09 August 2012

Phillips' axioms

by Dan Phillips

When you get old, experienced and opinionated, you build up a stock of axioms. Here are some of mine, for whatever use, ponderance, reflection, passing whimsy, and/or outright theft, you might make of them. They range from the theological to the practical to the political. What use will you make of them? None, maybe. But I've used various of them variously in sermons, conversation, evangelism, counseling, teaching, and writing.

Unlike Biblical Proverbs, they're uninspired. Like Biblical proverbs, the aim is memorable, thought-provoking, stick-in-your-mind brevity.

Strictly, some of these are proverbs or apothegms... but that would make too long a title!

If this list has no interest to you, I'd just ask you graciously to remember what you paid for it.
  1. If you ever weren't God, you never will be.
  2. When you sin or do something really foolish, you have two choices: repent, forsake, and rectify; or start an endless cycle of doubling-down degradation. Most people do the latter.
  3. Don't be the last to know you're wrong.
  4. Trolls are thoughtful people. Nail them for what they are, and they immediately prove you right.
  5. Pastors who don't pastor aren't pastors, they're lecturers.
  6. Anyone who claims to be an apostle today is 'way, 'way too young.
  7. Any woman who seeks to lead men in church is eo ipso disqualified—if open rebellion against the Lordship of Christ is still a disqualifier.
  8. Folks who are full of themselves don't leave much room for anyone else.
  9. Every vote is a vote for the lesser of two evils.
  10. Men shouldn't let our eyes rest anywhere our hands shouldn't.
  11. Looking may just be looking, but doing starts with a look.
  12. Only way to be certain not to forget something is to do it now.
  13. Preach like God's watching, like you'll never get another chance, and like every second of your hearers' time is precious.
  14. Don't let truth lose by default through your laziness, indifference, cowardice or ignorance.
  15. If nobody else has ever seen what you're seeing in the Bible, that's probably because it isn't there.
  16. The world is far better at being the world than the church ever could be, so don't even try.
  17. Don't be shocked when unbelievers act like unbelievers.
  18. Do be shocked when believers act like unbelievers. Especially when it's you.
  19. Counsel the person who's there. 
  20. Better to have it and not need it, than need it and not have it.
  21. Excelling at anything is a matter of wisely investing odd moments.
  22. Better to know a little truth, and believe it deeply, Than to know a lot, and not.
  23. Anyone can be taught — except the dead and the proud.
  24. Everyone does what he does because he thinks it will make him happy. (Added 12/5/12)
  25. Unhappy complainers are always louder and more insistent than happy people with praises. This works both horizontally and vertically, and is equally a reproach to both categories of people. (Added 1/3/2013)
  26. When a man opposing God's truth is destroying his own argument with every word, sometimes it's best to stay out of the way and let him get on with it. (Added 1/18/2013)
  27. Kid, life's not a game. Hasty decisions cast long shadows. (Added 4/8/2013)
  28. When someone wants to misunderstand, no power on Earth can make him understand. (Added 9/26/2013)
  29. Everyone in the embrace of a sin dismisses Biblical rebuke by claiming to be misunderstood. (Added 9/27/2013)
  30. The problem with the person who thinks he's too strong to be able to join himself in fellowship with imperfect Christians in a local church is that he is actually too weak to sustain it. (Added 9/27/2013)
  31. Being married is like being a Christian, only more so. (Added 9/27/2013)
  32. Sin is always the problem, never the solution. (Added 9/27/2013)
  33. Every time someone tries to be a "'progressive' Christian," (s)he ends up being a whole lot of the one, and not much of the other. (Added 2/24/2014)
  34. With stubborn, unrepentant sin, lack of information is rarely the real problem; so pouring in information is rarely the solution. (Added 2/24/2014)
  35. God didn't give kids sense. Instead, He gave them parents, told the parents to teach the kids His Word, and told the kids to honor their parents. (Added 4/26/14)
  36. If anyone makes you feel better about thumbing your nose at God, that person does not love you. (Added 5/6/14)
  37. Arguing X does not necessarily mean that there is a real argument worth making for X. (Added 7/8/14)
  38. The hands do what the hands do because the heart is what the heart is. (Added 8/22/14)
  39. "Love" should not be defined as the compulsion to force others to subsidize the idle, the immoral, and the illegal. (Added 2/20/15)
  40. When one loves God, no reason is a large enough obstacle to prevent us from serving Him. When one does not love God, no excuse is too puny, paltry, or pathetic to keep us from serving Him. (Added 5/11/15)
  41. The moral obligation of leading by example is absolute; its efficacy, however, is often grossly, grossly overstated (2 Chron. 27:2). (Added 8/26/15)
  42. Racism is not the cure for racism. Only the Cross of Christ is. (Added 2/12/16)
  43. Atheists tend to blurt bombastic clich├ęs rather than read, reflect, and respond. (Added 11-7-2017)
  44. Big names are often small people. (Added 1-9-2018)
  45. Youth, dirt-ignorance and hubris are a deadly combination. (Added 1-9-2018)
  46. The mark of a truly big person is how he treats "little people." (Added 1-9-2018)
  47. No human authority has the right to command what God forbids, or forbid what God commands. (Added 4-11-18)
  48. Obedience isn't a technique. You don't "try" it, to see if it "works." (Added 5-14-2018)
  49. {Instant acclaim + massive soapbox} minus {coherent, thought-out, well-grounded, long-demonstrated convictional, Biblical worldview} = disaster. Generally not a matter of if, but when, and how bad. (Cf. 1 Timothy 5:22). (Added 5-14-2018)
  50. Sin snowballs. That's its propensity. No sin likes to remain alone. (Added 7-23-2018)
  51. You can't make someone see what he doesn't want to see. (Added 5-12-2020)
  52. The existential distance between "humiliated" and "humbled" is so much vaster than the lexical distance. Many who are the former, are not the latter — to their destruction. (Added 4-5-2021)
  53. Once Pride makes an investment, it will defend it to the death...of everything. (Added 8-2-2021)
  54. You can lead a "continuationist" to Scripture, but you can't make him think. (Added 12-15-2022)
  55. God is good, but He plays the long game. (Added 2-22-2024)
There y'go.

