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Developing Obedient Habits
Standing Firm, part 8–Philippians 4:9
Do you have any habits? I had a lot of fun gathering this list together. Some of these habits are reflective of people I know, including myself. What are some of the most annoying habits? Nail biting–with spitting. People with a chunky cough sitting directly behind you in the theater or on an airplane. Looking at your phone, while you’re face-to-face.
Eating loudly or chewing gum with a smack. Or picking your nose publicly. Clicking your ballpoint pen continuously. The person who is walking too slow in front of you. Switching off the lights while someone is in the bathroom. Waking someone in their sleep and asking [what?], “Were you sleeping?”
Constantly tapping, clicking fingernails or cracking knuckles. Constantly clearing your throat, popping with your mouth, staring with your mouth open. The person who Instagrams over ten posts in one day. Chewing the caps off of pens or chewing the erasers off of pencils. Leaving the fridge, slider, car or front door open.
Texting while driving, putting make-up on while driving, reading a book while driving. Or deadly, men who wear gold chains around their neck. Constantly saying, “literally”, “like”, “totally”, “right” or “alwuz”. You are a creature of habit, prone to imitate, with a tendency to find routine. Christians develop weird habits too, like saying “like” in prayer. Or not being able to attend a church meeting without a crook in their arm in order to hold a Starbucks coffee in your hand.
Christians develop habits–some of them are weird and extra-biblical. But there are other habits which are essential to develop. You need habits. You are to be OCD when it comes to following God’s Word. You are to be habitual when it comes to obedience to God’s New Testament commands. You are to be predictable in your biblical, Spirit-empowered responses. Why? Developing obedient habits will cause believers to stand firm.
Open your Bibles to Philippians 4 as we look at the last element to standing firm. Why do the Philippians need to grow stable? Because they were being persecuted by Romans, pressured by unsaved Judaizers, pressed by unsaved Gentile grace-abusers, partitioned by division–so Paul says, “Stand firm against these painful trials.” This is how godly men, women, marrieds and singles grow mature. This is what makes a stable Christian.
In verse 1 of chapter 4 Paul said, this is how you stand firm—then he follows up that statement in verses 2 through 9 with seven commands showing them what stability means. You will stand firm when you live out these seven commands.
First Pursuing relational harmony in verses 2 to 3
Second Demonstrating a heart of rejoicing in verse 4
Third Shocking lost and saved with a gracious humility in verse 5
Fourth Resting in God’s Word instead of worrying in verse 6a
Fifth Practicing relational prayer instead of worrying in verses 6b to 7
Sixth Filtering your thinking in verse 8, and today
Seventh Developing obedient habits in verse 9
Verse 9 says, “The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.” God expects us to do His Word, to obey His truth, to follow His ways. James 1:22, “But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves.”
James says you are lying to yourself if you think you are a Christian, yet you do not obey the Word of God. Verses 23 and 24 continue, “For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror; 24 for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was.”
You are not seeing things correctly if you are not doing/obeying God’s Word and excusing your disobedience in any way. Jesus is clear with his expectations for obedience, right? Luke 6:46, “Why do you call Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?”
Christian, there is an aberrant idea floating around today that views obedience almost as if it were legalism. Others believe that to call a Christian to obey God’s Word is a violation of God’s grace, undermining the new covenant and distorting salvation by faith. Obedience is not a violation of grace, the new covenant, nor salvation by grace through faith. Obedience is a desire of the born again, new heart.
Jude 4 warns you about those who use God’s grace as an excuse to disobey with these words, “For certain persons have crept in unnoticed, those who were long beforehand marked out for this condemnation, ungodly persons who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.”
For some, grace has become a license to excuse sinfulness, disobedience, and living marginally for Christ. Those who do so are denying Christ as Lord, meaning Christ is not their Savior—you can’t divide Christ. Have you forgotten? Jesus Christ lived obediently.
