Filling Your Mind
by Jack Wald | June 9th, 2019

Philippians 4:8-9

We come to the second of Paul’s concluding remarks in his Philippians letter this morning. All that is left after this is Paul’s thanks to the Philippian church for their financial support of him which I will talk about next Sunday.

In verses 8-9 Paul presents a list of virtues that are not found in any of his other letters.
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

Sermons on these verses tend to tell you what not to watch, what not to read, what not to do – and there is some truth to this. I will come back to this at the end of the sermon. But what Paul is talking about is much more complicated than a simple list of what is good and what is bad for us.

What Paul is telling the Philippian church is that they are to examine their culture, see what is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable and decorate the gospel they received from Paul with these things. In the process, they are to reject the parts of their culture that are in opposition to the gospel.

To explain this, let me take time to talk about how the gospel comes to us and how we can examine our culture to discern what is good and what is bad in light of the gospel.

How does the gospel come to us? First, the gospel always comes to us as a translation into our culture.

The gospel came to this world with the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. It is important to understand that the gospel life we are to live did not begin with the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. It came as a translation of the life of the Triune God into a Palestinian culture. The life Jesus taught us to live is the life lived in the relationship between the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. When you read the lists of behaviors the New Testament encourages us to imitate, these lists describe the relationship within the Trinity that existed for an eternity before the creation of the universe.

In Philippians 2 Paul writes: (Philippians 2:1–4)
Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, 2 then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. 3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

Paul then goes on to illustrate this list with the life of Jesus. (Philippians 2:5)
In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

This list did not come out of a vacuum, it describes how Father, Son, and Holy Spirit relate with each other. They encourage each other, comfort each other, are tender and compassionate toward each other. They are like-minded, have the same love, are one in spirit and mind. There is no selfishness or conceit in the Trinity, but rather a humility that values the other two persons in the Trinity above themselves.

There are some who tell us the modern church needs to be modeled after the early church. But which dysfunctional early church do they want us to model ourselves after? The Judaizers who wanted to impose Jewish culture on Gentiles? The Corinthian church that was split into competing factions? All these churches were imperfect.

When I was about 11 years old, my father build a storage shed next to our house and I helped him with this. One of my tasks was to put rows of wood shingles on the roof. My father taught me to measure from the first line for each row, not from the last row. If a mistake is made in the second row, then the mistake will be compounded in the third row and fourth row and so on. The result would be a very uneven shingle line as you near the roof top. But if you measure each time from the first row, then the mistakes are corrected as you move toward the roof top.

To model your church after an existing church is to be as imperfect a church as that church is. We need to measure ourselves and our behavior in the community of the church by the model of the Trinity. We try to live with each other, relating to each other the way Father, Son, and Holy Spirit relate to each other.

As the gospel moves from one culture to another, it needs to be retranslated. Every time the gospel goes into a new culture, it needs to be retranslated. The gospel was translated from the Trinity to a Palestinian culture and then when Paul took the gospel to the Gentiles, it needed to be translated into Greco-Roman culture.

One way you see this is that when Paul proclaimed the gospel of Jesus to the Gentile world, he did not talk about Jesus the Messiah. The Messiah was a Jewish understanding of who Jesus is and meant nothing to the Gentile world. So Paul used a Greco-Roman term and talked about Jesus as Lord which the Greco-Roman world understood.

The gospel always comes to us as a translation into our culture. Second, an understanding of culture is required to make a good translation.

The Bible has been translated into most of the languages of the world. As of October 2018 the full Bible has been translated into 683 languages, the New Testament has been translated into an additional 1,534 languages and Bible portions or stories into 1,133 other languages. Thus at least some portion of the Bible has been translated into 3,350 languages.

In the translations, the meaning of what is written needs to be translated, not just the words. This requires an understanding of the culture surrounding the language of the translation. Let me give two examples.

We tell people they need to know Jesus in their heart. In the language of the King James Bible, you need to know Jesus in your bowels. In the time of the King James translation, the bowels were the center of a person. Today we say that the heart is the center of a person. In one tribal language the Bible says you need to know Jesus in your throat because that is the center of a person.

In Japanese, the translation of sin is tsumi. The character for tsumi is a robber caught by a net. So the meaning of tsumi is being found out. But the Greek understanding of sin is an arrow missing the target. So when the Bible talks about sin it means missing the mark, doing what is wrong, not about being found out. This difference comes because the Greco-Roman world had a guilt-innocence world view. To sin is to do what is wrong. But Asia, and North Africa and the Middle East, have an honor-shame world view where being found to have done something wrong is the problem, not having done something wrong in itself. So a different translation of sin for a Japanese Bible is necessary to communicate what is meant.

When the Bible is being translated into a new language, the culture of that language needs to be understood if it is going to be a good translation.

