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Make no mistake: There is no enduring change in life, there is no meaningful Christ-exalting, sin-killing sanctification apart from a transformation in how you think. Your mind matters. Continue reading . . .

Make no mistake: There is no enduring change in life, there is no meaningful Christ-exalting, sin-killing sanctification apart from a transformation in how you think. Your mind matters. In fact, it matters eternally. So Paul tells us all to think about true things, not lies; ponder and reflect on what is noble and dignified, not what is base and vulgar; meditate on what is just and righteous not what is wrong and distorted; focus on what is pure, not sleazy; fix your thoughts on what is admirable and praiseworthy, not offensive and ugly. Here is how he put it:

“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” (Phil. 4:8-9).

The repetition of the word “whatever” all through v. 8 is designed to impress on our hearts the comprehensive scope of these virtues in terms of how they are to impact our lives. Don’t think of these as simply general principles but rather bear in mind moment by moment that a life of truth and purity and excellence is made up of daily, indeed hourly acts characterized by these virtues.

Another thing to remember is that these virtues are not distinctively Christian. They can be found in the world around us. Theologians talk often about “common” grace, that is, the goodness and grace of God whereby he bestows on the unbelieving world good gifts and talents and skills that are designed to make life livable. That doesn’t mean the people who are recipients of common grace are necessarily saved and redeemed. But we mustn’t forget, for example, that a lot of people who display incredible financial generosity toward the victims of some natural disaster are non-Christians. Countless non-believers make remarkable personal sacrifices of time and energy in order to assist those in need. Thus, wherever these virtues in v. 8 appear in the broader culture, identify them and think on them and embrace them.

Look for whatever reflects and gives expression to these virtues and bring them into conformity with Christ and the gospel. You can learn a great deal about these virtues from reading books by non-Christians. We can learn from film and theater and political life and works of art. As NT scholar Frank Thielman has said, Christians should “cast their intellectual nets widely – to allow all that is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy, wherever it is found, to shape their thinking” (231). Don’t retreat and hide from the world. Rather, take advantage of their knowledge and insights.

There are eight virtues Paul mentions, so let’s look briefly at each of them.

(1) “Whatever is true” – Whether it be in matters of theology, economics, political theory, your acts of service, or in your relationships with your neighbors.

Truth is whatever conforms to the gospel and the revelation of God’s will in his Word. Truth is whatever conforms to objective reality.

Sadly, increasing numbers of people are drawn to the outlandish notion that there is no objective and universal truth. There are as many “truths” as there are individuals who believe them. Truth for them is entirely subjective, which is to say, whatever feels true or seems true to each individual subject, is true.

Paul’s exhortation is that we are to think and meditate on truth with regard to God, man, the church, the world, sin, redemption, relationships, etc.

(2) “Whatever is honorable” – By this word he has in mind whatever is sublime, dignified, majestic; whatever evokes respect and reverence; lofty and majestic things as over against vulgar and crude, frivolous and trivial. Christianity should never lead us to embrace mediocrity or slovenliness or vulgarity or crudeness, whether in our speech, our appearance, our activities, our productivity, etc.

He has in view things that lift the mind rather than dragging it through the gutter.

(3) “Whatever is just” – That is to say, whatever is in accord with divine standards of right and wrong.

Again, we live in a day when any such notion that there is an ultimate righteousness, an eternal and unchanging justice is simply ignored, or perhaps even mocked.

(4) “Whatever is pure” – The word “pure” is used often in the NT and can mean chaste (2 Cor. 11:2; Titus 2:5), innocent (2 Cor. 7:11), or morally pure and upright. Paul probably has in mind purity of thought and deed and words, as well as sexual purity.

He’s calling us to fix our thoughts on those things that are untainted by evil or moral corruption; that are lacking in defect and are morally blameless.

(5) “Whatever is lovely” – Here he focuses on whatever calls forth or evokes love and admiration and is pleasing or agreeable to the heart; whatever stirs the affections and awakens pleasure in accordance with righteousness.

These are the sorts of things that are endearing. It focuses on what is recognized by the world at large as admirable, whether a symphony by Beethoven or a charitable deed by Mother Teresa or sacrificial efforts in Moore.

(6) “Whatever is commendable” – That is to say, whatever is praiseworthy and appealing; whatever is worthy and avoids giving offence.

He has in mind those things which, on being seen or heard or encountered, lead everyone to exclaim, “Well done!” He’s talking about deeds and thoughts that by their very nature move people to admiration and praise.

(7) “if there is any excellence” –Too many Christians settle for mediocrity. They’re ok with just getting by. Good enough is the mantra. But God calls us to excel, to do all within our power and by his grace to pursue and produce the very best.

But there is a huge difference between “excellence” and professionalism and performance. Excellence is doing everything to the best of one’s ability as enabled by God, and in such a way that no one is distracted by it or is tempted to give credit to anyone but the Lord. Professionalism and performance are man-centered and are concerned with drawing attention to us. The pursuit of excellence should direct attention to God.

(8) “if there is anything worthy of praise” – By this I think he means the sort of conduct that wins the affection and admiration of others, even non-Christians.

And what is our responsibility? It is to “think” on such things, to reflect upon them, to ponder, to meditate on, to dwell on; it means to carefully take into account and reflect on these attributes and virtues so that one’s conduct will be shaped accordingly.

Direct your attention and energy and action toward such things. Give these values and virtues weight in your decision-making. Take these things into account in the evaluation of how you will live and spend money and raise your kids and watch on TV.

The present tense imperative points to on-going, continuous activity; this isn’t a one-time affair but something that is to characterize us constantly. An undisciplined mind is the enemy of Christian growth and maturity.

To be continued . . .

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