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Spiritual Stability, Part 5: Godly Thinking

Grace To You / John MacArthur
The Truth Network Radio
January 11, 2023 3:00 am

Spiritual Stability, Part 5: Godly Thinking

Grace To You / John MacArthur

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January 11, 2023 3:00 am

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Now from the biblical perspective, it becomes very clear how important thinking is. And that is precisely what Paul is calling for in this verse. He is saying you've got to learn how to think on the right things. Today, you make countless observations, arrive at logical conclusions, and act accordingly.

But what, if anything, does the ability to reason like that have to do with your Christian faith? Find out today as John continues his series, Seven Steps to Spiritual Stability. But before today's lesson, John, you have a few thoughts for some friends of ours who share our passion for the unvarnished Word of God and who did something extraordinary to help keep the teaching of God's Word available on radio stations like this in the coming year. Yeah, and what we mean by that is when we came back a few days ago to grace to you and saw the mountain of mail and began to pour over it and read the letters and open the envelopes, I can say this. The outpouring of support for this ministry was beyond generous.

It was thrilling. We know it was sacrificial. And obviously, year-end giving is a significant portion of our annual budget, and it enables us to do what we do through radio, books, CDs, the internet, and television. And all of those ministries are a reflection of people's generosity to us.

It's really simple. We teach the Bible, and we have about 60 to 70 employees who enable us to produce the radio, the television, the books, and all the other resources here. It's really a small core of people who are a team that are committed to the love of the truth and to love one another. And together, we're able to spread the Word of God amazingly across the face of the entire earth in multiple languages and multiple formats. And the reason we're able to do that is because of the amazing commitment of support that we get from folks like you.

What it says to us is you love God's Word. You believe in its power to transform lives. You trust us to use your gifts with integrity, and you're depending on us for continued spiritual instruction. So we receive that message, and we are so profoundly grateful. Thanks for caring about the spiritual needs of your community as well and helping us launch into this new year on a firm footing. So it's our joy to put your investments to work in 2023. And on behalf of all the people who will be reached this year, thank you from the bottom of our heart.

Yes, friend, thank you. This verse-by-verse teaching is both helping Christians around the globe grow spiritually, and it's also explaining the gospel to nonbelievers. It's your faithful support that powers all of that, so thank you for the very personal role you have in connecting people with biblical truth. And now let's get to today's lesson. Here's John continuing to walk you through seven steps to spiritual stability. The call of God upon us is that we should be stable, firm, strong. Now we're learning about how to be stable. It's one thing to be called to spiritual stability.

It's quite another thing to understand what that call involves. And so as we look at Philippians chapter 4 and these first nine verses, we are given here a pattern of truth that produces spiritual stability. Obviously, all of us who know and love the Lord Jesus Christ would affirm that we want to be stable. But the question that comes back to us is, even though we want this and even though we understand that this is a biblical issue, how can we be stable? How can we hold our ground? How can we not become the loser and remain the winner? How can we not be defeated and triumph?

How can we not be depressed and be joyous? How can we ride across the top of all of the waves, as it were, that come against us? Well, I believe Paul gives us the answer to that very, very important question right here in this wonderful passage. The key phrase I draw you to is in verse 1.

We've noted it each time. The key phrase is this exhortation or command, stand firm in the Lord. That is a command and that is the bottom line here in the text. Stand firm in the Lord. Stand against doubt. Stand against temptation. Stand against trials and tests. Stand against persecution.

But notice also the little word so, or thusly, or in this way. And Paul is saying, now I'm going to tell you how. Here is how to stand firm. And then he proceeds to give a number of disciplines, principles by which we as believers can enjoy spiritual stability.

Now do you remember Principle Number 1? Spiritual stability requires cultivating peace in the fellowship. Not only does spiritual stability mandate cultivating peace in the fellowship, but secondly, maintaining a spirit of joy. Maintaining a spirit of joy. Rejoice in the Lord always, he says, and I will say again, rejoice.

The rejoicing, you will please note, is in the Lord. The third principle we noted was that spiritual stability comes to those who learn to accept less than they deserve. Learning to accept less than you deserve. Verse 5, let your forbearing be known to all men.

What he means by that word forbearing is really your willingness to accept less than you deserve. He's talking here about the spiritual virtue of humility. The fourth principle, also in verse 5 and then on to verse 6, is this. Spiritual stability requires resting on a confident trust in the Lord, resting on a confident trust in the Lord. He says in verse 5, the Lord is near then. Verse 6, so be anxious for nothing. What are you going to worry about when the Lord is there? Let's call this the virtue of faith. These are the virtues that make for spiritual stability, peace, joy, humility, and faith. You trust God and you know He's in charge.

