“SINKING STINKING THINKING”
From his Roman prison, the Apostle Paul came to understand (most likely from Epaphroditus and his traveling companions) that the Philippian congregation was experiencing some difficulty that could very well develop into a major crisis in their church. Somehow and in some way the unity of the Spirit they had once enjoyed as a congregation was being jeopardized. The letter Paul wrote to the Philippians is his Spirit-inspired remedy for the disunity that had just begun to permeate their congregation.
Unity in an assembly is not something that the believers in a church can whip up and generate by deciding to come together. Real unity is something which only the Spirit of God can produce in a congregation. However, there are conditions that must be present in a church before unity can be experienced. There are what I call unilateral precursors to unity. That is, there are things that you as an individual church member must do, and things that I as a gospel minister must do, that will set the stage, as it were, for unity. There are things we must think, attitudes we must hold, behavior we must demonstrate, that are requirements that need to exist in a congregation before unity will be bestowed by the Holy Spirit.
Understand, however, that the world is very good at counterfeiting what the Apostle Paul is seeking to preserve or restore in the Philippian congregation. Instead of being genuinely saved people, the world substitutes those who have a form of godliness but deny the power thereof. Instead of being in a genuine church where God is glorified and Jesus Christ is exalted, the world will substitute a religious club with an emphasis on feeling good, on raucous music, and on chanting the word “Jesus” over and over again, as if it were some kind of magical incantation. And instead of preaching the unsearchable riches of Christ along with the whole counsel of God’s Word, the world’s brand of so-called “Christianity” will major on pious platitudes and simple instant recipes that address superficial problems in a shallow way, rather than root out deep seated sins and cultivate godliness that will stand in the evil day.
At first glance, the world’s way of conjuring up what appears to be unity is apparently similar to Paul’s prescription. However, careful consideration reveals that what Paul prescribes and what the new-evangelicals, new Calvinists, Charismatics, and Pentecostals focus their attention on are really quite different. The wrong way to instill unity is to herd in a group of people, make them religious professors, and then instill into them a manner of thinking and a way of behaving that smacks of religiosity. Paul’s way, however, which is God’s way, is to persuade sinners to come in and then to evangelize and pray to see sinners saved, truly saved. Once saved and scripturally baptized, these new Christians are to be indoctrinated. That is, they are to be doctrine saturated. They are to be taught and trained and tried. They are then to be taught and trained and tried again, and again, and again.
In our text for today we see Paul exhorting the Philippians to establish these unilateral precursors to unity once again. We will notice that he teaches them nothing new. He unfolds before them no unfamiliar doctrine. That said, he does encourage them and exhort them to do what they had been taught before to do. These things done, perhaps the Spirit of God would move in their midst and restore to them the unity they had previously enjoyed and were in danger of losing.
Turn in your Bible at this time to Philippians 3.15-16, standing when you locate the passage for the reading of God’s Word:
15 Let us therefore, as many as be perfect, be thus minded: and if in any thing ye be otherwise minded, God shall reveal even this unto you.
16 Nevertheless, whereto we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule, let us mind the same thing.
There are three statements in our text that verify the reality that there are unilateral precursors to unity in a church. There are specific things you must do, as an individual in this corporate body, to lay the groundwork for the Spirit of God to bestow upon all of us genuine unity:
First, THERE IS THE MINDSET OF THE MATURE
In verse 15, Paul writes “Let us therefore, as many as be perfect, be thus minded . . . .”
Remember, Paul was not arguing that he had not attained sinless perfection, as many people erroneously believe, and many commentaries wrongly teach. He had pointed out in previous verses that he had not yet come to a full and complete knowledge of Jesus Christ, and would not until he got to heaven. However, this is not to deny that believers can experience growth in our Christian lives, because we both can and must. Recognize, even mature Christians must be occasionally exhorted to adopt a specific mindset that will aid in preparing for unity. With the word “perfect” referring to maturity and “thus minded” referring to the desired mindset, I would like you to ponder two things:
First, with real maturity comes something usually known as Christian graces. The question is what is real maturity? Is maturity being old? Is being mature knowing lots of stuff? My friends, spiritual maturity, which can only be attained by someone who is really saved, is some combination of age, knowledge of scripture, your accumulated experience in the Christian life, and obedience. Consider three passages that deal with spiritual maturity as a believer in Jesus Christ: Our first passage is Hebrews 5.13-14:
13 For every one that useth milk is unskilful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe.
14 But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.
This passage shows us that no matter how long you have been saved, if you do not have a good and working familiarity with God’s Word, if you are “unskillful in the word of righteousness,” you are a spiritual babe. And being a babe, you cannot really discern the fine points of good and evil. Next, consider Second Peter 1.5-9:
5 And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge;
6 And to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness;
7 And to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity.
8 For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.
9 But he that lacketh these things is blind, and cannot see afar off, and hath forgotten that he was purged from his old sins.