Dan Phillips's signature


DJP said...

How long before the first one-star rating?

FX Turk said...

You forgot "the Doctor Lies" and "Time is not the boss of you."

Tom Chantry said...

I love #15!

You realize of course that people are going to try to make up their own axioms to add to your list, failing to comprehend the words, "...build up a stock of..."

yankeegospelgirl said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
yankeegospelgirl said...

You left off "Never go up against a Sicilian when death is on the line." And "Never start a land war in Asia."

DJP said...

Two-word title, and already two commenters didn't get it.


Tom Chantry said...

No, I got it. My comment was predictive.

Kerry James Allen said...

As Spurgeon said, "Three things go to the making of a proverb: Shortness, sense, and salt." You hit all three. Sweet!

DJP said...

Chantry, that's why you weren't one of the two.


Tom Chantry said...

I see; I saved my reading comprehension FAIL for the comment section.

We're all stupid sooner or later; we can only hope to be stupid in the privacy of our own homes.

DJP said...

That's worth being scored as Chantry's Axiom #1.


Tom Chantry said...

I only ever came up with one axiom, and because I understood the post, I'm not sharing it here.

BTW, I'm still chuckling about #15, not because it's false, but because it's so true. Had I heard it ten years ago, I could have probably used it a dozen times each year. Bible Studies, Sunday School discussions, conversations, blog metas...

Anonymous said...

My favorite: Counsel the person who is there.

Anonymous said...

...because it contains so much wisdom in so few words. Perfect.

Tom Chantry said...

And by the way, it's self-applicable, too. More than once I've had an absolutely brilliant take on a verse of Scripture, but after much searching I've left it on sermon-writing waste heap, because if not one of the great minds collected in my library ever saw it, it probably wasn't that brilliant in the first place.

Allen Gregory said...

I love your axioms, they are great. Some are funny and some are sobering espcially when applied to myself. I think I will post them one at a time as my facebook status each day. (giving you credit and with your permission)

Cathy M. said...

#19 must be an insider info for pastors, and I'm pretty sure my Dad originated #20. I could prove my claim with a comparative photo of his garage next to yours.

These are great, worth more than tripple the cost, even though #18 makes me sad.. followed by irrational anger.. followed by a blitzkrieg of rumors and allegations.. followed by "I'm leaving this church!"

DJP said...

Ye, Joey; that's a lifesaver for pastors or any other counselor. "My wife... my husband... my son..." Be compassionate, be caring — but you can only counsel the person sitting right there talking to you.

DJP said...

Tom, #15 is why my appendix on Prov. 22:6 is so long. And that isn't even a case that no one else saw what I see; it's just that so few do. So I'd better darned well make my case, lay down the cards, let folks see what I've got.

DJP said...

Sure, Allen. Glad they're of use.

St. Lee said...

#1 on your list is my favorite. In fact, I started compiling a list of favorite quotes some time back (so easy to do on a computer with cut and paste) and "If you ever weren't God, you never will be." was already on that list!

DJP said...

Perhaps you'll get to share that with our next president. You know, if he's our next president.


Tom Chantry said...

Perhaps you'll get to share that with our next president. You know, if he's our next president.

At the risk of being grossly political, let me ask: What's worse, a presidential candidate who thinks he'll one day turn into a god, or a president(ial candidate) who thinks he already is one?

APM said...

Good stuff.

I think #7 should be modified into something shorter or chiastic.

Maybe: "Any woman who has the title of 'pastor' had better own livestock."

Or something to that effect.

But hey- these are Phillips' proverbs, not mine....

Larry Geiger said...

"If nobody else has ever seen what you're seeing in the Bible, that's probably because it isn't there." :-)

trogdor said...

Gonna disagree on re-phrasing #7, and here's why. It places the focus squarely where it should be, on the rebellion against Christ's Lordship.