John 4:34, “Jesus said to them, ‘My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me and to accomplish His work.’” John 15:10, “’If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love.’” Philippians 2:8, “Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”
In His incarnation, in adding humanity to His deity, Jesus lived obediently. How can anyone call themselves a Christ follower if they choose not to live obediently, my friends? Jesus Christ expects His children to obey His Word. First John 2:3 and 4, “By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments. 4 The one who says, ‘I have come to know Him,’ and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him.”
Titus 1:16 tells us there are those who “profess to know God, but by their deeds they deny Him, being detestable and disobedient and worthless for any good deed.” Maybe you woke up feisty today, so you ask, “Why should I want to be obedient? I am under grace, ready for Heaven, forgiven for all my sins; why should I obey God’s commands? Why should I develop biblically obedient habits? What should my motives be?” Okay, feisty–consider this. God says you’re to obey His Word . . .
1 from a true desire to please God and love Him, which is shown with your obedience. Jesus said in John 14:15, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”
2 to keep a clear conscience before God
3 to be a vessel for noble use and have increased effectiveness in ministry
4 from a desire to see unbelievers come to Christ through observing your obedient life
5 from the desire to receive present blessings from God in our lives and ministry
6 from a desire to avoid God’s displeasure and discipline on our lives
7 from the hope for a heavenly reward, which only comes to the obedient
8 from a desire to walk more intimate and deeper with God
9 from a hope for the angels to glorify God because of our obedience to the Word
10 simply because His commands are right and you as His child delight in doing right
11 from this passage, verse 9, from the desire for peace from God
Obedience is also the wisest thing you can do. What did the wisest man who ever lived say? Ecclesiastes 12:13, “The conclusion, when all has been heard, is: fear God and [what?] keep His commandments, because this applies to every person.”
Chris, I hear what the Bible says, but I don’t know what it looks like to be obedient. How does that look? The New Testament lovingly answers this question by offering models. Many struggle from lack of an example, so Paul says, “Follow my pattern.” First Corinthians 4:16, “Therefore I exhort you, be imitators of me.”
First Corinthians 11:1, “Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ.” First Thessalonians 1:6, “You also became imitators of us and of the Lord, having received the word in much tribulation with the joy of the Holy Spirit.” You and I need others to model biblical, character-driven, obedient habits. One of God’s goals for your happiness and for your fruitfulness is for obedience to become habitual in all the areas of your life.
Those who submit to His Word in every area–not perfectly but progressively are the complete man, the perfect woman, the godly saint, a mature believer. They are the ones who develop spiritual stability. You need to be developing obedient habits allowing you to stand firm. Bottom line–spiritual stability comes down to living a disciplined life of obedience to God’s Word.
When the winds of difficulty blow against you, you will stand firm when you develop habits of obedience. So Paul wraps up his description of the stable believer by reminding the Philippians to pursue developing obedient habits. So Paul starts verse 9 with . . .
#1 A MODEL for obedient HABITS
Philippians 4:9, “The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.” Did you see it in the middle of verse 9? “In me”–model me, I am showing you by my example how to develop obedient habits. Imitate my life, follow me, and let me show you how obedience is lived out.
I remember in my early days of student ministry hearing some of my fellow youth pastors teach God’s Word and use gross illustrations–nose pickin’, dog vomit, toe jam and more were regularly referred to with great humor and groans of grossness. Wondering about that, I remember one of my mentors that very day talk about a friend who was teaching the high school students that night. And he said this teacher was true the text, solid theologically, super funny, but never gross or crude.
My fellow student pastors didn’t believe it, until they heard him teach that night. He taught only the author’s intended meaning, was super accurate theologically, and gut-wrenchingly funny, without any grossness, crudeness or references to picking anything. Every one of those guys was impacted by Ted, who modeled an accurate and Christ-honoring way to teach students. His example impacted everyone. He became our model.
This is what Paul has in mind in the first half of verse 9. It says, “The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things.” You all believe every word of Scripture is inspired–yes? It is God’s Word! Just one of God’s words is worth more than one billion of your words–or mine. So look at each word in this verse, which starts with, “the things”.
