I love chains. Sounds silly, I know. But think about what chains illustrate. Strength. Dependability. Succession. It’s succession that I am most intrigued by. Years ago, James White described Romans 8:29-30 as “The golden chain of redemption.” The foreknowledge, predestination, conformity, calling, justification and glorification – work of God is a glorious, unbreakable chain with each successive link dependent on it’s predecessor.
There’s another chain in 2 Timothy chapter 2. Paul writes to Timothy in verse 2, “And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others.” Did you catch it?
Link 1 – Paul
Link 2 – Timothy
Link 3 – reliable men
Link 4 – others
I love it. A beginning and a succession. Each link dependent upon the one before it.
Last Wednesday night I was in with the teens at church and had the privilege of teaching from Philippians 4:8-9 –
“Finally brothers, 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…”
We spent some significant time talking about another chain. This one looks like this:
This chain is a bit different. I’m inferring some things here. Paul calls the Philippian Christians to take heed how they think. Take time to think on specific things. I draw from this that what they think will inform how they feel which will determine how they act. You see the think – feel – act chain all throughout Scripture. Actions never spring from nowhere. They always stem from feelings which are informed by our thoughts. To illustrate this to the teens, I shared with the room full of future warriors (it was only the young men this week) about the branch of the US Army known as PsyOps (Psychological Operations). PsyOps has been used by every military leader in the history of human warfare. The goal of PsyOps is to influence and persuade your enemy to think in a way that gives you the advantage. WWII saw the use of Tokyo Rose by the Japanese and Axis Sally by the Germans as an attempt to undercut the moral of the allied forces. If an enemy can get you to think incorrectly or mentally surrender, it’s only a matter of time before you will physically give up fighting or retreat wholeheartedly.
This gives us a picture of what’s happening in the spiritual realm. Christians are in a fierce war. Worse than any human to human conflict, we engage an enemy in the spiritual realm; unseen but very real. The battle rages and there is no end except at death or the glorious return of the warrior/king the Lord Jesus Christ. Our enemy knows our weaknesses and he knows that our thinking will affect our feelings which will affect our actions. To get us to fall, to dishonor our Lord through our mouths, hands or feet – he starts with our minds. His tactics have always been the same from the very first question he asked of the first humans:
Simple and innocent sounding questions aimed at stirring our curiosity. If we allow the gate of our mind to be opened to the enemy, it’s only a matter of time before our entire city falls. So, our thinking is critical! This is why Paul’s words to the Philippians are so important and instructive for Christians today. We should sit up and listen, not only to the call to think in general, but also to the command of what to think about, specifically. Without being aware of the connection between what we think about and the resultant actions that will inevitably follow, we will not take serious the call to discerning and Word-informed thinking. Keeping the image of the “Think-Feel-Act” chain in the forefront of our minds helps us do battle in the mind, where the attacks begin. One of the Wesley brothers once penned a line in a hymn that went something like, “…extinguish the kindling fire within me” I love this line! It speaks directly to what I was arguing for last week. The battle, the fire if you will, begins small. It’s only “kindling” at first and that’s where we want to fight it. If we wait for a thought to develop into another thought and into a feeling and into a temptation or an action and then try to fight, we’re facing a formidable enemy! And it’s not necessary! If we are taking every thought captive and making it obedient to Christ then our feelings will be driven by pure thinking and our actions will meet the approval of the One we serve. But – if we tolerate bad thinking, don’t do battle by cutting through the lies we’re exposed to by filling our minds with truth from God’s word, then we are heading in a direction that can only end in disaster. Have you ever wondered how a spiritual leader falls into gross immorality? They didn’t wake up one morning and decide to scandalize their followers and make the evening news. I guarantee you, no the Word of God guarantees us, that the manifestation of evil behavior we see traces its roots back to evil thinking that was not checked in its infant stages.
A very young preacher and pastor named Jonathan Edwards, in preparing for a life of ministry in anticipated difficulty once penned a resolution related to our subject at hand. I want him to have the last word, because it teaches us the same things I’m saying above, but by way of reverse order. Just like thinking feeds feelings, feeds action, it works the other way around when we’re investigating what went wrong and picking up the pieces caused by sinful words or actions. Our actions can be ‘traced back’ to our thoughts in an attempt to find the cause for our departure.
The resolutions of Jonathan Edwards #24 :
“Resolved, whenever I do any conspicuously evil action, to trace it back, till I come to the original cause; and then both carefully endeavor to do so no more, and to fight and pray with all my might against the original of it.”