The Bible is the greatest book ever written for man and the words of the Bible prove this fact over and over again. It has been said that it is the “owner’s” manual for life. Certainly it was written by the one who knows man best-his Creator. Just as we would look to the owner’s manual for our automobiles, houses, and other items we possess to become more intimately acquainted with these items, so also we should look to the Bible to become more intimately acquainted with ourselves. Modern psychologists have nothing to boast greater than the principles set down for man’s well being in the Bible. Perhaps no clearer example of this can be found than in the book of Philippians.
Paul wrote the book of Philippians to thank the brethren in Philippi for the monetary gift that they had sent Paul by the hands of Epaphroditus (1:4,5; 4:18). But Epaphroditus also brought some additional news to Paul regarding the church a Philippi. They had heard about Paul’s current imprisonment and were worried about him (1:30). Paul comforts the church by letting them know that this situation he is in resulted in the increase of the gospel (1:12). He also relates to them that he hopes that he will soon be released from his imprisonment and will visit them again (1:25, 26). However, Paul wants them to know that whether he lives or dies all will be well (1:21). Their concern for Paul’s situation had evidently lead to a congregational anxiety that was preventing them from living according to the principles of the gospel. The rest of the book of Philippians is addressed to the concern that Paul has regarding the Philippians-that they should set their minds on matters over which they can control, not over matters that lead to worry and depression. This would bring them out of their “blue funk” and bring them back to greater service to the Lord.
The crux of the book of Philippians in this regard is found in chapter four. It is in this chapter that Paul discusses the action one can take to bring one’s self into the peace of God. The prescription that Paul gives to the brethren is a combination of mental and physical exercises. First, they were to “rejoice in the Lord always” (4:4). This is a mental exercise. The Christian has everything for which to be thankful and nothing for which to be ungrateful. This should lead to a perpetual spirit of joy in the Christian’s life. The sacrifice of Jesus for our sins should humble us into recognition that nothing is so important in this life so as to be cause for anxiety and depression. The Christian has everything! For this reason, he can rejoice! Psychologists have stated that in times of extreme tension, one should picture oneself in a place of happiness. The principle was first iterated long ago in the sacred scriptures.
Second, Paul says, “Let your moderation be known unto all men” (4:5a). This is a physical exercise. The Christian is not to be caught up in the extremes of the world. There is on the one hand the extreme of debauchery in all its forms and practices and it was prevalent in the Philippian’s society as well as ours today. On the other hand there is the extreme of isolationism. This is the concept that we must completely cut ourselves off from those around us who are not Christians and never have anything to do with anyone. Both of these are extreme choices that Christians faced then and face now. The Christian must exercise moderation in living a life that includes interaction with society, but does not participate in its sinfulness. Balance is certain one of the fundamental principles of modern psychology and here it is clearly stated in God’s word.
Third, Paul writes, “The Lord is at hand” (4.5b). Many have interpreted this phrase to have reference to the second coming, but the context suggests that this more likely refers to the ever-present awareness within the Christian that God is with us. This is a mental exercise. Hebrews 13:5c states, “for he hath said, ‘I will never leave thee nor forsake thee.'” The expression, “The Lord is at hand” indicates to the Christian that God will always be there for him in time of worry or depression. It is a great comfort to recognize that God is always by our side and is not going to leave us as long as we don’t leave Him. With God, there is no problem or trouble or worry or fear that can’t be overcome, for all things are accomplishable with Him (Philippians 4:13). Modern psychology is replete with the principle that you are never alone. The self-help group is a common occurrence in today’s society. The Christian’s “self-help group” has a Member the likes of which this world cannot boast.