The fifth principle, and the one at which point we stopped last time, is this. Spiritual stability requires reacting to problems with thankful prayer. In verse 6, you remember, Paul said, instead of worrying about things, pray. But he said, pray with thanksgiving.

Pray with a thankful heart. So let's say the fifth virtue is gratitude...gratitude. You show me a person who has peace, the peace that the Spirit of God produces, joy, a person who is humble. You show me a person who believes truly in God. And you show me a person who is thankful in everything and I'll show you a person who is spiritually stable. Those are the virtues. Just a footnote from last time on this note in verse 6 about praying with thanksgiving, no matter how difficult the problem. If you rightly understand what you're going through, you should be thankful. No matter what persecution, no matter what trial, no matter what temptation comes your way, first of all, you can be thankful that in it there is the purpose of God.

Right? God is accomplishing some purpose. All things are working together for good according to His purpose. In it also, there is the perfecting work of God. Through every difficulty He conforms you more and more to be strong and to be like His Son. In it also, there is the provision of God, for it allows Him in difficulty to manifest His care for you.

In it, there is the promise of God, that the God who takes you through and cares for you now is the God in whom you hope for a future deliverance which will lead you into His very eternal presence. So in the middle of your trial, you can be thankful for the purpose of God being worked by that trial. You can be thankful for the perfection of God being worked and accomplished in your life. You can be thankful for the provision and care of God in the process. And you can be thankful that it's only a taste to assure you of the future promise of God to be revealed in the day of Jesus Christ. You need to learn to be thankful. And if you really know who your God is, and you really understand who your God is, and you really know that He's working out His perfect plan, you can have a thankful heart in any difficulty at all.

You don't need to lose your stability. Let me give you perhaps the most interesting illustration of this. You remember a man named Jonah? Jonah had a predicament that is unimaginable, absolutely unimaginable. As you come to Jonah chapter 2, it simply says, Then Jonah prayed to the Lord his God from the stomach of the fish. Now, if you were in the stomach of a fish, what would your prayer be like?

Maybe not a lot like Jonah's. Maybe a lot of screaming and crying out and pleading and, What are you doing, God? Where are you?

Where have you gone? Why is this happening? That was not Jonah's approach. Listen to this. Jonah, in the first place, must have had his senses about him as he was floating around in the gastric juices, because this is what he said. Verse 2, chapter 2, I called out of my distress to the Lord, and He answered me. I cried for help from the depths of Sheol. Thou didst hear my voice, for Thou hast cast me into the deep, into the heart of the seas, and the current engulfed me. All Thy breakers and billows passed over me.

I mean, he pictures himself sinking into the sea. So I said, I have been expelled from Thy sight. Nevertheless, I will look again toward Thy holy temple. In other words, he says, I'm so far down here, God doesn't know where I am.

He can't find me. I will look again toward Thy holy temple. Water compassed me to the point of death. The great deep engulfed me. Weeds were wrapped around my head. I descended to the roots of the mountains.

The earth with its bars was around me forever. But Thou hast brought up my life from the pit, O Lord my God. While I was fainting away, I remembered the Lord, and my prayer came to Thee into Thy holy temple. Those who regard vain idols forsake their faithfulness, but I will sacrifice to Thee with the voice of thanksgiving. He says, I will sacrifice to Thee with the voice of thanksgiving. If there's one thing a fish can't stand, it's a thankful prophet.

It made him sick and he vomited Jonah out in verse 10. Here was a man who was in the direst imaginable circumstance, an unthinkable trauma, who in the midst of it all, expressed his great prayer of thanksgiving. Now that, in spite of Jonah's other weaknesses, reflects a great amount of spiritual stability.

And then he says, salvation is from the Lord. There never was a wavering in his confidence of God's ability to deliver should he choose to do so. Now back to Philippians chapter 4 where Paul says, if you pray like that, if you manifest that kind of thanksgiving because you have that strong faith, you will find, verse 7, the peace of God will guard you from being unstable. The peace of God will bring a tranquility and a contentment and a consolation beyond human device, beyond human explanation, beyond human understanding. He says it really surpasses all comprehension and it'll guard you from instability.

We call this the virtue of gratitude, a grateful heart. You see, spiritual stability is experienced through these means, peace, joy, humility, faith, and gratitude. And when your life is characterized by those spiritual attitudes, you will be able to experience difficulty and not lose your balance and not get knocked over and toppled. But Paul is not through. He now reaches, I believe, the climax and another essential key to being spiritually stable and really the key to everything in verse 8.