So it is with the gospel. If the gospel is going to be clearly communicated, there has to be an understanding of not only the culture the gospel is going to, but also the culture the gospel is coming from.

Paul was a Pharisee, steeped in Jewish culture, but his revelation of Jesus on the road to Damascus and the next three years he spent in the Arabian Peninsula gave him time to understand the implications of what it meant that Jesus had died and resurrected. During this time he had mystical experiences with Jesus that he references in his letters. Those three years were like a graduate course in theology and his thesis became the new theology of the church.

Paul had to examine his culture to see what was helpful and what was not helpful in the gospel of Jesus that emerged from his reflections and study.

The Judaizers who insisted that the Gentile converts obey the Law of Moses did not do this. They did not understand the significance of what had happened with the death and resurrection of Jesus so Paul had to battle with them for the health of the new Gentile churches.

The gospel always comes to us as a translation into our culture. An understanding of culture is required to make a good translation. Third, culture always wraps itself around the gospel.

The values of the culture interpret the gospel that comes to it. Like barnacles that attach themselves to the wooden hull of a sailing vessel, cultural values attach themselves to the gospel. If the values are good or benign, they decorate the gospel and make it unique. But if they are ungodly values, they weaken the gospel and make it less effective in the spiritual transformation of lives. If the ship is to sail fast, the barnacles must be removed. There is no culture that has a pure gospel. Every culture has some destructive elements that weaken the gospel in that culture.

The gospel always comes to us as a translation into our culture. An understanding of culture is required to make a good translation. Culture always wraps itself around the gospel. Fourth, the challenge is to identify what in our culture is good, what is benign, and what is bad.

What is good in a culture should be embraced. As the gospel is translated into a new culture, the positive aspects of that culture make the gospel more beautiful. The African church has helped the Western church to see the reality of spiritual warfare. Each culture that receives the gospel asks new questions and adds to the beauty of the gospel.

But there are also parts of culture that are destructive and must be rejected. In the islands of Hawaii, missionaries discovered that babies were sacrificed at the four corners of a building that was being constructed and fought against that. In India missionaries fought against the practice of widows being burned along with their dead husbands.

British and American missionaries brought the gospel to many parts of the world – and that is admirable. But unfortunately they also brought Western culture with them. Missionaries to Hawaii and elsewhere taught that Christian modesty required wearing Western clothes. There is nothing in the Bible that tells us we have to wear clothes at all. What the Bible tells us is to dress modestly relative to the culture.

Missionaries brought the Western culture of clothing, and they also brought the Western culture of worship and church. Rather than adopt to the culture of how people meet, they built churches with spires and pews all facing forward. They sang Western hymns with the lyrics translated into the local language. They put the gospel into a foreign culture that made it more difficult for people of that culture to accept the gospel.

Unfortunately, the missionaries were not aware of what was cultural in the gospel they brought. They simply tried to do what they had done in their home countries. Their culture was wrapped around the gospel and they did not know enough to unwrap it before presenting it to a new culture.

This is the problem and the difficulty comes in trying to understand what part of our gospel is enculturated, wrapped with the culture. Lesslie Newbigin writes that “trying to criticize one’s own culture is like trying to push a bus while you’re sitting in it.” There is a proverb, attributed to the Chinese, that says, “If you want to know what water is, don’t ask the fish.”

David Foster Wallace, an American writer, illustrated this in a speech he gave, “There are these two young fish swimming along, and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, “Morning, boys, how’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, “What the hell is water?” Fish know very little about water because they are never not in water. Land creatures know more about water than fish do. We know it is wet. We know that it reflects light. We know that it refreshes. We know you cannot hold it without it slipping through your fingers. Fish do not know these things.

The same is true for us in our culture. It is difficult to analyze our own cultural values. An observer may be able to look at popular entertainment in the U.S. and see that individualism is a value. The ideal individual doesn’t need anyone and can take care of things by him or herself. Is this a Christian value? Not at all. God created us to be in community and he created us to be dependent on one another. Asians and Africans see this aspect of Western culture much more clearly than Westerners. On the other hand, Westerners see very clearly the materialistic effect of the health and wealth gospel in Nigeria and other African countries.

Lesslie Newbigin was a British missionary to India and wrote, “In Indian society . . . missionaries have attacked such deeply entrenched elements of public life as caste, dowry, child marriage, and the immolation of widows. In Africa they have similarly thrown their weight against polygamy and the slave trade.”

But in the homogenous churches of the world, where do we get the opportunity to sit with each other and share our stories and learn from the diverse cultures of the world? Missionaries have had this privilege. Lesslie Newbigin describes this benefit of cross-cultural experience:
What can also happen is that the missionary, and through him the church he represents, can become aware … of the extent to which his culture had been allowed to determine the nature of the gospel he preaches, instead of being brought under judgment by that gospel. If this happens, great possibilities for mutual correction open up. Each side, perceiving Christ through the spectacle of one culture, can help the other to see how much the vision has been blurred or distorted.

