Toward the end of his 10 national championships in 12 years, Coach Wooden was asked what he thought was the pivotal element to the success of his teams. His answer was a simple comparison.
After many seasons of coaching, it had become clear to him that the key to his players consistent, excellent performance was to work hard to rid them of the tremendous highs and lows associated with victory and defeat. He had learned the significant value of coaching the attitudes of his players. (I was one of them during his last three years).
Accordingly, we were taught to control our thinking and emotions: win or lose, as young men we were not allowed to be overly emotional one way or another. In fact spiking the ball in the end zone (which they do in a silly, inferior sport) was strictly forbidden. We were taught to groove our attitude and control our emotions at all times. The result? His teams consistently reached the highest pinnacles of success.
May I suggest that learning to control your thinking – and the emotions that stem from your thinking – will greatly benefit you too. Read on, my friend!
The organ inside our skulls is an incredible asset given to us by our Maker; it stands to reason that we should be good stewards of it. The mind that God has given us is a fascinating thing for sure, and as the muscles of our bodies need physical training, our minds need mental training, nutrition and rest in order to keep developing and function properly over a lifetime.
How we ought to mentally train our minds is the essence of Philippians 4:8, which is the passage I’d like to unfold this week. In times of difficulty this verse should be one of your closest friends. It must be a staple in the diet of every believer intent on personal growth. It is a salve in a tumultuous world. It is targeted therapy for an otherwise unruly mind and the emotions it produces – emotions that can sabotage your greatest goals and your fondest dreams!
I have been truly blessed by memorizing and meditating on this passage. You will too! Here are God’s guidelines – His blueprint – as to how to control our minds. How do godly people think? What should we demand that our minds dwell on? What habits should we be forming in order to best maintain our brains?
Philippians 4:8 appears near the end of Paul’s epistle to the Church at Philippi, which is the first church he planted in Europe, more specifically Macedonia (now northern Greece). Danielle and I visited Philippi, as we traced Paul’s missionary journeys on our honeymoon years ago.
The Philippian epistle is a letter characterized by joy. Overall, herein is a love letter of praise and thanksgiving to one of Paul’s favorite churches. Repeatedly throughout my walk with the Savior I find myself returning to this small 4-chapter book and find it refreshing and encouraging. In one of the concluding passages of it we find Paul instructing believers to take control of their attitudes and emotions. Philippians 4:8 is his prescription for achieving this objective. Let us turn our attention this week to this important passage and carefully examine how a believer should be consistently thinking inside in order to achieve consistency on the outside. What will follow is my best attempt to break down the eight elements of this passage: vital elements necessary for grooving a great attitude in a tumultuous world. Our passage reads….
Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, let your mind dwell on these things.
Contextually this passage follows and contrasts Paul’s prior command to be anxious for nothing. Notice 4:6….
Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.
In this and the earlier passages in chapter four, listed are a litany of spiritual benefits that inure to the believer: such as Joy (v. 1), Forbearance (v. 5), and Peace (v. 7). These are set in contrast to the robber of them in verse 6: a villain named anxiety merimnao, a culprit best defined as the biblical idea of “unconscious blasphemy.” Think about that! Anxiety shouts, “God, you are not capable of handling this matter; therefore it must taken into individual hands.” Anxiety then, is the wholesale, personal rejection of God’s omnipresence, omniscience and omnipotence in the believer’s life! Said in yet another way,
ANXIETY IS THE WHOLESALE REJECTION OF THE BIBLICAL COMMAND TO CAST ALL YOUR CARES ON HIM
Indeed, 1Peter 5:7 commands us to, “cast all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you.” Be careful to note this juxtaposition of ungodly mental practices occurs prior to the passage under study this week. Herein is the authorial intent to contrast oil with water – two substances that in no way mix!
UTILIZING PRAYER AND DWELLING ON WHAT FOLLOWS AND ARE THE EXTINGUISHING AGENTS TO THE FIRES OF ANXIETY IN ONE’S SOUL
What is contained in 4:8 are the aspects of godly thinking. These are the determining factors that lead to a proper attitude in a fallen world. Said another way, the consistent practice of what’s contained in 4:8 will by and large determine your mental maturity, now and in the future.
For an individual in the Capitol to possess a strong mental and spiritual maturity, one that is characterized by joy, forbearance and peace….
