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Spiritual Stability, Part 6: Obedience

Grace To You / John MacArthur
The Truth Network Radio
January 13, 2023 3:00 am

Spiritual Stability, Part 6: Obedience

Grace To You / John MacArthur

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How can you know the God of peace and the peace of God? How can you be tranquil?

How can you be calm in the midst of everything? Temptations, onslaughts, doubts, fears, troubles? By living according to God's pattern? By thinking according to God's pattern? And by feeling according to God's pattern?

Right attitudes, right thoughts, right action? Grace to you with John MacArthur. I'm your host, Phil Johnson.

We're glad you've tuned in today, and I think you'll be glad, too, before it's over. John MacArthur is here each Monday through Friday teaching God's word verse by verse. And today he continues a study that answers this question, maybe dies. What specific steps can you take to honor God and keep your balance? Philippians chapter 4 outlines seven steps that you need to follow, as John MacArthur shows you in his study today called Seven Steps to Spiritual Stability. Well, we must turn to the only one who is our deliverance, the only one who is our salvation, the only one who knows our hearts, the only one who understands our desires, and that is to God.

We must do that. And that is precisely where Paul wants to turn us in our text. And it is very important for us to find our spiritual strength and to find our spiritual stability because, you see, not only is spiritual instability intolerable in one's own life, for obvious reasons it takes our joy, but it is intolerable in one's own life because of how it affects others. You see, a spiritually unstable, benumbed and badly crushed believer is a contradiction in terms to a watching world of unbelievers who cannot understand how you can profess an all-sufficient God but then live as if your God was not sufficient.

Martin Lloyd-Jones wrote, Now we believe that God extends His kingdom partly through His people and we know that He has oftentimes done some of the most notable things in the history of the church through the simple Christian living of some quite ordinary people. Nothing is more important, therefore, than that we should be delivered from a condition which gives other people looking at us the impression that to be a Christian means to be unhappy, to be sad, to be morbid, and that the Christian is one who scorns, delights, and lives laborious days." For our sake and the sake of the watching world who is assessing the validity of our message by how it works in our lives, we need to be spiritually strong. We are called to strength. We are called to stability. We are called to be unwavering. We are called to be immovable. We are called to be soldiers who, having done all, stand that we may be blessed, that we may know joy, and that the world may see the power of our God in our lives. The question comes, how can we be like that?

How can we stand strong? Paul addresses it in our text. Let's go back to our text. Philippians chapter 4. Look at verse 1, our key phrase. Stand firm in the Lord. That's the exhortation. Be spiritually strong, spiritually stable. The question is, how?

How are we to do that? Now we have already covered verses 1 through 8. We have only verse 9 remaining.

But let me just quickly review. There are a number of features, a number of elements, a number of requirements in spiritual stability. First of all, spiritual stability requires cultivating peace in the fellowship. We saw that in verses 2 and 3, peace. Secondly, we saw that spiritual stability involves maintaining a spirit of joy, verse 4, rejoicing in the Lord always. Then in verse 5 we noted that spiritual stability requires learning to accept less than you are due.

We talked about humility there. And then we noted in verses 5 and 6 that spiritual stability requires resting on a confident faith in the Lord. The Lord is near so we're not anxious. And then fifthly, we noted that spiritual stability requires reacting to problems with thankful prayer.

Instead of worry, we pray with thanksgiving and thus experience the peace of God guarding our hearts and minds. Then last time we came to the high point and we noted the sixth necessary element in spiritual stability, focusing on godly virtues or thinking on godly virtues. Verse 8 tells us that whatever is true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, of good repute, since there is excellence and since there are things worthy of praise, we're to let our minds dwell on these things. And we introduced the second characteristic of a spiritually stable individual, not only godly attitudes but godly thoughts, thinking patterns. And now we come to the final element, verse 9. The last point I want to make, the last feature in this list of elements necessary for spiritual stability is obeying God's standard. Now listen to what I say. In order to be spiritually stable, you must have godly attitudes, godly thoughts, and the source for all those thoughts in verse 8 is the Word of God.

We noted that last time. And then you must have godly deeds, godly behavior. Thoughts can never be abstracted from action, and that's the point we want you to focus on today. Look at verse 9. The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me practice these things.

Now stop right there. He is now calling for practice. The term practice in the Greek is prasso. The verb would in English be P-R-A-S-S-O.

It isn't the same as do, the verb pueo, which is a common verb. It is a verb which means repetition, action that is continuous. We talk about, for example, a lawyer having a practice.

