Living in the Goodness of God's Peace Part 3
March 3, 2019 Speaker: Brian Wilbur Series: Philippians
Topic: Christian Life Basics Passage: Philippians 4:8–8
LIVING IN THE GOODNESS OF GOD’S PEACE–PART 3
An Exposition of Philippians 4:8
By Pastor Brian Wilbur
Date: March 3, 2019
Series: Philippians: Gospel Partnership on Mission in the World
Note: Scripture quotations are from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
If you have peace with God through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, who “[made] peace by the blood of his cross” (Colossians 1:20), then it is your privilege to live your entire life within the framework and transforming reality of God’s peace – as we see in Philippians 4:2-13. Thus in Philippians 4:2-3 Paul highlighted the importance of being same-minded with one another and pursuing unity within the body of Christ. Ultimately, the goodness of God’s peace extends to every aspect of our life and our experience, as Philippians 2:4-6 sets forth:
“Rejoice in the Lord always” (Philippians 4:4, italics added).
“Let your reasonableness be known to everyone.” (Philippians 4:5, italics added).
“[Do] not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” (Philippians 4:6, italics added)
As we turn away from our little anxious and self-focused thoughts and instead entrust ourselves and our concerns to the large heart of our gracious God, His peace protects us: “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:7)
Everywhere you go, you take your heart and your mind with you. So let me ask you a question: do you want to be anywhere with anyone in any place, and have your heart and mind be unguarded by God’s powerful peace? Do you want to be in any conversation or in any meeting or in any decision-making moment, and have your heart and mind be undefended against the deceits of sin? Do you want to be in any parenting moment or in any ministry moment or in any crisis moment, and have your heart and mind be vulnerable to the assaults of the devil? Do you want to become a disturber of your family’s peace or a disturber of your church family’s peace, all because you refused to abide in “the peace of God”? Well then, assuming that your answer to these questions is ‘No’, I encourage you to take heed to all of these instructions in Philippians 4:2-13. As we now turn our attention to Philippians 4:8, the critically important lesson of verse 8 is this: you will not be able to live as you ought (Philippians 4:9) if you do not think as you ought (Philippians 4:8).
THE SCRIPTURAL TEXT
Holy Scripture says, through the apostle Paul:
“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 4:8)
THE IMPORTANCE OF WHAT GOES ON INSIDE YOUR HEAD
It would be difficult to exaggerate the importance of what goes on inside your head. The preciousness of your mind is almost beyond calculation, as it stands at the center of a godly life and, equally, it stands at the center of an ungodly life.
How did Paul describe ungodly persons in Philippians 3:19? “There end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things.” (Philippians 3:19) The ungodly are thinking about the here and now from the narrow perspective of their own sinful desires, and they are not thinking about the glory of God and His everlasting kingdom.
By contrast, Paul instructs Christians to set their minds elsewhere: “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.” (Colossians 3:2-4) In another passage Paul exhorts us: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind” (Romans 12:2). Or to turn to the Old Testament, what is going on inside the mind of the God-blessed man?
“Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night.” (Psalm 1:1-2)
The human mind, of course, is the springboard of human speech and action. Thoughtful letters are penned or harsh comments are hastily posted on social media; warm greetings are extended to others or we turn away in an effort to avoid eye contact; kind words, or unkind words, are spoken; the truth is told plainly or many lies are spun; wars are declared and troops are summoned to battle; stories are masterfully told in book and film or, alternatively, wickedness is shamefully put on display; acts of courage, or acts of cowardice, take place (and forget about great, just simple acts of courage, or simple acts of cowardice, take place) – and why all this? Because of what is going on inside the mind of a human being! Our physical stature may be only five- or six-feet tall, but our mind contains a vast and expansive world – and it may be a world of righteousness, or it may be a world of sin. This world within pushes out and expresses itself in good fruit or bad fruit, as the case may be. As we think, so we say and do.
And let it be clear: we are called to say and do! We are image-bearers of God, and our calling is to bear His image well: to represent Him and reflect His character in the way that we live. “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” (Colossians 3:17) Oh that we would fill the Oxford Hills would Jesus-honoring words and Jesus-honoring deeds! But how will we ever do that, unless our mind is filled with Jesus-honoring thoughts?