This passage is recognized by virtually every Bible scholar as a commentary about the path of progression toward spiritual maturity in the Christian life of every believer. Progress is typically erratic and uneven, but it is progress nevertheless, over the entire course of one’s life as a child of God. But notice. If you have not knowledge, if you have not temperance, if you have not godliness, if you have not kindness, if you have not charity (which is real love for God and for other people), in abundance, you are spiritually immature, you will not bear fruit, and your appreciation of spiritual truths will dim and fade. You simply cannot be mature if these qualities are missing in your life, which is why great emphasis is placed on the attitude you are to bring to your growth in the faith, which is the phrase “giving all diligence add.” Giving has to do with bringing into, and has the idea of great effort. All is the usual Greek word for all. Diligence has to do with speed, haste, not wasting time. The word add comes from the Greek word for choir master, having to do with making sure everything comes together properly, such as when different voices harmonize. Bottom line? You are responsible for your Christian growth and maturity, recognizing that you will not achieve your goal apart from interaction with others. The final passage we look at is First John 2.13-14:
13 I write unto you, fathers, because ye have known him that is from the beginning. I write unto you, young men, because ye have overcome the wicked one. I write unto you, little children, because ye have known the Father.
14 I have written unto you, fathers, because ye have known him that is from the beginning. I have written unto you, young men, because ye are strong, and the word of God abideth in you, and ye have overcome the wicked one.
The Apostle John speaks to the brethren as occupying three levels of maturity, related to fruitfulness and victory in the spiritual conflict that characterizes every believer’s life. There are spiritual little children, spiritual young men, and spiritual fathers. Little children in the faith are those who have known the Father, yet nothing else is said of them here. Young men are those who have overcome the wicked one, verse 13, and because they are strong, with the Word of God abiding in them, and are again said to have overcome the wicked one, verse 14. Twice fathers are said to have known Him that is from the beginning, having already demonstrated the qualities found in those less mature, such as strength, the Word of God abiding in them, and having overcome the wicked one. Additionally, it can be implied that spiritual reproduction is a factor in spiritual maturity. Little children are incapable of reproduction, with new Christians not yet bearing much fruit. Young men are capable of reproduction, though they typically have not yet reproduced. Fathers are designated as having reproduced by the title given to them. Thus, a Christian is mature when he is spiritually strong, when the Word of God abides in him, when he has tasted victory over the wicked one, and when he has born spiritual fruit. Therefore, it is reasonable to point out that unless you can point to someone who is your spiritual fruit in the Christian faith, you dare not think of yourself as spiritually mature, no matter how long you have been a Christian.
Now that we know some of the characteristics of real maturity, what comes with real maturity? A predictable mentality, Philippians 3.15. If you are spiritually mature you are capable of doing this:
“As many as be perfect (or mature), be thus minded.”
If you are spiritually mature you can think in this way. I get so frustrated sometimes with those who think they are spiritual and who think they are mature, but who have an independent streak a mile wide. But what does Paul mean by “thus minded?” What has he been harping on for the last chapter and a half? Having one mind, 2.2, having the mind of Christ, 2.5, Who humbled Himself, 2.8, the selfless Epaphroditus and Timothy, and the single minded Paul, 3.4-14. In other words, what Paul has been leading up to for a chapter and a half is for the Philippians to remember to be humble enough to lay aside the murmurings and the disputings so that you and others around you might single-mindedly pursue Christ. And mature Christians will do this when they are called on to do this. The old goat thinks he is mature who holds back, who resists, who does not commit, and who withholds his total commitment. However, that is precisely the attitude Paul is seeking to purge from their ranks, because that is the attitude of immaturity rather than maturity. Closer to home with the Philippians were women in that congregation who held on to one grudge, who nurtured one hard feeling, who simply would not set aside one personal difference with one other person for the sake of the cause of Christ. The immature seem to always think they have a better idea about how to do God’s will. The immature seem to always think they know better how that verse should be applied. However, if you are really spiritually mature, you will weigh the benefit of being humble and cooperative versus the cost of having your own opinion and voicing it. The humble and single-minded pursuit of Christ is a mindset the mature can be called to. And mature Christians are, by reason of their humility, capable of teamwork. They can get along with every single person in the church.
Second, THERE IS THE CONFIDENCE OF THE CONSECRATED
“and if in anything ye be otherwise minded, God shall reveal even this unto you.”
