Dominated by the Gospel (Philippians 4:9)

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I am sure that most reading this would agree with the premise that what we are in life is the result of what we think and what we do. This is essentially what Paul is teaching in Philippians 4:4-9. Thus far in our studies of this section we have focused primarily on the mind, on what we think.

The overriding theme of Philippians is gospel joy, and as we have learned, the Christian’s life is to be shaped by the gospel and thus the gospel joy that Philippians emphasises. It is no different when it comes to the matter of mental health. Our mental health depends on whether or not our minds and our lives are shaped by the gospel. Our thoughts and our deeds must be dominated by the gospel, as was true in the life of the apostle Paul.

We examined in vv. 4-7 of this passage the gospel mandate given by Paul. This mandate took the form of a threefold exhortation: Be rejoicing (v. 4), be reasonable (v. 5), be reverent (vv. 6-7). In v. 8, we considered a gospel meditation, where Paul urged his readers to have minds dominated by gospel truth. Now, in v. 9, we are told to have a gospel motivation. That is, we are to be shaped and dominated by the gospel in all that we do. Paul experienced a gospel-shaped life, and so can we if we will obey the injunction of this verse. We may be tempted to think that we cannot live the life of an apostle, but Paul tells us that this is indeed possible. To experience the God of peace in our lives is the supreme state of mental health, and that is an experience we can have if we will “do” those things that we have “learned, and received, and heard and seen.”

The Exhortation

As noted above, v. 9 really completes the section that Paul began in v. 4. He has already exhorted us to praise (v. 4), to patience (v. 5), to prayer (v. 6-7), and to pondering the gospel truth (v. 8), and now he wraps up his exhortation in v. 9, not by adding anything to what he has said in vv. 4-8 but by exhorting us to practise what he wrote in those verses.

The word “do” in v. 9 means “to habitually practise.” The things of which he wrote in vv. 4-8 are not mere theory. They are things which must become habitual, characteristic realities in our lives if we will enjoy proper mental health.

There were certain things that the Philippians had “learned” from Paul. The word “learned” means more than simply hearing the verbal instruction of another. The root word here is the one that is translated in English as “disciple.” The idea is of following the life and teachings of another. It certainly implies the hearing and obeying of verbal instruction, but it is deeper than that. The Philippians had both heard this teaching from Paul and seen the reality of it in his life.

The word “seen” has the idea of seeing and knowing for sure. There could be no doubt that these things were true in Paul’s life. The reality had been clearly manifested during his initial visit to Philippi (Acts 16:25-32). There, he had been imprisoned and physically beaten, but he and Silas had sung praises to God at midnight. Anyone who followed the life of Paul could see the reality of these things lived out by him.

But the Philippians had not only “learned” and “seen” these things from Paul; they had also “received” them. The words “learned” and “seen” indicate that Paul had taught these things by his life; this word, and the word “heard” indicate that he had also taught them with his lips. The word “receive” means “to receive as authority.” It is used in John 1:12, which says that those who have “received” Christ have been given authority to become the sons of God. The word is used on several occasions in the New Testament to speak of apostolic doctrine.

  • 1 Corinthians 11:23—“For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, That the Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread.”
  • 1 Corinthians 15:1, 3—“Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand … For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures.”
  • Galatians 1:9, 12—“As we said before, so say I now again, If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed … For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ.”
  • Colossians 2:6—“As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in him.”
  • Colossians 4:17—“And say to Archippus, Take heed to the ministry which thou hast received in the Lord, that thou fulfil it.”
  • 1 Thessalonians 2:13—“For this cause also thank we God without ceasing, because, when ye received the word of God which ye heard of us, ye received it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which effectually worketh also in you that believe.”
  • 1 Thessalonians 4:1—“Furthermore then we beseech you, brethren, and exhort you by the Lord Jesus, that as ye have received of us how ye ought to walk and to please God, so ye would abound more and more.”
  • 2 Thessalonians 3:6—“Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition which he received of us.”

The Philippians had received as authority from Paul the Word of God. Thus, they were under obligation to obey these things; they were without excuse for disobedience.

And just to drive home the point, Paul reminds them that they had “heard” him teach these things. They had listened as he had habitually taught them.

And so, the Philippians had “learned,” “received,” “heard” and “seen” the things of which Paul wrote in vv. 4-8. Now, if they would “do” them, they would experience the peace of God and thus enjoy good mental and spiritual health.

We live in a culture in which everyone wants good mental health, and that is not a bad thing. But sometimes all we want—even Christians—is “peace,” by which we mean contentment and quietness of mind. But Paul never separated peace from God. He understood that our greatest need was not a mere mental condition, but a personal relationship with God. As we experience that relationship with God, biblical peace will be a reality.