And what about the quality of our conversations with one another? “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” (Ephesians 4:29) Oh that South Paris Baptist Church would overflow with conversation among ourselves that only and always builds up, and never corrupts or tears down! But how will we ever do that, unless our mind is overflowing with goodness?
And what about love? As we turn into Philippians 4:8, let us not forget how Paul prayed in Philippians 1. “And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ.” (Philippians 1:9-10) True love that pleases Christ isn’t a superficial and sentimental show of niceness. It has depth. It involves “knowledge and all discernment.” It calls for “[approving] what is excellent.” In other words, true love grows in the fertile soil of a Christian mind. The focus of Philippians 4:8 is thinking, whereas the focus of Philippians 4:9 is doing. In fact, it is quite right to keep verses 8-9 together as one coherent instruction:
“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. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me–practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.” (Philippians 4:8-9)
The idea here isn’t to think about one set of things (v. 8) and do a different set of things (v. 9). The idea rather is “think about these things” with a view toward practicing these very same things. We need due emphasis placed on both thinking and doing, but the order is important: it is thinking for the sake of doing, it is the renewing of the mind for the sake of acting in love, it is wisdom for the sake of Jesus-honoring speech and Jesus-honoring conduct that advances the gospel and builds up the church. Give Philippians 4:8 its due, and be resolved to think Christianly for the glory of God!
THE WIDE APPLICABILITY OF PHILIPPIANS 4:8
As we walk through the instruction of verse 8, we will notice that Paul sets forth an eightfold portrait of godly thinking. You should apply this eightfold rule to every part of your thinking life. This includes books and novels, magazines and newspapers, social media and internet surfing, radio and television, movies and other entertainments, podcasts and the numerous potentialities of the smart phone, and basically anything concrete that your mind is apt to focus or, in the absence of anything concrete, wherever your mind wanders when it is thinking about nothing in particular. As it happens, thinking about nothing in particular can be exceedingly dangerous for sinners, because the devil will quite happily come along and give you some things to think about. Beware!
The eightfold test of Philippians 4:8 also applies to conversations, because if you are having a conversation, your mind is involved. So think about the conversations that take place in your home, or in the church family, or in the workplace, or with your friends, or even the self-talk conversations with yourself, for all these involve a fair bit of thinking.
As we think about our thinking, it is important to understand that our thought life must be understood as part of the overall inner person that God designed to function in an integrated manner. When we consider our inner person, in any particular moment we might put the emphasis on our thoughts or upon our feelings or upon our commitments. We might say that we think with our intellect and that we feel with our affections and that we commit with our will. But we dare not divide these things up as if you can operate on a single track. Our goal is not to be unfeeling, uncommitted, but thinking Christians, nor to be unthinking, unfeeling, but committed Christians, nor to be unthinking, uncommitted, but feeling Christians. To “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37), “to be renewed in the spirit of your minds” (Ephesians 4:23), to be a people who “love the truth” (2 Thessalonians 2:10), to love Jesus and therefore to obey Him (John 14:15), to think Christianly and to live Christianly (Philippians 4:8-9), to let our love abound in accordance with wisdom (Philippians 1:9-10), to meditate on the Lord’s Word day and night because it is our delight to do so (Psalm 1:1-2), shows that our inner person consisting of thought, emotion, and volition ought to be one reality. If we understand this, then we will understand that the call of Philippians 4:8 to think Christianly isn’t a call to detached thought, but a call to cherished thought. We ought to think on these things because these are the things that we cherish, these are the things that we love, these are the things that we delight to think about, and these are the things that we long to see bear fruit in the way that we actually live.
So even though Philippians 4:8 shines the spotlight on our mind, always remember that Paul has in view a mind that has been captured by the love of Christ. Your mind, like every other part of you, must be offered to Christ in devotion to Him. If you glory in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:3) and your greatest desire is to know Christ and become like Him (Philippians 3:9-10), then what kinds of things should you be thinking about? Answer: the “these things” of Philippians 4:8!
THE EIGHTFOLD PORTRAIT OF GODLY THINKING
With that, let us turn to the eightfold portrait. I call it a portrait because it is not a list of eight separate and air-tight categories that exist independently of each other. For example, if something is unjust, then it is most certainly not honorable, not pure, not lovely, not commendable, not excellent, and not praiseworthy, nor is it rooted in truth. The injustice may be true in the very narrow sense that the injustice actually happened, but it is not true in the sense that the injustice doesn’t accord with divinely revealed truth. So what we have here is a portrait of eight overlapping and mutually defining characteristics.
First, are you thinking about that which is true? This question is way bigger than whether any particular fact or social media post or news story is true. Yes, the call to be people of truth extends to these details, and we don’t want to be people who are giving attention to fabricated accounts and then repeating them as if they were true. But you could be the most aggressive fact-checker on the planet and tragically miss the main point of this exhortation to think on things that are true. The call here is to think on things that are bearing witness to the big picture truth as it has been revealed by God in Scripture. Our God is the God of truth, and Jesus said that His Father’s Word is truth (John 17:17). Our Lord Jesus Christ is the truth (John 14:6). The Holy Spirit is “the Spirit of truth” (John 16:13). The Bible is truth, the gospel is truth, God’s promises are truth. Are you setting your mind on this big picture, foundational, and comprehensive reality? Are you setting your mind on the holiness of the triune God, on the love of God the Father, on the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, on the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, on the comfort of the gospel, and on the life-giving wisdom of God’s Word? Are you continually thinking into that which is true?
Or are you giving your attention to false versions of reality? If you are thinking on movies or novels or songs that are, in fact, presenting you with a false version of reality – such as a reality over which God is not sovereign, or a reality in which God’s holy standards are blurred or denied, or a reality in which man saves himself by his own heroic efforts – and you are mindlessly taking it in, then you are being a poor steward of your mind and you are undermining your capacity to know and delight in truth.
Second, are you thinking about that which is honorable? It is important to point out that the first thing Paul mentions is truth, because the truth of God is the standard by which we measure everything else. So the issue here isn’t whether you are thinking about honorable things according to your definition of honor, but whether you are thinking about honorable things according to God’s standard of honor. In other words: are you thinking about that which is truly honorable? Well, what is truly honorable? To borrow an example from earlier in this letter, sacrificial love in service to Christ is honorable.
Do you remember why Paul told the Philippians to “honor such men” as Epaphroditus? “So receive him [Epaphroditus] in the Lord with all joy, and honor such men, for he nearly died for the work of Christ, risking his life to complete what was lacking in your service to me.” (Philippians 2:29-30) Laying down one’s life for the cause of Christ and the good of His people is truly honorable. And how did Paul know it was truly honorable? Because it conformed to the truth of the gospel! Do you remember these words from Philippians 2?
“And being found in human form, he [Christ Jesus] humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name” (Philippians 2:8-9).
Jesus sacrificed His own life on the path of obedience to His Father, and this path of obedience was, at the very same time, the path of love to His people. Jesus is supremely honorable, and all who follow Jesus on the path of sacrificial service are a true reflection of their Lord’s honorableness. Think about such things.
3) Justice and Righteousness
Third, are you thinking about that which is truly just? Here again, Scripture defines justice and righteousness, and we must think accordingly. In Chapter 3 Paul told us that his pre-Christian devotion “to righteousness under the law” (Philippians 3:6) was ultimately worthless. In other words, Paul came to understand that his attempt to make himself righteous in God’s sight by means of his own performance was a dead end. So, if you want to think about true justice and true righteousness, don’t spend your time admiring people who think that their own performance is good enough to measure up to God’s standard of righteousness. It isn’t. Instead, think about God’s standard of righteousness that was put on display at the cross. Jesus suffered and died, “the righteous for the unrighteous,” in order to “bring us to God” (1 Peter 3:18). The righteousness that believers have is not our own, but it is gifted to us through faith in Jesus, the Righteous One (Philippians 3:9). All those who belong to Christ are justified by the grace of Christ; all those outside of Christ will bear their iniquity when the justice of God is poured out at the final judgment. Think about these things.
