Let's Think About This For a Moment
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.
What do you think about? I suppose most of us could say, "I think about a lot of things." That's true, but what characterizes most of your thinking? If you are like the majority of people, you probably spend a good amount of time thinking about the immediate necessities of life. You think about your family, your job, your church, what's for dinner tonight. If you are a parent, you think about your children. If you are a student, you think about assignments that need to be completed and what you are hoping to do after graduation. And so on. None of these are bad in and of themselves, unless we grow anxious and think in a worrying and anxious manner (Matt. 6:25–34).
These are things we think about regularly because they are part of our every day lives, but what else do we think about as a result of what we deliberately choose to read about and talk about? What do we think about when the first thing we do every day is read about every bad and evil thing that has happened over the last 24 hours in every part of the world? What do we think about when we listen to music that exalts ugliness, with lyrics that glorify pride, and envy, and lust? What do we think about when we watch television shows, movies, and videos depicting blasphemy, dehumanizing violence, and depravity of every kind?
If you read every day about every bad and evil thing that has happened over the last 24 hours in every part of the world, you shouldn't be surprised if you are constantly dwelling on those things and struggling with depression and anxiety. If you listen to songs with sexually explicit lyrics and watch movies, television shows, and videos with sexually explicit images, you shouldn't be surprised if you are constantly dwelling on those things and struggling with lust. If you watch movies and videos that depict dehumanizing violence, don't be surprised if you struggle with outbursts of anger and murderous thoughts (Matt. 5:21–22). If you choose to drink from a sewer rather than from a clear spring, don't be surprised if you get sick.
We are called to be putting to death the deeds of the flesh (Rom. 8:13), not fertilizing them with the manure produced by those who hate our Lord. We are not to be conformed to this world but instead to be transformed by the renewing of our minds (Rom. 12:2). How do we renew our minds? By thinking about what God commanded us to think about. Consider what Paul wrote to the Philippian church: "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" (Phil. 4:8–9). The Word of God here gives us instructions regarding things to think about and things to practice.
Think About This
Whatever is true. We are to think about those things that are true. God is true (John 3:33; 7:28). God's Word is truth (John 17:17). Jesus is the truth (John 14:6). Our culture is filled with liars and their lies. Lying lips are an abomination. How much time and energy do we waste thinking about lies as opposed to thinking about God and His Word?
Whatever is honorable. Those of us in the West live in a culture that has forgotten the meaning of honor and respect. Our culture does not even know what is honorable and is therefore incapable of thinking about it. As Christians, we are called to think about whatever is honorable and worthy of respect. In other words, we are to think about that which is good. We are not only to think about it, however. We are also to do that which is honorable (Rom. 12:17). One such honorable thing is giving honor to whom honor is owed (Rom. 13:7). We are to honor God (1 Sam. 2:30; Isa. 8:13), our parents (Exod. 20:12) and the elderly (Lev. 19:32).
Whatever is just. That which is just is that which is righteous. We are to think about these things, to think about that which is righteous. Proverbs contrasts the just with the deceitful, saying: "The thoughts of the righteous are just; the counsels of the wicked are deceitful" (Prov. 12:5). That which is just, therefore, is that which is truthful. We are to think about God and His Word.
Whatever is pure. That which is pure is that which is uncontaminated. Pure metals have no dross. Thus, "The words of the LORD are pure words, like silver refined in a furnace on the ground, purified seven times" (Psalm 12:6). God's commandments are pure (Psalm 19:8). God's Word and His commandments are pure because God Himself is pure (Psalm 18:26).
Whatever is lovely. Christians are called not only to think about things that are true and good, but also things that are lovely, things that are beautiful. Scripture uses the word "lovely" to describe that which is beautiful (e.g., Song of Solomon 6:4). This too is in stark contrast to our culture, which glorifies ugliness. As Christians, we are to think about that which is beautiful, and since beauty is inter-related to truth and goodness, it encompasses both. The ultimate beauty is God who is goodness and truth. Our Lord is glorious and beautiful (Psalm 27:4).
Whatever is commendable. That which is commendable is that which is worthy of praise. God is most worthy of all praise (1 Chron. 29:11), and thus, we are to think about Him. But we are also to think about the commendable acts of people. Rather than thinking about and dwelling on every bad thing that people have done and are doing, think about whatever is commendable.