This is the privilege we have in an international church. What we cannot see in our own culture is more easily seen by people outside of our culture. I have learned a lot about American values over the years by talking with members of our church from other parts of the world. When we have studied the Bible I have learned that there are other ways to interpret what is read. Because of these conversations I have a better understanding of my own culture and am better able to present the gospel to people who are outside of my home culture.

This is what Gordon Fee says Paul is meaning in the verses for today.
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

These are values from the Greco-Roman culture of the Philippians and Paul encourages them to hold on to these values. Paul encourages them not to reject these positive cultural values.

When missionaries move into a culture without understanding that culture, they will pull people away from the positive parts of their culture – simply because the missionaries do not understand that culture. Rather than the gospel being decorated with the beauty of that culture, the culture is stripped away and replaced with a foreign culture.

The people of that culture are taught that their culture is inferior or evil and the foreign culture is the only way to live a Christian life. The gospel suffers because of this.

I have a friend who was a missionary in Indonesia. During my years in business he came back to visit friends and churches and showed me a film about a revival in one part of Indonesia. The gospel had been there for awhile but had not spread. And then there was a period of rapid growth in the church. What made the difference is that they began to write worship songs with traditional melodies and instruments. They adopted tribal rituals for the church. So, for example, when a new pastor arrived at a church, the warriors of the community would come out with their spears and war paint, as they did to welcome a neighboring chief, to greet the new pastor and bring him into their community.

One of the more shocking parts of the film for me was that when the gospel came to a tribe, the chief would decide to accept it or reject it, and if the chief accepted it, then the whole tribe became Christians. This offended my American sense of individualism, but as I reflected on it, I realized that this was much closer to the biblical account of conversion in Acts.

A royal officer came to Jesus to ask him to heal his daughter. Jesus told him, “Go, your son will live,”and he left. When he was on his way home some servants met him to tell him his son was alive. (John 4:53)
Then the father realized that this was the exact time at which Jesus had said to him, “Your son will live.” So he and his whole household believed.

In Acts 16 when Paul preached the good news to Lydia in Philippi, “she and the members of her household were baptized.”

When Paul and Silas were in prison in Philippi and miraculously released, the jailer and his household were baptized.

My exposure to the experience of followers of Jesus in Indonesia opened my mind to a wider and deeper truth than I had from my American culture of Christian faith.

Paul goes on to write,
Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

Paul told them to measure their cultural values against the gospel he preached, taught and by the example he set when he was with them.

Every culture must be measured against the truth of the gospel. The values of the culture need to be identified and then held up along biblical truth. The good parts of the culture need to be embraced. The benign parts of culture can be accepted. The bad parts of the culture that stand in opposition to biblical truth need to be rejected.

As they do this, Paul tells them, “the God of peace will be with you.”

Embrace the positive parts of your culture and allow them to decorate the gospel you have received. By focusing on what is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent and praiseworthy, you will experience the peace of God. I’ll come back to some application of all this in a moment.

This brings us to the importance of what we watch and what we do. We live in a world in which there is a lot that is not true, noble, pure, lovely, and admirable. We live in a world that defends the right to have pornography easily available. We live in a world where movies and TV shows have increasingly graphic violence and sexual scenes.

It seems so clear to me that there is a connection between the violent images we see and the violent acts carried out in real life. There is a connection between pornography and the treatment of women and young children.

If what we watch and do is measured by how true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable they are, how would what we watch rate?

Let me make three comments about this.

First, more important than what we watch is how what we watch affects us. After watching a movie or TV show or playing a video game, what images stay in your mind? As you go to sleep at night, what do you think about?

When I was younger I played some of the computer games that came out. After an hour or more playing a game, when I closed my eyes or when I went to bed at night, the images of the computer game flashed in front of me.

Ask yourself if the images that stay with you are helpful to you. Do they feed your peace or do they rob you of your peace? Do they distract you from what is good and important? Do they encourage you to have healthy relationships with people? Do they encourage you to love your neighbor, to welcome the stranger, to care for people you come in contact with?

A Christian group in the US, Ceili Rain, wrote a song titled, Junkyard. Here are some of the lyrics.