It means it's a constant way of life. A doctor has a practice, different than practicing something. We say someone practices the violin or they practice tennis or whatever it might be. That's using the word in the sense of working on something to learn it. When we use it of a lawyer and a doctor, we hope that it means more than that.

I think sometimes they are practicing on us in that sense. But when we say the doctor has a practice, we mean it is his practice to do that. It is his normal routine to live as a medical doctor, and that's the intent of the word prasso. Paul is saying this should be your practice.

This should be your pattern of life, these things. And now, you see, he's talking about how you conduct yourself. Godly attitudes, peace, joy, humility, faith, and gratitude. Godly thoughts, true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, and of good repute. And then godly practices, godly deeds. You see, spiritual stability finally comes down to the matter of living a life disciplined to obey God's standard.

I wish I could get this message across to this contemporary church culture. The reason people have so many problems which literally overpower them and spin them off to all of the books and counselors and psychologists and psychiatrists and methodologies going and all of the formulas and so forth. The reason they do that is because they haven't properly assessed the fact that the inability to stand your ground and live a balanced, stable Christian life is directly related to the absence of godly attitudes, godly thoughts, and godly practices.

And how in the world is someone going to fix you? Because you're the only one who can fix those areas in the power of God. You're the one who must walk in the Spirit that He might produce in you peace, joy, humility, faith, and gratitude. You're the one who must go into the Word of God and find their thoughts of true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, and good repute.

And you're the one who must discipline your life to do what is right. You show me a person filled with the Spirit and therefore having godly attitudes, you show me a person in whom the Word dwells richly and so they have godly thoughts. You show me a person who lives an obedient Christian life and I will show you a spiritually stable person. You see, the first thing we must do is diagnose the problem at its root as a spiritual one. Now I realize there can be sometimes some physical complications in our lives that debilitate us and foul up our thinking and things like that, but these are nonetheless spiritual problems. They must be dealt with in a spiritual way. You see, it's what Paul was talking about in 2 Corinthians 10 when he said the weapons of our warfare, you know, are not fleshly.

If you try to use fleshly weapons against the flesh, it isn't going to help. The weapons of our warfare are spiritual. Spiritual attitudes and spiritual truths, spiritual thoughts will bring everything captive to the obedience of Christ. 2 Corinthians 10, 5, it's a great truth. It takes everything prisoner and pulls it down to the obedience of Christ.

That's a great thought. You want godly attitudes and godly thoughts to take your flesh prisoner, don't you? And bring it captive to the obedience of Christ.

And that's what Paul is saying here. Sin in your behavior will produce spiritual instability. Sin in your practice will produce spiritual anxiety. However, purity in behavior will produce peace and stability. Isaiah 32, 17 puts it this way, And the work of righteousness will be peace always, always. You show me a person living a pure, godly life, I'll show you a person experiencing what?

Peace. If I were to sort of describe spiritual growth from my own personal experience, I would see spiritual growth as the development of godly habits. In other words, as you grow as a Christian, you begin to notice that the habits of your life are right. The diminishing of the bad habits, the arrival of the good ones, and that's a matter of self-discipline by the power of God. As you discipline your life and begin to cultivate good habits, you get your life under control.

Now let's look specifically at the verse and see what Paul is referring to. You have to practice, he says. You have to make habits of these things.

What things? Verse 9, the things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me. It's important to note, beloved, that the apostles really lived among the people. They ate with them, they slept with them, they lived with them because it was an utter essential that their life be totally from start to finish exposed to them so they would learn how to live. Now let's look at these four terms, learned, received, heard, and seen.

Each of them highlights a very important aspect. The first word is the word learned, and this comes from the Greek verb root for the word disciple. And it has to do with the idea of teaching, instructing, discipling.

The word mathetes is a learner, one who receives instruction. So Paul here is referring to his personal instruction of them, sometimes preaching to the Philippians, sometimes teaching them in a formal class, sometimes conversing with them in a dialogue, sometimes discipling them one on one. In Acts 20 it says that when he ministered, he went from house to house.

Sometimes it was just talking with a family around their dining table. But he says, all of the things that you have learned from me as I have taught you in many ways publicly and from house to house, as he said it in Acts 20-20, practice these things, these things that I have taught you. This was instruction, expounding to them the Old Testament truths, expounding to them the meaning of the New Testament revelation which he had received from God, explaining to them how to apply it in their life, his personal teaching, exposition to them.