We are tempted, even as believers, to become self-absorbed concerning the gospel. We think only of what we can get from the gospel. And, let’s be honest, that is how the gospel is often presented. We are told that if we will come to Christ that we will enjoy peace of mind, a better marriage, a more stable family, and a host of other benefits. Whilst these things may we be true of those who come to Christ, our ultimate desire ought to be a deeper relationship with God. And so, even if we work at practising what Paul has written in vv. 4-8, it will not benefit us apart from a relationship with Christ. This is why “the Lord,” “God” and “Christ Jesus” are so prominent in those verses.

We should note also that mental health is a command for the believer. Paul commands us to “do” the things of which he has written. And, since it is a command, to not do the things of vv. 4-8 is a matter of disobedience, and thus a matter of sin.

Paul emphasises throughout the book of Philippians the issue of joy. But it is not a joy that stands in isolation; it is a joy that stems from the gospel. As we have noted on several occasions in our study, the word “gospel” is used more times per capita in Philippians than in any other New Testament book. Joy cannot be separated from the gospel. Whilst we all desire to be filled with joy—not worried, anxious, easily irritated, etc.—the only way to have true joy is to focus on the gospel of Christ.

This is an important principle to understand, for whilst we live in a world in which people everywhere are striving for peace and contentment, they seem to be looking everywhere but to the gospel. Paul’s solution for finding peace was twofold: Learn apostolic doctrine, and follow apostolic example. Or, to put it another way, we find peace in the gospel.

This implies that believers have no excuse to have anything less than good, biblical mental health. As noted above, not to “do” the things of vv. 4-8 is a matter of disobedience and thus a matter of sin. And so if the believer does not enjoy good mental health by virtue of worry, etc. then he or she is sinning. A lack of biblical mental health is not a syndrome, but a sin-drome. Our culture is one in which many do not seem to take responsibility for their actions, but Paul would not allow for this. It is our responsibility not to worry; it is our responsibility to praise rather than be bitter; it is our responsibility to be reasonable in all things. Failure to obey these injunctions is nothing short of disobedience.

The church is the only institution on earth that is really equipped to help people enjoy good mental health. The church is the pillar and ground of the truth, and it is the truth that enables people to enjoy good mental health.

Someone recently asked me if, as a pastor, I was required to take many courses on psychology at Bible college. I replied that I had in fact only taken a single course on introductory psychology. I explained that psychological studies were actually unnecessary for pastoral ministry. I told him that the Greek word psuchos, which forms the prefix of “psychology,” is the Greek equivalent of our English “soul.” And I told him that there is one book that deals with matters of the soul, and that is the Bible. The Bible is sufficient for every mental health problem that people have, and as long as the pastor has a good handle on the Bible, psychological studies are entirely unnecessary for pastoral ministry. There was a time in history when pastors were viewed as “physicians of the soul.” Unfortunately, since the church has failed to appreciate the sufficiency of Scripture, we have relegated this calling to the secular priests of the day (i.e. psychologists). Until we become proficient in the Word of God, we can really offer people little hope for their mental problems. The church needs to return to the conviction that the Word of God meets man’s deepest needs.

In Acts 3, Peter and John heal a paralysed man and proceed to preach the gospel powerfully to the onlookers. The religious leaders in Jerusalem promptly have them arrested, and the following day they are brought to trial (Acts 4). Peter’s response to the questions of the religious leaders is wonderful:

Then Peter, filled with the Holy Ghost, said unto them, Ye rulers of the people, and elders of Israel, If we this day be examined of the good deed done to the impotent man, by what means he is made whole; Be it known unto you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom ye crucified, whom God raised from the dead, even by him doth this man stand here before you whole. This is the stone which was set at nought of you builders, which is become the head of the corner. Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.

(Acts 4:8-12)

It is interesting to note that the word “whole” in v. 10 (speaking of the paralysed man being healed) is the same word translated “saved” in v. 12. This is instructive, for indeed those who are in Christ have all that they need to be completely “whole,” and this would include mental wellness.

“Christian counselling” is only truly Christian insofar as it is rooted in Scripture. And biblical counsel, which results in biblical living, is all that is needed for good mental health.

The Consequence

The exhortation is for us to “do” the things commanded in vv. 4-8, and there is a wonderful consequence that follows for those who obey: “The peace of God shall be with you” (v. 9). God and peace are closely connected in Scripture. Consider just a few such references.

  • Romans 15:33—“Now the God of peace be with you all. Amen.”
  • Romans 16:20—“And the God of peace shall bruise Satan under your feet shortly. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. Amen.”
  • 1 Thessalonians 5:23—“And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
  • Hebrews 13:20—“Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant.”

