Last week we noted how Paul, in Philippians 4:8-9, emphasizes how vital the mind/heart is in our spiritual formation. If we think about things that are false, dishonorable, unjust, impure, unlovely, reprehensible, inferior and unworthy, then our feelings, choices and behaviors will move towards those things. But if we think about things that are true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent and worthy, then our feelings, choices, behaviors and ultimately our lives will be characterized by these things.
Which do you want? What destiny do you desire?
Paul says in these two verses…
8 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. 9 What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me–practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.
So today we’re going to look at the eight words that form the parameters or grid for our mind, helping us to evaluate what kinds of thoughts we are to allow into our minds for very long.
Understand, we cannot keep dishonorable, unjust, impure, unlovely, reprehensible, inferior and unworthy thoughts from entering into our minds, but we can choice to focus our thoughts on things that are true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent and worthy. The more we concentrate on those positive qualities, the less opportunity negative thoughts will have to lodge into our minds.
The first quality that we should focus our minds and heart upon is truth, “whatever is true.”
To focus on “whatever is true” means that we focus on things that line up with reality, with actuality. True truth has no wiggle room; it is not flexible. It is fixed on what is real.
As Paul writes to Titus, who was in Crete (the Cretans were notorious liars), “God … cannot lie,” and He made known His truth by “His word” (Titus 1:1-3).
For followers of Christ, truth begins with his divine person as God the Son, the embodiment of truth. He is all truth (John 14:6), and his gospel is truth —“the word of the truth, the gospel” (Colossians 1:5).
God’s word, he says, “is truth” (John 17:17). Everything that is true is from God because all truth is God’s truth.
Therefore, a mind that contemplates what is true not only sees Christ, the Word, and the gospel but also rationally engages his creation, rejecting lies and irrational thinking.
John Armstrong says…
To not love and embrace the truth, to not worship God in Spirit and in truth, invites spiritual destruction (2 Thes. 2:8 ff). It is not a matter of “a better way,” or “the best way,” it is a matter of the only way. If you would know God, you must know Him “in truth” and you must worship Him “in truth.”
Tim Challies has written:
Truth is what God thinks; it is what God does; it is what God is; it is what God has revealed of Himself in the Bible. Truth is found in its fullest form in God, for He is truth; He is the very source and origin of all truth.
Of course, our world is full of lies, full of fake news. It seems more and more difficult to find true truth in the world anymore. We feel like we cannot trust our news media or anyone else to tell us the truth. It just seems like no one cares about truth.
Lying is epidemic in our society. But we need to focus on truth. The Word of God is the only place where we will consistently get absolute truth, which is why to guard our minds we must spend time concentrating on truth from God’s Word.
We should run everything through the grid of God’s Word.
Satan is a master liar and is consistently attempting to deceive us. He did that with Eve and Adam, and throughout history.
Satan is a liar and the father of lies (John 8:44). He is a deceiver, and he uses sin to deceive those ensnared by it (2 Cor. 11:3; Eph. 4:22; Heb. 3:13). Several New Testament passages encourage us not to be deceived.
For instance, in 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 Paul says…
9 Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, 10 nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.
Satan loves to deceive people into thinking that their sins will carry no serious condemnation. He gets them to focus on the here and now, where our society now approves of these very things, and they feel justified in continuing to live this way. But they are ignoring the truth that people who consistently practice these sins “will not inherit the kingdom of God.” That is truth; that is reality, but Satan deceives them into justifying themselves and not focusing on their destiny.
In Galatians 6 Paul says…
7 Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. 8 For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.
You see, the problem with sowing and reaping is that you don’t reap on the same day you sow. Reaping doesn’t come for awhile, sometimes a long while. But here is the reality: you will reap what you sow. Someday, if you continue to sow to the flesh, you will reap corruption. If you sow to the Spirit, you will eventually reap eternal life.
Satan again wants you not to focus on the reality of the end result, but the fun of indulging in the flesh right now, and generally not paying for it, not experiencing any negative effects.
Satan is always lying to us. He is always trying to trick us, presenting a fleshly indulgence with the promise of delightful rewards. But it is only click bait. Yes, there is pleasure “for a season,” but the negative consequences will far outweigh any temporary pleasures we enjoyed.
So, sharpen your mind with truth. Spend time in God’s Word learning, loving and living truth.
You see, the person who traffics in lies will come to the place where he or she cannot perceive the truth anymore. They will lie without thinking about it because that is just part of their character.
But remember that Jesus said it is the truth that “sets us free” (John 8:32).
Are you focusing on “whatever is true”?
The second quality that we should focus our minds and heart upon is honor, “whatever is honorable.”
The Greek word here is semnos, and speaks of something that is high and inspiring, something highly regarded, highly valued, that which wins respect or commands reverence. Something dignified.
It is a little difficult for us in American society to grasp this concept. Our founding fathers believed that everyone was created equal, that anyone could rise above their status. We do not have king and queen, but an elected president.
It was after Jack Hayford went to England and saw the pomp and dignity of the queen and the high esteem which people gave to her that he wrote the song “Majesty” to declare the kind of honor we should give to Jesus.
The opposite would be thinking on things that are low, smutty, cheap, flippant, irreverent and undignified.
