“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.”
Though in English the words praise and praiseworthy come from the same root, Paul employs two different words here in the Greek to emphasize his point. We already spoke above about that which is worthy of praise, as he closes this verse, he is speaking of that which generates admiration or approval within us. When applied to humans, this word is sometimes translated as “fame,” but perhaps honor is a better term. Towards God, it reflects the notion of giving praise and honor to His name (see Philippians 1:11).
All of that which Paul speaks about culminates in this…honoring God. It is this notion that drives our sanctification and our life as believers. Yet how often we choose to set our minds and thoughts on other things during the day, during the weeks, and during the years. How often we set our affections on the things of this world rather than on the one who is most worthy of our honor.
It has long been my position that while most relationships begin in the shared experiences that people have with one another; lasting and mature relationships make a transition. Instead of falling in love with the person through the things that are done together we fall in love with the person because of who they are — their attributes and personalities and things like this. Genuine love and relationship with God is nurtured in the same way. We may begin our relationship with God through a deliverance from sin, through a grace that was given, or through a recognition of our own wicked and fallen state. Yet don’t stop the relationship there, because the relationship you have with God will mature as you grow deeper in your understanding of God’s character as revealed in his Word.
Thus, spend time focusing on a character trait of God. He is love, he is Truth, he is a God of justice and grace. God is creative and powerful and while loving toward his own, he pours out his wrath upon the wicked. Think on these things. Study how God reveals these character traits of his in the Scriptures. Pursue him through his character. And note too, Paul’s language…think on these things. God has given us minds to understand; he expects us to use our minds to understand his character as he reveals it. Such an understanding will draw us closer to him but such an understanding will also draw us away from the things of the world that distract and pull us away from godliness.
“Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and stay on with all of you for your advancement and joy of the faith.”
Here is a significant idea that is often missed in the life of the church and even of believers. We have been impressed so strongly with the call to evangelize (an essential idea) that we often forget that we are also called to disciple (another essential idea). How often we spend all our efforts on evangelism and then forget that evangelism is only the first step of a life-long process. It is interesting, while evangelism should include a relationship, it does not require a relationship to be present (the Holy Spirit is awakening the person to faith and belief anyway!). But for discipleship to happen, relationships are required. I wonder if people don’t engage in discipleship because they are afraid of committing the time or transparency that a genuine relationship requires. It is easy to stay busy and by doing so, keep people at arm’s distance. It is entirely a different thing to engage with people in meaningful ways over a long period of time…yet that is to what we are called.
And for Paul, as he contemplates God’s design for him, he recognizes that the growth of the people of Philippi in their faith is far more important than his personal comfort and satisfaction of leaving life in this fallen world and being present with Christ eternally. Thus, convinced of their need for him, he is convinced that God’s design is that he stay on to serve as a “discipler” for their good. Were we only to take a similar mindset toward one another. Were our churches, even, to emphasize discipleship as we ought and were our church members to value being discipled as we all ought, how different a culture we would live in today! Yet, culture is transient and thus can be changed if we begin at home and change how we approach the idea of “being disciples” and discipling others. May Paul’s mindset here be our own…and all to the glory of Christ.
“But you are elevated eternally, Yahweh.”
(Psalm 92:9 [verse 8 in English])
God is lifted up! He reigns on high! There is no god like our God, he is the great Yahweh, who sets his throne in the heavens and makes the earth his footstool. Can we not praise him highly enough? Will we ever exhaust the praises that our God deserves even in the light of eternity? Never! Our God reigns and he does so from on high.
What is amazing, wonderful, and remarkable about our God is that he condescends to us in relationship. Yet, in light of this relationship, let us never lose sight of the total “other-ness” of our God. It is my concern that, in the emphasis on a personal and intimate relationship with God that we downplay his elevation…in other words, we treat him as casually as we might treat a friend or neighbor and thus forget who he is and the reverence that he rightfully deserves. Indeed, is it not the “Fear” of the Lord that brings knowledge and wisdom? Where there is no fear, will not foolishness multiply? Is that not the plight of the church in our age today?
In many circles, God is merely treated as one of many gods rather than the God above all others and in a class entirely of his own. To borrow from the Medieval theologian, Anselm, he is “The being greater than whom no other being can exist.” There is none like him and it ought to give us goosebumps to draw near to him while at the same time we do boldly draw near to the Holy One of Israel in our midst. What a glorious gift, but in our worship, let us be drawn up to him and not seek to draw him down to us.
So, friends, as you pray this day and in the day to come, may you be altogether aware that it is the God who is lifted up who has given you permission to come into his presence. Celebrate that, but do so with a holy fear as well, for in that fear you will find knowledge and wisdom.