THESE EIGHT DISCIPLINES MUST CONTINUALLY PERMEATE YOUR MIND AND GUIDE YOUR THINKING PATTERNS
The prerequisite to the successful practice of such thinking patterns is accepting Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and being richly filled with the Holy Spirit. It is only through His empowering that one can possibly achieve such training of the mind. Otherwise you are “dead in your trespasses and sins” (Eph. 2:1) and consistent victorious thinking is impossible.
II. THE SPIRITUAL ATTACK ON THE MIND
Before we examine the passage some prerequisite understanding is necessary. Every believer is engaged in spiritual warfare, and it is critical to realize this: Satan is battling for the control of our minds! He wants us to think incorrectly about everything! In the narrative passage of Mark 8:33 Jesus makes this point. Satan’s battle for the mind is illustrated in what Jesus states relative to Peter’s misguided thinking:
But turning around and seeing His disciples, He rebuked Peter and said, Get behind Me, Satan; for you [Peter] are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but man’s.
Peter here serves to illustrate ungodly thinking patterns that Satan implants and exploits. In a personal contrast, notice what the more spiritually mature, now battle-hardened Peter states in his first epistle (1Peter 5:8) written years later, to other believers….
Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.
The word spirit is not capitalized, Peter is referring to one’s personal, chosen, inner thinking patterns. Likened to his earlier self, he’s testifying to the fact that Satan devours people who don’t think straight! When you witness fellow office holders make public statements that defy logic, or that defy the otherwise known and established facts regarding a matter, you should recognize it for what it is: Satan’s influence over their mind in his attempt to devour not only the individual – but our nation through them! Your ability to see this for what it is, is a sign of mature, biblically informed, spiritual discernment. Regarding this battle for the mind, Ephesians 6:12 states….
Our struggle is not against flesh and blood…but against the spiritual forces of wickedness.
Herein then is a summation of daily mental struggle every believer is faced with. It follows, if this is where the battlefield exists that,
THE VICTORIOUS CHRISTIAN MUST POSSESS AND MAINTAIN A MIND THAT IS NOT ONLY SPIRIT-‐CONTROLLED BY GOD, BUT HIGHLY DISCIPLINED BY SELF
In an expansive sense of this analytical insight, America’s systemic problem is first and foremost a spiritual one; it is a spiritual battle that is being waged in terms of mental, ideological beliefs. When we talk about polarization in our government it is this! Simply stated, the real battle isn’t so much along party lines as it is, will ideas that are biblically based win out over ideas that are not biblically based? Which set of mental ideals will control the majority thinking in our Republic? Biblical ideas used to, but not so much anymore, which is the reason you well know as to why our nation is in rapid decline. What follows in 4:8 are eight mental disciplines that God commands all believers to dwell on. Each must guide our thinking patterns lest Satan devour us individually and as a nation.
III. THE SPIRITUAL ACTION OF THE MIND
The main verb (an imperative verb meaning this is a command from God) does not appear until near the end of the passage. The action required by God of the believer is to dwell logizomai meaning, “to reckon, consider, take into account, calculate” in an ongoing sense the eight virtues (which in this case precede the command) of which I will expound upon individually (in section V). But note here the spiritual action required of us in the stewardship of our minds is to let your mind dwell. Are you continually dwelling on what follows?
IV. THE SPIRITUAL ARCHETYPE FOR THE MIND
One last prerequisite before examining each of the characteristics in detail: note what succeeds 4:8 in verse 4:9:
The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.
In order to help achieve all of 4:8, Paul immediately pleads for the Philippian believers to imitate him. He offers himself as an example of someone who practices these things. In other words these eight characteristics of godly thinking are certainly doable – if Paul can do it, so can you! This sentence structure also serves to make the point that what is in 4:8 is more caught than taught. Who in your circles of friends best emulates these eight virtues? May I suggest that their personal example is more of an impetus to your spiritual maturity than memorizing and meditating on the list (as important as that is).
WHEREAS SCRIPTURE DIDACTICALLY EXPLICATES, ANOTHER’S GODLY LIFE PERSONALLY ILLUSTRATES!
A godly example is often more powerful in terms of bringing about change than what is read. Therefore be selective, hang around others who discipline their minds! And hanging around the other sort will work in the opposite direction, as Paul is sure to point out in 1Corinthians 15:33….