So the first thing is you must practice in your life the things I taught you, the things you learned from me. Then secondly, he says, the things you received. Now some might say, well, he doesn't mean anything different here. He's just using another term. It's a synonym.

Well, that could be. On the other hand, the word received has some interesting usages in the New Testament. And most commentators would agree that the word received can be used as a technical term for the revelation from God that came direct. And I would like to have us use it that way as we look at this verse. Paul, I think, has in mind here the received word, not what he taught them in explaining and expounding the Scripture, but what God gave him and he gave them which was the Scripture, which they received. So Paul is saying, look, I want you to practice in your life what I've taught you. I want you to practice in your life what I've delivered to you of the Word of God itself, the Word and my comments on it, my instruction from it. It's basically what Paul has in mind when he says to Timothy in 2 Timothy 2, 2, the things you received from me among many witnesses, the same commit to faithful men who shall be able to teach others also. You received it, you pass it on. You received it from me, they'll receive it from you, and they'll deliver it to the next generation.

So he's passing on the baton, as it were, of revealed tradition to be passed on again. So what you've been taught in general and what you've been taught in specific revelation. Now notice the third term he uses here is the term heard and what you've heard. Some would suggest that it just means the same thing as learned and received.

You've learned, you've received, you've heard is all the same thing. I think we would be better served if we really understand the care with which the Spirit of God chooses words to assume that the word heard here now takes this discussion to another dimension. He's already covered what he told them in learned.

He's already covered what God told them in received. And now I believe he is alluding to what they have heard from other sources than himself or God. In other words, what you have heard about me and is true of me, because the word spread everywhere about this man, Paul.

His reputation was impeccable. They had surely heard much from others about his ministry, about his character, about his lifestyle, about his preaching. And so he is not afraid that something has been exposed that isn't right, so he just says what you've learned, that is what I personally have given you. What you've received, that is what God has transmitted through me to you by his revelation, and what you have heard about me from many sources.

Practice these things. And then fourthly, he says, and what you've seen in me. Now we're coming to first-hand experience.

Not what you heard from me second-hand, not what I gave you from God third-hand, not what you've heard from people around fourth-hand or fifth-hand or whatever, but first-hand what you've seen. You've seen my life. You've observed me. I've been with you. You've been with me.

Practice these things. Boy, what a consummate call to Christian duty. Everything you've been taught, everything that's been revealed from God, everything you've heard to be true of my lifestyle, and everything you've observed in me, do it as a way of life. He's not embarrassed to say this because he knew his calling. Beloved, the apostles were called not only to walk with Christ, but they were called to be living models of New Testament Christianity before the early church.

That was their calling. He modeled the standard. He had the peace, the joy, the humility, the faith, the gratitude. He thought of what was true, honorable, right, pure, lovely and of good repute. He walked according to the revealed truth. He says, you've got to live like this. Follow me on your pattern. And what is the promise attached to that at the end of verse 9?

What is it? And the God of peace shall be with you. Now God is the God of a lot of things. Why does He say the God of peace?

Because what's He talking about here? He's talking about being spiritually strong, stable, firm, tranquil, content in the midst of difficulty. He's talking about being adequate for life. He's talking about being sufficient for all the difficulties. He's talking about being able to do all things through Him who strengthens me.

He's talking about being content in anything and in everything. And that's why He calls Him the God of peace. That's why in verse 7 He mentioned the peace of God.

Now follow this. If you have godly attitudes and godly thoughts and godly deeds, you will be guarded by the peace of God and the God of peace. What a tremendous statement. Therein lies your comfort, your tranquility, your calm, your quietness, your confidence. It was so real to Him, so real to Him that He began to, I think, think of God very often as the God of peace. It means the God whose character is peace and the God who is the giver of peace, the source, the origin of it. He began to think of God that way.

Why? Because He was in endless trouble all the time. Read 2 Corinthians 11, 23 to 33. Always in difficulty, always in trying circumstances, always facing temptation, hostility, persecution, tests, trials, and so forth. And He had found God to be the God of peace.

Why? The Spirit had granted to Him godly attitudes. The Word had granted to Him godly thoughts. And He had policed His life by those means to godly practices. And so He knew the peace of God.