Peace is a by-product of our relationship with God, and thus it can be said that mental health is the result of a relationship with God. If we take God out of the picture, mental health will never be a reality. A relationship with God must be our primary concern, and then peace will result. Knowing God is the only way to true peace, and once again, we can only know God through the gospel. And thus, as with all else we have observed in this study, the key to peace with God is the gospel truth.

If we will have the peace of God, we must apply ourselves to knowing Scripture. We must learn it, memorise it, meditate upon it and obey it. The Scriptures must dominate our minds if they will be fit.

It is time once again for the church to assume the centre in our world. Too often, Christians are exhorted to see “professionals” about their problems, rather than going to the pastor who is grounded in God’s Word. Of course, there are certainly many pastors who are not fit to counsel people in their problems, for they are not grounded in God’s Word, but there is no one more equipped to counsel people than the believer—whether he is a pastor or not—who has a firm handle on the Word of God. We cannot allow ourselves to be pushed aside by all the self-proclaimed “experts,” for the Word of God alone is sufficient to help people solve their problems. Worry, guilt, and all the other issues with which people struggle are sin issues, and there is no medication that can be taken to eradicate sin. The gospel alone, which is found in the Bible, is the solution for sin.

Why is it that the church is not called in to counsel people when tragedy strikes? Why are the so-called professionals called upon instead? The answer is plain but sad: The church has abdicated that authority to the “experts.” It is time that the church returns to being grounded in God’s Word and thus being equipped to help those who are suffering.

I was blessed recently to read the answers of a believing student at a local university to the questions that were posed in a psychology exam paper. I will quote two of the questions and answers in full, because it is a wonderful display of a student’s confidence in the sufficiency of Scripture. The first question was as follows: “Your understanding of the nature of a person affects the clinical interventions you choose. What psychological intervention(s) most resonate with you?” The student replied:

Based on my understanding of the nature of person, the psychotherapeutic intervention which resonates most in my mind, which I believe will affect the most change in an individual’s life is not covered in this course. The approach to intervention is Nouthetic Counselling and consists of lovingly and biblically confronting people out of deep concern in order to help them make those changes that the God of the Bible requires. The word nouthetic comes from the Greek nouthesia and can be translated to mean “to admonish, confront, or instruct” (Adams, 1986). The three essential features of Nouthetic Counselling include:

  • Loving confrontation of an individual, not with one’s own theories or the theories of other “experts,” but with what is found in the Word of God.
  • Concern for the counselee which is at the heart of all counselling.
  • Change that is attempted because there is something in the counsellee’s life that does not correspond to biblical requirements, and therefore keeps him from honouring God.

The second question asked, “Your experiences of life will affect your views of the nature of person and how most effectively to help them. Show how some of your life experiences (contextual and/pr personal) have shaped your perceptions of the nature of person and psychological interventions.” The answer was as follows:

Growing up in a biblically Christian home in which the Bible was taught as absolute Truth is the most profound life experience which has shaped all of my understandings of the nature of person and psychological interventions. For example, I am convinced that humans are a unity consisting of spirit and body from such biblical passages as Matthew 10:28 which clearly indicates that human beings have spiritual and physical substance. Not only was I aware of the truths of the Bible and the Christian beliefs of my parents, but as I grew and matured, by God’s grace, I embraced these truths as my own. Mine was not a case of “brain-washing” (as some sceptics might suggest). Rather, I have come to understand that God has revealed Himself to His creation through His Word, the Bible, and all of my views on the nature of person (as well as how change is brought about) come directly from this book.

[It is] my understanding that human beings are not innately good, but rather inherently and intrinsically evil in nature. In addition, the widespread crime that is a ubiquitous reality in our country further proves to me that when given the opportunity and the motive, people generally do the wrong thing.

However, this bleak pessimistic view might be the only view I had if I had not been witness time and time again to the incredible change that occurs when an individual is redeemed by God. I have seen on countless occasions lives being completely transformed so that old damaging behaviours (e.g. drug use, eating disorders, anxiety) are overcome. I have witnessed these changes to result when individuals decide to conform their lives to biblical requirements, and therefore serve to further reinforce my understanding that Nouthetic Counselling is a successful approach to affecting change.

Whilst I am sure that such answers fly in the face of contemporary psychological thought, I would personally give this student full marks for that answer! The Word of God is sufficient, and the church that is grounded in that Word is fully equipped to help those in need.

Gospel joy is not something reserved for “supersaints” like the apostle Paul. It is something that is for you and me, everyday Christians, who are confident in the gospel of Christ. Are you tempted to worry, anxiousness or bitterness? Then run to the gospel! Run to those who are grounded in the gospel, who can help you overcome your sin to the glory of God. We can be mentally healthy because of the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ.