Kevin A. Pierpont
Higgins Lake Baptist Church
My brother Ken wrote this not too long ago:
Pastor Chen spent eighteen years in a prison work camp in China. Because he came from a background of moderate wealth and opportunity the guards at the camp worked hard to break his spirit and indoctrinate him. He was so hungry at times that he was tempted to eat toothpaste. He was separated from his wife and his young church. While he was in prison, his wife died.
One of his greatest hardships was that he had no privacy to worship or pray or read or memorize the Scripture. He was under constant surveillance. Frequently he prayed that God would allow him a place of privacy so he could enjoy fellowship with God.
Soon the prison officials gave him a new assignment. In order to break his spirit and indoctrinate him they gave him the most difficult work assignment in the camp. They assigned him to the camp cesspool.
The sewer pit where he worked served 60,000 prisoners. His assignment was to scoop out human waste to be used for fertilizer. No one else wanted the job because it was lonely and repulsive and they feared deadly diseases.
How did Pastor Chen hold up and stand fast in the Lord under these extremely difficult circumstances? I’ll share with you in a bit what happened with Pastor Chen. I began with his story because I want to help you to see that you are not alone in your walk with Christ. You are not the only one who faces difficulties and hardships and even persecution. I doubt any of us have faced the kind of persecution that Pastor Chen has.
In our studies here in Philippians 4 we’ve been examining Paul’s emphasis on the spiritually stable Christian—the Christian that stands fast in the Lord. We’ve been discussing how the believer is able to stand fast in the Lord and be stable in this life when we face temptation, trials and uncertainty, opposition and persecution for our belief in Jesus Christ. We’ve seen and applied to our own lives what will be true of those who are followers of Christ that stand fast and are spiritually stable in the midst of the difficulties of this life.
Last week we noted in Philippians 4:8 that Paul is bringing to a conclusion his thoughts about the spiritually stable Christian and we saw how Paul shows us that to be spiritually stable we must think right.
If you wish to be standing fast for the cause of Christ—if you want to be steady and stable in your Christian walk—and I can only assume that you at least have some interest in this because you are here to meet around God’s Word today—then you need to think right. You need to be certain that your thinking is grounded in truth—the truth of God’s Word.
Let’s understand that stability as believers all begins with the way we think. That’s why Paul says that we are to meditate on, or think on, things that are true, noble, just, pure, and lovely and of good report—anything that has virtue and anything praiseworthy (Phil. 4:8)—these are the things we are to meditate on.
We noted last time that we do this by first being people of the Word—people who love and fill their lives with God’s Word and make it a practice to be in God’s Word daily. We noted Colossians 3:16 that says we are to, Let the word of Christ dwell in [us] richly in all wisdom…
You cannot be the stable believer God wants you to be apart from allowing God’s Word to change your thinking—from the inside out. You need God’s Word in your life to have your thinking changed.
We also noted that another facet of changing our thinking involves limiting or even removing influences of inappropriate thinking. There are some blatantly obvious ways that the world influences us with wrong thinking—thinking that is in opposition to God’s Word. But some of that wrong thinking gets into our lives in very subtle ways. So right thinking will take some effort on our part. We must be aware of the subtle ways wrong thinking develops and avoid or limit those influences.
Now as Paul concludes his thoughts on the stable Christian he gives us one more piece of instruction that points out what the believer must do if he or she is to be standing fast in the Lord and stable in the Christian life.
Philippians 4:9 – The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace will be with you.
I want you to note that what we find in verse 9 emphasizes that we don’t stop at right thinking, but there must also be action on the part of the follower of Christ. It starts with right thinking. Godly thinking will cause us to act in a God honoring way. But Godly thinking without Godly actions and Godly living is disobedience.
I could ask one of my children to rake the leaves or shovel the snow our fill the wood box. They might say, “yes sir, I’ll do that” and they may even head out the door. It looks like they are obeying, but on the other side of the door they get distracted and spend the next 30 minutes doing something else. Have they obeyed? They agreed that they needed to do the thing I asked but until they do the thing they know they must do they have not obeyed.
Godly thinking must lead to Godly living and when we think right and live right we will be believers that are stable in Christ—standing fast in the Lord.
Right thinking must translate into right living if we are to be spiritually stable Christians.
Paul says in verse 9, The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do—that is the true, noble, just, pure, and lovely and of good report—anything that has virtue and anything praiseworthy—these do. But I want you to note something.
The word do here in the KJV/NKJV doesn’t give us the full meaning the Greek holds. Right thinking translated into right living is more than doing. The NASB and ESV translate the Greek word used here more accurately. In place of do they use the word practice. The Greek word means to exercise, practice, to be busy with, carry on. And practice gives us a better idea of how we are to live right.
What is practice? Why does the word practice better describe for us what Paul is saying here?
I would say it this way. What we practice becomes habit. As the saying goes, practice makes perfect. What we practice becomes habit. And for the Christian to continually live right, there must be the disciplined practice of doing the right things over and over and over again.
And whether or not we make it a habit to think on these things that Paul mentions in verse 8 and whether we live out and practice those things will determine whether or not we are spiritually stable—standing fast in the Lord—as believers.
Let’s look at what Paul says the Philippian believers are to practice. He says, the things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me.
What are these things learned and received, heard and seen?
I think we can group these four things into two categories. Paul says, practice the Godly teaching you’ve learned and received and practice the Godly example you’ve heard and seen.
So what is the Godly teaching the Philippian believers received?
When Paul mentions things learned he’s talking about his instruction to them. It would include his preaching and teaching whether in public or in private. They did not have the New Testament as we do but they did have the apostles. So he says you are to practice what I taught you.
