“Here are some highlights, or lowlights, from just 17 minutes in one woman’s day as she drove home from a convenience store: She conjures up three comebacks she could have hurled at Ellen… She spots the baby shower invitation on the dashboard and schemes a way to be out of town… She sizes up a woman standing at the bus stop and judges her… She stews over a comment her brother made behind her back, and crafts a letter telling him off—and sounding righteous in the process. She reviews the morning’s argument with her husband, and plans the evening installment.
She replays memory tapes going back to the ‘60s, trying to change the endings. Somebody drives up the road shoulder and budges to the head of the traffic jam, and she hates the driver with a perfect hatred. She passes Audrey in her garden and waves—but thinks, “If Audrey’s sick, I’m a flying Wallenda.” An inner voice tells her to turn off the radio and pray, but she decides it’s the voice of legalism. She is angry at God because here she is a Christian and broke, while her good-for-nothing heathen of a brother is rolling in dough. She tries to pray but doesn’t get past “Our Father…”
If you were to ask the lady… what she had been thinking about on the drive from town, she would say, ‘Oh, nothing in particular.’ And she would not be lying. Imagine believing we don’t need a Savior.”
(World Magazine, 6/11/05, Page 35).
Let’s talk about our thought life today.
“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any virtue, if there is anything worthy of praise, meditate on these things. Whatever you learned and received and heard and saw in me—do it—and the God of peace will walk with you. (Philippians 4:8-9)
After giving us specific about the peace of God at the beginning of this chapter, Paul gives us some specifics about walking with the God of peace. He says keep to the script – specifically, fill your minds with beauty and truth. A couple things to keep in mind.
First, this seems to be a broad summary about a life perspective that’s been covered in the previous chapters. It’s a way of saying, “Basically, everything I’ve covered so far is really good advice, and if you have even a basic desire to do praiseworthy and virtuous things, follow up on this and you will be walking in step with Christ.”
Second, it’s not a negative statement. He’s not telling them what not to think about, because that’s counterproductive. He’s telling them to fill themselves with these things. Jesus talked in Matthew 12:44 about a man who had an unclean spirit cast out, but when it came back to find its former dwelling empty, it moved back in with a bunch of buddies, and the possessed man was worse off than before.
We have to fill ourselves with the right things. We are called out of darkness and into light. We put off the old nature – and put on the new. It’s one reason that Christians struggle to experience the fullness of new life in Christ. We hear a message of “Don’t do that” and “Reject that,” but we don’t hear a message often enough of “Do this instead. Fill yourself with this.”
- Don’t be so short-tempered with your kids vs. be gentle.
- Don’t look at pornography vs. fill your imagination with things that emphasize the dignity and value of women
- Don’t’ gossip vs speak well of others.
- Don’t be greedy vs. be generous
Paul’s big summary is a positive one – do this. Think on these things. He’s showing them how to experience the fullness of the presence of a God of peace.
True – That which God reveals in His Word or in His world. The Greek word carries the idea of something being genuine or free from error. Christians should avoid feeding themselves with things that are deceptive or false. They must be committed to finding and meditating on God’s truth so they can take it to heart and let it guide their lives.
This doesn’t mean Christians must isolate themselves and never think about anything that’s not true. It’s clear from Paul’s writings that he didn’t (considering the Greek and Roman authors he quotes). The early church didn’t isolate themselves – they used Aesop’s fables to educate their kids, and they borrowed a lot of ‘pop culture’ imagery to tell the Christian story. But they used it purposefully and reclaimed flawed cultural messages for the glory of God.
Honorable. This simply means to do what fits an image-bearers of God, a citizens of heaven, and a child of God. It has to do with being honest and dignified. It’s ‘august’ (think Augustus Caesar) or ‘weighty.’
There is a story in Roman history of barbarians breaking into the Capitol and standing in awed silence in the midst of the Senate Senators chamber as all the Senators sat there in all the senatorial weightiness. It’s the noble things we should be letting into our minds, not the barbaric ones. They bring a calm, an order, a presence to our thought life.
This doesn’t mean there’s not room for silliness. Cat memes are cute, and a dude getting hit in the face over and over with a soccer ball is hilarious. But the things that form you the most ought to be the weighty things.
Just –It’s that which we owe to God, our neighbor, and ourselves as (once again) image bearers of God with the rights and responsibilities that follow from that. Strong’s Concordance says it is ‘rendering to each their due…passing judgment on others in words or shown by the manner of dealing with them.’ As we listen and watch, we should be weighing the worth of the messages we hear and actions we see. To not do so is to rebel against God.
Pure – Whatsoever is uncontaminated in thought and action. This is purity of motive, not just purity of action. Strong’s Concordance gives one meaning as ‘in a condition prepared for worship.’ On this side of heaven, we are going to struggle with this. And of all the things listed, this may be the most personal and the easiest to hide. David prayed, “Create in me a clean heart, O God.” That’s not a bad prayer at all.
Lovely – This is the only time this word occurs in the Bible. Better thought of as ‘lovable’. Strong’s Concordance says it’s something that is “worth the effort to have and embrace.” One commentator defined it as “those things whose grace attracts.” This word can mean things that are beautiful, but is has more to do with whether or not something is pleasing and life-giving in a godly sense of the word. It means we have to go beyond just saying, “I like it!” when it comes to music, movies, or books. We need to ask why? Is it lovely in the deepest sense of the word?
Commendable – In classic Greek, it meant ‘a good omen’ or a good report. Biblically, it’s things that we should praise because they are approved by God.
- when friend at work became a follower of Jesus
- when someone with money gives generously to a good cause
- when forgiveness is granted
- when a movie portrays nobility or truth
- when justice wins
- When broken relationships are mended
- When someone promotes purity and self-control
- When the addict celebrates another year of sobriety
- When a crumbling marriage heals
- When the prodigal child comes home
Virtue and Praise
If there is anything virtuous (“You mean things that are true, honorable, just, and pure?”); and if there is anything praiseworthy (“Oh, that is lovely and commendable!”) that is what we should purposely consume to build our character so that we become more like Christ.
“Virtue” (arětê) occurs only here in the writings of Paul (and only twice in Peter’s writing). This word references what has been called virtue ethics, a code of ethics Aristotle made famous. Perhaps Paul is acknowledging the reality of his Roman audience, who would have surely been raised on the Aristotle’s notion of virtue. “You have been taught what is virtuous all your lives. Here is the heart of Christian virtue – and if there is anything else like this, it is praiseworthy.” It’s as if Paul is saying that even by their old pagan notions of what is good, this ought to make sense.
Think on these things – Let these be the considerations which guide your thoughts and direct your motives. If the thoughts are ordered well, the outward life will follow. A reasoned, logical consideration that is able to give an account. It’s not casual contact. It’s diving into the world around you and really seeking to make the connections between God and his world. Christians are not called to surf through life. We are to dive in, explore the depths, and bring to the light the treasures we find. Take them to heart in order to determine your conduct accordingly.
And the God of peace will walk with you.
 “Did Paul Quote Pagan Philosophers?” https://carm.org/did-paul-quote-pagan-philosophers
 “Borrowing From The Neighbors” http://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/ancient-cultures/ancient-near-eastern-world/borrowing-from-the-neighbors/
 For an article on how this relates to entertainment and the arts, here’s a good starting point. “What does Philippians 4:8 really mean?” http://www.patheos.com/blogs/christandpopculture/2008/02/philippians-48/