“With whom we all also once conducted ourselves in the cravings of our flesh, doing the desires of the flesh and the mind, and we were children by nature of wrath even as the rest.”
Sometimes there are little nuances in a text that can almost go unnoticed as we read through them and this verse contains one such little gem. When speaking of being children of wrath and being under the power of sin, Paul speaks of us pursuing the “desires of the flesh and of the mind.” As evangelical Christians, most of us are used to hearing the language of the lusts or desires of the flesh as a reference to sin, but in this case, Paul includes the lusts or desires of the mind as well.
By those who reject the doctrines of grace, it is suggested that the will of fallen man is just barely free enough to choose Christ. This is the kind of synergistic teaching that is found in Semi-Pelagianism, Arminianism, Wesleyanism, and modern Free-Will theologies. And with but one phrase, Paul refutes each and every one of these schools of thought. No, it is not just our flesh that is depraved, but our minds and wills too. We choose wrath and nothing but wrath until there is a gracious regenerative work done upon us by the Holy Spirit. Indeed, as John writes, Jesus did not entrust himself to men in the early days of his ministry because he knew what was in man (John 2:24-25).
You may remember that we discussed how in regeneration, the eyes of our hearts are enlightened (see discussion of Ephesians 1:18). What is important for the Christian is not to be able to discern our own will or what is right according to our own minds (that is the sin of Adam and Eve!) but what is important is that we learn to discern what is the will of God…for it is God’s will that is good and acceptable and perfect (Romans 12:2).
Without regeneration, our minds will only desire what our flesh desires; one of the changes that takes place in regeneration is that our minds desire what God desires. Indeed, that is often a struggle and we will not ever achieve that perfectly until we are in glory, but it is to be our desire. At the same time, this means that a mark of a believer — and most certainly a mark of a mature believer — is that we love the things of God and desire to think as God would have us think about matters, not as the world would do so. A worldly mind seeks pragmatic ends that achieve the desires of the person; a godly mind desires the glory of God even at great personal cost or sacrifice. How great a contrast is found between these two mind-sets. How great is the chasm between the believer and the unbeliever. And, how sad it is when churches look to the earthly wisdom of those who do not strive to discern the will of God.
Moses says that we are to love the Lord our God with all of our heart, with all of our soul, and with all of our abundance. Jesus clarifies and arguably expounds on this when he says that you are to love the Lord your God with all of your heart, soul, mind, and strength (Matthew 22:37). In fact, Jesus says that this is the first and the greatest commandment. I have written elsewhere on how Jesus’ language harmonizes with Moses’ and I have also explored each one of these aspects of loving God in depth — for our purposes here, let us say that Jesus is commanding us that we are to love God with every aspect of our being, both earthly and spiritual and even with our material possessions.
What I want to explore here is not so much the detail of loving God with the totality of your being, but why it is important to do so. Why should you love God with your heart, soul, mind, and strength…and, why should you love him with all and not some of these aspects of your character? Why not just give some while holding part of it back for yourself? Surely, that is what most professing Christians do anyway, is it not?
Billy Graham was well-known for saying, “If you want to know a person’s priorities, give me five minutes with his checkbook.” I prefer to ask the question in terms of how someone spends their time. There is work, sleep, eating, commuting, etc… that are required parts of living in this western world, but out of the day, how much time do you spend in prayer in comparison to how much time you spend watching television or playing video games? How much time is spent in reading your Bible in comparison to personal pleasure reading? According to a New York Times article from a few years back, American adults average about 4-5 hours of television (or other forms of entertainment — YouTube, movies, etc…) per day. If that describes you, may I ask if you are genuinely loving God with all of your being — in this case, with all of your time? Or, are you holding back?
Truly, I am not arguing that all television or other “screen-time” is bad; the occasional game, movie, or television show is not a bad thing (of course, I suppose that depends on what you are watching too…). But, what I am saying is that your prayer and devotional time should vastly outweigh the time you commit to entertainment. And when I say “vastly,” I do mean vastly.
It seems to me that when I hear preachers talking about why we are to love God with all, much of what I hear has to do with the benefits of doing so. People say that you will be more “spiritually fulfilled” or that you will discover the “blessings of God in your life.” And while this may be the case, it should say that these are (at best) only the byproducts of being wholly committed to God.
The real reason that you and I are to love God with all of our heart, mind, soul, and strength is because God is worthy of your love and your devotion. There are many things in your life that vie for your attention and for your affection, and many of these things are beautiful and wonderful things, but they are not God. God is infinitely better. And while you will gain incalculable satisfaction from worshiping him because he is worthy, an even better way of looking at it is that worshipping him is the only right thing we can do in life.
Truly, I do understand, none of us will do this perfectly in our lives. Thanks be to God that our eternal salvation does not depend on meriting anything — that work was done by Christ — but ought we not strive for what is right and true when we know it to be so?
The fourth question in the Heidelberg Catechism adds to this that the Law of God commands us to love Him with all of our heart and soul and mind and strength. Why a command? The answer is simple. The purpose of the Law is to instruct us in how to live in a way that is right (righteous) and true. If it is the right thing to do to honor God with all of our existence, is it any surprise that the law of God requires that we do the same. And again, this is not about earning merit or making points with God. This is simply proper and what is expected not just of redeemed Christians, but of the creation itself. Psalm 117 instructs even the pagan nations to praise God because God has been faithful to his own people (something they cannot say about their pagan idols).
“The last thing, brothers, is that whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is upright, whatever is holy, whatever is lovely, whatever is praiseworthy, if there is virtue and if there is praise, think on these things.”
