by Pastor James Lee
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. 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. (Philippians 4:4-8)
To think well is to think nobly or honorably. Namely, on whatever is just, pure, lovely, of good repute, excellent, and worthy of praise. It’s to think thoroughly and comprehensively on them. In a sense, the rest of v.8 flows out from the very first trait, “whatever is true.” And to meditate on them is analogous to the cow pulling every ounce of nutrient from the cud. It’s like studying an object from every angle, weight, texture, characteristic, dimension, and purpose. How it reflects or refracts light. If we dwell accurately on His truth in His Word, then the fruit of our desire will be to dwell on ALL these very things. It’s interesting that the word “honorable” is also translated “dignified” in regards to a deacon’s qualification. It describes one of sober mind and character, who is worthy of respect. He does not treat serious things lightly, or inappropriately. It pictures a man who is joyful and pleasant to be with, yet simultaneously dignified. Therefore, such a person dwells on what is right and pure, seeking purity and holiness in all areas of thought, speech, action, and motive. We are to have nothing to do with evil. We’re to dwell on what is morally lovely and pleasing to our Creator, whether it’s caring for the poor, being gracious, mortifying sin, serving the body of Christ sacrificially, or dwelling on the strengths rather than the weaknesses of people. It may include contemplating the aesthetically lovely, appreciating His physical creation, grace, and will.
So any and all that is truly excellent, worthy of God’s praise should not be left out of our active and thoughtful meditation. Thus, v.8 is a stunning portrait of how we must think. And how we now can think, by God’s enablement! It’s helpful to notice that when we’re dwelling on these 8 filters in v.8, that Jesus Himself is all of these things, isn’t He? So, it’s instructive for us to think that He is the one we are to put our minds on! Jesus is true. Jesus is worthy of respect. He is just, pure, lovely, kind, gracious, of good report. So, it’s a good exercise to fill our minds and thoughts and think on Him first! We can’t think more nobly than that. Instead of thinking what a broken clay pot each of us is, may we rather dwell on what our powerful Savior can do with broken, weak clay pots like each of us! Instead of dwelling on past guilt and foolishly trying to pay God back, we can set our mind on Romans 8:1 that because of Christ alone, there is therefore now no condemnation for those who reborn in Him! We are not to be driven by guilt, but be driven by grace! When we are undergoing a severe trial, and are being tempted to believe everything can and will go wrong for us, we can repent and set our minds on Romans 8:28. When we’re so discouraged that we won’t ever learn to be content, we can set our minds on His promise of Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things (including learning contentment) through Christ who strengthens me.” We can set our minds on heaven. We can take control of our thought life and take more control of what influences our thought life.
As whatever is true speaks positively, in regards to our flesh, whatever is noble speaks negatively. Let me explain. The weight of dwelling on these 8 positives demands the active rejection of the negative, in terms of input. Listen carefully to the logical inversion of v.8, “Finally brothers, whatever is untrue, whatever is dishonorable, whatever is unjust, whatever is impure, whatever is unlovely, whatever is uncommendable, if there is anything NOT morally excellent, if there is anything unworthy of praise, DO NOT THINK about these things!” Do not think about those things! To “put on” means we have to also “put off.” Paul instructs, if one was previously a thief, that it’s not to enough to just stop stealing. Don’t just “put off” stealing, but “put” on “being generous”. It means we say “yes” to godly things, not merely say “no” to ungodly things. We replace them with noble things, more satisfying things, as the former loses its appeal. Thus, in order to put off, we often have to first put on! If we’re not actively dwelling on what is pleasing to the Lord, the vacuum of our minds will be filled by the anti-God thinking of the world. The world system preaches that we ought to dwell on the opposite of what is noble. As F.F. Bruce warned, “If the mind is dyed the color of its waking thoughts, then what one thinks about gives character to life. As good food is necessary to bodily health, so good thoughts are necessary for mental and spiritual health.”
