Browsing online for Christmas presents recently, I came across a book called ‘Decluttering: A 15 Minute Guide to Reclaim Your Home, Your Mind and Your Life.’ Intrigued by the title, I used that useful Amazon tool to take a ‘Look inside’ (the book that is, not my home, mind and life). The title of Chapter 6 looked interesting – ‘Getting Rid of Mental Debris.’ But then I saw the last subheading of that Chapter – Empty Your Mind. I quickly moved my forefinger away from the Buy with 1-Click button.
Paul teaches Christians to declutter and cleanse our minds in a very different way. Not by emptying them, as some religions teach, but by filling them with godly thoughts. By thinking about good things. That’s certainly what he tells the Philippian Christians to do towards the end of his letter:
“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honourable, 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.” (Philippians 4:8)
Eight things then that we should think about:
- Whatever is true
What is true is found in God (Romans 3:4), in Christ (John 14:16), in the Holy Spirit (John 16:13) and in the Word of God (Psalm 119:160). Now surely it’s a given that Christians will think about whatever is true. As long I stick to my Bible reading plan, listen to regular preaching and read some good Christian books, then I’m good. Aren’t I?
But how much time do I devote each week to actually thinking about what is true? Try doing a mental calculation. Now compare that total to the number of hours in a typical week that I’m exposed to the half-truths and lies disseminated through the media, on TV and in films, in online articles, on social media, through workplace gossip and so on.
- Whatever is honourable
The Greek adjective means ‘worthy of respect.’ The word comes from a verb meaning to revere or to be in awe. Paul uses it elsewhere (1 Timothy 3:8 and 11) to describe an essential character trait of a church deacon and his wife. So should we perhaps be meditating on the lives of our Christian leaders?
Well, Paul certainly goes on to urge the Philippians to practice what they’ve learned, received, heard and seen in him (v 9). But there’s a danger, of course. When the Apostle Peter goes to the house of Cornelius, the Roman Centurion falls at his feet and worships him. But Peter says, “Stand up; I too am a man” (Acts 10:26). Only God is worthy of reverence and awe. Let’s dwell on him much more than on our frail human leaders.
- Whatever is just
We live in a world where injustice abounds and where unrighteousness is often applauded and rewarded. How easy it is to get discouraged and disheartened when people are – often quite literally – getting away with murder.
Believers need to lift our eyes and our thoughts heavenwards, to restore our sanity. To think about the just and righteous standards of our Holy God. And to remind ourselves that the Lord “loves righteousness and justice” (Psalm 33:5), indeed these “are the foundation of your throne” (Psalm 89:14).
- Whatever is pure
“Blessed are the pure in heart”, says Jesus, “for they shall see God” (Matthew 5:8). What a staggering promise! Yes, we only get to see God fully when Christ returns. But surely the purer my heart becomes in this world, the more I’ll ‘see’ and experience God now.
And yet how difficult it is to focus our thoughts on what is morally clean, unstained and free from the contamination of sin. Everywhere we go posters and billboards promote films, books and magazines that celebrate impurity, immorality, infidelity. Or glory in murder, violence, gossip and greed. But don’t we make purity of heart so much more unreachable by then watching those films, or reading those books and magazines?
- Whatever is lovely
Think about whatever is amiable and agreeable, whatever causes pleasure and delight. The word appears just this once in the New Testament. Only a few verses earlier, Paul publicly pleads with two women in the Philippian church, Euodia and Syntyche, “to be of the same mind in the Lord.” So perhaps it’s no coincidence that he now urges the whole church to think lovely, agreeable thoughts.
Whatever the cause of the women’s disagreement, could it be that they were thinking critical, vengeful, bitter thoughts towards each other? Maybe their falling out was filtering through the whole body, bringing wider disunity. If so, Paul’s antidote to division is to think kind, gracious, unifying thoughts.
- Whatever is commendable
Another word that’s unique, biblically, to Philippians 4:8. This might also be linked to the problem of disunity. When relationships are strained it’s easy to try and justify unforgiving thoughts and wrong attitudes towards others. What a bonus, then, if someone else chips in with a negative assessment of our adversary! If they too have had a bad experience and ‘come to blows’, it strengthens our case and confirms the other person’s poor character.
But Paul says that we Christians shouldn’t fill our minds with gossip, slander, criticism or negative comments. Rather we’re to dwell on whatever is generally regarded as reputable, such as respect for others, kindness and speaking well of people.
- Any excellence
If we’re in Christ, we’re numbered among God’s chosen people, his treasured possession. As such we’re called to “proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light” (1 Peter 2:9). There is nothing or no one more excellent than God our awesome redeemer who rescued us out of the kingdom of darkness.
So let’s reserve our best thoughts for him. We should meditate on his glory, goodness, love, mercy, patience, holiness, kindness, compassion, faithfulness, power, sovereignty and on his many other matchless attributes.
- Anything worthy of praise
It’s not easy to draw distinct lines between the eight things Paul urges the Philippians to think about. They seem to merge into one. So, for example, whatever is true or pure is surely also going to be lovely and commendable. And any excellence – especially if it relates to God – will by definition be worthy of praise.
But is this perhaps the whole point of Paul’s teaching? These eight things to think about are found in perfect unity in the person of Jesus Christ. Earlier in his letter Paul urges these Christians to “have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:5). Can you think of any better way to shape your mind than fixing your thoughts on the utterly true, honourable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent and praiseworthy man who was God?
In this season when Christians particularly dwell on celebrating the birth of our Saviour, why not take some time to think about those eight beautiful qualities of Jesus Christ.