There is one more aspect of Paul’s counsel to us here that we need to dwell upon…something of which we have spoken repeatedly throughout this letter that Paul writes. Paul writes of these things that are good and holy and praiseworthy and states that we must think on these things. Paul does not speak of how these things might make us feel or of how these things might move us. He says that we are to think on these matters — we are to reason them through and apply our minds in an orderly way to the ideas conveyed within that which is good and holy and praiseworthy.
The word that Paul uses here is logi/zomai (logizomai), and it means to come to a conclusion through a rational process. It refers to the notion of looking at all of the options that vie for our attention in a given area, to ponder them in our minds, and then to come to a reasoned decision about them. This is not a matter of feeling or of good wishes; this is not a matter of what emotions some experience might stir up within me; this is a matter of reasoned thought.
And if there is something that the church has abandoned over the past several decades, it is reason. Often worship services are all about how one feels. Often worship is only understood in the context of those happy songs that might be sung and one neglects that sitting under the instruction of God’s Word is also a vital aspect of worship. One also often forgets, when only the bouncy, happy songs are sung, that the Prophet-King, David, wrote more laments than he did bouncy-happy songs (not a surprise when you think about the fallen world in which we live!).
Even when it comes to doctrine…which simply is taken from the Latin word, doctrina, which means, “teaching,” people fail to use their reason. Every new idea is evaluated on the basis of preference and the feeling that it evokes rather than evaluating ideas as one rigorously reasons through the Word of God. This reasoning about the Word of God was the practice of the wise Bereans when Paul first showed up in their city (Acts 17:10-12). Shall this not be our practice as well? Woe to the church today that only moves only on the basis of their passions. Woe to the church whose feelings and emotions rule over their minds. For God has not called us to feel these things, he has called us to reason about them…to think them through…and to govern our passions with our minds and what we know is right.
There is no doubt that emotions have their place in the Christian life. God has made us with every expression of life that we attribute to the passions. Yet, the place of the passions is to be governed by the mind. The passions must be reminded by the mind what is right and true or the passions will descend into utter despair and irrationality. The mind must also defend the passions against the seduction of feeling, at least in the way feelings are often manipulated by those leading in worship or worse, from those leading into hedonistic error.
Further, the church in the west has dominantly bought the lie that there is a separation between our spiritual life and the life we live in every other context. The lie states that while reason is reserved for non-spiritual matters. Some even fear that they will lose their faith if they reason about what that which they say they believe! “If it makes you content and fulfilled,” the lie of the enemy states, “go on and have your religion, but keep it out of the marketplace.”
Yet, I tell you that Paul says that we ought to reason about our beliefs and further, if we do, it will mature and strengthen the beliefs we have! Further, Paul tells us that our religion belongs in the marketplace — do you not think that while Paul was making tents in Corinth that he was not “reasoning with” those for whom he made tents, to show the Jew that Jesus was the Christ from the scriptures and to show the Greek that Jesus was ultimately the reasonable redeemer whom we all need? Dear ones, do not give up on your minds. Do not “blindly believe” what is taught in church or in the Bible, but believe because you have reasoned them through, guided and instructed by the whole council of God. “Think on these things,” Paul says, and it will help keep you from error.
“for you to examine that which is superior in order that you might be sincere and blameless for the Day of Christ,”
Many of our English translations render the first part of the phrase, “that you may approve,” or something very similar. This is one of those remnants of the old King James English. In the 17th century, the word “approve” meant “to prove, to demonstrate, to show worthy” whereas today the idea of approval carries with it the connotations of permission. I might “approve” of that movie or of how you spend your money…or I might not approve.
The word that Paul uses here is dokima/zw (dokimazo), which carries with it the idea of examining something to determine its quality. The NIV chooses the word “discern” to insert here, which is arguably a better term. I chose the word “examine” to capture the idea that dokima/zw (dokimazo) implies a critical examination of such ideas…as we spoke above in verse 7 of the word frone/w (phroneo). Paul is not calling the Philippian church to give permission to those things that are superior and excellent, but he is calling them to examine that which they encounter so that they can critically discern that which is good and excellent…those things that will keep them sincere (we might say, “transparent” here) and blameless for the Day of Christ.
What is the Day of Christ? This is a reference back to the Old Testament notion of the “Day of the Lord” (see Isaiah 13:6; Jeremiah 46:10; Ezekiel 30:3; Joel 2:1; Obadiah 15; Malachi 4:5 and elsewhere). There was a notion in the ancient Mid-East that there would one day rise a king who was so mighty that he would defeat all of his enemies in a single day. That which the Old Testament prophets looked forward to was completed by Jesus on the Cross. Yet, the New Testament authors carried the idea into the Church age as a time when we anticipate the return of our Lord (see 1 Corinthians 5:5; 1 Thessalonians 5:2; 2 Thessalonians 2:2; 2 Peter 3:10). Indeed, on that great day, all of the enemies of God will be gathered together and destroyed underneath his crushing foot (Revelation 20:7-10). Will you be ready for that day?
Until that day takes place, Paul sets before us once again the significance of examining things around us carefully…not with our passions but with a renewed mind (Romans 12:2) where you examine (and pursue) that which is good and pure and excellent and right so that we will have nothing to hide from or be ashamed from on that great and awesome day. How far short of that goal we tend to fall, though. Will you, this day, this minute even, turn to God and repent of your wayward heart and draw closer to Him? Discern what is good and excellent and flee from that which you would keep hidden in the dark recesses of a wicked heart.