We finish up this verse today. An idol isn't necessarily something made with hands. And a lot of times we don’t even recognize that something like that is an idol. If you grow up around Knoxville—or Syracuse, like I did—college football and basketball are part of the cultural fabric. You don’t think of it as something you “put before God.” It’s just like eating and sleeping. If the Georgetown game starts at noon, a lot of people miss church in the morning. Around here, if the Florida game is on Saturday night, “Bobby Joe ain't here this morning; he must have watched the game last night.” But the fact that these things are “part of the culture” is not an excuse.
When the apostle Paul was writing his various letters to the different churches, he didn’t excuse the cultural influences of those areas. For example, Paul lays into the church at Corinth about their tolerance of sin in 1st Corinthians 5:1-2—It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and such sexual immorality as is not even named among the Gentiles—that a man has his father's wife! And you are puffed up, and have not rather mourned, that he who has done this deed might be taken away from among you. Apparently, it was a common practice for these people to have relations with—from everything I've read—their stepmother. “Hey, what’s so wrong with that—everybody does it!” What would be some example of that today? People living together before they're married. Teenagers having sex. Female teachers seducing young boys. Drugs. Many people who want to see marijuana legalized send up the crythat “It’s just pot!” Uh, just for the record--no, it's not "just pot." It leads to other things that we do not have time or room to gatalog here.
And just like the church at Corinth, there are many Christians who wouldn’t have a problem compromising on these things. And for no other reason than the fact that these things are part of the culture we live in. And that’s all Satan really wants, is just a little bit of compromise, so that he can slither in and widen that gap between the church and holiness.
These Philippians were, more than likely, being influenced by Roman philosophy, which was filled with humanism. Just like the Corinthians were steeped in Greek philosophy, which was also filled with humanism. So these Philippians had the same problem that faces any new believer in Christ today. “I’ve been watching this stuff and listening to this stuff and doing all this garbage all my life—what do I do now?” I think Paul would say, “Chuck it all; get rid of it.” And it’s interesting, in this verse, he doesn’t give us a list of things that we shouldn’t read or watch or listen to. Because if he did, the scroll would probably be about 2 feet across, and if you rolled it out it would go all the way to Virginia Ave. But he does give us a snapshot of the qualities we should look for in those things we use to occupy our time.
Philippians 4:8—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.
Any parents reading this, stop me if you’ve ever had this conversation with your kids: They ask if they can go over to Jimmy’s house. You say, “Yeah, but don’t go anywhere else.” But then they ask, “Well, we were thinking about going over to Donny’s place.” And you know the kind of kid Donny is, and you say, “Absolutely not!” Then, “…Well, can we at least go over to—” “NO!! You can go to Jimmy’s. That’s it!!”
Do you necessarily give him this big long list of places he can't go? No. What do you give him? A short list of places he can go. That is what Paul does here. Rather than spell out this exhaustive list of things to avoid, he gives a list of the qualities of things they should meditate upon. And notice something else—he doesn’t point out specific writers or authors to avoid, and he doesn’t give a list of specific writers and authors that they should read. He simply gives us a litmus test to use when considering those things that we should put before our eyes and take in through our ears. We’ve seen that we should meditate on things that teach truth. Things that are dedicated to the worship of God. Things that lead one into righteousness. Things that teach us how to live in purity. Things that bring us into brotherly love with one another. Things that declare good things. And today we’re going to look at these last two qualities that Paul lists.
First, if there is any virtue. The word translated “virtue” literally means “a virtuous course of thought, feeling and action; moral excellence.” What Paul is saying here is, “Anything that displays 'a virtuous course of thought, feeling and action'--think on it.” And keep thinking on it. And live it.” Much like what he said back in Philippians 3:17—Brethren, join in following my example, and note those who so walk, as you have us for a pattern. I was just listening one of my pastor's messages from about 2008 about that passage in Philippians 3. And he mentioned that other than the Bible, his next favorite things to read are the biographies of godly men—men who have lived their lives as a pattern of “virtue”—that is, “a virtuous course of thought, feeling and action” in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. I'm gonna give you a little snippet from that message:
“Next to the Bible, my life has been most drastically touched by reading the biographies of men and women that have been tremendously used by God. Their flaws have actually served as an encouragement to me…I was thinking of the biographies that I read at different stages of my life and how they impacted me. One of the earliest was C. T. Studd who was extremely wealthy and gave it all away and spent much of his life in Africa…and was used of God to bring untold numbers of Africans to Christ. Then there was Reece Howells…When I saw his passion for prayer, my life and my prayer life was deeply impacted. I remember reading…of Dawson Trotman, the founder of the Navigators and developed a hunger to memorize Scripture and disciple people who come to Christ. Then, there was Hudson Taylor and His willingness to pay any price to get the gospel to the Chinese.”
You see what happens? When you meditate on things that have “virtue”—things that map out “a virtuous course of thought, feeling and action,” then you live a life that has, as its pattern, “a virtuous course of thought, feeling and action.” And I think it’s safe to say that Pastor Phil puts that principle on display in his own life. That his life displays the virtue and moral excellence of these other godly men.
Now, this word that Paul uses, this is the only time he uses it. But the apostle Peter uses it three times in his two letters. 1st Peter 2:9 (ESV, NASB)—But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. See where it says that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you? The KJV and the NKJV, instead of "excellencies", they both translate that word as “praises.” That you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you. That’s not necessarily wrong, because praise is excellent. But it kinda misses the mark just a little. What Peter is saying is that God has chosen us, called us, set us apart for His possession so that we may proclaim to the world how excellent He is. Peter wrote his 2nd epistle as a warning to avoid false teachers. And in 2nd Peter 1:5-7—Giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love. Notice the first thing he tells us to do. He says if you have faith, add to it “moral excellence.” And when you have added moral excellence to your faith, add knowledge to both of them. Then when you have added virtue and knowledge to your faith, add self-control to all three of those, and so on.
