“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. Those things, which ye have both learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me, do: and the God of peace shall be with you.” (Philippians 4:8-9)
We often talk about the wonderful admonition in verse 8: how it is important to think about the right things and to have those attributes in the forefront of our minds. However, the words of verse 9 often seem to be left out of the equation as Paul gives it.
You see, while it is a great and important call for us to think about the right things, it does us absolutely no good if we do not act upon those things. Many people have thought about doing what was right. They have thought about teaching someone the Gospel, making the right decision in a tough situation, or reaching out to help someone in time of need. But unless the steps are taken to put those things into action, all that thought is for nothing.
Paul emphasizes the two-edged importance of our focus as Christians. We must think about the right things, but we must follow that up with doing the right things as well.
Don’t just think, do.
You have probably seen it hundreds of times. Somebody stands before a group, makes a post online, or is sitting in your living room speaking about what the Bible says and suddenly a brother or sister wants to play “devil’s advocate.” What they generally mean by that is they are going to make a statement or ask a question that completely contradicts some or all of what has just been stated as truth and see how the speaker handles it.
While I recognize the term is a figure of speech, have you ever stepped back and considered what is said when one is claiming to play devil’s advocate? The term states that “I am going to be the devil’s advocate in this conversation,” or, “Allow me to speak for the devil.” Is that really the type of approach we want to take to God’s Word? It is amazing how many times playing devil’s advocate seems to mean taking an abstract hypothetical situation, or something of very little relationship to what has been discussed, to see how the speaker applies the Biblical principles under consideration. Often times, the playing of devil’s advocate seems to be nothing more than an exercise in “stump the teacher,” or “let’s see if we can get him/her to make a mistake.” This should not be the way we spend our time in studying the Bible.
Where this approach becomes even worse is when the one playing devil’s advocate actually believes the truth that is being presented, but approaches his words in such a way that people cannot easily tell where the individual stands on the issue at hand. We should never put ourselves in a situation where we leave someone around us uncertain on where we stand in regard to truth, nor should we ever leave a brother or sister with the impression that we are trying to trip them up or see if they make a mistake.
On numerous occasions an individual playing devil’s advocate has actually done harm to the impact of the truth when the individual questioned was either unable to give a satisfactory answer or did not know how to answer the question asked. As disciples of Christ it should never be said of us that we tried to place obstacles in the way of truth, but instead we should be in the business of removing those obstacles.
This does not mean that it is wrong to question, or that Christians should take everything at face value without digging deeper. However, there is a vast difference between one who is trying to understand truth and one who is spouting something he does not believe to see how someone else handles it. If we have questions, let them be asked sincerely and in a straightforward manner, not under the guise of being an advocate for the devil. If there is additional information or insight that needs to be conveyed, place it out there; do not take a hypothetical stance to see if the speaker can put it out there without making a mistake or looking bad in the process. If more information is needed, seek it out diligently; but not by stating that you are going to try to take the devil’s side. Instead, do it from the standpoint of wanting to be an advocate for truth and needing more information to do that effectively.
The way that we approach our discussions about truth is important. It is important to the way we receive information as well as in the way that information is perceived by others who hear it and read it. The devil already has enough advocates, he does not need our help.
“I appeal to you for my son Onesimus, whom I have begotten while in my chains, who once was unprofitable to you, but now is profitable to you and to me. I am sending him back. You therefore receive him, that is, my own heart, Whom I wished to keep with me, that on your behalf he might minister to me in my chains for the gospel. But without your consent I wanted to do nothing, that your good deed might not be by compulsion, as it were, but voluntary. For perhaps he departed for a while for this purpose, that you might receive him forever, no longer as a slave but more than a slave—a beloved brother, especially to me but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord.” (Philemon 10-16)
Paul’s short letter to Philemon is about repentance and second chances. Onesimus had run from Philemon in the past, but now he is a Christian, has changed his life, and is seeking to make things right. Paul wants Onesimus to stay and help him while he is in prison in Rome, but he cannot do so without Philemon’s approval and forgiveness of this man who has wronged him. Paul is pleading with Philemon to do the right thing when Onesimus returns.
There is so much that needs to be learned from this little letter. We need to learn that repentance doesn’t mean our bad decisions just go away: we turn and face them by doing what is right. We need to learn, if we are to have the love of Jesus, that forgiveness is a part of life that must be readily utilized. It is easy to hold grudges, allow anger and hurt to control reactions, and seek vengeance on others just because we can. It is far more difficult to swallow ill feelings and forgive when someone has repented and is seeking to do right.
We need to learn the lessons of Philemon and Onesimus. For there will be times in our lives where we are Onesimus seeking Philemon; and other times we are Philemon receiving Onesimus.