“Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse. Put into practice what you learned from me, what you heard and saw and realized. Do that, and God, who makes everything work together, will work you into his most excellent harmonies.” (Philippians 4:8-9)
The trouble with the Bible –as that great writer Anon once said – is not the stuff that I don’t understand, but the bits that I do.
Here’s a case in point. Paul is trying to help a group of beginner-Christians by teaching them about something blindingly obvious: What you allow inside your head will affect you: so think about what you think about!
He wasn’t bragging when he wrote “Put into practice what you learned from me, what you heard and saw and realized.” He was just providing a thumbnail sketch to give them an idea. You’ve all heard the theory, now make sure you work it out in practice.
And working it out starts in your head. What do you spend time thinking about? The key is “Filling your minds.” It is the heart of this passage. It is the action (verb). It is more than a momentary thought. We are to think through these things. We are to ponder them. We are to give them weight.
We are to give them value by the time we spend on them. We are to think how we are going to put these qualities into practice.
Paul is offering us a sketch of a mental diet: a disciplined program that will get us into shape.
He starts off with a basic requirement: Think about what’s true. Don’t fret about the million negatives that flutter about you brain like a room full of butterflies. Set your mind on what is genuine, real and authentic. God is. God loves me. I need Him. (As I get older, I get simpler).
Second, let your mind dwell on what is honourable. That means to live with dignity, and to be people of integrity. In fact, the Greek word here suggests “reverence.” This idea of reverence connects because when we are around someone that is honourable then we want it to rub off on us.
Third, focus on what is right. Dwell in harmony with God’s standards. Consider what is the right thing in a situation (and when, and how and why we do the Right Thing).
The fourth quality is what is pure. Here our instruction is to set apart one’s self from sin. Paul was very concerned for these early churches when it came to the area of sexuality. They existed in cultures where sexual promiscuity had its way. So, he was very candid what was sin and what was not.
We too live in a sex-charged culture and need to have a biblical understanding of sexual purity. We had better understand God’s design for marriage, too, and we had better understand what it includes and what it does not.But God wants us to follow His design for life, which is for our good.
God wants us to specifically follow His design of the relationship of marriage. Anything outside His design is defilement. That’s what it means to be pure. It is the good that God wants us to embrace.
Fifth: enjoy and celebrate the lovely. The Greek word describes that which is beautiful and attractive. It’s the idea of what is winsome and pleasing in either things or people. So, if we are around people that don’t build us up, or in situations that seem to drag us down…well, that’s not where we are supposed to spend our time. Make a move.
Six, connect with what is well thought of, of good reputation and admirable. We are to spend our time embracing that which is “of good report”. Literally, it means “worth talking about,” and that which is fit to hear.
Conversations can easily slide downhill. God wants us to watch the gradient! Don’t play for laughs or any kind of effect. Think about what’s fit and wholesome. Think about what builds up and wins people.
Seven, aim high. Strive for high standards, for what is “excellent and praiseworthy.” The phrase means “outstanding and exceptional,” or “commendable and exemplary.” It means, simply, the good stuff. Nothing trashy, or silly, foolish or trivial.
Have a check at all the magazines in your local supermarket and decide what passes muster. Decide what’s fit for consumption based on these seven categories!
In fact, why not examine what you are putting into your mind through television, books, conversations, movies, and magazines. Replace harmful input with wholesome material. Above all, read God’s Word and pray. Ask God to help you focus your mind on what is good and pure.
And the result?
When we possess passion for what is “true, honourable, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent and praiseworthy”, then the fussing and fighting of life will take a back seat to what is important. And we will have peace. Our heart and mind will experience calm even in the midst of the most difficult circumstances. “Do that, and God, who makes everything work together, will work you into his most excellent harmonies.”