No matter what you’re doing, it’s hard to concentrate when something’s on your mind-something worrisome or persistent. What’s on your mind? Thankfully, whatever it is, the Bible has a great and helpful encouragement that is like one of the pearls from the book of Proverbs.
“Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of a good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things.” (Philippians 4:8)
You’ve likely read it in passing, but it is there for a reason so it is worth revisiting.
What to think about
It’s another one of Paul’s brilliant and inspired insights that encourages everyone to focus on edifying and uplifting things in their thoughts and actions. It is more than positive thinking because it conveys wisdom from God. If you want to clear the fog that sometimes fills the mind when under pressure this verse almost makes you slow down and allow God back into your consciousness. It insists rather than suggests you should strive to think about things that are true, virtuous, and praiseworthy, rather than dwelling on negative or harmful thoughts. It doesn’t tell you what the negative things of life are, you know what they are; they wear you down, crush hope and destroy peace.
This wonderful verse insists we should focus on things that are not only praiseworthy, but also everything that is expressed in a positive and uplifting way to God.
The hidden promise
These qualities, that Paul brings to our attention (truth, honor, justice, purity, loveliness, and commendation) are not just abstract concepts, but are deeply connected to God’s character and values. Remember the promise about the rainbow, well it was accompanied by another ‘promise’ that can stir your heart. He said, “When I see the rainbow…” which means that when you see the rainbow, He sees it too – at the same time! He’s near! By focusing on these qualities, in Phil 4:8 we can draw closer to God and muse into His goodness. There are lots of things angels want to look into, and so, unawares, we can find ourselves in good company.
These are difficult days no doubt, but they also were for Paul. He wrote the letter to the Philippians while he was under house arrest in Rome, probably around AD 61-63 and was addressing the church in Philippi, which was a thriving community of believers that Paul had helped establish during his missionary journeys.
As he gets to writing chapter 4 of the letter, Paul addresses the issue of anxiety and encourages the Philippians to rejoice in the Lord and to pray with thanksgiving and now raises the broader discussion about how to overcome anxiety and focus on what is good and true. The Philippians were facing significant challenges and opposition, both from within and outside the church and even Paul himself was in prison and facing uncertain circumstances.
We speak often about this verse and that, but it is helpful to remember it was a letter comprised of words to convey a message and Paul’s words here not wasted on us as we face our most challenging obstacles of the century, they are a call to maintain hope and faith in the face of adversity, and to focus on the good things that God has done and will continue to do.
David ventured close to this as he mused, “May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.” (Psalm 19:14) We can’t just empty our minds — we are creative beings — we need to fill our minds not with the stuff of life, but with what God is doing. That’s our happy place! Again, another giant from the scripture throws down the gauntlet, “You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you.” (Isaiah 26:3) This verse speaks to the power of trust in God to bring peace and stability to our minds, even in the midst of difficult circumstances.
All the good things it is said, come in three and so one more quote: “The mind, full of faith, should meditate upon and speak of the Word of God and of His works, and be occupied with all that is good and beneficial, both within and without, so that the mind is brought into obedience to Christ.” (Martin Luther) Luther missed this out in his commentaries on Philippians 4:8 but he did emphasize in his teachings the importance of focusing on God’s word and cultivating a positive mindset.
It’s not just that we should think about all the positive virtues that draw us to or remind us of Christ, but to meditate on them, chew the cud so to speak.
Philippians 4:8 is closely related to the concept of renewing our minds, which is a key theme (once again by Paul) in Romans 12:2 where he says, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”
The renewed mind
Renewing our minds involves changing the way we think and perceive the world around us, so that our thoughts and actions are aligned with God’s will. This process requires us to let go of negative and harmful patterns of thought, and to focus instead on what is good, true, and pleasing to God. The two verses fit hand in hand.
The virtues or qualities listed in Philippians 4:8 are not only important for our thought life, but also for our actions and behaviour. For example,
- a commitment to truth should lead us to be honest and straightforward in our dealings with others.
- Honourable conduct should lead us to act in a respectable and dignified way.
- Justice should lead us to act in a fair and equitable way.
- Purity should lead us to avoid behaviours and morally impure or harmful attitudes.
- Lovely qualities should lead us to appreciate beauty and goodness in the world around us.
- Commendable qualities should lead us to strive for excellence and honour those who have done good.
Everything in scripture effects change in our heart, mind, thinking and behaviour. Whatever things are pure, meditate on them and then consider your ways!