Sunday Sermons

Sunday Sermons

Spiritual Disciplines - Part 7: Bible Study


Spiritual Disciplines VII



The purpose of Christianity is the total transformation of the person.  Such things as prayer, meditation, obedience, service, worship, and fasting are aimed at replacing old destructive habits of thought with new life-giving habits.  Nowhere is this purpose more clearly seen than in the practice of Bible study.  Paul tells us that we are transformed through the renewing of the mind (Romans 12:2).  “The mind is transformed by applying it to those things that will transform it” (Foster p. 62).   A detailed and practical game plan for renewing the mind is revealed in the following passages:


Philippians 4:8


“Finally”: “Paul lists a number of traits, which, if incorporated into one's thinking processes, would truly contribute to tranquility of life” (Jackson p. 81).  This verse also contains practical information that will help any Christian "stand fast" in the Lord (4:1). The "peace" mentioned in 4:7 demands some human cooperation, it does not just happen.  “The readers must do their part by controlling their minds and thoughts,” (Erdman p. 142), yet this verse admits that we can realistically control our mental attitude and what we think. Everyone allows his or her mind to dwell upon something, “The human mind will always set itself on something” (Barclay p. 79).  Therefore, since I am going to expend mental energy thinking about something, the wise man says, “I should at least profit from such mental activity”. Many have noted that thoughts produce habits, habits lead to actions, actions determine character, and character determines your eternal destiny.  Barclay reminds us, “This is something of the utmost importance, because it is a law of life that, if a man thinks of something often enough, he will come to the stage when he cannot stop thinking about it.  His thoughts will be quite literally in a groove out of which he cannot jerk them” (p. 79).


“Whatever”:  That is, whatever would fit into the following categories.


“True”:  Which infers that many things are also false.  Not every idea, opinion, and viewpoint is credible.  “Many things in this world are deceptive and illusory, promising what they can never perform, offering a specious peace and happiness which they can never supply.  A man should always set his thoughts on the things which will not let him down” (Barclay p. 79).  The Christian cannot afford to live in an illusionary fantasy world.  “It is not a true thing that God does not care what we believe and how we act in consequence” (Lenski p. 882). This means that the Christian does not have the right to believe a false concept, even though he might not practice it. God does not want Christians to be gullible.  “The term denotes that which is ‘true to fact’.  Truth is grounded in the very nature of God (Romans 3:4; 8:32; 17:17)” (Jackson pp. 81-82).  Jesus noted, “You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free” (John 8:32).  Foster adds, “Ecstatic experiences will not free us.  Getting ‘high on Jesus’ will not free us.  Without knowledge of the truth, we will not be free.  Many are hampered and confused in the spiritual walk by a simple ignorance of the truth.  Worse yet, many have been brought into the cruelest bondage by false teaching (Matthew 23:15).  Many Christians remain in bondage to fears and anxieties simply because they do not avail themselves to study” (pp. 63,62).   Please note that the truth does not inherently free us, rather, it is the knowledge of the truth, our own personal knowledge that comes as a result of our own effort in studying the Scriptures (2 Timothy 2:15). 


“When we study a book of the Bible we are seeking to be controlled by the intent of the author.  We are determined to hear what he is saying, not what we want him to say.  We want life-transforming truth, not just good feelings” (Foster p. 69).   We need also to remember that the mere accumulation of information is not knowledge, for there are people who are always giving information, but who never come to a knowledge of the truth (2 Timothy 3:7). 


At this point we need to ask ourselves, “Do we really want to know the truth, for the truth brings responsibility to share it with others.  The truth also destroys many of the comfortable myths which exist in our culture.  Bible study is a test of our character, for it exposes either a heart determined to know God regardless of the personal cost or a heart that wants to only reinforce its own selfish agenda and preconceived ideas (John 7:17 “If any man is willing to do His will, he shall know of the teaching, whether it is of God, or whether I speak from Myself”; John 18:37 “Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice”).  On an even deeper level, a love for the truth means a love for God, for really knowing the truth means a willingness to abandon all falsehoods and embracing the God who is behind every particular element of the truth (John 17:3 “And this is eternal life, that they may know Thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom Thou hast sent”).   Are we willing to set all preconceived ideas aside and accept fully the revelation of God given in the Scriptures?


“Honorable”:  “Dignified” (Rhm); “Worthy of reverence” (Mon)  “Is a quality that is characterized by soberness, as opposed to a flippant attitude that lacks intellectual seriousness” (Jackson p. 82).  “That which wins respect or commands reverence and esteem.  It refers to lofty things, majestic things, things that lift the mind from the cheap and tawdry to that which is noble and good and of moral worth” (Hawthorne p. 188). “There are things in this world which are flippant and cheap and attractive to the light-minded” (Barclay p. 79).Christians need to take the time to reflect about the serious things of life (1 Tim. 2:2; 3:4; Titus 2:2,7; 3:8). “There lies in it the idea of a dignity or majesty which is yet inviting and attractive, and which inspires reverence” (Vincent p. 458). (Colossians 3:1-2 “Set your mind on things above”).   I hope that we realize what we have in the Bible.  The Bible is a wonderful escape from shallow thinking and from the trivial things that seem to consume so many people.  When we daydream, do we daydream about honorable, majestic things, or cheap and silly things?