Fourth, we read, “Be careful in nothing” (4:6a). This is a mental and physical exercise. The word “careful” should really be translated “anxious” as indicated in the American Standard Version. Anxiety for the things of this life can become a big problem for the Christian. Jesus taught us to understand that God knows the things of which we have need and that he will supply those things if we but seek Him and His kingdom first (Matthew 6:25-34). When we start to dwell on the cares and concerns of this life, let our minds and our actions turn to things of the kingdom. What can we think and do to further the cause of our Lord upon the earth? We can study the word. We can visit the sick. We can help the poor. And the list goes on and on. There is no shortage of activity. Today we hear from psychologists these words, “Get involved.” Being involved in something goes a long way toward eliminating anxiety that crops up as a result of eating the bread of idleness.
Fifth, Paul states, “but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God” (4:6b). Here is a mental exercise. Prayer unburdens the Christian from the ceaseless parade of events about which he is concerned, but has no direct control. Prayer provides a means whereby the Christian may exercise a heart of thankfulness to the Creator, Sustainer, and Provider. Prayer provides opportunity for the Christian to divest himself of wrong choices made in the course of the days events. Prayer motivates the Christian to act in ways that will improve his relationship with his God and his fellow man. There is much blessing in prayer. Modern psychology acknowledges these activities as being therapeutic and helpful to an individual’s mental state. Oh, if we as Christians, would only acknowledge the power of prayer in times of trouble how great burdens would be removed from our weary shoulders and what great relief would be obtained from the troubles of life.
The conclusion of enacting these five exercises in one’s life is this: “and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” There is a certain peace that comes through understanding and applying these five principles in one’s life. Modern psychology may be able to provide a measure of peace and tranquility, but not to the extent that can be provided by God. The peace that God gives “surpasses all understanding;” that is, no efforts on the part of man solely through his own mental abilities are going to be able to provide the type of peace that God can provide. This is because modern psychology cannot supply God. Faith in God comes through hearing God’s word (Romans 10:17) and ultimately the peace of God depends as much upon our faith in God as it does upon the principles that God sets forth in this passage. Faith must always be presupposed when applying the principles of having a healthy mind to us as individuals. Without faith, none of these exercises will prevail to bring peace to our troubled souls. The hearts and minds of the Christian will only be guarded through Christ Jesus. As great as this promise may sound, however, there is yet more that the apostle wishes to address regarding our mental health.
Sixth, we read, “Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things” (4:8). The exercise in this verse is mental. It is an exercise of focus upon the spiritual. It is the proactive exercise of the mind to think. The exhortation is not to just let your mind drift upon any and every old thing that comes along, but to purposefully and deliberately concentrate upon good things. When we fill our minds with positive thoughts, there will be no more room for negative thoughts. Worry, anxiety, depression, and despair are all negative thoughts that seek, almost without invitation, to invade our daily consciousness. It is a fight and struggle to battle these things, but we must. When we bring our focus back upon the true, honest, just, pure, lovely, good, and virtuous, there is no lack of things about which to cogitate. One of the great failures of modern psychology is that while it can help you understand what you are thinking and bring you to a greater awareness of your thoughts, it cannot provide content for your mind. The gospel, however, does this very thing.
Seventh, Paul has this to say, “Those things, which ye have both learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me, do” (4:9a). Here is a physical exercise. When we have done everything that we need to do mentally to prepare ourselves for Christian service, we must make application. Paul says that his teaching and example constitute an example for us as well. If we are looking for ways to behave, let us look to the example that Paul left as he followed Christ in his life (1 Corinthians 11:1). We have half the book of Acts to let us know how Paul behaved as well as many of his epistles in which we find great teaching regarding how to live the Christian life. This is where the proverbial rubber meets the road. Again, while modern psychology can suggest a course of behavior, it cannot suggest a lifestyle that will so thoroughly meet our needs as that which we find within the gospel of Christ (2 Peter 1:3).
The grand conclusion to these seven steps of mental health is found in the words, “and the God of peace shall be with you.” This is yet in addition to the previous promise. Not only do we have the assurance of the peace of God being with us, but also we have the assurance of the God of peace being with us. Greater blessing can no Christian have than to know that the very God who made us and knows us better than we know ourselves will provide a life that is filled with contentment and peace as well as provide the companionship that we need to finish such a life in His service. May we ever seek to apply these seven steps in our time of need.