Any excellence. Excellence is that which excels, that which is extremely good. First and foremost, this refers to God. As Peter explains, we have been called to "proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light" (1 Pet. 2:9). God's very nature is defined as excellence (2 Pet. 1:3).
Anything worthy of praise. Paul sums up his exhortation calling us to think about anything that is praiseworthy. This includes God and His great acts. It includes the good acts of God's people. Think on these things.
The Word of God instructs us not only to think about certain things but also to practice certain things. Paul writes, "What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things." Paul has given the Philippians, and us too, an example of godly Christian behavior. Several times, Paul calls believers to be imitators of himself (e.g., 1 Cor. 4:16; Phil. 3:17). He wants us to do this because he is imitating Christ (1 Cor. 11:1). We cannot imitate Paul if we are not familiar with him, and the only way we can be familiar with him is to study him carefully. That requires the reading of Scripture.
This is the Promise
Paul concludes his exhortation with a promise. If you think about these things and practice these things, "the God of peace will be with you." Christians have become such worldly people because all we think about are the things in this world. We fill our minds with whatever is false, whatever is dishonorable, whatever is unjust, whatever is impure, whatever is ugly, whatever is worthy of condemnation, and we wonder why we have no peace. We are called to set our minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth (Col. 3:2). In other words, our thinking is to be God-centered.
Many of us have put our brains and what we think about at the mercy of 24/7 cable news and internet news feeds, which select content based on whether it will keep you coming back for more. Fear and anxiety keep you coming back for more, so your news feed is continually filled with stories of every bad thing that happens in every corner of the world every day. If you return to this feed trough regularly enough, it is inevitably going to affect your thinking, and you will not be able to do what the Word of God has commanded us.
I'm not suggesting that it is necessary to remain ignorant and uninformed about everything. I am suggesting that it isn't necessary to know about every bad thing that has occurred in every remote corner of the world every day. Good news doesn't sell, so we don't hear about good things that happen. The sole and continual focus on the bad news gives us a distorted view of reality. All most of us need to know most of the time is what is happening in our local communities. Technology has given us a false sense of omniscience. When that is combined with the reality of our lack of omnipotence, our lack of any control over most of this, we are going to be anxious and depressed.
If you add to this by subjecting your brain to entertainment created by people who have a pathological hatred for the good, the true, and the beautiful, what you think about will be further distorted and turned away from God. Be honest and ask yourself: How many hours a week do I spend watching television, watching movies, watching YouTube videos, playing video games, etc.? How many hours a week do I spend in God's Word? In prayer? Whatever your answer is, it is affecting your thinking.
All of these worldly things that consume so much of our thinking is fleeting. The things we think are so important that they take priority over everything else right now will not matter very much to us when we are dead. Look up a photograph of a large crowd in the late 19th century. Every person in that photograph is now dead. What were each of them thinking about when the photograph was taken? Was it the economy? Politics? A war? Something they read in the newspaper that morning? Maybe it was a homework assignment. A task given them by their boss. The score of the previous day's sporting event. How much do those things matter now? To them or to us?
If you are a follower of Christ, put your phone down some time. Turn off the television and laptop. Close this blog. Go outside. Look up. That big blue thing is called the sky. You might not have noticed it in a while. It declares the glory of the God who created it. The same God who created all things and upholds all things every moment by the word of His power has given us a written revelation. Have you looked at it recently? It tells us about that which is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, and commendable. It tells us about the things we are to think about. It tells us about our God who so loved us that He gave His only Son, the Lord Jesus Christ who was pierced for our transgressions and crushed for our iniquities. Who died on the cross for our sins. Who rose from the dead and walked out of the tomb on the third day. This Lord Jesus Christ has ascended to the right hand of the Father. He is our High Priest who intercedes for us. He will come again to judge all mankind. Those who repent and believe have eternal life in Him. Instead of eternal fire, the inheritance we deserved, we who trust Him will inherit a new heavens and a new earth. Let's think about this for a moment, and let us praise God.
Public Domain Image of Crowds waiting for Jack Johnson in 1910. Source: Library of Congress.