A Beautiful Mind, part 3 (Philippians 4:8-9)

Over the last couple of weeks we’ve 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?

J. Dwight Pentecost has said…

“On the authority of the Word of God, I submit to you that the greatest conflict being waged is not international, not political, not economic, and not social.  The greatest conflict taking place in the world today is the battle for control of our minds.”

And he is right.

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.

Remember, we are to “love God…with all our minds.”  That is, our thoughts should be focused on Him.  HE should have our attention, not other things, nor other people.

What we think about is vitally important.

The fourth quality that we should focus our minds and heart upon is purity, “whatever is pure.”

This word comes from the Greek word hagnos, which comes from the ceremonial language of animal sacrifice.  Sacrifices were to be free from blemish.  Hagnos is that which is holy, morally clean, and undefiled. 

William Barclay adds that when hagnos was “used ceremonially, it describes that which has been so cleansed, so perfect that it is fit to be brought into the presence of God and used in his service.”

So we might ask: Are my thoughts worthy of being brought into God’s presence and used for His glory?

This is the word used in 1 John 3:2-3, which says

2 Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. 3 And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.

In Psalm 12:6 David states:

6 The words of the LORD are pure words, like silver refined in a furnace on the ground, purified seven times.

In this context, it means that God’s word is unmixed and unadulterated.  When silver was refined, the impurities would rise to the top and be wiped off, creating a more pure metal.

So God’s Word is pure.  It does not have truth and error.  It is only true.

This word not only refers to the lack of spot or blemish in sacrifices, and the complete accuracy of God’s Word, but also to the moral purity of our lives.

It especially means keeping our bodies undefiled by abstaining from sexual sins, but we can only be successful by battling immorality and pornography at the thought level.  Ephesians 5:3-10 says…

3 But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. 4 Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving. 5 For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. 6 Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. 7 Therefore do not become partners with them; 8 for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord.  Walk as children of light 9 (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), 10 and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord.

In 1998 Joe Lieberman began giving out Silver Sewer awards.  His motive was to embarrass TV, videos and movies who visually lifted up the sordid.  Now, the things he was policing are considered tame compared with what it coming out today!

So we need to test what think about through the “grid” of hagnos and ask ourselves these simple questions – Will it defile or is it intrinsically pure?  Will it corrupt our thinking if we give attention to it?  Will it stand the scrutiny of God?  Will it make me more like Jesus Who is perfect hagnos?

One of the interests we really need to watch over, and likely to change, is how much time we spend on social media.  The typical teenager today spends over 7.5 hours each day connected to some form of media.  We adults aren’t far behind.

For today’s teens, technology and purity can be incredibly connected.  Twenty percent of all teens say they have sent/posted nude or semi-nude pictures or videos of themselves.  And there’s worse…but I’m stopping there.  The point is that today’s Internet makes moral sins incredibly accessible (and deceptive) to young people at one of the most vulnerable times in their lives.

Pray for yourself and your children, that God will protect them you temptation (Matthew 6:13), that you will purpose in their own hearts not to defile themselves (Daniel 1:8), and that you will keep yourselves pure (1 Timothy 5:22).

In Psalm 119:37 David prays…

Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things; and give me life in your ways.

To stay pure in our minds and hearts, we have to constantly turn away our eyes from alluring images that are placed on billboards, magazines, television, internet ads.

J. R. Miller writes:

We must be always turning—if we would keep our life true and according to God’s commandments.  There are some flowers which always turn toward the sun.  

There was a little potted rose-bush in a sick-room which I visited.  It sat by the window.  One day I noticed that the one rose on the bush was looking toward the light.  I referred to it; and the sick woman said that her daughter had turned the rose around several times toward the darkness of the room—but that each time the little flower had twisted itself back, until again its face was toward the light.  It would not look into the darkness.