At the same time, we must also understand that as Christians who are put into a right relationship with God through faith in Jesus, we must proceed to actually live justly and do what is right. Do not let secular philosophers or humanistic activists or clueless politicians deceive you with their misguided notions of fairness, equality, and social justice. Instead let Scripture teach you what it means to live righteously, and “keep your eyes on those who walk” (Philippians 3:17) or have walked in accordance with the principles of true justice. William Wilberforce, a devout Christian, was a champion of justice as a member of the British Parliament in the 18th and early 19th centuries. In particular, he championed the abolition of the slave trade. His patient endurance in the pursuit of public justice is commendable as a concrete embodiment of true justice. Think about these things. Read about them. Or watch the wonderful movie Amazing Grace, which tells the William Wilberforce story.
Fourth, are you thinking about that which is truly pure? People who would be pure and wholehearted in their devotion to Christ, must be pure and wholesome in their thinking. Paul expressed his great concern for the wayward Corinthians: “For I feel a divine jealousy for you, since I betrothed you to one husband, to present you as a pure virgin to Christ. But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ.” (2 Corinthians 11:2-3) In the context of 2 Corinthians 11, the Corinthians were tempted to be led astray by false doctrine. But it is not only impure doctrine that undermines “pure devotion to Christ,” but anything that is spiritually or morally impure will have this kind of undermining effect. Paul talked about the inconsistency of impurity and Christian devotion in Ephesians 5:
“But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving. For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.” (Ephesians 5:3-5)
Those three verses cover a lot of ground when it comes to impurity. First, there is the arena of sexual impurity, which includes lustful thoughts and pornography. Second, there is the arena of verbal impurity, which includes profanity and dirty jokes. Third, there is the arena of covetousness or greed, which Paul refers to as idolatry. In times past and in some parts of the world still, people bow down before idols. But anything that you put in the place of God, anything that you inordinately crave, anything toward which you exercise a covetous and greedy mind, is an idol – and idols are impure, detestable, and corrupting. How sad when Christians are greedy for the things they don’t have, instead of being grateful for the infinite riches of grace that are given to them in Christ! How sad when Christians look around and covet, thinking only about themselves and their prospects for earthly gain! What they should be doing is rejoicing in the Lord as His contented and cared for people, so that when they look around they see opportunities to love and serve.
In Ephesians 5:4 Paul contrasted vain talk with “thanksgiving.” And in contrast to all the impurity he mentions in Ephesians 5:3-5, in Ephesians 5:2 Paul commands us to “walk in love” and in 5:9-10 Paul commands us, “Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord.” (Ephesians 5:9-10) So take up all your thinking time with the way of love, goodness, righteousness, and truth – which is to say the way of purity, holiness, and light. Have the same resolve that King David had when he said: “I will not set before my eyes anything that is worthless.” (Psalm 101:3)
Fifth, are you thinking about that which is truly lovely? The idea of loveliness here is that a thing be “agreeable” and “pleasing”. Once again, we must say that true loveliness is, first and foremost, agreeable and pleasing to God. In Genesis 3, Eve “saw that the [forbidden] tree was good for good, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise” (Genesis 3:6). But she saw falsely. If she had submitted her sight to the truth of God’s Word, then she would have seen eating from that tree rightly, namely, as the way to death. But instead she substituted the devil’s version of loveliness for God’s, and the tragic result was the unloveliness of death. But if we are a people who “love the truth” (2 Thessalonians 2:10) and take pleasure in righteousness (2 Thessalonians 2:12), then we will know what is lovely in God’s sight, and it will be lovely in our sight, too.
Sixth, are you thinking about that which is truly commendable? Paul commended Timothy to the Philippians: “I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, so that I too may be cheered by news of you. For I have no one like him, who will be genuinely concerned for your welfare. For they all seek their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. But you know Timothy’s proven worth, how as a son with a father he has served with me in the gospel.” (Philippians 2:19-22) The world’s view of power, success, and wealth is thoroughly warped. The world’s focus on career ambition and self-promotion is seriously misguided. To be sure, there is such a thing as godly ambition and the godly exercise of power, but you must be thoroughly immersed in Scripture to know what it is. Ambition that is commendable is the godly ambition to know Christ and make Him known. The exercise of power that is commendable is the godly exercise of power to use what one has in order to seek the good of others and build up Christ’s church. Timothy was commendable because he had a sincere and Christ-centered love for his fellow Christians. Think about Timothy-like people, learn from them, and do likewise.
