Finally. Finally Paul gets the end of his sermon on how to stand firm. Finally, after instructing us to resolve conflicts, rejoice, pray and not worry, he presents the final thing.
And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.Philippians 4:8 NLT
Recently I was dwelling on the shortcomings of the church, yes, the universal Body of Christ. Significant mind space and emotion was devoted to that topic. They’re still living in the Old Testament. Such narrow minded thinking. Don’t they realize Christ came to set them free? Don’t they realize the message they are sending to the world? That elder board has no vision. Their worship band is too loud and showy. That pastor isn’t in the right role. How can they have good community when the church is so huge? That small group is poorly led. And on it went.
Some of us obsess about the New Year’s day menu, the guests who are arriving. For others, it’s constant negative self-talk. Or maybe we ruminate on the hurt we have experienced from a significant other. Maybe we are replaying over and over how unfairly our boss treated us. Perhaps we are rehearsing what we’d really like to say to the guy who cut us off in the fast lane. Or we’re convinced no one likes us and we’re never enough.
Paul challenged me to ask the following questions about what was rolling around in my head:
- Are these thoughts really true? Be honest and keep nothing concealed.
- Are they worthy of respect? If they were spoken aloud, would I be respected?
- Are they in keeping with the commands of God? Would acting on them lead to right living?
- Are they without fault? Do I need to acknowledge any error?
- Are they pleasing? If heard by others, would they be acceptable and lovely words?
- Are they kind, seeking the good will of others? Would others find my words admirable?
- Are they morally pure? Is my mind going to places my body would not?
- Are they worthy of praise? Would I be commended for my thoughts?
When I began to evaluate my thoughts by these standards, I discovered that I didn’t really know what was true. Most of my statements were generalizations and stereotypes and impressions based on limited information. If said aloud, my thoughts would hurt people I really care about, because they would be said in ignorance and judgment. My thoughts were not faultless and kind. Instead they would hurt and tear down. If this was the case, why would I say them to myself? Why give them space in my mind?
Since my thoughts did not match Paul’s injunction, I made a deliberate choice to stop them and reframe them—to think about this, instead of that. I found it helpful to put my thoughts on paper and say them to someone I trust. When I saw things in actual black ink, or heard them spoken aloud, only then did I recognize the untruth in them, how ugly they sounded and that they would not garner respect.
Like a bystander hearing my own thoughts, I asked again “What is true”? I don’t know all the circumstances and the motives behind actions, therefore I cannot pass judgment. I have no right to speak into a situation that I have not been privy to.
What can be said that will bring commendation and be lovely to the listener (even if I am the only listener)? These are people who love Jesus and are trying their best to serve him as they know how. Instead of criticizing, l will pray for them.
I suggest that what Paul is really getting at is integrity—admonishing me to make my thoughts congruent with the rest of my life. I should be able to speak aloud whatever is in my mind and be confident it will align with my behavior. Once again, the heart, not just my words and actions is the main point. This is the harder, deeper work that the Holy Spirit wants to do in me. He wants to align my thoughts—the deep, hidden parts of me—with my behavior and words. After all, God already sees my thoughts.
May this be your New Year’s resolution—to make your thoughts reach the standard of Philippians 4:8, that whatever is thought in secret will be just as pure and lovely and right and admirable as what is seen on the outside. This is taking thoughts captive. This is how to experience peace.
What thoughts are you dwelling on today?
Evaluate them by Paul’s standards. What adjustments do you need to make to them?
Father God, teach me to demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against your knowledge, and help me to take captive every thought to make it obedient to You (2 Corinthians 10:5).
For study nerds like me, here are the definitions of each word:
- True = alēthēs = true, not hidden, unconcealed (say what is true about a situation…be honest)
- Noble = semnos = honorable. Worthy of respect,
- Right = dikaios = upright, righteous, virtuous, keeping the commands of God, that which regard for duty demands, what is right
- Pure = hagnos = pure from every fault, immaculate
- Lovely = prosphilēs = acceptable, pleasing
- Admirable = euphēmos = things spoken in a kindly spirit, with good-will to others
- Excellent = aretē = any particular moral excellence, as modesty, purity
- Praiseworthy = epainos = approbation, commendation, praise
- Dwell = logizomai = to consider, take account, weigh, meditate on