Do not be deceived, bad company corrupts good morals.
Choose today to surround yourself with those characterized by godly thinking; their virtues will rub off! Proverbs 27:17 adds in this regard….
Iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.
Establishing good friendships is one reason why the Members Bible Study exists; take advantage of it in this regard! There are a lot of very godly people around the table whom you should choose to be your best friends for life! That’s what I am doing and am so blessed a result of the mental thinking disciplines I see in you.
V. THE SPIRITUAL AMMUNITION OF THE MIND
J.B. Lightfoot in his commentary on Philippians provides insights into the order and relationship of this seemingly random shopping list of eight mental focal points. Again the eight things to dwell on are whatever is: True, Honorable, Right, Pure, Lovely, of Good Repute, Excellent, Worthy of Praise. He states (at the risk of this being more helpful than confusing) the following regarding the overall divine ordering of the shopping list aspects of the passage:
Speaking roughly, the words may be said to be arranged in a descending scale. The first four describe the character of the actions themselves, the two former being absolute, the two latter relative; the fifth and sixth point to the moral approbation which they conciliate; while the seventh and eighth in which the form of expression is changed are thrown in as an afterthought, that no motive may be omitted.1
I suggest you take time to digest and relate these comments to each of the eight commands in order to gain a deeper understanding as to their placement.
A. WHATEVER IS TRUE
Paul’s definition of truth is limited to those things God has revealed in Holy Writ (cf. Rom. 1:18). Scripture is Paul’s final, authoritative arbiter for truth and it should be for the Public Servant as well. A poll or consensus might give an indication of public opinion; science or psychological data may be instructive on certain matters; but apart from Scripture, all other sources of “truth” should be taken with less certitude. For instance,
“SETTLED SCIENCE” ONCE INCLUDED THE “FACTS” THAT THE WORLD WAS FLAT AND THE SUN REVOLVED AROUND THE EARTH. PSYCHOLOGISTS ONCE ROUTINELY ADMINISTERED SHOCK TREATMENTS. POLLSTERS WERE CERTAIN DEWEY WOULD BE ELECTED PRESIDENT.
The Bible is different. It doesn’t depend on votes or people’s opinions; it is immutable and true because it is breathed by God Himself (1Thes. 2:13; 2Tim 3:16-17). All other sources of truth contain varying degrees of certitude. Believers are to dwell only on things that are scripturally true. We should ask ourselves the question, “Is what I am thinking supported by Scripture or not?” Do not allow your mind to dwell on things that are not inherently truthful, or waste time speculating, i.e. becoming anxious about things that might or might not happen in the future. Don’t burn precious emotional energy speculating about what bad things might happen to you! That is foolish!
WISE IS THE ONE WHO DWELLS ON SCRIPTURE – WHO POSSESSES A LIFELONG HUNGER FOR ITS MIGHTY FORTRESS OF ALWAYS-‐RELIABLE, ALWAYS-‐CERTAIN TRUTH
One of those immutable truths is that God will always take care of you (cf. Matthew 6:28-30)! The prophet Jeremiah heralds the certainty and therefore incumbent need to depend on them in 15:16 of his book….
Your words were found and I ate them, and Your words became for me a joy and the delight of my heart; For I have been called by Your name, O LORD God of hosts.
Jesus states in John 17:17 an apt summary of this mental orientation, this absolute presupposition and discipline relative to intellectual and ensuing emotional well-being, i.e. proper functionality….
Sanctify them in truth; Your word is truth.
In the wisdom of Proverbs, a book set in a largely verbal culture, truth had to do with true speech as opposed to speaking lies or deception (cf. Prov. 22:21). This insight makes for a practical application point: Go to great lengths to discipline your speech in terms of truthfulness. Do not exaggerate, speculate, provide false impressions or mislead. Do not be opportunistic. Do not talk too much (cf. James 1:19; 3:5). Ephesians 6:14 states in these regards, …gird your loins with truth. To the degree you discipline your mind to only dwell on things that are true is the degree to which you will have a more consistent attitude.
