by Jerry Gentry
"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" (Phil. 4:8).
Thinking is a lost art, or so some people say. But how can that be, at a time when almost everyone has an opinion, at least a thought, about nearly everything. The problem is not that thinking is a lost art. The problem is that our thoughts are turned away from truth and given over to vanity.
The God of heaven announces to Israel: "For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the LORD, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end" (Jer. 29:11). Yes, the God of heaven has thoughts of peace, even while wicked men on earth are thinking and planning war. "The thoughts of the wicked are an abomination to the LORD: but the words of the pure are pleasant words" (Prov. 15:26).
The God of heaven warns:
"Hear, O earth: behold, I will bring evil upon this people, even the fruit of their thoughts, because they have not hearkened unto my words, nor to my law, but rejected it" (Jer. 6:19).
"The anger of the LORD shall not return, until he have executed, and till he have performed the thoughts of his heart: in the latter days ye shall consider it perfectly" (Jer. 23:20).
Thoughts&emdash;good and bad&emdash;are ethereal things. We know what they are. We all have them. But to get your hands on one is impossible. Sometimes they escape us like vapor that vanishes into thin air. Yet these vaporous ideas and cloudy concepts are the very building blocks of every machine ever made, every skyscraper that was ever erected, every space flight ever completed, every race ever run, every product ever sold. To remember a thought that you forgot is like chasing the wind. It escapes you, until something clicks, and then you remember. It snaps back into your head like a lightning flash in the midst of a thunderstorm.
Thinking is a very private matter; yet we share our thoughts at various levels. You express a thought to a friend, who exclaims, "That's a great idea!" His response makes you feel pleased. Or worse, the friend says, "That idea is the worst thing I have heard all day!" You sulk in disbelief.
One day, many thousands of years ago, a young man named Joseph was going about his business as a Hebrew servant, when his master's wife tried to seduce him. He refused; yet she continued her efforts daily. Eventually, after many failed efforts, "she caught him by his garment, saying, Lie with me: and he left his garment in her hand, and fled, and got him out" (Gen. 39:12).
She then yelled for witnesses, to whom she showed Joseph's garment. Later, she falsely accused him to her husband Potiphar, who threw Joseph into the Pharaoh's dungeon. Yet this man named Joseph took his plight with a good attitude, that is, his thoughts remained faithful to God and His Word. Later, after correctly interpreting the dreams of Pharaoh's butler and baker, Joseph was asked to interpret the dream of Pharaoh himself. To this request, Joseph responded: "It is not in me: God shall give Pharaoh an answer of peace" (Gen 41:16). Joseph had yielded his thoughts so fully to God, that God gave him supernatural revelations.
Here was a young man, almost thirty years old, who had spent over two years in the dungeon. Yet he maintained pure thoughts and a right heart attitude toward God and man. Joseph was blessed, even in prison. After his release, Pharaoh promoted Joseph to Prime Minister over all the land. He was given a wife and great authority. Through every test, Joseph proved his upright heart and pure thoughts, always.
Joseph kept his thoughts on a high plane, and God blessed him. Where are your thoughts today, Christian? Do you count your blessings? Or do you curse your trials? Do you find something true and honest, even when you are falsely and maliciously accused? Do you remember: "Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" (Mat 5:10).
"Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake" (v. 11).
"Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you" (v. 12).
How many of us really think like this, after hearing a vicious lie, or enduring a cutthroat condemnation from a personal enemy?
Do you confess some justice, even some purity, when under bitter persecution? Can you see past the thorny bushes&emdash;ouch!&emdash; and focus on the fragrance of that lovely red rose, when you are stuck with the arrow of the enemy? Is there some good report you can raise up about a person, whom you know has just maligned you? Can you find virtue where others cast stones, even as Jesus, who told the adulteress: "Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more" (John 8:11).
How many of us would have thought He went soft on the law, when he "let her off" without any condemnation?
Jesus was able to rise above such evil thoughts, because he understood and lived a life of self-sacrificing love. Can you thank God and give praise and blessing in the face of personal rejection, even as Jesus did? Even with his own dying last words to the condemned thief, he did not demand lengthy accountability. Once the thief expressed trust, Jesus merely said, "Today shalt thou be with me in paradise" (Luke 23:43). How many church boards would have taken hours of gruelling debate, before pronouncing protracted "penance" and "tough love" upon such a convicted felon, only then to mete out a guilty verdict, and excommunication, "for the protection of others?"
Thoughts. Every thing in life begins with these airy little concepts. Every great plan begins with a single thought, much like an idea for building a paper airplane contains the seed for a much larger L1011 jumbo jet. There is nothing wrong with thoughts per se, as long as they are the kind that lead to constructive developments, within the parameters of God's law/word.
But the problem with thoughts are that they come and they go, without regard to right and wrong. Thoughts have no innate morality. When wrong thoughts are entertained, we are tempted. Through such temptation, the seeds of sin and transgression are planted. When these seeds are allowed to grow, a harvest of reprobation will soon ripen. The apostle James warns:
"But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed" (Jam 1:14). Remember, temptation begins deep inside the human heart.
"Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death" (v. 15).
It is deep inside the seat of the human heart, from whence thoughts arise, that we are warned of our own innate deceitfulness.
"The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?" (Jer. 17:9).
"O LORD, I know that the way of man is not in himself: it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps" (Jer. 10:23).
How many of us today can vouch for the truth of this Bible verse? Can we say, AMEN? Or do we privately, by our actions, think we know better than God knows. The greatest sin of all is that of presumptuous pride, which is nothing more than rebellion against the God of heaven and His law/word. Hereby, we learn that our thoughts are often quite deceptive. Thoughts must be sifted against the words of the Bible, the very moral will of God expressed to us. Thoughts must be evaluated on merit. Thoughts that lead to disobedience of God's word, must be rejected. But how, when we already know that "it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps." There is no power within man to help himself from following thoughts, whether good or evil. In answer, hear the words of a wise father, King David, to his son Solomon:
"And thou, Solomon my son, know thou the God of thy father, and serve him with a perfect heart and with a willing mind: for the LORD searcheth all hearts, and understandeth all the imaginations of the thoughts: if thou seek him, he will be found of thee; but if thou forsake him, he will cast thee off for ever" (1Chr. 28:9).
The Bible says we can seek God in our thoughts, but how? An answer is given by the apostle Paul:
"Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ" (2Cor. 10:5).
Here we learn that we must bring our thoughts into captivity. "Obedience of Christ" begins in our thought consciousness. Even before a thought becomes full blown within our mental awareness, thoughts are captive in our spirit. When we sin wilfully, we grieve the spirit, and a flood of evil thoughts go to seed. When I submit my thoughts in the spirit, then the "law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death" (Rom. 8:2). This is a hard concept to explain in words. Words originate in our spirit, but flow out from the heart (mind), through the lips. We learn that for the genuine Christian, "every thought" must be brought into captivity. But without submitting to the "law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus" we become victims of our own sinfulness. Try as we may, we fail, even as the apostle Paul admitted:
"I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me" (Rom. 7:21).
"For I delight in the law of God after the inward man" (Rom 7:22).
"But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members" (v. 23).
"O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?" (v. 24). Answer?
"I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin" (v. 25).
Outside the influence of the Spirit, we have no power to overcome evil thoughts.
"But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his" (Rom. 8:9). Without the spirit of God dwelling in us, we have no power over our wicked, evil thought life.
It is only after we have experienced a genuine conversion, and yielded our heart to Jesus Christ, that we can begin to "walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit" (Rom 8:1). Only when we submit our "thought life" to the leadership of the Spirit, can we begin to experience what the Christian life is all about.
Do you desire the kind of thoughts that stand forever? If so, the Bible gives you precisely the answer. "The counsel of the LORD standeth for ever, the thoughts of his heart to all generations" (Ps. 33:11). Christian, would you think the thoughts of righteous Abraham, the father of the faithful? Then read what the Bible says about Abraham, and then think on these things.
Would you desire the thoughts of King David, a man after God's own heart? Then think the thoughts of King David, written for us today in the Psalms, under inspiration of the very thoughts of God, the Holy Spirit. Would you think like Abraham's wife Sarah? Hannah the mother of Samuel? Then read their Bible stories and think on these things. Would you desire the thoughts of Isaac and Rebecca, Jacob and Rachel, Paul and Peter and James and John? Then read their portions of the Holy Bible, and think on these things.
Do you tend to think about trivial, superficial matters? Do you desire a deeper thought consciousness? The Bible gives you the answer: "O LORD, how great are thy works! and thy thoughts are very deep" (Ps. 92:5). Think the thoughts of God, after Him, as recorded in the Holy Bible, and you will become a deep thinker.
Of God's thoughts, the Psalmist further declares:
"Many, O LORD my God, are thy wonderful works which thou hast done, and thy thoughts which are to us-ward: they cannot be reckoned up in order unto thee: if I would declare and speak of them, they are more than can be numbered" (Ps. 40:5). Such thoughts contrasts those of wicked men:
"The LORD knoweth the thoughts of man, that they are vanity" (Ps. 94:11).
"The thoughts of the wicked are an abomination to the LORD: but the words of the pure are pleasant words" (Prov. 15:26).
Perhaps the greatest Bible lesson of all on governing our thought life is found in the prophet Isaiah:
"Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the LORD, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon" (Isa. 55:7).
Christian, think on these things.
"For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD" (v. 8).
"For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts" (v. 9).
Think on these things.
"I hate vain thoughts: but thy law do I love" (Ps. 119:113).
"How precious also are thy thoughts unto me, O God! how great is the sum of them!" (Ps. 139:17). Think on these things.
"Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts" (v. 23). Yes, think on these things.
"The thoughts of the righteous are right: but the counsels of the wicked are deceit" (Prov. 12:5).
"Commit thy works unto the LORD, and thy thoughts shall be established" (Prov. 16:3).
Think on these things.
"For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart" (Hebr. 4:12).
Christian, what will you think on. Vanity, or the word of God?
Christian, think on these things.