Spiritual Discipline Series
This year, Expository Files will features 12 articles on Spiritual Disciplines For Every Christian. Our writers will convey to us from the Bible, the simple disciplines that need our attention, to please God and be effective, disciplined people.
By “spiritual discipline” we mean those things God has given us to do. When done consistently, we not only glorify God and serve others well, we build discipline and long-term strength into our lives.
As I begin to write this article, I am sitting on the deck just outside my kitchen. Do you get the picture? About ten feet away from me is my dog, Dutch. He has been a companion in the Brand household for about fifteen years. He seems almost human at times. Sometimes it seems that he tries to talk. He appears to know some things about my wife and me, and also about the world we live in. You can almost see the wheels turning in his brain.
But it is an illusion. He cannot think. This is an important difference between him and me. I am persuaded God created these differences, and no amount of macroevolution will make a substantial change. As much as I love Dutch, he will never be anything more than a dog.
Descartes ( 1596-1650 ) observed a fundamental characteristic of humans. He wrote, “Cogito ergo sum,” which means “I think, therefore I am.” We can reverse this Latin formula: “Sum ergo cogito,” “I am, therefore I think.” This is what humans do, dogs and all other non-human animals do not. We are made to think.
This capability of thinking is a God-given apparatus. Moses writes about the created world in Genesis one. Consider Gen. 1:25, “God made the beasts of the earth after their kind, and the cattle after their kind, and everything that creeps on the ground after its kind; and God saw that it was good.” Notice the last word in that sentence, “good.” We will have more to say about this in a moment.
In the next sentence, Gen. 1:27, Moses describes the creation of man. There is a profound difference between the previously created animals and the last created one. Man was created in God’s “own image.” God purposed the creation of the man to be like Him in an important sense. If God purposed such a creation, He thought about it; He contemplated creating a being which resembled Himself in an important aspect.
Man can think. Have you ever thought about this? Of course. You are thinking about it now if your mind is engaged in reading these words. Thinking is something we do all the time. We do other things all the time too, like breathing; but we don’t have to think about breathing. It is automatic.
Thinking, really contemplating about visual and audible information is hard work. It is important, critical work.
I am looking at a graphic with these words: “We become what we think.” Think about that. Solomon stated the same thing in Prov. 23:7, “For as he thinks within himself, so he is.” Sort of frightening, isn’t it? What we think about is the material we use to construct who we are. What we feed our minds will be digested and will produce the person we are.
Thinking requires a vocabulary. Words are the vehicles of communication and thought. Recall the reference I made earlier when God created the land animals. He pronounced His work “good.” What did He think about all the animals He created? All were good. You get the picture? He was not disappointed in anything He created. It was all good.
It is obvious that not everything we can think about is good. This is one reason we need a vocabulary which will result in good thinking, healthy thinking. Scripture provides words designed to produce thinking which forms worthwhile character. Consider (think about) Philippians 4:8. Paul provides six words for a vocabulary builder. The six words are: (1) true, (2) honorable, (3) right, (4) pure, (5) lovely, and (6) good repute.
These words are in every English dictionary, but not in everyone’s vocabulary. Are they in yours? It is critical to my spiritual well-being to understand these words and incorporate them into my thinking. If I do, this is the kind of person I will become.
Consider what these words mean.
(1) True. Jesus’ enemies used this word to describe what Jesus taught and how He lived, Matt. 22:16-“Teacher we know that you are truthful and teach the way of God in truth…..” Jesus is the embodiment of what is truth. Our world desperately needs exposure to what Jesus brings. Can there be a higher compliment paid than to say a person is truthful in word and deed?
(2) Honorable. This is a rare word in the New Testament. It occurs three times and is usually translated or honorable, dignified. What Bible characters come to mind when you think of this word? Abraham? Moses? Job? Barnabas? Elizabeth? Mary? Deacons are to be “men of dignity,” 1 Tim. 3:8.
(3) Right. Right! In a world which had confused moral values, Paul uses the cement of truth to affirm the existence of what is right, as in virtuous and upright. As an illustration of what this concept means, I am impressed with Joseph’s behavior toward Mary when he thought she had been sexually promiscuous. Instead of exposing Mary’s supposed transgression, he determined to put her away without public humiliation.Why? Because he was a righteous man, Matt. 1:19. This is the way righteous people behave.
(4) Pure. Do you remember an old ad for Ivory soap? The ad proudly proclaimed Ivory soap was “99-44/100% pure.” No bad stuff in its soap. Paul is not concerned with physical impurities. He lived in a dirty world! His concern was for moral and spiritual purity and cleanliness. He advised his son in the faith, Timothy, to keep himself “free from sin,” 1 Tim. 5:22. That is our word “pure.” Sin contaminates everything and everyone it touches. Learn to identify it and stay away.
(5) Lovely. This word stands all by itself in the New Testament. It would be easy to assume that it refers to what is lovely or beautiful to the eyes. Is not beauty in the eyes of the beholder? What’s beautiful to me may not be seen that way by you. It is not physical loveliness the writer encourages us to appreciate, but rather those things and persons which are acceptable to God. Consider the Psalmist’s expression in Psalm 84:1, “How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord of hosts!” This appreciation of the Lord’s dwelling place leads him to write in the next verse, “My soul longs, yes, faints for the courts of the Lord; my heart and flesh sing for joy to the living God.”
(6). Good repute. Here is another orphan word in the New Testament. It is variously translated good report or commendable. We commend what or whom we approve. Paul commends sister Phoebe (Rom. 16:1) to the Corinthian church. She was a “servant of the church which is at Cenchrea.” I don’t think this sister was a servant of the church there so that she could receive the commendation of Paul. I suspect she might have been somewhat embarrassed when she heard her name mentioned when this letter was read in Rome. The media often commend or report as news those things which ought to cause us to tremble. Let us be the broadcasters of things and people which are good.
These six words are the lenses that saints should use in evaluating the world around us. Satan and his cohorts hate these terms, for they are contrary to all he wishes to accomplish in this world. His way of living appeals to the coarseness of human nature. The exhortation of Scripture calls to our higher nature, what we were created to be.
Fill your 3 mind with the food and nourishment which these words of Scripture provide. Want to change who you are? Change your diet and vocabulary. If you follow Paul’s advice, “…the God of peace will be with you.” (Phil. 4:9)By Ed Brand From Expository Files 23.11; November 2016