This is the major point that he wants to make, the high point. In order to be spiritually stable and, frankly, in order to experience peace, joy, humility, faith, and gratitude, you must be focusing on godly virtues. You must be focusing on godly virtues. You cannot experience godly virtues unless you focus on godly virtues.

Verse 8 says, 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, let your mind dwell on these things. Spiritual stability is a result of how you think, of how you think. Now modern psychology today, which has a corner on...supposedly on helping people, says that if you want to be stable, if you want to get your act together, if you want to be delivered from your schizophrenia, from your various neuroses and psychoses, if you want to be a calm, comfortable, stable person who's got it together, one of the things you need to do is look into your past. You need to sort of get out the dredge and dredge up the scum of the past. You need to dive into the trash bin of your past. You need to find your old sins and your old hurts and the abuses and mistreatments and all of the chaos of your past, the garbage of your life, the old sins and failures, and you need to poke around, stir it up, deal with all of it, regurgitate it all, etc., etc.

They may even go to the extreme where if you happen to go to a psychiatrist who develops primal therapy techniques, he'll stick you on the floor, stuff pillows around you, put you in a fetal position and try to get you to feel the pain of your pre-birth experience in the womb of your mother. And that is the start of the path to stability. This, of course, is spilled over into Christianity as well. However, in the light of verse 8, it seems to me to be utterly obtuse and ridiculous for what the Apostle Paul here says is clearly this, that you are to focus your attention completely on things that are true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, and of good repute. The focus of the Christian is away from those things of which it is a shame to speak, for they are the things of the darkness, as Paul calls them in Ephesians chapter 5. So Paul wants to sum up, and what his final and summing point is, is that you must, if you want to be spiritually stable, learn how to think on the right things. As I said, the key phrase, let's look at it now, is in verse 8, let your mind dwell on these things. This is a call for right thinking.

The verb is lagedzisthe. It's an imperative, which means it's a command. It means not just to think in the simple one-dimensional sense, it means to evaluate. It means to ascertain. It means to use your faculties to consider the validity and implications of these things. In other words, to develop these kind of thinking habits. Now, I want you to listen carefully to what I say.

This seems obvious. You as a believer are a product of your thinking, because it says in the Bible as clearly as possible, as a man thinks in his heart, so what is he? You are the product of your thoughts. Now what is particularly frightening about that in our culture is that it seems to me that thinking is not really that important today. We are not so concerned about thinking as we are about two other things. Let's call them emotion and pragmatism. We are concerned about feeling, and we are concerned about success.

We are not so concerned about thinking. In other words, people don't ask this question, Is it true? And they don't ask the question, Is it right? They ask these questions, Does it work and how will it make me feel? That's what they want to know. They don't want to know, Is it right? They don't really care if it's right.

They don't particularly care if it's true, but will it work and will it make me feel good? That's a tragic thing to face, but that is, in fact, the nature of our society. The mind is depreciated in our culture because we are into a feeling kind of culture. Even in theology, it is sad to say that the issue is not always, Is it right or is it true, but will it divide or will it offend?

Those are new things for us to deal with. You see, the noble Bereans were noble because they searched the Scriptures not to see if these things felt good and not to see if these things worked and not to see if these things would not offend, but to see if these things were so. Bill Hull, in a book entitled Right Thinking, written in 1985, writes, What scares me is the anti-intellectual, anti-critical thinking philosophy that has spilled over into the church. This philosophy tends to romanticize the faith, making the local church into an experience center. Their concept of church is that they are spiritual consumers and that the church's job is to meet their felt needs." And what is happening in the church is that people are going to church not to think, not to reason about the truth, not like the noble Bereans to search the Scriptures to see what is true, but they're going there to get a weekly spiritual fix, a weekly spiritual high so they can feel that God is still with them. They are spiritually unstable because they live on feeling rather than on thinking. John Stott has written in his helpful little book, Your Mind Matters, this, Indeed, sin has more dangerous effects on our faculty of feeling than on our faculty of thinking because our opinions are more easily checked and regulated by revealed truth than our experiences, end quote.

Very wise statement. In searching a little bit deeper into this subject, I took a book off my shelf entitled Stations of the Mind, written by William Glasser, an MD psychiatrist who is basically the father of reality therapy, the innovator of a kind of psychiatric therapy called reality therapy. He has an entire section in that book on the brain and how it works, coming from a secular psychiatric mindset. It's quite curious what his research has led him to conclude. He shows, for example, that humans are not simply what they call SR animals.