Have you ever been around some Christian who is impatient with everyone? No one ever does anything good enough for him. No one prays as much as he wants them to pray or witnesses as much as he wants them to witness. So he is always jostling and pushing and shoving people to do the external things that he does with as much vigor and zeal as he does them. Paul, however, was quite content to allow the Spirit of God to work certain things out in the lives of those he believed to be genuinely saved.
Paul knew, and we need to understand, that agreement is not instantaneous. Paul knew that there were Philippians who disagreed with him about certain things. There was no unanimity regarding certain issues. However, does he write as though he has a problem with that? Not at all. Paul would much rather be patient and not shove people into a forced stance or position on some issues. After all, Paul was a Baptist, and Baptists have historically embraced the priesthood of each believer and our own responsibility to rightly divide the Word of God. Why do you folks think I go so very slowly in bringing about certain changes in our ministry? It is because I recognize that agreement is not instantaneous, and there is no reason it has to be on every issue. If someone says to me, “Not everyone at Calvary Road Baptist Church agrees with you,” I am neither provoked or much concerned. We are, after all, separate and distinct individuals, are we not?
However, if agreement is not instantaneous, it is assured. How long did it take for God to bring you to a certain position or conviction after you were saved? Certain convictions took you a long time to embrace, did they not? And you are not willing to allow God to work in another’s life in the same fashion? Who is the author of change in your wife’s life? You? Whose job is it to bring your husband around on something? You? You have got to be kidding me. When it comes to Christians being in agreement about everything, or learning and accepting things at the same speed, it just will not happen. Want to know a secret? It is not God’s plan for us to be in agreement about everything, or to learn and accept things at the same speed. The Spirit of God illuminates different believers differently. That said, if you are a consecrated Christian, if you have seen God working in your own life and personality, you should then be able to patiently allow Him to work at His Own pace in the life of another. As well, you will be able to get along with and cooperate for the benefit of the cause of Christ with someone you do not entirely agree with. Humility and maturity is what makes such a thing possible.
Third, THE PERFORMANCE OF THE PROGRESSING (3.16)
“Nevertheless, whereto we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule, let us mind the same thing.”
In verse 15, Paul spoke of things related to one’s thoughts. He referred twice to being of a certain mind. In this verse, however, he does something not oftentimes done in 2014; he couples thoughts with behavior. Notice, also, that when discussing the mindset of the mature Paul includes himself. “. . . whereto we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule, let us mind the same thing.” In the first part of verse 15 he uses the word “we.” But when exhibiting the confidence of the consecrated he spoke of others, using the words “ye” and “you.” Now he is back to first person, including himself, with the words “we” and “us.”
Mature Christian? We who are mature have attained, not all the way to Christ, but to some level of attainment. That being the case, let’s make sure that we live up to the standards we have matured to. Let us, like soldiers, learn how to fall in line, which is what the “same rule” refers to, being in formation. Being consistently out of formation and being unable or unwilling to march in step is a sure sign of immaturity. Mature Christians abandon their own agendas to adopt the congregational agenda to ensure teamwork.
However, that’s not all. Once again Paul exhorts everyone to “mind the same thing.” Let’s get on the same wavelength. Make sure each player on the team runs the same play, so that each man does not do that which is right in his own eyes. And this we will do if our goal is the common goal of pressing toward Christ. And this we will do if our attitude is a common attitude of being humble.
If you will look back to Philippians 3.1 you will see that the Apostle Paul promised nothing new: “Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things to you, to me indeed is not grievous, but for you it is safe.” Paul saw it as a safety feature to remind church members again and again of things they already knew. After all, the Philippians, just like you and me, didn’t so much have trouble with those portions of God’s Word they didn’t understand. It was those portions they did understand that they needed help with.
The same applies to you and me. We can always benefit from greater unity in our church. That unity has to be given to us by the Holy Spirit because it’s quite simply beyond us to conjure it up ourselves. We can, however, prepare for unity. We can do what we can do, particularly those of us who are spiritually more mature. What can we do? First, we can deal with our own personal humility. Second, we can allow others to progress at their own rates and quit trying to push them and shove them along. And third, we can make sure we are living up to the same rule we have attained in our own lives.
In other words, Christian, you do what you can do to lay the ground work for unity and allow God to work in the lives of others to do what they can do. It takes quite a bit of wisdom to know how much to cajole and encourage another and when to leave him alone. But it’s something that we obviously have to work on. You just do the best you can for Christ by getting rid of your stinking thinking and making sure your actions follow suit.
 Fritz Rienecker & Cleon Rogers, Linguistic Key To The Greek New Testament, (Grand Rapids, MI: Regency Reference Library, 1980), page 558.
 Ibid., page 769.
 Ibid., page 559.
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