul says that we need to have an attitude of prayer. “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God” (v. 6). First, he tells us, "Be anxious for nothing." Anxiety or worry, which has apparently always been a difficulty for mankind but seems to be a special problem in our time of uncertainty, is a symptom of a lack of trust in God. In Matthew 6:25-34, Jesus Himself warns us not to worry about such things as food, clothing, tomorrow. But how do we keep from being anxious or worrisome?
Paul tells us instead that in everything, by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, we should let our requests be made known to God. Prayer is God's antidote to worry. Over and over again, the Bible promises Christians that God will hear and answer our prayers (James 5:13-18). “The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.” Therefore, we can be assured that prayer will make a difference. Why? Because prayer is the supreme manifestation of trust in God. Joseph M. Scriven reminds us that because we have a friend in Jesus:
"O what peace we often forfeit,
O what needless pain we bear,
All because we do not carry
Everything to the Lord in prayer.”

Peace
Paul next says that we need to have an attitude of peace. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (v. 7). The result of casting all our cares on God in prayer is that His peace will guard or sustain our hearts and minds. While the Bible definitely teaches that we should strive to be at peace with others, the kind of peace that Paul's talking about is peace with God, the kind of peace that Jesus came to bring mankind. “For He Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation….And He came and preached peace to you who were afar off and to those who were near” (Ephesians 2:11-18). He made peace between Jew and Gentile because He made it possible for both to be at peace with God.

Therefore, by submitting ourselves to God and trusting implicitly in Him, we can have the kind of peace that Paul describes in Colossians 3:15. “And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you are called in one body, and be thankful.” So, either we can let anxiety and worry rule our hearts, or we can let the peace of God rule in our hearts. The people of this world are eagerly seeking peace, but they can never find it apart from Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace.

Meditation
Again, Paul says that we need to have an attitude of meditation. “Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things” (v. 8). While Christians would oppose the mindless type of transcendental meditation found in Eastern religion, there is a kind of meditation that God wants. “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the path of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His law he meditates day and night” (Psalm 1:1-2). We do not sit around and say "ohm," but we do think about what God's word says in every choice we have to make and every situation we face. “Oh, how I love Your law! It is my meditation all the day” (Psalm 119:97).

We are all going to think about something or other; to please God, we need to put away all thoughts that are in opposition to God's word. “For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:3-5). Rather, we ought to spend our time thinking about things which are true, noble, just, pure, lovely, and of good report according to the standard of God's law. That is why we need to be careful about what we read, watch on television, hear in music, see in movies, etc. Do these things help us meditate on the law of the Lord or do they cause thoughts that are not in harmony with God's ways?

Obedience
Finally, Paul says that we need an attitude of obedience. “The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace will be with you” (v. 9). Basically, obedience is doing God's will. “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven” (Matthew 7:21). One way in which we discern God's will is by what we learn, receive, hear, and see from inspired men like Paul as recorded in the scriptures.

However, true obedience is not just following these men as such, but rather following what they reveal to us from Christ. Paul said, “Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ” (1 Corinthians 11.1). In fact, he also wrote, “Therefore be imitators of God as dear children. And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma” (Ephesians 5:1-2). Hence, our obedience is ultimately to Jesus Christ alone. “Though He was a Son, yet He learned obedience by the things which He suffered. And having been perfected, He became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him” (Hebrews 5:8-9). When we obey Christ, we know that we are doing the will of the Father in heaven.

Conclusion
If we shall rejoice in the Lord always, let our gentleness be known to all men, be characterized by prayer rather than by anxiety, have the peace of God ruling our hearts, meditate on the law of the Lord, and do God's will in all things, then we shall have an attitude well pleasing to God. Of course, as Christians, we sometimes fail in one or more of these areas and are guilty of sin. However, God is gracious to offer forgiveness as we repent, confess, and pray; and also He offers help to do better. Remember what we read in Hebrews 4:16. “Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” And in everything, let us strive to be obedient to Christ, knowing that He is “the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him.”
 

By Wayne S. Walker 
From Expository Files 19.10; October 2012

 

 

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