And the reason he teaches us to build up all these things on top of and integrate them into the others is found in 2nd Peter 1:8-10—If these things are yours and abound, you will be neither barren nor unfruitful…he who lacks these things is shortsighted, even to blindness…if you do these things you will never stumble. In other words, he’s saying, “Are you saved? You are? Then think like you're saved and act like you're saved and live like you're saved!” Basically. And how do we add virtue to our faith? If there is any virtue…meditate on these things.
Finally, if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things. If you find something that gives honest praise to God—if that something displays the greatness, the glory, the holiness and righteousness and justice of God—take it! Take it in. Fill your mind with it. And declare it. During this time, basically the very infancy of the Christian church (let alone the church at Philippi), there weren’t really a lot of writings available to them that gave praise to God and to His Christ. So Paul is basically telling them, “If you find anything that teaches you the truth of God, that directs your worship of Him, that declares His goodness, that directs you in 'a virtuous course of thought, feeling and action,' and which gives praise to Almighty God—meditate on it!”
There were more than enough writings which declared the goodness and praises of men. But we’re talking about a period which was maybe 30 or so years after the death and resurrection of Christ. So the only Christian writings that existed at this time were probably some of Paul’s letters to various churches, and those probably not in wide distribution. Mark’s gospel may have been around for a couple years, maybe Matthew’s gospel. So whatever they could get their hands on, that gave praise to God, they were encouraged to do so.
How many times do we hear people use this phrase: “Praise God!” How many of those people actually mean it? So many people walk around with “Praise God” or “Praise Jesus” on their lips, and they have no idea what they're talking about. And I dare say, somewhere in the backs of their minds they're thinking something like, “Oh, I just made God happy because I said ‘Praise God!’” Question is, what G/god(s) are they praising? Basically, what they are praising is their “good fortune.” Now, don’t get me wrong here. God does cause “good things” to happen to wicked people. Matthew 5:45—“He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” God even causes the wicked to prosper. Daniel 5:18—“O king, the Most High God gave Nebuchadnezzar your father a kingdom and majesty, glory and honor.” Jeremiah 12:1-2 (NASB)—“Righteous are You, O LORD, that I would plead my case with You; indeed I would discuss matters of justice with You: Why has the way of the wicked prospered? Why are all those who deal in treachery at ease? You have planted them, they have also taken root; they grow, they have even produced fruit. You are near to their lips but far from their mind.” God even heals and gives “good things” to people that He knows will walk away from Him and be ungrateful for their blessing. Luke 17:11-17—Then as He entered a certain village, there met Him ten men who were lepers, who stood afar off. And they lifted up their voices and said, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” So when He saw them, He said to them, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” And so it was that as they went, they were cleansed. And one of them, when he saw that he was healed, returned, and with a loud voice glorified God, and fell down on his face at His feet, giving Him thanks. And he was a Samaritan. So Jesus answered and said, “Were there not ten cleansed? But where are the nine? Were there not any found who returned to give glory to God except this foreigner?”
Those other nine were like many people today. They have good things happen to them—and let’s put “good things” in quotation marks—their business is successful, their kids get into the best colleges, they have all the material things they need. But they ignore the One that allows them to have all those things. So when those people who have the “good things” constantly ignore God who gave them those things—or, allowed them to have those things—when they say, “Praise the Lord” while they're ignoring the Lord, they are praising what they think got them those things.
But now let’s see what happens when those that God calls His people praise Him in sincerity and with an attitude of worship. Deuteronomy 26:17-19—“Today you have proclaimed YHVH to be your God, and that you will walk in His ways and keep His statutes, His commandments, and His judgments, and that you will obey His voice. Also today YHVH has proclaimed you to be His special people, just as He promised you, that you should keep all His commandments, and that He will set you high above all nations which He has made, in praise, in name, and in honor, and that you may be a holy people to YHVH your God, just as He has spoken.” Now, that passage is talking about the people of Israel, and we need to be careful about taking promises God gave to Israel and thinking they all apply just the same to us today. But this could just as easily be talking about us. He has taken us to be His people. Jesus tells the church at Philadelphia in Revelation 3:9 (NASB)—“Behold, I will cause those of the synagogue of Satan, who say that they are Jews and are not, but lie—I will make them come and bow down at your feet, and make them know that I have loved you.” Those who do not know God give praise to God—even though they don’t know it’s a kind of phony praise—they are happy for the temporary, earthly things that they are only going to enjoy in this life.
But God has made us His people, and has given us eternal riches and eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord—and shouldn’t we be giving Him even more praise for that than the heathens do for their “stuff?” Acts 2:46-47—So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved. And it is our praises that show the world that we know God is king. Psalm 22:3—Yet You are holy, O You who are enthroned upon the praises of Israel.
We sing this old song:
To God be the glory, great things he has done
So loved he the world that he gave us his Son
Who yielded his life an atonement for sin
And opened the lifegate that we may go in.
Great things he has taught us, great things he has done
And great our rejoicing through Jesus the Son
But purer and higher and greater will be
Our wonder, our gladness, when Jesus we see.
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord; let the earth hear his voice
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord; let the people rejoice!
O come to the Father through Jesus the Son
And give him the glory; great things he has done.
Jesus Christ is Lord.