In the Greek text, this verse actually begins with the words hos kai—literally, which things also, connecting it to the previous verse. Paul is connecting the previous verse, to this verse–connecting verse 8 to verse 9. The “thinking” of verse 8 last week must lead to “obedience” of verse 9 this week. Your dreams at some point must be demonstrated.
Your ideas must be instigated. Profession becomes performance. Doctrine becomes duty. Listening becomes lifestyle. Why? It is not what you hope to do for Christ, but what you have done that counts. It is not what you think about, but what you actually accomplish. It is not what your dreams are, but what you’re doing. Our rational beliefs of verse 8 must become regular behavior of verse 9.
So this right thinking of verse 8 becomes “the things” of verse 9, which are followed by, “you have  learned, and  received, and  heard, and  seen in me”–four verbs, all the same parsing, aorist active indicative, telling you these are general facts. These are general actions as you look at a model—“you have learned and received and heard and seen in me.”
What you’re hearing here is instruction and imitation–hear and heed, say and do, mouth and model. Paul is saying, “I sought to offer you a biblical example, a model of integrity, leadership you can imitate.”
Disciplers, do you want to sway your students? Parents, want to impact your children? CG leaders, want to influence your community? Elders, want to impact your church family? Then what you say must match what you do. So Paul informs the Philippians, to build obedience habits, you focus on two actions.
First Personal INSTRUCTION
The things you have learned and received. Paul taught the Philippians how to live for Christ. That’s understood by the verb–you have learned it is the verb form of the noun disciple, used 25 times in the New Testament. Paul is describing teaching, discipling, learning and following. Paul taught publicly, preaching–but also taught privately, house to house. Paul mentored small groups of believers and individuals like Timothy.
Paul told Timothy in 2 Timothy 3:10, “Now you followed my teaching, conduct, purpose, faith, patience, love, [and] perseverance.” Paul personally discipled the Philippians in habits of obedience by preaching and teaching from house to house, and personally discipling the things he just wrote about in verses 1 to 9, standing firm.
Next, the verb received is sometimes used in the New Testament as a technical term for God’s revelation–hearing the truth, then embracing the same truth. Like 1 Thessalonians 2:13, “For this reason we also constantly thank God that when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the word of God, which also performs its work in you who believe.”
And like 1 Thessalonians 4:1, “Finally then, brethren, we request and exhort you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us instruction as to how you ought to walk and please God (just as you actually do walk), that you excel still more.” To receive is the idea of hearing God’s Word and making it your own–you hear it and now you treasure it. You hear it and now you own it.
Make no mistake, in order to develop habits of obedience, you need to be taught the Word of God—personal instruction through discipleship. But you need something else too. Paul continues in verse 9 with a reminder of his . . .
Second Personal EXAMPLE
Verse 9 continues with “and heard and seen in me.” The verb heard, referring to a general action the Philippians had experienced. They had heard about Paul. They knew him personally, but also knew Paul by reputation. Paul ‘s reputation was impeccable–and they knew about Paul’s character, lifestyle and preaching from others. So Paul calls them to imitate the godly character the apostle had become known for as a motivation for obedience. Follow what you’ve heard.
All of you’ve read a book about a missionary, a preacher, a man or woman of God and sought to live by following their example by reputation. I just read a ton of books about the reformer John Calvin and there are practices, habits he pursued which I want to pursue more. Paul is saying, you have not read a book about me, but you have heard about me and how I live, so follow that pattern of habitual obedience.
And to slam the lid on modeling obedience, Paul adds the verb seen in me in verse 9. Paul says, “Not only have you heard about me, but you have seen me live obediently.” Paul appeals to his firsthand experience with them. They knew there was very little credibility gap between the message he preached and the life he lived.
They saw Paul live in their midst. They saw Paul live out each of these seven standing firm commands in verses 1 to 9. They saw Paul live habits of obedience to God’s Word in verse 9, so Paul exhorts the Philippians to pattern their lives after his example. Paul taught the truth and lived the truth. They learned it, owned it, they heard about Paul living it out, and they actually saw Paul live obediently.
