By Rev. Dr. J. Patrick Bowman
In Romans 12:1-2 we read, “Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect” (NASB).
As followers of Christ, we should all be looking for transformation. But what exactly does transformation look like? J.B. Phillips, English Bible scholar, paraphrased Romans 12:1-2 as, “With eyes wide open to the mercies of God, I beg you, my brothers, as an act of intelligent worship, to give Him your bodies, as a living sacrifice, consecrated to Him and acceptable by Him. Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mould, but let God re-mould your minds from within, so that you may prove in practice that the Plan of God for you is good, meets all His demands and moves towards the goal of true maturity.”
Therefore, does God remolding our minds from within, so that we may prove in practice that the Plan of God for us is good, meets all His demands, and moves towards the goal of true maturity, sound like what transformation might look like in us? If so, then what is our part in this transformation process? Let’s look at Paul’s letter to the Philippians as we attempt to answer that question.
Paul founded the church at Philippi on his second missionary journey in 49 or 50 A.D. The Philippians had been faithful to support Paul when they could over the years since he had founded the church (Phil 4:15-16). He had friends there, including Lydia, his first convert in Europe; the Philippian jailer; and perhaps the slave girl he had set free from the spirit of divination (Acts 16:12-40). They had recently sent support again by the hand of Epaphroditus (Phil 4:10, 18) both financially and to assist Paul for a season. “It is necessary to send back to you Epaphroditus … who is also your messenger, whom you sent to take care of my needs” (Philippians 2:25). Paul had a special affection for the Philippian church that comes out in his letter (Phil 1:4-8).
Paul had no doubt received word from Epaphroditus about the health of the church. The church faced trouble on three fronts: outside persecution, false teachers, internal discord. Paul addressed all of these within his letter. He encouraged them concerning outside persecution in Phil 1:27-30 in saying, “Only conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or remain absent, I will hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel; in no way alarmed by your opponents—which is a sign of destruction for them, but of salvation for you, and that too, from God. For to you it has been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake, experiencing the same conflict which you saw in me, and now hear to be in me” (Philippians 1:27-30). As to false teachers, he warned them with “Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things again is no trouble to me, and it is a safeguard for you. Beware of the dogs, beware of the evil workers, beware of the false circumcision; for we are the true circumcision, who worship in the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh” (Phil 3:1-3). To the internal strife he admonished in general terms, “Therefore if there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose. Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves” (Phil 2:1-3). But Paul also was specific: “I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to live in harmony in the Lord” (Phil 4:2).
Paul, now imprisoned in Rome some 11-12 years after founding the church, writes a letter from his cell. He wants to encourage them and exhort them in the Lord but also wants to be honest about his own state of mind and heart in his current affliction. Paul was no stranger to suffering. He had been repeatedly whipped, beaten with rods, put in jail, and once even left for dead after Jews from Iconium followed Paul to Lystra and stoned him. Even Paul, the great apostle, was not above despair and depression at times in his ministry. 2 Corinthians 1:8 tells of such a time of self-disclosure by Paul when he writes, “For we do not want you to be unaware, brethren, of our affliction which came to us in Asia, that we were burdened excessively, beyond our strength, so that we despaired even of life.” Even though Paul’s faith anchored him in the God of hope, Paul and his fellow travelers at times felt defeated and hopeless because of the circumstances they found themselves in. Under arrest in this Roman prison, Paul seems to struggle once again saying, “that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death” (Phil 3:10). Paul alludes to this early in the letter sayings, “…according to my earnest expectation and hope, that I will not be put to shame in anything, but that with all boldness, Christ will even now, as always, be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. But if I am to live on in the flesh, this will mean fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which to choose. But I am hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better;” (Phil 1:20-23). Paul realizes he is in a position where Caesar may rule against him and have him executed, but also has some hope of being released. He wrote, “I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith, so that through my being with you again your joy in Christ Jesus will overflow on account of me” (Philippians 1:25-26), and “I am confident in the Lord that I myself will come soon” (Philippians 2:24). Paul, in hoping against hope, was persuaded he might see them again, but had no guarantees. So, it was at this conflicted time in Paul’s life that he writes to the Philippians.
I want us to look at the first nine verses of Philippians chapter four as we receive from Paul practical ways to be transformed by the renewing our mind and be led into full maturity.
Verse 1: “Therefore, my beloved brethren whom I long to see, my joy and crown, in this way stand firm in the Lord, my beloved.” Paul is exhorting them here, because of what he had written already, to stand fast in the Lord. The term “stand fast” means to be stationary, to persevere. What are the words already written in your life that makes you able now to stand fast? Do you have a life verse that you continually draw strength from? Was there a prophetic word spoken over you that you are holding on to? Is there a Bible story (like that of Joseph, or Ruth) that keeps you in the game? Galatians 6:9 instructs, “Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary.”