The rose taught me a lesson—never to allow myself to look toward any evil—but instantly to turn from it.  Not a moment should we permit our eyes to be inclined toward anything sinful.  To yield to one moment’s sinful act—is to defile the soul.  One of the main messages of the Bible is, “Turn from the wrong, the base, the crude, the unworthy—to the right, the pure, the noble, the godlike.”  We should not allow even an unholy thought to stay a moment in our mind—but should turn from its very first suggestion, with face fully toward Christ, the Holy One.

Turn your eyes upon Jesus.  One glance is not sinful, but the continued gaze upon impurity is.

The fifth quality that we should focus our minds and heart upon is beauty, “whatever is lovely.”

By “lovely” Paul means those things that put themselves forward by their attractiveness.   “Lovely” includes not only what is morally lovely but that which is aesthetically lovely — “all that is beautiful in creation and in human lives”—from a sunset to a symphony to caring for the poor and powerless — all things beautiful. (Kent Hughes)

New Testament scholar Gordon Fee tells us:

“In common parlance, this word could refer to a Beethoven symphony, as well as to the work of Mother Teresa among the poor of Calcutta; the former is lovely and enjoyable, the latter is admirable as well as moral.”

We shouldn’t be attracted to what is evil and ugly, but we often are.  We shouldn’t be attracted to the Satanic and dark in literature and movies.  Nor should we be attracted to the violent and conflictual.

Once again, the most beautiful thing we can place the eyes of our heart upon is Jesus Christ.  He is “altogether lovely, altogether worthy, altogether wonderful to me.”

Listen to these words from Dane Ortlund, from an article entitled, “Are You Conveying the Loveliness of Christ to Your Kids?”

Have we considered the loveliness of the heart of Christ?  Perhaps beauty is not a category that comes naturally to mind when we think about Christ.  Maybe we think of God and Christ in terms of truth, not beauty.  But the whole reason we care about sound doctrine is for the sake of preserving God’s beauty, just as the whole reason we care about effective focal lenses on a camera is to capture with precision the beauty we photograph.

Let Jesus draw you in through the loveliness of his heart.  This is a heart that upbraids the impenitent with all the harshness that is appropriate, yet embraces the penitent with more openness than we are able to feel. I t is a heart that walks us into the bright meadow of the felt love of God.  It is a heart that drew the despised and forsaken to his feet in self-abandoning hope.  It is a heart of perfect balance and proportion, never overreacting, never excusing, never lashing out.  It is a heart that throbs with desire for the destitute.  It is a heart that floods the suffering with the deep solace of shared solidarity in that suffering.  It is a heart that is gentle and lowly.

So let the heart of Jesus be something that is not only gentle toward you but lovely to you.  If I may put it this way: romance the heart of Jesus.  All I mean is, ponder him through his heart. Allow yourself to be allured.  Why not build in to your life unhurried quiet, where, among other disciplines, you consider the radiance of who he actually is, what animates him, what his deepest delight is?  Why not give your soul room to be reenchanted with Christ time and again?

When you look at the glorious older saints in your church, how do you think they got there?  Sound doctrine, yes.  Resolute obedience, without a doubt.  Suffering without becoming cynical, for sure.  But maybe another reason, maybe the deepest reason, is that they have, over time, been won over in their deepest affections to a gentle Savior.  Perhaps they have simply tasted, over many years, the surprise of a Christ for whom their very sins draw him in rather than push him away.  Maybe they have not only known that Jesus loved them but felt it.

Again, keep your spiritual eyes, your thoughts, on Jesus.  He is truth, he is glorious, he is just, he is pure and he is lovely.

The sixth quality that we should focus our minds and heart upon is the reputable, “whatever is commendable.”

This refers to the kind of conduct that deserves the approval of your peers.  It is used of “expressing what is kind and likely to win people, and avoiding what is likely to give offense,” says Plummer.

We are to think of things and think of things about others that measure up to the highest standards.  We are to think of things that are praiseworthy.

Are we concentrating on the good things we see in others or are we dwelling on their faults and shortcomings?  Do we think about what we admire in the other person, or what we despise?