So Paul calls the Philippians to model after his example of obedience habits. Do you see those two words in verse 9, “in me”? Paul already made this appeal in Philippians 3:17, “Brethren, join in following my example, and observe those who walk according to the pattern you have in us.” You are constantly learning the importance of personal example, aren’t you?
You forget, your children need to see you be examples of your exhortations. Your disciples need to see you perform the words you profess. The people you shepherd must see the truths you instruct personally illustrated. You forget, to impact others, the truth you believe must be the truth you behave.
My mom is getting older and having difficulty. Jean went up to relieve the sisters and spent a lot of time with my mom and Jean’s incredible servant’s heart helped her serve my mom. Once again, we found as we volunteer to do things with Mom, she was easier to help. We would tell her what she should do, tell her how to help herself, suggest this and that–but it was going with her and doing it with her, participating with her that actually got the job done.
Parents, show your kids. Disciplers, show your students. CG leaders, show your group. Paul said, “You not only heard about my example, you saw it and can follow it.” This is why developing obedient habits will cause believers to stand firm. What should the Philippians do with this model example?
#2 A MANDATE for obedient HABITS
Philippians 4:9, “The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.” If you’ve ever played a sport, you know what practice is—“practice these things.” The Greek verb practice is in your face. The responsibility of the verb practice is all the time. The pressure of the verb practice is a command you must pursue. And the focus of the verb practice is plural, pointed at each one of you.
Paul is describing habits to develop. Paul is calling for obedience to be your practice. Obedience is to be your habit. This verb practice is prasso, but it isn’t the same as “to do,” which is a different and common verb. Practice is a verb meaning repetition–action which is continuous. A doctor has a practice–a constant way of life. His practice is not describing trying out or practicing something, or you’re in trouble next time he cuts on you. No, it’s a way of life.
Some of you practice an instrument, or practice tennis. That’s using the word in the sense of working on something to learn it. But when we say the doctor has a practice, we mean it is his practice to do that. It is his normal routine to live as a medical doctor. That’s the intent of the word prassō. Paul is saying this should be your practice. This should be your pattern of life.
The original use of practice meant to busy oneself with. Then it came to mean something you do repeatedly, continually and habitually. Make this a habit–why? Developing obedient habits will cause believers to stand firm.
What are you to make into habits? Paul says in verse 9, “Practice these things.” These things–practice these things. The things I just taught you and modeled for you in this passage. The things which will cause you stand firm in a difficult time. The things which will result in you becoming a man or woman of God. Godly actions toward relational harmony, rejoicing, gracious actions of humility, resting in God’s Word and not worrying, practicing personal prayer, filtering your thinking and developing habits of obedience.
Why are so many in churches messed up, overpowered by sin, turning to psychology, programs, formulas and pills? Why? Simply because they have not realized their desperate need for building in godly habits into their lifestyle. The only way they will ever stand firm is to build godly habits of obedience into their lives.
And what is scary is this–you can’t, but God can. First, it means you turn to Christ for salvation. Then second, you depend on the Spirit and Scripture in sanctification. As you’re filled with the Spirit, seeking to step out in obedient faith to God’s Word, depending on God Himself to work through you moment-by-moment, you will see Him begin to develop these godly habits into your life.
God promises in Galatians 5:16, “Walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh.” Show me a person filled with the Spirit, saturated in thinking God’s Word, aware of a life of dependency leading to godly attitudes, confessing all known sin, serving in the church and sharing Christ in the world, leading to godly behavior and obedience, then I will show you a spiritually stable person.
Verse 9 says practice your faith. Practice your lifestyle. Practice your obedience. Build obedience routines into your life. Choose to schedule obedience repetitions. Force yourself to live by obedience muscle memory so you respond in obedience. Cut out good things in order to do the obedient things. Plan to neglect the lesser priorities in favor of the obedient priorities. Stop doing so many things in order to do the most important–obedience to God’s Word.
Budget your money so you can give. Budget your time so you can serve. Budget your relationships so you can disciple and invest in a few. You have to choose to use time, so block out time. If you’re going to build obedience habits, you have to say, “I will serve. I will attend community group. I will give this amount each month. So you sign up, you attend, you force yourself to obey to build a habit of obedience.