You know when someone says, “your thoughts are in the gutter”? They are saying that your thoughts have descended to the lowest level, not the highest, that you are thinking about smutty things, not honorable.
Believers must not think so much on what is trivial, temporal, mundane, common, and earthly, but rather on what is heavenly, and so worthy of awe, adoration, and praise.
This speaks to the idea that we are to treat life and especially the truth, seriously. It doesn’t mean that we cannot have fun or enjoy a good joke, but it means that more often we are entertaining serious thoughts, high thoughts, thoughts about God and eternal realities.
Randy Smith, in a sermon writes:
It’s evident when a society turns its back on God. Many necessary traits of a civilized and orderly democracy go out the window. One of them is the loss of the concept of honor and respect. How does that come about? Take the belief that you evolved which makes life without honor, add it the self-esteem movement that teaches you only to honor yourself, add to that no moral absolutes whereby your end goal will justify your dishonorable means and then throw away divine accountability to honor because you believe you are the final say defining right and wrong.
We need to value honor and think about honorable things. Think honorably about other people.
Of course, just as God is truth and we should meditate upon His truthfulness, likewise we should meditate on His glory.
“God’s glory refers to the consummate beauty of the totality of His perfections,” says John MacArthur.
And Sam Storms reminds us:
“What is “glory”?… Glory is the beauty of God unveiled! Glory is the resplendent radiance of His power and His personality. Glory is all of God that makes God, God, and shows Him to be worthy of our praise and our boasting and our trust and our hope and our confidence and our joy! Glory is the external elegance of the internal excellencies of God. Glory is what you see and experience and feel when God goes public with His beauty!”
Meditate much on the glory of God and you will find your heart and your life enriched.
The third quality that we should focus our minds and heart upon often is justice, “whatever is just.”
This is the word dikia, which means to be “right, aligning with laws and standards.”
For Paul, that which is “just” or “right” is defined by the character of God. But he also used “just” or “right” in the sense of right thought or action (cf. 1:7), and this broad sense was in view here. The Philippians were to contemplate the things that make for just living — doing the right thing.
Dikia describes whatever is in perfect harmony with God’s eternal, unchanging standards, again as revealed in Scripture. Believers are to think on matters that are consistent with the law of God.
To think on what is right means to think on the holy nature of God, especially as revealed in the person of Jesus Christ, and to model our behavior after Him.
Let us not mistake this with legalism, however. Paul is not telling us to have the law forefront in our minds so that we condemn others for not living up to it or we frustrate ourselves with trying to live up to it.
Jesus Christ is the only truly righteous person who ever lived. He never deviated from the law of God, perfectly obeying it every day in every way.
And it doesn’t mean that all we think about is the fact that someday we are all going to be held accountable for our sins, to live in dread of judgment.
But it also doesn’t mean that we never think about such things. While we should consider frequently that God’s law is perfect and demands perfect obedience, and that one day we will give account for every thought, motive, word and deed, we also must remind ourselves that our only hope lay in the righteousness of Christ and His willingness to take our death penalty.
We should meditate in wonder that not only did God completely wipe out our sin debt through the cross, but that God also imputed the righteousness of Christ to our account.
To “justify” means “to declare righteous.” That is what we should often meditate upon, that the just God did not sacrifice His justice, but affirmed it at the cross, and at the same time God’s justice was satisfied with Christ’s sacrifice so that we could be forgiven and would never be condemned.
I love the way John Gerstner puts it:
Only the Christian gospel presents….a way in which justice and mercy kiss each other… First, Christianity confirms the fact that justice must be satisfied. Sin must be condemned according to its demerit. This means eternal doom. The sinner must be damned because God must be inexorably holy and just. His all-powerful Being must vindicate His all-holy Being. Christianity never compromises the ever-blessed purity and excellency of the divine nature.
Second, Christianity alone finds a way to satisfy infinite justice and provide infinite mercy at the same time. What no other religion has dreamed of, Jesus Christ has accomplished. He underwent the infinite wrath of God against sin and lived to bestow His mercy on the damned sinners for whom He died. The infinite Son of God took upon Himself a human nature in which He underwent the full fury of the divine wrath. The omnipotent God satisfied His violated holiness by punishing sin completely in His blessed Son, who “became sin” for His people. The justice of God was vindicated in full in the substitute, His own Son, our Saviour dear. He survived that awful vengeance and rose victor over the grave by the power of His own divinity. Now He offers to every sin-sick and “pleasure” – burdened soul an everlasting mercy. Perfect mercy and perfect justice in the gospel of the crucified.
So yes, have your thoughts line up with God’s law. Now that we have the Spirit living within us (according to the New Covenant) and Christ living in us, it is quite possible for us to live righteously.
Yes, think often of the judgment seat of Christ and strive for eternal rewards.
Yet, remind yourself often that Christ died for the unjust, for those who were “still sinners.”
Would you agree that so far, with the call to focus our minds on what is true, honorable and just, that Paul is encouraging us primarily to meditate on the Scriptures?
Sure, the word “whatever” in each of these clauses indicates that truth, honor and justice can be found outside the Scriptures too, but the chief way to form our minds around these things is to think about God from the Scriptures.
Someone has said, “The battle is fought at the thought.” What we think about God is the most important thing about us, said A. W. Tozer.
So fill your mind, your heart with God and with those things that are true, honorable and just.