It made me stop to think of other ways in which rebellion is not considered disqualifying. It's hard to look at much of American evangelicalism without concluding that the set of disqualfying teachings/behaviors is vanishing, and some of them have become something pastors brag about.

I wouldn't even consider a female pastor, so that's no problem - but how many other ways can a pastor defy our Lord, and I would be willing to overlook it?

APM said...


I fully agree with Dan's statement (and yours).

I was just offering a mite to help turn it into a more "memorable, thought-provoking, stick-in-your-mind brevity" kind of thingy.

Terry Rayburn said...

Oh, I don't know...

"Phillips' Axioms, Proverbs, and Apothegms" has a nice ring to it, even though I don't know how to pronounce Apothegms, and it has a lot of sibilants in it.

Anyway, excellent, Dan!

Okay, I looked it up. "AP-uh-thems".


Jim Peet said...

I thought you were going to begin: "When you get old and cranky ..."

I posted on Sharper Iron.


Terry Rayburn said...

#9 (voting for the lesser of two evils) is a GREAT reminder and thought-clarifier for any purists who would rather "write in" their "perfect" candidate, or vote third-party, and thereby help return Obama to office, than to dirty their hands by voting for a mere man who can defeat Barack.

JG said...

"The Doctor Lies." Oh, Frank. You just blew the whole post out of my mind. Now I have to go back and reread.

DJP said...

Thank you, Jaci. Sometimes it helps to think of Frank as siren and flashing lights during a training session. Just watch your instruments and focus on the primary objective, and you'll be fine.


Herding Grasshoppers said...

Love these. Especially #3, #15, #19...

and my grandma's version of #8:

A person all wrapped up in him/herself makes a mighty small package. Hmph.

(It's important to add the Hmph at the end.)

Julie G

Gilbert said...

#20 is also why we have people whose houses are full of, say, broken TV's from 1974 that they don't need. ;-)

D.B. said...

I am sad, because I feel I don't get the joke that Dan and Tom. I feel so alone.

D.B. said...

Plus the link on 19 wasn't working. Is that part of the joke I don't get? Love the sayings though; i will also be stealing them for my own purposes.

Old Mom said...

Just when we're lulled into complacency, nodding our heads in agreement with 22 spot on axioms, some pesky computer error mistakenly throws in one(around the #20 mark) from the hoarders list of axioms.

I'd complain to Google if I were you Dan.

DJP said...

DB, you're too general, so I can't explain the joke that puzzles you. The link is fixed.

D.B. said...

Dan thanks for fixing the link- The joke I don't get is Aug 9; 8:46 and 8:58. :-)

DJP said...

They're unrelated, or so I think. Ask Chantry about his; mine is that, on a post titled "PHILLIPS' axioms," two commenters suggested axioms from movies. Movies with scripts not written by the aforementioned "Phillips."

Tom Chantry said...

My point was that Dan talked about "building up a stock" of axioms, which is necessarily a time consuming work, and that trying to supplement with our own axioms on the fly would be inadequate. Dan was trying to forestall that by pointing out that the post is about his axioms, and that no matter how brilliant your axioms or my axioms might be, they are not his axioms.

Unknown said...

Did you come up with WYWTWIWYWTT? I thought I would see that one in there.

Great list.

Going to go read it again.

DJP said...

No, that definitely was not me. I know better.

Paul Bruggink said...

Great list, but perhaps #12 should be placed somewhere other than right after #11. :-)

Aaron said...

I may be adding to Dan's list as time passes as I get the pleasure of listening to him every Sunday. I'm sure I'll recognize some axioms he uses but forgot to list. I'm already thinking one is something along the lines of "God spoke to you? Hold on, I need to write this down in my Bible."

DJP said...

LOL, oh dear.

Terry Rayburn said...


If I may revisit this "old" post, I want to thank you again for:

"Every vote is a vote for the lesser of two evils."

Although I knew this theologically, it "clicked" in a way that has proven very useful for me in my [many] political discussions and writings this election season.

It is a quite-unassailable concept when dealing with those quasi-dreamers ("Imagine there's no political corruption...It isn't hard to do...") who think we should vote for some write-in or third-party guy (one huge one comes to mind, of course), so that we may remain "pure" in our politics (a rather absurd oxymoron), even if it helps the *greater* of the two evils who have any chance of winning.

Anyway, thanks again.

Terry Rayburn said...

Having said that, I surely think one ought to vote his conscience -- just that his conscience should be informed by scriptural truth that no candidate invalidates Romans 3:23.

DJP said...

Thanks, Terry. You've prob already read it, but I wrote a long one on the counsel-of-despair, hollow-gesture option.

DJP said...

Oh yeah, one more. You can't argue with a full bladder.

Well, it's true.

ad nauseum said...

Heres one I try to implement every chance I get.

If it walks like a duck, if it qucks like a duck, and if it looks like a duck, take a picture, ducks are beautiful.

Rob Steele said...

Brevity is ... wit. The Simpsons.

DonHo57 said...

Two excellent new additions to the list. Hear! Hear!