When our thoughts are sloppy, when they become saturated with error, we don’t think nobly, or logically. But we are prejudiced by embracing arguments on the grounds of “eloquence”. The more something “sounds” convincing to our flesh, we rush in as fools. It’s kind of like evaluating a car based only upon the one factor of its paint color?! But that’s what we do. Because we hear a convincing argument, “Wow, I can, I could… I will.” We are also prejudiced by the things we are already thinking, because the problem isn’t ultimately with the thought… but with us the thinker! We prefer the easier, more pleasurable road. We hate feeling humbled, feeling bad, by any accurate self-lowering truth. We are prejudiced by our past experiences, being slow to believe truth or slow to disbelieve error, because it either clashes with our comfort, or revives a bad memory. Why? Well, we’re sympathetic on one level, because we all understand what it means to be a sinner, or to be deeply hurt in the past. But, why? Because our pride. We’re fond of ourselves, we flatter ourselves, thinking arrogantly that we’re better than others, when we’re totally never and not. Our remaining flesh always loves opportunities for our self-exaltation.
If we take sanctification seriously, we would do well to hit the OFF button, instead of entertaining sin so nonchalantly, just because we’re immersed in the culture. I know we can’t control everything we see or hear, like freeway billboards I don’t want my kids to see. But, do we do enough in response? And I’m speaking to those who might regard themselves as “conservatives”, because that’s all relative… when God’s holiness is absolute. A solid daily dose of God’s Word, read and prayed, goes a long way, but neglect of our devotional life reaps what it doesn’t sow. The kind of tv shows, movies, plays, media we watch. The places we visit and drag our children to be exposed to. The internet sites we visit, the eroticized, the violent, the intolerant of Jesus. We might laugh at things we shouldn’t be laughing at, so that the minds of countless professing believers are sub-Christian in their thinking. A.W. Tozer was prophetic when he warned of the moral downgrade infiltrating the church decades ago:
The cult of Eros is seriously affecting the church. The pure religion of Christ that flows like a crystal river from the heart of God is being polluted by the unclean waters that trickle behind the altars of every abomination that appear on every high hill and under every green tree from New York to Los Angeles. The influence of the erotic spirit is felt almost everywhere in evangelical circles. Much of the singing in certain types of meetings has in it more of romance than it has of the Holy Ghost. Christ is courted with a familiarity that reveals a total ignorance of who He is. It is not the reverent intimacy of an adoring saint, but the impudent familiarity of a carnal lover.
Harsh? Psalm 101:2-3 challenges, “I will walk with integrity of heart within my house; I will not set before my eyes anything that is worthless.” Jesus said in Matthew 5:29, “If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell.”
As Christians, we “know” these things. Nevertheless. Let me ask each of us. Do you functionally think that spending more time in the Word will cause you to miss out on something better? Do you think, in terms of practice, that by spending more time in the Word and prayer somehow you will experience less happiness or less productivity? In reality, that’s exactly how many of us think. When I’m really busy, and outside demands are being pressed on my life, I am tempted to think that way. “Ah, I’ll get to it later.” No, it’s the first priority! Not just first priority, but it must be given our best thinking, best efforts, best thoughts, and best affections each and every day. In fact, the irony is that we’ll be more productive and joyful if we do prioritize our daily communion with Him. The problem is that we believe the lie. Otherwise, we’d be hungrier. We would know the Word more, be more powerful spiritually, more fruitful, bolder in evangelism, more content, more sensitive to sin, less stressed, godlier, and more joyful. The Word and prayer, the apostles gave them priority… those are OUR weapons for joy, at our full disposal. It is not just an apostolic thing, but given for every Christian! But the lazier we are with them, the more we lack peace, the more we escalate conflict, the more we drain ministry resources, the more ineffective our witness, the more unfulfilled, discontent, and depressed we can become. Spurgeon encourages this way, “The way to get a mind worth having is to get one stored with things worth keeping.” We are to dwell nobly on Him.