Saw a movie where a guy
Kills another guy – twice
Don’t know if I can forget about it
Saw a guy finish a fight
With a butcher knife – slice
Pretty sure I won’t forget about it
Is it ok if I say

My heart is not a junkyard
My mind is not a dump for all the gunk around
My spirit’s not a junkyard
No, it’s Holy ground

Saw a photo on the net
Can’t believe that I’ve seen
Don’t know if I can forget about it
Two kids were playing in some dirt
That’ll never come clean
Wish to God I could forget about it
No one’s safe ‘till we all say

My heart is not a junkyard
My mind is not a dump for all the gunk around
My spirit’s not a junkyard
No, it’s Holy ground

No one’s safe ‘til we all say
My heart is not a junkyard
My mind is not a dump for all the gunk around
My spirit’s not a junkyard
No, it’s Holy ground

Second, not everyone is affected the same way by what you watch.

When I was a new follower of Jesus in Boston, there was a man who sold hot dogs from a cart in front of the student center. He had been a hippie, heavily involved in the world of drugs and sex. Jesus had rescued him from all this and he was a delight to talk with. One day he had a couple cartons of records he was selling. He was selling them because they reminded him of his drug days and they robbed him of his peace.

I bought some of them because they did not trigger those memories for me. One of them I bought was a record by Mississippi Fred McDowell, a blues singer. I loved that record. He came to the campus a couple years before he died and gave a concert. It remains one of the most memorable concerts I ever went to.

For me, his music was wonderful. For my friend who sold hot dogs, the music pulled him back to his drug days. The music robbed my friend of his joy, but it gave me joy.

I have a friend who does not like to watch nature films of animals on the hunt, capturing prey so they can eat. A video of a lion killing a gazelle and eating it is highly disturbing to him. Others can watch that video and enjoy seeing the way things work in nature.

I love the sculptures of Michelangelo. At the New York World’s Fair in 1964, his sculpture of Mary holding the dead body of Jesus in her lap, the Pieta, was on display. The white marble was bathed in blue light and there was a moving walkway to take you past it. I was 13 at the time and I stepped off the walkway to stand there and watch. A guard had to come and tell me I needed to move on. The marble seemed to breath life.

So sometime after that I read Irving Stone’s novel about Michelangelo, The Agony and the Ecstasy. My memory was that it was an erotic novel because of some sections that talked about sexual encounters in the life of Michelangelo.

In 1999 Annie and I took our daughters to Italy and I brought a copy of the novel to reread. This time it was not erotic at all. In fact it was rather tame. The difference was that the first time I read it I was a teenager with raging hormones and the second time I was married with an active sexual life.

We are not all affected in the same way by what we watch. We have different temperaments. We are at different stages of life. We have different life experiences.

So I cannot stand here and make rules about what to watch or what not to watch. You have to decide for yourself what feeds you in a positive way and what is destructive to your peace.

If you find something to be a negative influence on you, step away from it. There are some people who enjoy horror movies; I avoid them. Don’t be afraid to be different. Protect your peace. Your spirit’s not a junkyard; it’s Holy ground.

That being said, there are some things that are not good for anyone. Pornography is destructive. There is no positive benefit to watching pornography, no matter how hard you try to justify it. The #MeToo movement reveals how widespread the pornographic culture is and how negatively it has affected relationships between men and women.

People who watch pornography, mostly men, view others as sexual objects. The images they watch stay in their minds so that when they see a woman, they view her not as a person, but merely someone they can use to satisfy their desire. Women are no longer people, only objects.

Anything that devalues or degrades other humans is destructive.

In the early church, followers of Jesus had to choose not to participate in the entertainment of the day. People went to the coliseums to watch gladiators fight against each other. The winner lived and the loser was killed. They came to watch gladiators slaughter wild animals. That was the local sport, the local entertainment. But whenever the abuse of humans or animals is a source of entertainment, this is evil.

Jesus looked at people and loved them, wanting them to accept him and come into his kingdom. When we look at people and see them as someone who can satisfy some personal desire or passion, we have descended into a Satanic view of people.

The modern day equivalent of the coliseum is the reality shows that are everywhere. People watch these shows to see people belittled, demeaned, and degraded. They may make you laugh, but you laugh at the expense of someone’s dignity.

There is a dignity to humans that needs to be valued and when we find delight in degrading humans who are created in the image of God, that is not true, noble, praiseworthy or excellent.

Protect your peace. Guard your mind from images that will weaken or destroy your peace. Reject the entertainment of the world that destroys the view of people God wants us to have.

Work to develop eyes that see people the way God sees them. Embrace the diversity of the world. Embrace the diversity of the cultures of the world. As the cultures of the world do this, the gospel becomes more beautiful, more complete, and more powerful.

You have a great privilege being part of an international community of followers of Jesus. Take advantage of your time here. I have benefitted greatly by talking with Elliot about biblical issues. I have learned a lot from him. Seek out people from different cultures to study the Bible together. Learn about your culture by seeing it through the eyes of someone from another culture. Don’t be defensive. There is good and bad in each culture. There is no perfect culture. Let others help you see what is good and bad in your own culture.

Philippians 4:8–9
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. 9 Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.