Pink Elephants and Tomato Sandwiches

Uncategorized // September 12, 2021 //

Hello CBC! I hope this post finds you well! My name is Tommy Austin. I am the new student pastor here at Coats Baptist Church. If we have not met before I look forward to the privilege of meeting you in the near future.

Have you ever tried to control your thoughts? It is extremely hard. Some might even say it is impossible. The classic example to demonstrate this is the pink elephant example. (If you have already heard this, please indulge me for a moment.) As you read this sentence, I would like for you to think about a pink elephant. Do you have a picture of a beautiful pink elephant in your mind?

Ok. Good.

Now, I want you to stop thinking about this pink elephant. How did that work for you? It probably didn’t. Most of you reading this still have an image of a pink elephant in your mind.

Why does this matter? Have you ever had anxious, worried, angry, or fearful thoughts cycling through your mind? I’m sure you have. Many times they are so hard to get rid of. We try to not think about them, but just like the pink elephant, they do not go away. These thoughts have great ability to steal our peace and rest. Therefore, as someone that struggles with an overactive mind, I would like to spend some time sharing a few verses that God has used to bless me and give me peace amidst anxious, worried, angry, or fearful thoughts.

Philippians 4:8-9

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me — practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.

First, I want us to see what this text is not saying. This text is not telling us to “stop thinking about sinful things.” This is important to understand. Paul is not commanding the Philippians to empty their minds into a tranquil state of peace. No, Paul is not commanding that at all. It seems that Paul understands the principle behind the pink elephant illustration. He seems to understand that mental discipline is not as simple as an on/off light switch. It is much more complex than that.

Now let’s turn our attention to what Paul is truly instructing the Philippians to do. In verse 8, Paul says, “think about these things.” This is the first command we see in these two verses. On the battleground of the mind, the Christian is not expected to have the ability to empty his/her mind. No, Paul desires that the Christian fill his/her mind. Peace in the Christian life does not come from lack of thoughts. Peace comes from a mind filled with the right thoughts. Therefore, what are these right thoughts?

Praise the Lord, Paul tells us what they are. At the beginning of verse 8 he says they are true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and praiseworthy thoughts. Now this poses us with a new question, “how are these categories of thought going to be defined?” For example, you might think tomato sandwiches are amazing and commendable to everyone you see. But, in my humble opinion, I would think you are wrong. Anything with a raw tomato on it is not good. Therefore, in this silly example, we have two differing opinions of what is commendable. This is acceptable regarding a tomato sandwich, but it is not acceptable when talking about true, honorable, just, and pure things. These things must have a standard. Thankfully, Paul has given us this standard: his example and teaching.

In verse 9, Paul states, “What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me — practice these things.” He is telling the church in Philippi to fill their minds with his teaching and his example. These two standards can be defined by gospel centrality and christlikeness. Paul’s teaching was centered around the message of Christ life, death, and resurrection. He tells the Corinthian church in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4 “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures….” The gospel message was of first importance to Paul. Regarding his example, Paul simply tells the church in Corinth, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.” Paul strove to live his life after the example of Christ and he called others to follow his example in doing so.

While today, we do not have Paul walking and talking in front of us. We do have something just as good: the Scriptures. The Scriptures record for us the gospel teaching of Paul as well as glimpses into his christlike life. In addition to this, the scriptures record the life of the one Paul patterned his life after: our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Therefore, we see that our application from this text is to fill our minds with the Scriptures. The Scriptures point us to the one that Paul’s teaching and life centered around. This is a great time to challenge everyone reading this to practice scripture memorization. Scripture memorization is a wonderful way to shape our minds to think like Christ. As we begin to think like Christ, it shapes our lives in a christ-like manner.

After Paul instructs the Philippians to fill their minds with his teaching and example, Paul finishes these two verses with the great benefit of a mind filled with Christ honoring thoughts: the presence of the God of peace. Verse 9 ends by saying, “and the God of peace will be with you.” What an amazing promise! As we fill our minds with the truth found in God’s Word, we will begin to experience the peace of God’s presence. As Christians, we know that God is always with us. Christ promises this at the end of Matthew 28. Even so, it’s not always easy to remember that God is actively present with us. Filling our minds with the things of God helps remember  that. I like to think about it in terms of the autofill function in our texting apps. As we begin to use our phone, it learns the words and phrases we use often. Therefore, it will autofill these words into our text messages as we are typing similar letters. Our minds work in a similar fashion. When we are placed in a stressful environment, our minds will autofill our thoughts with the things we spend our time thinking about. If we are spending dedicated time thinking about the things listed in Philippians 4:8, these are the truths our minds will recall. One can see how God’s peace can be a result of dwelling on the truths of God found in the Scriptures.

While I am still a work in progress in this area, I have seen great fruit from dwelling on the truths of God (especially through scripture memory). In times of stress and fear, I have been reminded of the ever working God that is going before me as I follow Him. I pray that God uses the truth from these two verses to help you experience His peaceful presence this week.

About Tommy Austin