Seventh, are you thinking about that which is truly excellent? The idea here is moral excellence and ethical virtue. We do well to understand Paul’s summary of the virtuous life:
“Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.” (Romans 13:8-10)
Are you thinking into the heart-enlarging way of love? Recently Charlotta and I both read a book by Rosaria Butterfield entitled The Gospel Comes with a House Key: Practicing Radically Ordinary Hospitality in Our Post-Christian World. Reading this book is a fine way to meditate on the true excellence of Christian love, and if you read it with a teachable heart it will get you thinking about how to put Christian hospitality into practice in your own life. Remember: think well for the sake of living well!
Eighth, are you thinking about that which is truly “worthy of praise”? Our holy God and His holy Word and His mighty deeds are all alike worthy of highest praise. And let us not forget that God is at work in His people, and as His people bear the good fruit of God’s holy work in their lives, then they also become “worthy of praise” – not “worthy of praise” in terms of worship, but “worthy of praise” in the sense of “honorable” and “commendable.”
And be sure of this: whatever is not true, or whatever is not honorable, or whatever is not just, or whatever is not pure, or whatever is not lovely, or whatever is not commendable, or whatever is not excellent, is by that very fact not “worthy of praise,” and as Christians we should not give our attention to it.
Does your thought life match up with the eightfold portrait of godly thinking in Philippians 4:8?
THINK ABOUT THESE THINGS!
With this portrait in mind, I want to drive home Philippians 4:8 with a series of practical exhortations.
1) Actually Think About These Things!
First, actually “think about these things.” (Philippians 4:8) Don’t miss the force of the instruction: “think about these things” (italics added), not other things. God’s will for you is that your thought life be taken up with these things, and not with other things.
There are a number of ways to disobey the instruction of Philippians 4:8. The most obvious way to disobey this instruction is to think about things that directly contradict the wholesome portrait of verse 8. If you are giving your mental attention to moral filth, verbal profanity, physical violence, sexual impurity, then you are way off the mark. Stop sinning! If you are consistently sinning by setting trash before your eyes, and you are using a smart phone or tablet or computer screen to do it, then I warn you that you are obligated before God to take extreme measures to cut the trash out of your life. “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.” (Matthew 5:29) The point isn’t to literally and physically remove your eye, but to vigorously and aggressively oppose your sin. Getting rid of an electronic device or cutting off ties with an ungodly person is a small price to pay in order to pursue holiness!
But trashy thinking isn’t the only way to disobey Philippians 4:8. All you have to do to disobey Philippians 4:8 is to not think about the things that Paul commands us to think about. Some people are news junkies. Other people are given to all kinds of speculation or conspiracy theories or sophisticated prophetic timelines. Still others are given to excessive amounts of triviality. Even if we grant that you may take a small window of time in which to unwind with apparently innocent diversions, understand this: when games and game shows and sit-coms and television dramas and crossword puzzles and social media perusing turn into hours and hours on end, you are thinking contrary to Philippians 4:8. In other words, when Paul says to “think about these things,” he doesn’t mean to “think about these things” a few hours each week while you think about news and tabloids and speculations and trivialities for dozens of hours each week. What he means is that the consistent content and direction and focus of your thought life ought to be “these [manifestly good and godly] things” that he has outlined for us in verse 8. Give your ongoing attention to these things, not to other things.
2) Thinking and Doing
Second, “think about these things” with a view toward putting these things into practice. The problem with thinking about other things is that other things won’t help you to live a holy and virtuous and loving way of life. The call upon us as Christians is to “worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:3), to grow in “knowledge and all discernment” so that we can love one another more effectively (Philippians 1:9), to work together in order to advance the gospel and build up the church (Philippians 1:27–2:2), to “shine as lights in the world” (Philippians 2:15) and to “[let our] reasonableness be known to everyone” (Philippians 4:5), to make progress in the faith (Philippians 1:26) and “press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:14) All of these things necessarily involve our mind. So ask yourself a simple question: are you deliberately thinking about the things that energize your worship of God, that energize your love for others, that energize your participation in the life and mission of the church, and that energize your progress in spiritual maturity and your preparation for the glory that awaits.
