This final chapter of Paul’s letter to the Christians in Philippi is a collection of practical and pragmatic commands — “agree together”, “rejoice in the Lord”, “don’t be anxious” — followed by two paragraphs of thankful instruction from a grateful apostle.
Tucked in the middle of the chapter is an oddly abstract paragraph (vs. 8–9) that seems to simply say, “think good thoughts” and “do good stuff.” Let’s unpack this together.
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.
Paul was not a shallow man of only happy thoughts. He did not shy away from hard conversations, strong expressions, evaluating circumstances critically, and calling for harsh steps to deal with sinful circumstances. In fact, it might have been all too easy to focus on the severe challenges facing himself and the churches and be consumed by the affliction and suffering around him. After all, he is writing from prison.
Similarly, we too can be consumed by the suffering and evil around us: the bad news whether personal, national, or international; war; corruption; poverty; politics; injustice; immorality; sin and temptation; personal suffering, family suffering and the suffering of other Christians. And all of these deserve our attention, our empathy, our sacrifice, and our prayers.
But Paul says we must not stop there. Despair, damage, and depravity are not the whole story. Paul calls us to guard our thoughts, even amid affliction, to make room and time for other thoughts. Let’s dip our toes into the original Greek to flesh out the terms.
He gives us six specific categories followed by two summary categories of things we should be dedicated to thinking about. The command is “think on,” “continually let your mind dwell on”.
- Think on things that are true (alethe). Morally upright, dependable, and real.
- Think on things that are honorable (semna). Serious, dignified, even noble.
- Think on things that are just (dikaia). Marked by justice, righteousness, fairness.
- Think on things that are pure (hagna). Holy, innocent, even sexually chaste.
- Think on things that are lovely (prosphile). Those things that inspire love, that are pleasing, agreeable, and gracious.
- Think on things that are commendable (euphema). Appealing, well-spoken of, reputable.
- Think on things that are excellent and worthy of praise (arete, epainos). Virtuous, marked by goodness, praiseworthy and worthwhile.
Do these describe my thoughts throughout the day? Am I deliberately cultivating the disciplines (and delights!) of dwelling on things that are true, honourable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and worthy of praise? That sounds like a beautiful place to dwell!
But how? Paul doesn’t leave us hanging. Although he’s given a broad description of where we should seek to dwell, he also gives us foundational blocks for that inner life. Verse 9 tells the Philippians to take the things that they have learned from him, received from him verbally, heard about him and seen exemplified in him … to take these and not only think on them, but to do them. To put them into continuous practice.
The Apostles’ teaching and their examples, laid out for us in Scripture, are true, honourable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent and praise-worthy. Although there are things beyond Scripture that also fit those categories, memorizing and meditating upon the Word of God is a tremendous way to dwell where we should be. To be who we should be.
And the result? “The God of peace will be with you.”
Father, grant us grace to dwell deeply on these things. To meditate long on what you reveal to us in your Word. To be marked by lives, internal and external, that continuously dwell and continuously practice this beautiful life you lay before us. That you, the God of shalom, may be with us. In the glorious name of your Son! Amen!