I’m made to train men, so no matter how insane my life gets I will invest into the men of this church in the TC as long as I have breath. It’s tough with my DMin program, but I’m made to preach God’s Word, so no matter what, two days a week will be devoted to the study of God’s Word in order to preach God’s Word. And there are other demands on my time.
I am a husband and father, a friend, a brother in Christ–I have to block time for that. Every week, my schedule and money must reflect my obedience priorities–my practice. What did God create you to do? Fellowship, serve, give, share–block out time to do it. God is at work in you–He must do this, yet at the same time, you must work out your salvation with fear and trembling. Make choices to practice truth.
You say, “Chris, this doesn’t sound very fun,” No, quite the opposite. There are great blessings associated with developing obedient habits.
#3 A MARK of obedient HABITS
Philippians 4:9, “The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.” When you choose to develop habits of obedience, you are blessed in two great ways.
First God’s PEACE
Paul says “the God of peace.” This is Paul’s favorite title for God Himself. In the first century, peace was not merely the absence of trouble. It was everything that comes from friendship and intimacy with God. The peace which comes in salvation becomes the peace a believer enjoys in sanctification. But sanctification, growth, standing firm, developing habits of obedience only comes from intimacy with Christ.
In the midst of persecution and division in their midst, Paul reminds the Philippians as they pursue habits of obedience, they’ll be blessed by God’s peace. God will bless them in the midst of their trouble with all the heavenly blessings which come with Christ, giving them everything they need for life and godliness.
All those who pursue obedient thinking, attitudes and obedience will be guarded by God’s amazing peace. And with this peace in the midst of pressure, God will bless them with His presence.
Second God’s PRESENCE
Paul concludes verse 9 with, “and the God of peace will be with you.” God’s presence is essential for the strength, tranquility, and the contentment necessary for spiritual stability, no matter what trial is hitting you. Jesus promised to His men, “And lo, I am with you always.”
Standing firm means developing obedient habits–and they require . . .
A Making CHOICES
Depend on God and His Word. But make choices with your time and resources. You want to start growing? Then start serving. Sign up and show up and stop making excuses. You want to see God’s blessing in unique ways? Then start giving. You want to see God mold you into a Godly man or woman? Then start being discipled and start discipling others.
Make choices—three S’s . . . sign up and show up and stop making excuses. If you say, “I don’t have time,” what you’re saying is, “I won’t make time.” Because you always have time to be obedient. Giving, serving and fellowship are commands to obey.
B Practicing DISCIPLINE
As you make choices, like “I will serve each Sunday,” or “I will meet with this community group and attend church”—then you have to choose to go every week. No matter how you feel or what gets in the way, fight to keep your commitments. Block your schedule, dedicate time, build routines, discipline reminders, limit your other commitments, stop doing so many projects, acquire accountability and practice discipline. Self-control is a fruit of the Spirit. That’s why you must be . . .
C Relying on God’s SPIRIT
Moment-by-moment, be filled with the Spirit. Depend on the Spirit by His Word. Rely on His strength and not your own. Trust in His Word and not your ideas. Seek to follow Him and not your feelings. Ephesians 5:18, “Be filled with the Spirit.” But you can’t be filled with the Spirit unless you have already . . .
D Turning to Christ in SALVATION
You only have God’s Spirit internally if you have turned to Christ eternally. You have lied, cheated, stolen, lusted, been selfish, angry, hateful, been mean, deceptive, proud, independent and hurtful. You must be condemned for your sin. And you can’t please God or make him happy with good works, attending church or living nice.
Your sin will cast you into Hell forever. But the good news is, God Himself came up with a way to rescue you. God sent His Son to die in your place. He took your punishment, then rose from the dead and is alive eternally. He can save you now and save you forever. Cry out, “Lord, draw me. Lord, make me willing to come after You. I am lost. Lord, save me, or I perish forever!” Do that today. Let’s pray.