3) Thinking and Corporate Worship
Third, “think about these things” by faithfully attending the church’s worship on the Lord’s Day. As a matter of Christian prudence, think about how foolish it is to stay up late on Saturday night in order to think about worthless things, then drag yourself to our worship service half-asleep and unable to think attentively about the worthy things set forth in our service. The whole point of a biblically-governed worship service is to do Philippians 4:8 together – to set our minds on the things of God for 75-90 minutes. David’s desire ought to be our own: “One thing have I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to inquire in his temple.” (Psalm 27:4) Paul taught us that through the preaching of the gospel we “[behold] the glory of the Lord” (Philippians 3:18) and see “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 4:6). We gather not only to be instructed, but to turn our entire attention Godward through Scripture and Scripture-saturated songs, prayers, and preaching. Be jealous for profitable participation in the church’s worship service every Lord’s Day!
4) Thinking and Scripture
Fourth, “think about these things” by devoting yourself to Scripture. In Philippians 4:9 Paul refers the Philippians to “[what] you have learned and received and heard” – in other words, the preaching and teaching of God’s Word. Psalm 19 tells us that God’s Word is perfect, sure, right, pure, true, and desirable (Psalm 19:7-10) – in other words, God’s Word is the ultimate written embodiment of Philippians 4:8. Devote yourself to Scripture directly by reading and meditating on Scripture or by listening to Scripture. And devote yourself to Scripture indirectly by reading and meditating on faithful books about the Bible, or by listening to sermons or edifying podcasts.
5) Set Your Mind on Jesus!
Fifth, “think about these things” by keeping your eyes on Jesus, who is the ultimate personal embodiment of Philippians 4:8. Jesus is the truth and He speaks the truth. Jesus is the honorable Son. Jesus is the Righteous One who suffered injustice in order to bring us salvation. Jesus is the pure and spotless Lamb whose sacrifice secured our peace. Jesus is altogether lovely: we hunger, but He is the bread of life; we thirst, but He gives us water that “[becomes in us] a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:14); we are guilty, but He pays our debt and clothes us in His own righteous perfection; we are lost sheep, but He finds us and brings us into the pastures of His Father’s grace; we are weak, but His grace is sufficient to steady our walk and in due course to bring us safely home into His everlasting kingdom. I commend Jesus to you as the most excellent and praiseworthy person in the entire universe. Make it your ambition to know Him!
6) Keep Your Eyes on Faithful Followers of Jesus
Sixth, “think about these things” by “[keeping] your eyes on those who” (Philippians 3:17) faithfully follow Jesus. Keeping your eyes on faithful Jesus-followers is not taking your eyes off of Jesus, but is actually a way of keeping your eyes on Jesus. The character of Jesus is supposed to get reproduced in the lives of His people (e.g., Ephesians 4:17–6:9), and looking at these faithful reproductions of the character of Jesus is a way of keeping your eyes on Jesus. Paul tells us to do this in Philippians 3:17 and again in Philippians 4:9 – “What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me–practice these things” (Philippians 4:9, italics added). Hebrews 13 specifically tells us: “Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.” (Hebrews 13:7) Direct your mind to those people who are bearing the fruit of the Spirit and are living an honorable and Christ-centered life. Ponder the quality of their life, spend time with them, absorb their way of thinking, and follow their example. You can also keep your eyes on faithful Jesus-followers by reading biographies of faithful Christian men and women. Within the last several years I have read biographies about Jonathan Edwards, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, John Newton, and Robert Chapman, and I am now reading a biography about Charles Spurgeon. These are wholesome and edifying reads, and they keep my soul leaning in the right direction.
7) Holy Conversation
Seventh, “think about these things” by talking about these things. Paul doesn’t expect the Philippians to take his instruction in a hyper-individualistic way. He expects us to be together often – and when we are together, we talk; and when we talk, we are thinking. Does your conversation with one another have the effect of lifting you up and refreshing you and strengthening you in your walk with Christ? Or does your conversation with one another leave you empty? Whether it is conversation around the dinner table, or a meet-up over coffee, or catching up after the worship service, or participating in an activity together, make the most of every interaction and let your words be full of grace to one another. When I say that our conversations should meet the Philippians 4:8 standard, I don’t mean that our conversations should only consist of quoting Bible verses to each other. What I mean is that our conversations should have about them the fragrance of Christ – our words should not undermine but rather elevate our life together as God’s people. The “grumbling or disputing” (Philippians 2:14) of Philippians 2:14 would have an undermining effect, but honorable words that are flavored with the joy, thanksgiving, and peace of Philippians 4:4-7 will have an elevating effect.