“Just”:  “What is right” (Gspd).  The Christian will be miserable if he or she allows false concepts to remain in their thinking.  The Christian is the person who admits that whatever God says and does is "right".  Allowing bad things to happen to people is "just". Hell exists and it is "just".  Allowing people to be tempted is "just".  Allowing people to exercise their freewill and chose to be lost, is "just". The Christian should not long for the "easy way out", rather, they should only want to do what is "right".  Instead of thinking selfishly, the Christian says, “what is fair?” (Colossians 4:1).  I am always saddened when people daydream about winning a lot of money.  Such mental activity is not only a waste, it breeds laziness, discontentment, ingratitude, and a host of other bad attitudes. “It concerns giving to God and men their due.  It involves duty and responsibility.  It entails satisfying all obligations” (Hawthorne p. 188). Too many people today are looking for "something for nothing".


“Pure”: “This world is full of things which are sordid and shabby and soiled and smutty.  Many a man gets his mind into such a state that it soils everything of which it thinks” (Barclay p. 80)  (Titus 1:15). Many argue that our modern society is filled with just too many temptations for this command to be realistically applied.  Hendriksen reminds us, “The Philippians, because of their background and surroundings, were being constantly tempted by that which was unchaste” (p. 198), yet God does not exempt them from this command. Unfortunately, some Christians spend their lives hoping that a certain temptation would cross their paths.  I heard Jay Leno commenting upon a survey that had found around 70 percent of high school students reported that they have faced sexual harassment at school.  He then commented that the remaining 30% wondered why they hadn't. The word "pure" also applies to "pure" motives and actions.  The Christian does not have the right to "plot" revenge (Romans 12:19-21). Some people spend their lives dwelling upon all the bad things they would love to see happen to those who wronged them, and such people are usually miserable (Titus 3:3).


“Lovely”: “Endearing” (Con); “lovable” (TCNT); “It is that which calls forth love “(Jackson p. 82).  “Winsome.  Thus the Christian's mind is to be set on things that elicit from others not bitterness and hostility, but admiration and affection” (Hawthorne p. 188).“There are those who minds are so set on vengeance and punishment that they call forth bitterness and fear in others.  There are those whose minds are so set on criticism and rebuke that they call forth resentment in others” (Barclay p. 80). The world gets all mixed up concerning what is "winsome".  In this very letter we find some very "attractive" attitudes and actions:  1. Generosity (1:5).  2. Optimism (1:12).  3. A desire to be with Christ (1:21,23).  4. Self-sacrifice and unselfishness (2:1-8).  5. A thirst for God (3:7-16).



“Good report”: “Well spoken of, reputable”.  “Those things, which deserved a good reputation (1 Corinthians 13:6).  “Lit., ‘sounding well’ that which is fit to hear” (Jackson p. 82). The Christian should not be interested in gossip and the Christian takes no pleasure in hearing the dirt that has surfaced concerning another member.  The Christian eagerly desires to hear those things, which are good, that is,  the good things that Christians are doing,  and the successes they are having.  Jackson makes all of us uncomfortable when he says, “It is a truly interesting exercise to listen to the things that most commonly engage the conversations of men--even some who profess to be disciples of the Lord Jesus!” (p. 82)


“If there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise”: “If virtue and honor have any meaning” (TCNT); “Whatever moral excellence exists, and whatever praise it deserves” (Erdman p. 143).  “Nothing that is really worthwhile for believers to ponder and take into consideration is omitted from this summarizing phrase.  Anything at all that is a matter of moral and spiritual excellence, so that it is the proper object of praise, is the right pasture for the Christian mind to graze in” (Hendriksen p. 199). Paul could also be inferring that virtue and praiseworthy behavior cannot be developed without thinking about the right things.


“Let your mind dwell on these things”:  “To take account of. It also suggests that we are to constantly place our minds on these things.  Vine notes that it means to ‘make those things the subjects of your thoughtful consideration’” (Jackson p. 81). We are responsible for our thoughts!  Contrary to the thinking of some, man is capable of "holding on" to good thoughts.  I can make such things the habitual food for my mind.  The Christian can really change, and such change can reach right down to the very essence of one's attitude. The Christian has too much to ponder to allow his mind to wander.  Happiness and contentment (4:7) is impossible without practicing Philippians 4:8.  You will be miserable until you finally hand over your "mental time and loyalty" to God.  When God gets your mind, you will begin to find out what life is really all about.   The word “dwell” suggests concentration, repetition, and reflection. We may smile condescendingly at the old teaching method of repetition, but such a tool is valuable(Psalm 119:11).  “We live in a culture that does not value concentration.  Distraction is the order of the day” (Foster p. 65).   I like what Foster noted about Bible study, “It soon becomes obvious that study demands humility.  Study simply cannot happen until we are willing to be subject to the subject matter.  We must come as student, not teacher” (p. 66).  In reality, when we study the Bible we are actually studying ourselves in the process, for the goal is to bring our own lives into conformity with what God has revealed. 


Mark Dunagan/Beaverton Church of Christ/503-644-9017