Summary: Each of us gets to choose the thoughts on which our minds dwell. Paul suggests dwelling on whatever is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, admirable, and worthy of praise.
Where does you mind dwell? What kind of thoughts occupy your thinking most to the day? It’s an interesting question to which most of us would probably reply, “I haven’t really thought about it.” The Apostle Paul encouraged the people who were the church in Phillipi and the people who are the church here today to think about what you think about. So let’s think about what we think about together this morning.
Let’s begin by thinking about what the Apostle Paul thinks we should think about. He uses eight words to help us understand what he thinks we should think about. Let’s think about them.
First, the Apostle Paul says we should think about “whatever is true.” He assumes that there are some ideas that are true. True no matter what your perspective. True for a conservative and true for a liberal. True for a Christian, true for a Jew, true for a Muslim and true for an atheist. Truth is the opposite of falsehood. Paul does not specify the truths about which he wants us to think. He just assumes that there is truth out there, recognizable by all, and he exhorts us to think about it.
Second, the Apostle Paul exhorts us to think on “whatever is honest.“ New Testament scholars point out that the Greek word Paul uses here is better translated “venerable, honorable, or reputable.” As one scholar puts it: “The word, therefore, does not express precisely what the word honest does with us, as confined to business transactions, but rather has reference to what was regarded as worthy of reputation or honour; what there was in the customs of society that deserved respect or esteem. It includes indeed what is right in the transaction of business, but it embraces also much more, and means that the Christian is to show respect to all the venerable and proper customs of society…” So it is much like the first. Paul assumes there is a consensus in any society on the thoughts and actions that are respected by all. Paul encourages us to think on those things.
The third admonition is the think on “whatever is just.” That which is right in human relationships. One scholar says, “A Christian should be just in all his dealings. His religion does not exempt him from the strict laws which bind men to the exercise of this virtue, and there is no way by which a believer can do more injury, perhaps, than by injustice and dishonesty in his dealings.” So it does not matter how often you show up in church if your dealings with other people are unjust. If you treat others unfairly, your religion is mute. The Apostle Paul encourages us to think on that which is right in our relationships with others.
The fourth focus of the thoughts the Apostle Paul exhorts us to think on is “whatever is pure.” Morally pure in thought or conduct; decent and modest. Truth, justice and moral purity. Think on these things says the Apostle Paul.
“Whatever is lovely” should be the fifth focus of our thoughts. As one Greek scholar says: “Here it means what is amiable - such a temper of mind that one can love it; or such as to be agreeable to others. A Christian should not be sour, crabbed, and irritable in his temper for nothing almost tends so much to injure the cause of religion as a temper always chafed; a brow morose and stern; an eye that is severe and unkind, and a disposition to find fault with everything. And yet it is to be regretted that there are many persons, who make no pretensions to piety, who far surpass many believers in the virtue here commended. A sour and crabbed temper in a Christian will undo all the good that she attempts to do.”
Translators used several words to describe the Apostle Paul’s sixth virtue: Think on that which is “commendable, admirable, of good report, compelling, or worthy of praise.” “… not that Christians should make praise their aim but they should live so as to deserve praise.“ “Actions which all agree in commending, and which in all ages and countries are regarded as virtues. Courtesy, kindness, respect for parents.” Think on those things that are “commendable, admirable, of good report, compelling, or worthy of praise” says the Apostle Paul.
Seven and eight are “excellence” and “those things worthy of praise.” It’s as if the Apostle Paul adds these two words to include any virtue he might have overlooked. “If anything is excellent and worthy of praise, think on these things,” he exhorts the disciples of Jesus Christ. Eugene Peterson summarizes this way: “fill your mind and meditate on the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not to curse.”