It became a favorite of His, and very often in His letters He refers to God that way. Romans 15, 33, He says, now the God of peace be with you all. Twenty verses later, and the God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. At the end of His second letter to the Corinthians, verse 11 of chapter 13, and the God of love and peace shall be with you. At the end of His first epistle to the Thessalonians, chapter 5, verse 23, now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely. At the end of 2 Thessalonians, chapter 3 and verse 16, now may the Lord of peace Himself continually grant you peace in every circumstance.

It became a favorite of His, the God of peace. How can you know the God of peace and the peace of God? How can you be tranquil? How can you be calm in the midst of everything, temptations, onslaughts, doubts, fears, troubles? By living according to God's pattern, by thinking according to God's pattern, and by feeling according to God's pattern. Right attitudes, right thoughts, right action.

You have to police your life, and your action ultimately will control your stability. That means you have to be disciplined. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, writing in his book Spiritual Depression, gives this testimony. He said, I defy you to read the life of any saint that has ever adorned the life of the church without seeing at once that the greatest characteristic in the life of that saint was discipline and order. Invariably, it is the universal characteristic of all the outstanding men and women of God. Read about Henry Martin, David Brainerd, Jonathan Edwards, the brothers Wesley and Whitfield.

Read their journals. It does not matter what branch of the church they belong to. They have all disciplined their lives and have insisted upon the need for this. And obviously, it is something that is thoroughly scriptural and absolutely essential.

End quote. We must be disciplined to add to our faith virtue, pure conduct, patterns of life, practices of righteousness. And this makes us able to be content in any circumstance and find the strength of Christ. That's John MacArthur, Chancellor of the Masters University and Seminary, with today's lesson, part of his study on Grace to You, titled Seven Steps to Spiritual Stability.

Well, John, just to help sort of sum up what we've seen in this study, let me ask you if I get it right. I think you're saying that the person who is able to weather the storms of life, who seems inherently able to stand strong, that person is going to be more useful than a sort of Christian who just sort of gets by and struggles with instability. Well, of course, because if the gospel is that you come to Christ, he forgives your sin, he becomes your Lord and Master, he takes over your life, and he leads you consistently, he puts his Holy Spirit in you, he directs every part of your life.

If that's the message that we're preaching, it ought to show up in the way we live. So if you're saying Christ can change your life, he can give you peace and joy and fulfillment and satisfaction and usefulness and meaning and all of those wonderful things in your life, and you're a basic emotional wreck, then what does that say about the gospel? So it isn't just that you know the facts of the gospel that makes your testimony effective, it is that your life shows a kind of spiritual stability, a kind of strength.

And it's not just sort of psychological optimism or a more positive spirit, positive thinking. It is true faith that says, I put my life in the hands of the Lord Jesus Christ, and no matter what comes, I know that he is working all things together for good for my life, for his glory as well. That is the message of the gospel. Christ will give you hope, he'll give you peace, he'll give you joy, he'll give you stability and strength.

So if you're saying you're a Christian, then you ought to be able to demonstrate that that is your life. Seven Steps to Spiritual Stability is available on six MP3 downloads free of charge. You can just go to and download all six of those MP3s. If CDs work best for you, you can purchase the series and a six CD album. Whatever the case is, make sure that you stay on the path to spiritual stability and get in touch today to pick up Seven Steps to Spiritual Stability in whatever form works best for you.

That's right, and friend, this study contains quite a bit of material that we didn't have time to put on the radio. So get a copy of Seven Steps to Spiritual Stability, review it, and see how you can find stability in the midst of uncertainty. Get in touch with us today. To order the six CD album, call 800-55-GRACE, or even faster, download this series for free at Also at our website, you'll find John's entire sermon archive. That's 3,500 messages covering key doctrines, how to think biblically about controversial social issues, and at least one message on every New Testament verse.

To take advantage of all of that free teaching, go to And when you get in touch with us, make sure to let us know how John's teaching has strengthened you spiritually. Perhaps you've learned how to trust Christ more, or resist sin more consistently, or someone you know heard the gospel on one of these broadcasts and came to faith in Christ. We'd like to hear about that.

It encourages us. So email your story to letters at, or send your letter to Grace To You, Box 4000, Panorama City, CA 91412. Now for John MacArthur, I'm Phil Johnson. Remember, Grace To You television airs this Sunday, and Be Here Monday, when John looks at how you can know peace and even joy in your darkest days. He's launching a series called Benefiting From Life's Trials with another half hour of unleashing God's truth one verse at a time on Grace To You.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-01-13 05:59:19 / 2023-01-13 06:09:12 / 10

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