Again, notice how the content of what we are to be thinking about fits so well with the context of interpersonal conflict.  When we are in conflict with someone, do we think well of them and hold them in high esteem, or do we trash them?

As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13, love believes the best about another person, it refuses to believe an evil report about a brother or sister until there is certain evidence to establish it.

The seventh quality that we should focus our minds and heart upon is excellent things, “if there is any excellence.”

By the way, the words “whatever” and “any” in this verse indicates that our minds are to reach out to “whatever” fits these categories, leaving nothing out, “anything” that fits.

The word “excellence” is the Greek word arete.  It means moral virtue of the highest quality.  Arete is a term denoting consummate ‘excellence’ or ‘merit’ within a social context. To the Greek philosophers, it meant “the fulfillment [or completion] of a thing.” 

It speaks of something that is fulfilling its reason for existence.  Land that produces crops is “excellent” because it is fulfilling its purpose.  The tool that works correctly is “excellent” because it is doing what a tool is supposed to do.  A believer demonstrates moral excellence or virtue by living the way He now has the potential to live (possessing everything necessary for life and godliness, His precious and magnificent promises, partaker of His divine nature).

Peter uses it as a quality of God and thus as the first quality that we are to add to our faith (2 Pet. 1:3, 5).  This means that as a new Christian, one of the first things you must do is to stop any behavior that is not in line with God’s moral virtues as revealed in Scripture, such as the Ten Commandments, the Sermon on the Mount, and Paul’s list of the deeds of the flesh (Gal. 5:19-21).  To continue doing such things will hinder your growth in godliness. We must focus our minds on moral virtue. (Steve Cole)

But remember, Paul in Ephesians 4:22-24 told us that just putting off behaviors that do not line up with God’s Word and God’s will is not enough.  We must put off old behaviors and put new ones in their place AND we must start a new way of thinking.

The examples that follow Paul’s outline of spiritual transformation in Ephesians 4:25-32 show that the “renewed mind” part means understanding why the putting off of old behavior and the putting on of new behavior is necessary.  We are always helped in changing behavior when we know the “why” behind it.

Finally, the eighth quality that we should focus our hearts and minds upon is praiseworthy things, “if anything is worthy of praise.”

The opposite of this is thinking critical things about others.  Instead of accentuating the positive (the praiseworthy), one accentuates the negative. We often refer to such a person as one who has a critical spirit. 

June Hunt offers this insight:

To look with a “critical eye” is to pay close attention to detail— and this can be most helpful.  But to look with a “critical spirit” means to microscopically focus on faults—and this is only harmful.”  The antidote for a critical spirit is a mindset that looks for that which is worthy of praise.

The Greek word epainos is used sparingly in Scripture, with the basic meaning of “applause.”  It speaks of expressed approval or public recognition.

Adrian Rogers offers this illustration:

I heard of a little boy who went out to see the Grand Canyon, and an old preacher went out to see the Grand Canyon.  The old preacher wrote back to his wife—he said, “Today I’ve seen the handiwork of God.  I’ve seen God as He put colors on His palette, and God as He took His fingers and sculptured a masterpiece.”  And, he went on, in grandiose words, to describe the Grand Canyon.  The little boy wrote back to his mother, and he said, “Guess what, Ma?  Today I spit a mile.”  You can be surrounded by beauty, and not see it.

What do you see in others?  Something to criticize or something to praise?  You might have to look harder, but you will enjoy it more when you find the good and the praiseworthy.

Published by

Lamar Austin

I've graduated from Citadel Bible College in Ozark, Arkansas, with a B. A. Then got my M. Div. and Th. M. at Capital Bible Seminary in Lanham, MD. I finished with a D. Min. degree from Dallas Theological Seminary, but keep on learning. I pastored at Chinese Christian Church of Greater Washington, D. C., was on staff at East Evangelical Free Church in Wichita, KS, tried to plant an EFC in Little Rock, before moving back home to Mena, where I now pastor my home church, Grace Bible Church

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