Two weeks ago, we began looking at Philippians 4:8. In one verse, the Apostle Paul gives us seven tests through which to put our thoughts. Last week we looked at four of them:
1. “Whatsoever things are true…”
2. “Whatsoever things are honest…”
3. “Whatsoever things are just…”
4. “Whatsoever things are pure…”
Even with only those four qualifications, we can significantly narrow down the field of acceptable subjects on which we should meditate. There are many things in the world about us that are true, but are they honest? Have all the facts been presented justly? More importantly, is this a topic which is pure and should be the focus of large amounts of our thoughts and our time?
In this culture in which we live, there is no way that we can possibly avoid everything that would perhaps give offense to us or violate the terms of this list. However, while we may not be able to keep ourselves from incidental, momentary exposure to such things, it is a huge leap from admitting this to stating that we cannot possibly control our thoughts. If you cannot control your thoughts, as a pastor I know used to say, then someone needs to lock you in a padded room and take your shoelaces and any sharp objects away from you! In fact, we can control our thoughts, and we can choose on what subjects we will think (or meditate, if you will). Here in this verse Paul gives us a blueprint…a one-verse blueprint for meditation.
We’ve examined the first four qualities in detail. Now we turn to the latter half of the verse, and see three more characteristics of the things on which we should think:
5. “Whatsoever things are lovely…”
The word “beautiful” is often used in today’s culture, and so is “appealing,” but “lovely” has been trivialized, it would seem. This is a pity, because this word denotes much more than an external beauty, although that is certainly included. “Lovely” also carries the idea of a “beauty that appeals to the heart or mind, as well as the eye; [something that is] charmingly or exquisitely beautiful; of a great spiritual or moral beauty…” The Old English root from which this word derives is luffic, which means “amiable.” Perhaps this is how the custom of describing an amiable person as possessed of a “lovely” temperament. How much meaning can be wrapped up in a single word! How instructive to the man seeking to order his thoughts according to the template for meditation! Whatsoever things are possessed of a beauty that appeals to the heart or mind, as well as the eye, of great spiritual and moral value, toward these subjects ought our thoughts to tend! How often do our thoughts (I include myself) tend in exactly the opposite direction? This is powerful; it is revolutionary for our thinking.
6. “Whatsoever things are of good report…”
Ah, this qualification changes the dynamic in a new and powerful way. Previous requirements state truth, honesty, and justice as tests through which our thoughts should pass; but, here is “of good report” standing behind them to halt still more traffic, as it were. An even better picture is of stringent standards in a quality assurance lab at a manufacturing plant. If a product doesn’t meet all of the requirements, it doesn’t make it out to the consumer. Is it true? Is it honest? Is it just? Is it pure and lovely? Yes? Good…but now, is it of good report? The word translated as good report is the Greek word euphemos, from which we derive our English word, euphemism. This word also carries the idea of something that is well-spoken of, and therefore reputable. To break it down still further, the prefix eu-, to speak or speaking, is attached to a derivative of pheme, (fay-may–from whence we get the English word “fame”), a saying, or a rumor. So this means to think on those things which are well-spoken of.
Why would it be necessary to include an instruction to think on things of good report in this list? Let’s pause for a moment to evaluate this. Does this just mean that we should only speak of those things that are “happy ,” or “positive?” To adopt such a position may seem logical at first, but in fact an examination of other verses from the Paul’s writings will show us that truth is the preeminent concern.
“That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive;” (Ephesians 4:14)
Two quick thoughts here. One, I’m breaking into the middle of a paragraph, so I beg your indulgence there. Paul is speaking of the goal of unifying and perfecting the body of believers, and states that this is one of the end results of the maturing process through which that goal will be accomplished. Two, notice the ways in which men seek to use words to lead others astray. This passage is rich in parallels to be drawn, but we’ll continue to the next verse, which illustrates the importance of truth:
“But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ:” (4:15)
There is power here. Paul tells the Ephesians, and by extension us, that our words should be truthful and loving. In other words, we should be willing to say those things that may be hard to hear because they are necessary, but we should always do so out of a heart that desires the best for the other person. With how much grief and strife and hateful speech would following this simple command do away? Furthermore, how much gossip, slander, and backbiting would vanish overnight if we simply followed this blueprint?
Just a few verses later, Paul clarifies,
“Wherefore putting away lying, speak every man truth with his neighbor…” (Ephesians 4:25)
If I obey the command of Christ to love my neighbor as myself, this will follow as a natural result of that obedience, because I desire that people be truthful in their dealings with me. Even so, telling the truth can be painful at times, and Paul urges us to remember to speak the truth, but to do so lovingly.
There are many other verses in the writings of Paul that speak of the preeminence of truth, and this is a word-study to which we shall perhaps return in future. For now, let us return to our text, Philippians 4.
Paul wraps up this incredible list of qualifications for our thoughts with two more tests, stated almost as one:
“…if there be any virtue…” “…and if there be any praise…”
Virtue: Moral excellence; goodness; righteousness. Conformity of one’s life and conduct to moral and ethical principles. Uprightness. These are high standards to which to hold one’s thoughts! Indeed, as I have learned, it is impossible for a man to do this, and it is only by dependence on Christ in me that I can claim the victory and live in obedience to these principles.
Praise: extolling (by others) of the worth of one’s actions or character, the act of giving due credit to someone for a worthy action or virtue of character. These are things on which I should think, according to this verse.
Paul ends this verse with the simplest of commands:
“…think on these things.” <—— This is the emphasis I have often seen and heard put on this last phrase (and there is no doubt that such emphasis is proper), but stop for a moment and consider ——> “….think on these things.” Paul is not just recommending a five-minute session of thinking on such things–in the morning as you drink your coffee, perhaps. No, Paul is advocating a fundamental transformation of your thought life to include only those things that pass these tests. He’s talking about a consistent pattern of thoughtful, intensive contemplation on these subjects that will revolutionize your thinking, your speech, and your way of life. The truth here is powerful, for those who will believe and accept it.
There is much here to ponder. It is indeed
Something to think about,
The Southern Voice Writer