SR means stimulus response. You see, traditional pagan humanistic psychiatry psychology simply sees man at the end of an evolutionary process. We are simply the pinnacle of evolution. We're along the lines of all other animals.

In fact, if you go back earlier than that, we're not much different than a rock or a leaf or whatever. We're just at the end of the evolutionary chain out there on the top of this thing, but we have the same characteristics as those other elements along that evolutionary chain, therefore we are a stimulus response kind of animal. And that is why, for example, you have a man like Pavlov who gets a bunch of dogs and runs a bunch of tests with dogs, and whenever there's a certain situation to stimulate them, they start to salivate, and you take Pavlov's dogs and you translate it over into human behavior because all we are is fancy dogs, that's all. So whatever made Pavlov's dogs salivate should be conclusive about human behavior.

So you come up with a conclusion that we are SRs. We are stimulus response people. When the stimulus is there, we respond. And given the same stimulus, we have a predictable response.

This has been pretty much unassailable truth in the evolutionary mindset. Glasser attacks it, interestingly enough, and says frankly that man is not controlled by a predictable stimulus response factor. Man is controlled from the inside, he says, by what he wants and by what he desires. And he says what he wants and what he desires is predetermined by what has influenced his what?

His thinking, his thinking. He says you can give one man the same kind of stimulus several times through his life and you might get several different responses. If it were a factor in human design that he always responded in an SR fashion, then his response would always have to be the same to the same stimulus, but it isn't. Furthermore, you can take fifteen people, give them all the same stimulus and get fifteen different responses because man responds not by the outside stimulus, but by what he wants and what he desires, he says, which is programmed by what has influenced his thinking. His response is not mechanical, says Glasser, it is thoughtful.

That's very important. It is thoughtful. The mind then becomes the command center which determines his conduct based upon how he thinks, based upon how he's been influenced to think. So how one thinks is the critical issue.

You're not just a fancy dog. You're not going to salivate every time the same deal happens. You're going to react according to how you think. The mind then has the power to shape you and to shape your action and consequently is the most powerful element of human life. Now from the biblical perspective, it becomes very clear how important thinking is.

And that is precisely what Paul is calling for in this verse. He is saying you've got to learn how to think on the right things. Let's talk a little bit about what the Bible says about thinking.

What a very basic issue this is. First of all, God has commanded us to think. Do you remember Isaiah 1.18?

Do you remember what God said? He said, Come now, let us...what?...reason together. Let's think this thing through. He didn't say, Come, let us feel one another. He didn't say, Come, let us experience this together. He said, Come, let's reason.

Let's think this through. In Matthew chapter 16, the Pharisees and the Sadducees came to Jesus and said, We want to see a sign. We want you to show us a sign.

Do something spectacular that will overwhelm us. And He said, Well, you can look at the sky and tell what the weather's like. Why can't you look at the revelation of God and figure it out?

In other words, I'm not going to give you some spectacular show in the sky. I'm going to ask you to consider what the facts are that you already have access to. Jesus furthermore said, Even though someone is raised from the dead, they won't believe if they didn't believe Moses and the prophets. Always the Bible calls on men to think, to reason. That's John MacArthur, Chancellor of the Masters University and Seminary, and he's also the teacher each day here on Grace to You, helping you cultivate virtues that are essential to your spiritual growth. John calls his current study, Seven Steps to Spiritual Stability.

Now, friend, I briefly want to mention a resource that I think will be a big help to you. It's the MacArthur Daily Bible. It will help you systematically read the Bible in 2023, enriching your devotions and deepening your worship. To order the MacArthur Daily Bible, contact us today.

Call us toll-free, 800-55-GRACE, or go to our website, Each day the MacArthur Daily Bible gives you a portion of Scripture to read from the Old Testament, the New Testament, the Psalms, and the Proverbs. It also includes notes from John to help you understand what God's word means. Again, to order the Daily Bible, call us at 800-55-GRACE, or go to our website, And friend, let me just reiterate what Grace to You is all about. We are committed to unleashing God's truth one verse at a time on this radio broadcast, also on our website, in books, on television, in everything we do. You know, we all have just come through another year of uncertainty and difficulty, and no doubt, 2023 will be filled with fresh challenges. And just know, we will be here doing everything we can to connect you with the only source of real comfort, encouragement, and direction, and that is, of course, biblical truth. Now, for John MacArthur and the entire staff, I'm Phil Johnson, encouraging you to watch Grace to You television this Sunday, and make sure you're here tomorrow for another half hour of unleashing God's truth one verse at a time on Grace to You.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-01-11 12:24:17 / 2023-01-11 12:34:13 / 10

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