B. WHATEVER IS HONORABLE
This Greek word here for honorable is semnos and is found elsewhere only in the Pastoral Epistles where it is a descriptor essential to spiritual leaders. The idea of this virtue is for one to possess mental “seriousness, sublimity and dignity.” It is the sister idea of worthiness. In contrast, we cannot allow our minds to dwell on things that are unworthy of our time and attention, nor the baser things beneath them. Avoid the profane and dwell on the sacred. Choose only high-protein items from the menu of a carb-loaded, fallen world; consume dignified content, not empty calories such as gossip, pornography, “non-music,” video games or their likes. Those things serve to depreciate, not to build the mind. Per the Lightfoot quote, these first two virtues are absolutes, non-negotiable aspects of one’s mentality. In that God (in 2Timothy 1:7) promises to give believers a “sound mind,” dwelling on truth and honor are two mental focal points we must practice to keep our brains shipshape! Choose this moment to upload into your cranial computer only truthful and honorable content. Remember, garbage in, garbage out.
C. WHATEVER IS RIGHT
What is the right or just thing that one should choose to dwell on? Dikaios carries the idea of thinking only on what is just and proper. Is your mind disciplined to think about and conclude to do the right thing when there is no one else watching? This is a remarkable character quality of the chairman of the board of the ministry I serve; I have known him for 40 years (since my college days) and he consistently thinks and determines to do what is right relative to biblical principles. If one lacks personal discipline apart from accountability, then in private they will sin. Do you possess a strong discipline to dwell on and do what is scripturally right no matter the consequences? Such actions can come only from an inwardly disciplined, godly mind that has determined beforehand to do what is right relative to the presenting situation. God will bless that!
D. WHATEVER IS PURE
Pure hagnos means “holy, chaste.” In the Book of Proverbs the equivalent Greek word (per the LXX [Greek Septuagint]) is tahor. The word stands to contrast the thoughts of the wicked. Notice Proverbs 15:26 in this light….
Evil plans are an abomination to the Lord, but pleasant words are pure.
Thus the idea of dwelling on whatever is pure has the connotation of focusing one’s mind on things that are not besmirched or tainted or in some way evil. Cease all impure mind-wandering ventures, beloved legislative friends! Don’t go there; nip such thinking patterns in the bud! You have much better things to spend your energies on!
In the Philippian epistle, pure stands in contrast to those whose motives and plans were impure so as to cause distress to the Apostle Paul (1:17). This idea therefore encompasses not dwelling on or devising evil toward another. Disciplined godly minds dwell on their presenting circumstances with a determination to do what is right and pure.
RATHER THAN THINK ABOUT THE HURTS OF PEOPLE FROM THE PAST CHOOSE INSTEAD TO DWELL ON IDEAS FOR THE FUTURE AND WHAT COULD BE!
Generally speaking, small minds think about people who have hurt them in the past whereas great minds think about ideas that could benefit people in the future. Paul gives us additional insight into his pure thinking disciplines in Philippians 3:13….
Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead.
During his house arrest, Paul was being pilloried – in this case not by unbelievers – but by fellow jealous believers (cf. Phil. 1:12-18). His response was not to dwell on the negative, but reach forward in his mind to what lie ahead! The disciplined mind occupies itself with big ideas in the future, not small petty people in the past; the past is finite and the future is infinite! Such disciplined thinking leads to much success and accomplishment relative to the hand one has been dealt in a fallen, often disappointing world; for sure people will fail and betray you, but how you respond is everything! Remember too that God greatly uses people who have been deeply wounded – and have overcome it in their positive attitude! Keep your mind focused on what is pure.
E. WHATEVER IS LOVELY
The NJB (New Jerusalem Bible) best captures the sense of meaning of this aspect of disciplined thinking when it translates the above as “everything that we love.” Many commentators recognize that that everything means the big broad tent, versus addressing biblical concerns only. Accordingly one’s mind should dwell on the things that are admirable by the world at large such as the works of Beethoven or Mother Teresa, a scientific invention or a medicinal breakthrough, or an athletic achievement – be they authored or accomplished or by believers or not: All are created in the image of God who accomplish them and therefore bespeak of His glory. All are lovely and admirable! Let your mind dwell also on these things! How many “Christians” do you know who are critical of everything, subtly postulating their moral superiority? As such they become cynical and condescending, offering little praise to or of others.(This is a barnacle of Fundamentalism, which in the past has so valiantly, necessarily and effectively warred against Theological Liberalism). Whoever might possess such a mentality is living in contradiction to what this clause teaches!
