And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. Philippians 4:8 NLT
One of the most difficult scriptures to follow is Philippians 4:8 where Paul locks down in a most absolute sense what we should be thinking about or meditating on. I use the phrase “locked down” because, for those who take it seriously, there is no wiggle room, nothing left unsaid, that might give a believer, who wants to honor our Lord and live in Christian harmony with others, more liberty in what they allow their heart or mind to dwell on. Quoting Bishop Lightfoot: “Speaking roughly, the words may be said to be arranged in the descending scale [and] … that no motive may be omitted.” (More later about this quote.)
Paul is admonishing us to guard our minds as sacred to God as the means by which He often speaks to us? Every wrong thought that lingers as a meditation or devolves into a motive for justifying a temptation stands to drown out the still small voice of the Spirit [1 Kings 19:12].
“Fix your thoughts,” the New Living Translation reads, interpreting the word Paul used to describe the thought process: reasoning, meditating, and figuring things out. Is not our minds and hearts also instruments for God’s use? Paul uncompromisingly urged, “… present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God.” [Romans 6:13]. This includes our minds and hearts [Matthew 12:34].
“One final thing,” reads the text. So, this is Paul’s final comment to the church. He leaves us looking up at such a high peak of holiness without sharing how to climb it! This profound Pauline instruction might be hidden above the low hanging clouds of my weakened humanity, my propensity to go in my fantasies to places of a revenge against persons that enraged me, of a self-interest that I rationalized into something important, or of a myriad of temptations entertained happily in my imagination—with no thought of Philippians 4:8! I would be naive to believe that such thoughts are harmless. They inevitably find expression in word and action. And thus, Paul’s thoughtful honesty—as harsh as it might sound!
These are eight aspects of our thought life—all—interconnected. When all are not observed, none are observed! I picture myself in a forest of countless ideas and it is easy to get lost, to dwell too long on something that we can’t seem to get past, a remorse or bitterness that lingers, or a “what if” that will not nor ever could be determined, or the hurt over broken relations, or regret over some lost opportunity.
Dare we leave the comfortable world of theological discussion and a grace that predetermines all things for our good and begin discussing the role we play in “working out our own salvation”? [Philippians 2:12]. Psalm 25:4 [NLT] reads “Show me the right path, O LORD; point out the road for me to follow.” God has marked the way , starting with:
- Whatsoever things are true. Building one’s life on lies is a foundation of shifting sand. A dream built on anything but truth will collapse into the rubble of a wasted life [Matthew 7:24-27]. Jesus said that He is the truth, John 14:6; For the believer, He must be the center of our thoughts [Matthew 11:29]. This requires humility because pride by definition is deceptively misleading. Pride never tells us the truth; so, to begin with, we need to approach the forest of countless ideas with a degree of humility asking our Lord to show us the way through. Many things can trouble us but being self-aware enough to be honest with ourselves takes a prayer life that gives God a chance to speak to us on these matters.
- Whatsoever things are honorable. These are thoughts that inspire reverence with both a seriousness and yet respect, not only for our Lord but His church, as well. Our ability to honor others above ourself is an expression of our ultimate desire to honor the Lord [1 Corinthians 10:31]. A lack of respect for God’s people, proves that we are not acknowledging what God is truthfully doing among us. Division is often based solely on misinformation and misunderstanding, ignorance, and pride. They are not based on a clear knowledge of “whatsoever things are true.” Looking at this thought another way: If my thoughts about others were known, would I be respected by them?
- Whatsoever things are right. What is right is also just and fair. When there is no reverence for God and respect for others, it is easier to pass undo judgment on whoever upsets me. Unwarranted criticism thrives on feelings that do not honor our Lord. Selfishness is never fair neither is pride or any judgment built on a lie. But more than all this, justice is always inseparably associated with and part of God’s covenant faithfulness and thus what is proper for a believer to meditate on [Psalm 1:1-2]. Life is not fair but our Lord always is! It is wise to rethink somethings so that we see God’s involvement in our life and we can ultimately praise Him instead of grumbling [Philippians 4:18]. Blaming God for what happens that is difficult to accept or calling Him unjust is unthinkable for a believer! Thinking right thoughts can only follow a respect for the truth of what God is doing among us.
- Whatsoever things are pure. Purity is biblically the inward disposition of the heart [Proverbs 20:9]. How can a heart that is not pure, where the desire to follow Christ is conditional and full of personal interests that might conflict with our Lord’s—how can such a mind—think right thoughts? Impure thoughts include carnal thoughts by definition. Carnality is the offspring of selfishness. In contrast, purity is the offspring of making God’s Word the center and content of all our thoughts [Psalm 119:11]. It is the source of pious wisdom that avoids all self-seeking [James 3:17]. Our thoughts and feelings are never kept hidden for long. They inevitably become intent and then how we interpret and react to life.
- Whatsoever things are lovely. The love spoken of here is not “love toward an enemy or a persecutor, but toward another with whom we may enter into christian fellowship. One can easily see the necessity for purity of heart and thought. Right thoughts lead to right relationships. Paul explains better in Romans 12:16 [NLT] “Live in harmony with each other. Don’t be too proud to enjoy the company of ordinary people. And don’t think you know it all!”
- Whatsoever things are admirable. Our thoughts should speak well of others, not defamatory or tending toward thinking ill of them. Admiration in action is acceptance [Romans 15:7] of one another..
- Think about things that are excellent. Excellence is perhaps better understand as a virtuous thought or feeling. It is noteworthy that Paul employs this word only here in his writings as if to carefully avoid it elsewhere, talking about “the things of the Spirit” instead [Romans 8:5, 9] because we are “in the Spirit, not the flesh.” But all this anyway with one caveat:
- And worthy of praise. Only what is worthy of a life lived that glorifies our God. Even our plans, our dreams, should be His for us. Our thoughts should be thoughts that once expressed herald His love and mercy to our world.
Bishop Lightfoot spoke of a “descending order.” So, let’s start with the lowest first:
8. Glorifying God: Are my thoughts praiseworthy to God? Would my thoughts sanctify His Name if known? If spoken, would others be encourage to join me in praise and thanksgiving to God for them? If not:
7. Virtuous: Do my thoughts support my faith? Are they reflective of Christian character If not:
6. Praiseworthy: If my thoughts went public, would they be scandalous or degrading? If so:
5. Amiable: Do my thoughts reflect my enthusiasm for fellowship with believers? If not:
4. Pure: Are my motives pure and not focused solely on myself? If not:
3. Righteous: Irrespective of circumstances, would God approve of what I am thinking? If not:
2. Worthy of Honor: Do my thoughts magnify my Lord? If not:
1. Truthful: Is my perspective biblical when I interpret my circumstances? Am I endeavoring to be absolutely honest?
“And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” [Philippians 4:7].
“You wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on You: because he trusts in You.” [Isaiah 26:3]