He also says they are to practice the things received. We could say this is the same thing as what was taught but I think he’s referring to what God has revealed to him that he is in turn revealing to them, teaching them. Most commentators agree that this is what’s meant here that this is a term for what has been revealed by God. These things that God has given to Paul they are receiving from Him as from God.
So there is Godly teaching they are to practice. They are to practice the things learned from him and those things received from God through him.
There’s also a Godly example they are to practice.
Paul says that they are to practice the things heard. Certainly they heard much of Paul’s ministry and his exemplary life lived for Christ. He was a great example for them of the way a believer is to live in the midst of trial and adversity. He certainly experienced much trial and adversity.
John MacArthur says that, “the Apostles were called not only to walk with Christ but they were called to be living models of New Testament Christianity before the early church.” 1
And that’s what Paul was—a model of New Testament Christianity. So he says that they should practice the things they’ve heard of him and his Christian walk.
He also says that they are to practice the things seen. They no doubt saw his Christian walk also. Paul had walked and eaten and lived with them and so they knew his walk with Christ was something they could model and practice.
So Paul says that they should practice what they’ve learned from his teaching and what they received through him from God and what they’ve heard and seen of his Christ like walk. He says, “this is your example—now practice it—live it”.
And though we now have the New Testament we are not excused to live any way we like. No I believe that those that name the name of Christ are to live in such a way that they could say to another believer—you can follow my example—you can live the way I’m living because I’m following Christ. Follow my practices.
Parents—we need to be living and practicing those things that are true, noble, just, pure, and lovely and of good report—anything that has virtue and anything praiseworthy—these are the things we should practice so that our children can follow our example and in turn practice Godly living. Our young people need to hear our Godly teaching and see our Godly example. They need to see our right thinking turn to right living.
This isn’t only critical for parents but for grandparents and neighbors and friends and co-workers. Those who claim to follow Christ should have a life that is Godly teaching and a Godly example.
Now look at what the results are for those who practice what has been learned, received, heard and seen.
Paul says the God of peace will be with you—right living will always bring peace.
Isaiah 32:17 The work of righteousness will be peace, And the effect of righteousness, quietness and assurance forever.
Isaiah 48:18 Oh, that you had heeded My commandments! Then your peace would have been like a river, And your righteousness like the waves of the sea.
Isaiah 48:22 “There is no peace,” says the Lord, “for the wicked.”
Right living always brings peace because the God of peace will always provide peace for you when your life honors Him.
Warren Wiersbe says,
Read carefully James 4:1–11 and note that wrong praying (4:3), wrong living (4:4), and wrong thinking (4:8) produce war instead of peace! 2
James 4:1 Where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members? 2 You lust and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war. Yet you do not have because you do not ask.
Here’s wrong prayer, (v.3)
3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures.
Here’s wrong living, (v.4)
4 Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. 5 Or do you think that the Scripture says in vain, “The Spirit who dwells in us yearns jealously”? 6 But He gives more grace. Therefore He says: “God resists the proud, But gives grace to the humble.” 7 Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. 8 Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.
Here’s wrong thinking (v.8b)
Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9 Lament and mourn and weep! Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up. 11 Do not speak evil of one another, brethren. He who speaks evil of a brother and judges his brother, speaks evil of the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge.
Now listen to the contrast in James 3:17,
James 3:17 – But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable…
I want you to understand today that right thinking is only possible for the Christian—it’s only possible for the one who believes in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. It is only through the power of the Holy Spirit that we are able to be doers of the word, and not hearers only (James 1:22). It is because the believer has the presence of the Holy Spirit in them that it’s possible for them to think right and have right attitudes and to live right and to be at peace no matter what the circumstances.
What happened with Pastor Chen.
His heart was broken when he went to work on his new assignment [in the camp cesspool]. Day after day working in the foul pit he wondered if his prayers were heard. To withstand the hardship he sang and prayed and quoted scripture aloud. One day it occurred to him that his assignment was a specific answer to prayer.
Because he worked in such a foul hole none of the guards would get anywhere near him. He worked completely alone. He could pray and sing and quote scripture as loud as he wanted. He began to thank God and rejoice. There was no one there to hear him but his faithful God. His cesspool assignment lasted six years and miraculously he never contracted a disease from it.
When he was released the church for which he had labored and prayed had exploded in growth and vitality. He traveled to poor villages where he saw the hand of God at work. He represented the cause of the suffering church in China around the world.
Speaking before a huge missionary conference years later he told the story of God’s faithfulness to him in prison. With bright eyes he spoke of the fellowship that he enjoyed with the Lord in the prison cesspool. Standing before the huge crowd the small Chinese pastor began to sing the song that he used to sing in the prison sewer.
I come to the garden alone
While the dew is still on the roses…
And He walks with me and he talks with me
And He tells me I am His own
And the joy we share as we tarry there
None other has ever known.
Pastor Chen had learned the secret to rejoicing is not perfect circumstances but a consciousness of the presence of the Lord Jesus. “… in his presence is fullness of joy…” (Psalm 16:11) 3
Was he alone? No he had the Holy Spirit, his thinking was and attitudes were right and as a result of the Holy Spirit’s work making possible the right thinking and attitudes he was able to live right. Even in the midst of terribly difficult circumstances, the God of peace was with him.
And we too can stand firm for Christ in the midst of adversity—spiritually stable and strong—when we allow the Holy Spirit to shape and make our thinking right. And it is then we’ll be equipped to live right for the cause of Christ with the peace giving presence of God.
1“The Model of Spiritual Stability” Philippians 4:9 by John MacArthur (http://www.biblebb.com/files/MAC/50-42.HTM)
2 Wiersbe, W. W. (1997, c1992). Wiersbe’s expository outlines on the New Testament (Page 571). Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books.
3 Ken Pierpont, Pastor Chen (http://kenpierpont.com/mt_archive/000512.php)