BELIEVERS SHOULD GIVE PRAISE AND CELEBRATE THE VIRTUOUS IMAGE AND GREATNESS OF GOD AS MANIFEST IN AND THROUGH MANKIND, BOTH REGENERATE AND NOT
Enjoying whatever is lovely then, is a biblically conciliatory approbation, an apt illustration of the breadth of mental outlook said to be suitable by the Apostle. At least two other passages reinforce this idea: Romans 12:15 and Galatians 6:10. They state in general, “Rejoice with those who rejoice” and, “So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith.” Who or what have you praised as lovely today?
F. WHATEVER IS OF GOOD REPUTE
Akin to the broadness of whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute has an aim toward virtues generally respected in the broadness of God’s Creation and amongst mankind in general. Dwell on things of good repute such as respect for others, manners, kindnesses, consideration, listening, use of language, dress and decorum, etc. This relates “to the kind of conduct that is worth considering because it is well spoken of by people in general.”2 Rise today to a higher standard!
G. IF THERE IS ANY EXCELLENCE
Excellence arête “moral goodness” is a seldomused word by Paul, one he has imported from secular moralizing Greek culture. As used by him, this is the basis for mental disciplines expressing themselves in noble actions. O’Brien suggests that the better translation is therefore “moral excellence”3 which seems to fit more with the overall context of the passage. Again, this relates to one’s thinking: keeping with God’s overall goodness. If Goodness is an attribute of God and a fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22), then we are godly when we think goodly.
H. AND IF ANYTHING WORTHY OF PRAISE
These combined words are descriptive of the mental discipline of praising others in one’s mind and with one’s mouth. Such a mentality is becoming of God and others. Don’t be negative. Believers are to “have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus” (2:5). Be quick to spot something praiseworthy in another and be generous in sharing it. This too is something we all need to work to groove in our attitude and actions.
In both Ephesians 5:2 and Philippians 4:18 believers with the aforementioned virtues are termed “a fragrant aroma.” This is beautiful summary terminology of the passage we have studied this week. Unfortunately for the cause of Christ and the advance of the Kingdom, too many non-believers accurately refer to too many believers with phrases describing a different sort of aroma – accurately so. The virtues of a godly mind as described here are not only imbuing of the attributes of God, but depicting of an overall proper attitude in the life of one chosen out of this world by God to represent Him. What Paul describes here is not a critical, condescending, stuffy self-righteousness that proves to be such a turn-off to unbelievers. We must always be informed in this regard that it is “the kindness of God [that] leads [others] to repentance” (Rom. 2:4). Philippians 1:10 adds one last key ingredient relative to mental outlook….
…. so that you may approve the things that are excellent, in order to be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ.
By putting on and disciplining yourself by and with the aforementioned mental virtues, you will be approving the things that are excellent – which means you will come across as sincere. The Greek word for sincere eilikrines means “judged by sunlight, unalloyed, pure.” More literally it can be translated as “without wax.” The word was used of a potter whose pot cracks were not waxed over, i.e. others could see the blemishes because they were unfilled. Paul is stating that believers who are a fragrant aroma are unpretentious, having a presence that non-believers find genuine and attractive! They are those who are for sure not perfect, but at the same time are filled with praise for others who are not perfect! The disciplined, godly mind as defined in and by Philippians 4:8 depicts an attractive person who possesses a Christ-like spirit.
I HAVE MEMORIZED AND OFTEN MEDITATE ON THIS PASSAGE
I visualize putting Philippians 4:8 over my head like I would a blanket in a hailstorm high up in the Sierra Nevada – I take comfort in rehearsing the words in my mind, asking God to groove my thinking in ways that are pleasing to Him in the midst of a tumultuous world. It is amazing what such a small practice can do in aiding and creating in my heart an even-keel attitude when bad weather sets in. I suggest the same for you my friend. May God strengthen you with Philippians 4:8!.
1Lightfoot, J.B. St. Paul’s Epistle to the Philippians (Hendrickson publishers: October 1999) p161
2Fee, Gordon D. Paul’s Letter to the Philippians (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995) p 418
3O’Brien, Peter T. The Epistle to the Philippians, A Commentary on the Greek Text (Carlisle: Eerdmans, 1991) p 506