Verses 2-3: “I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to live in harmony in the Lord. Indeed, true companion, I ask you also to help these women who have shared my struggle in the cause of the gospel, together with Clement also and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.” This is together an exhortation as well as an instruction. Euodia and Syntyche are two women of faith who have had a falling out, and Paul wants resolution brought before their riff does any further damage. He wants them to be of one mind (live in harmony) and wants other mature leaders to help them patch up their differences. A slight offense can turn into the leaven of bitterness and infect an entire church. Are you at odds with someone? Is there a way to reconcile the situation? Are there mature leaders who might help you? Romans 12:18 exhorts, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.” Do your part and leave the other person and the offense they have with you with God.
Verse 4: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice!” These sage words from a man that is near the end of his race and not in a good place naturally to rejoice. But we also know this is the man, who with his companion Silas, rejoiced in the Lord in their Philippian jail years before and saw God move mightily (Acts 16:25+). Paul knew the power of rejoicing in any situation.
Verse 5: “Let your gentle spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near.” Paul wants them to exhibit a patient mind and forbearing spirit toward all men. The sense is moderation, as the KJV renders it. That is, not reacting as the situation may warrant, but as a good witness to the Gospel would demand. The Lord is near. What are you projecting to others about your faith? Is it attractive? The word known is ginōskō; to know, feel, perceive. It means more than hiding behind a quiet demeanor. It’s not something you wear, it’s something you are. Do people see Jesus in you, even in less-than-ideal circumstances? Are you able to harness your emotions when needed to disarm a situation rather than escalate a stressful or heated encounter? Proverbs 16:7 tells us, “When a man’s ways are pleasing to the Lord,
He makes even his enemies to be at peace with him.” A gentle spirit is pleasing to the Lord.
Verses 6-7: “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Anxious, or being full of care regarding something, is the opposite of the peace of God guarding our mind. An unguarded mind is open to invasion from all kinds of enemies; fear, doubt, resentment, bitterness, etc. The guarded mind looks to God in general prayer and specific supplications, all with thanksgiving. Matthew 6:25-34 instructs us, “For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they? And who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life? And why are you worried about clothing? Observe how the lilies of the field grow; they do not toil nor do they spin, yet I say to you that not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will He not much more clothe you? You of little faith! Do not worry then, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear for clothing?’ For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. ‘So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.’” Jesus said seek first the kingdom. Paul says through prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, we establish the kingdom in our lives.
Verse 8: “Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.” If verse 7 told us what not to dwell on and be careful of, this verse gives us the things we should be about. Paul here puts the finishing touch on what the first 6 verses of this chapter have shown us. To be steadfast, dwell on these things. To end conflict and petty disputes, dwell on these things. To find reason to rejoice, dwell on these things. To develop a gentle, forbearing spirit, dwell on these things. To stop anxiousness, dwell on these things. Dwell on these things!
Let’s look at these things to see what exactly Paul is asking us to dwell on. Whatever is true, meaning not concealing a thing. Whatever is honorable, meaning honest. Whatever is right, meaning just, holy, equitable. Whatever is pure, meaning clean, innocent, modest. Whatever is lovely, meaning acceptable, friendly towards. Whatever is of good repute, meaning well spoken of, reputable. If there be any excellence, meaning virtue, valor. If there be anything praise worthy or commendable. Dwell on these things. Dwell here means to think upon, take an inventory, immerse yourself in, meditate. Here is the key to the guarded mind. It is guarded from within. Psalm 1 is a wonderful example of this guarding from within when it says, “How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked,
Nor stand in the path of sinners, nor sit in the seat of scoffers! But his delight is in the law of the Lord,
And in His law he meditates day and night. He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water,
Which yields its fruit in its season And its leaf does not wither; And in whatever he does, he prospers.
The wicked are not so, But they are like chaff which the wind drives away. Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, Nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous. For the Lord knows the way of the righteous, But the way of the wicked will perish.”
Verse 9: “The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.” Paul now asks his beloved friends in Philippi to remember that he was a living example of a man who learned, taught, and practiced dwelling on these things. And the result in his life, and the result he promised them, was the God of peace would be with them. In verse 7 Paul promised the peace of God. Here he promises the Philippian believers the God of peace would dwell with them. In spite of all the suffering Paul had gone through during his ministry and was currently experiencing in a Roman prison, the apostle was offering them something he experienced because his mind had been renewed. He had experienced the benefits of dwelling on the fresh fruit of the spirit rather than the rotten produce of the world. He had let God re-mold his mind from within, to transform him so to prove in practice that the Plan of God for him was good, met all God’s demands and moved him towards the goal of true maturity.