8) The Philippians 4:8 Standard Applies to Everything, including Entertainment
Eighth, “think about these things” by making Philippians 4:8 the standard for everything related to your thought life. Since thinking relates to everything, and since Philippians 4:8 is the God-given standard for our thinking, we could spend the entire day drawing out the various implications of Philippians 4:8. Whatever area of life might be in view – politics, committee meetings, choice of friends, novels, the books you read to your children, what you listen to on your commute to and from work, and so on – Philippians 4:8 is the standard for your thinking. But because entertainment is such a prominent feature in our society and is so readily available, let me close with a word of practical wisdom about it.
To begin with, you must not make the mistake of calling it ‘just entertainment’, as if that somehow makes it exempt from the call to think Christianly at all times. Being entertained involves our mind, and our mind must always be subject to the wonderful and life-giving instruction of King Jesus – including the instruction of Philippians 4:8.
Once you accept the relevance of Philippians 4:8 to any and all kinds of entertainment, there is a simple rule to adopt – there are certainly other rules as well, but right now I am highlighting one particular rule. The rule is this: the quality or attractiveness of the artistic style is much less important than the content of the message. This is not an excuse to adorn good content with poor artistic quality. But what I am saying is that Philippians 4:8 insists that we put a premium on the content of the message.
Sometimes ‘Christian movies’ get a bad rap for being cheesy or poorly made, and I don’t doubt that some are. But I want you to think about entertainment from God’s perspective. God is not impressed by brilliant acting, or by brilliant casting, or by brilliant effects, or by brilliant stunts, or by brilliant soundtracks. I recall the name of a movie that is beautiful in its cinematography but deployed its brilliant aesthetics in the service of moral wickedness – I’m not going to name it, though, because some fool might go out and watch it! Be sure of this: what pleases God is truth and honor, purity and righteousness, moral excellence and spiritual loveliness – as He has revealed these things to be in His Word and ultimately in His Son. So I beg you to understand that it is better by far to watch a movie that is third-rate in artistic quality but first-rate in its embodiment of true virtue, than to watch a movie that is a visually compelling artistic masterpiece but violates the principles of Philippians 4:8. If you can find a movie that has both good content and good artistic quality, great! But if you must choose between the two, be sure to keep your priorities straight! To be a maturing Christian means that your taste in entertainment is being less and less ruled by Hollywood and is being more and more ruled by God’s holy Word. And those who “love the truth” do not consider this a burden.
So when it comes to entertainment, and when it comes to every part of your thinking life, ask yourself: Is this brightening my soul for Jesus? Or is this dampening my soul? If you would just be in the habit of honestly asking yourself that question, you will make good progress on the path of holy thinking.
Brothers and sisters, be the kind of people who are consistently and cheerfully thinking about things that help your soul stay near to “the God of peace” (Philippians 4:9) and that help your soul abide in “the peace of God” (Philippians 4:7) that He so generously gives.
Let us pray.
 The commentaries I consulted all connected Philippians 4:8 and Philippians 4:9 as one coherent piece of instruction, with Hansen’s being especially helpful: a) Boice, James Montgomery. Philippians: An Expositional Commentary. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2000. b) Calvin, John. Calvin’s Bible Commentaries: Philippians, Colossians, and Thessalonians. Translated by John King. Forgotten Books: 2007 (orig. 16th century). c) Carson, D. A. Basics for Believers: An Exposition of Philippians. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1996. d) Hansen, G. Walter. The Letter to the Philippians (Pillar New Testament Commentary). Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2009. e) Silva, Moisés. Philippians: Second Edition (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament). Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2005.
 Strong’s Concordance via online Bible Hub for entry “4375. prosphilés.” Available online: https://biblehub.com/greek/4375.htm.
 Strong’s Concordance via online Bible Hub for entry “703. areté.” Available online: https://biblehub.com/greek/703.htm.
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