Editors note: The purpose of this series is to help our readers think through what holiness is, and how to reflect the holiness of God through Christ in a sinful world.
- Chris Poblete shares David Brainerd’s thoughts on longing for holiness.
- C. Walter wrote on the beauty of holiness.
- Brian shared directions to walking with God.
- Dave wrote on three ways to pursue purity.
- Zach wrote on three lessons we can learn from Judas Iscariot.
- Mike Boling wrote on applying the salve of Christ to anger.
- Dave wrote on knowing and obeying the commands of Christ.
- Today Mike writes on four ways to think on what is pure, lovely, commendable, excellent and worthy of praise.
Philippians 4:8, “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.”
I would venture to say that most believers are familiar with Philippians 4:8. In fact, it is likely a verse that comes to our minds, at least on a momentary basis, when ungodly thoughts rear their ugly head. But do we really grasp what it means to “think about these things”? Furthermore, what are these things that should be at the constant forefront of our thoughts and for that matter, our actions? Finally, what does it look like in a practical sense to be thinking on things above? I would like to address these three important questions in this post.
Defining “think about these things”
A great place to start when trying to understand what a word means is the dictionary. Now we must remember that behind the English translations we read is the original language in which the passage was penned. In the case of Philippians 4:8, we need to take a look at what the Greek word for “think” actually means. Think is the Greek verb logizomai meaning “to consider, take into account, weigh, meditate on.” Gerald Hawthorne notes the Apostle Paul has asked the Church at Philippi (and by extension us as well) “continuously to focus their minds on these things, to give full critical attention to them, and so to reflect carefully upon them with an action-provoking kind of meditation. It was not his desire to ask them merely to think about such noble matters without putting them into practice in their lives.”
We can quickly see that to “think on these things” requires more than just a passing thought or lip service. It demands active and continuous meditation, not the type of meditation where thought never quite translates into action. Conversely, this type of meditation requires the implementation of what is being pondered into every aspect of daily life. The truth of what we should be thinking about must make a difference in our speech, thoughts, desires, actions, ultimately leading to positive and lasting spiritual growth.
What is it We Should be Thinking About?
Now that we have a solid understanding of what it means to “think on these things”, we have to now take a look at and define what we are to be thinking on in the first place. The Apostle Paul assuredly did not ask the Church at Philippi to think on whatever floated their proverbial boat. We are provided with the parameters that form the fence line if you will for where are thoughts should be focused. Let’s take some time to examine what Paul tells us to think upon.
Whatever is true: There is little mystery to the definition of the Greek adjective alēthēs which is translated in English as true. It simply means true. With that said, there is the aspect of this word that speaks to what it means to think on whatever is true. Alēthēs also has an action element to its definition noting the need to love and speak the truth or to be truthful. Homer Kent states that true “has the sense of valid, reliable, and honest – the opposite of false.” Anything that even remotely consists of falsehood or that has the traits of dishonesty are the complete opposite of truth and thus should not be what we dwell on nor should they find they way into our thoughts or actions.
Whatever is honorable: Next Paul notes that whatever is honorable should be what we think upon. Honorable, sometimes translated as noble or honest, is the Greek adjective semnos meaning something that is venerated for its character. Donald Fee suggests that in this passage, Paul is noting that which is worthy of respect. Certainly there are many men and women of God who have noteworthy character, people in the body of Christ who demonstrate more often than not a dedication to the things of God. However, there is only One whose character is completely reputable. There is only One who is the very definition of holiness and righteousness and that is God. To think godly things is to seek after that which pleases God. It is to be holy as He is holy. That is a might task; however, it must be the goal of every thought and deed of the believer.
Whatever is just: This idea of justice finds its root in the same word from which righteousness is derived, namely the Greek adjective dikaios is that which aligns itself with the commands of God revealed in Scripture. In fact to be righteous, demands adherence to God’s perfect law. This is yet another lofty goal but a necessary one. Furthermore, to think on whatever is just requires the believer to read, understand, and put into practice God’s commands for righteous living provided in His Word. Only that which is worthy of the approval of God should be that which we think upon. Anything outside that framework is sin.
Whatever is pure: Purity connotes the idea of being without blemish, spot, or wrinkle. The Greek adjective hagnos means pure from every fault; immaculate. Now we must admit that our thoughts are often on that which could be considered filthy. Even the slightest speck of dust in our thought life and in our actions is considered filthy in the eyes of God. This is especially true given hagnos speaks to the idea of moral purity. In an age where all manner of sexual immorality is championed, we must dedicate ourselves to seeking after moral purity as outlined in God’s Word.
Whatever is lovely: Loveliness as used in this passage means something very specific. It is not whatever we choose loveliness to mean. That which is lovely is that which pleases God. The Greek adjective used in this verse that is translated as lovely is prosphilēs meaning pleasing or acceptable. This word has a very strict application to it. Hawthorne aptly notes “It has as its fundamental meaning “that which calls forth love”…Thus the Christian’s mind is to be set on things that elicit from others not bitterness and hostility, but admiration and affection.” This type of action is what Paul described in Ephesians 4:29: “Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice: And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.”
Whatever is commendable: Something that is commendable is worthy of praise. Kent notes that commendable or admirable as it is often translated suggests “what is praiseworthy, attractive, and what rings true to the highest standards.” As with the other virtues listed by Paul in this passage, the only standard that matters is Gods as noted in His word.
How to “Think on these things”
As noted earlier, thinking in the sense Paul exhorts is far more than a passing thought or fancy. It involves a clear element of thought constantly borne into action which then shapes every aspect of our lives. We have discovered in our analysis of the things Paul says we are to think upon that each and every thing mentioned by Paul is related to nothing short of spiritual excellence. Anything short of such excellence falls short of what God expects from His people.
Does this mean that we will achieve such a level of holiness in this life or for that matter that we can attain a life of complete devotion to “these things” on our own effort? The response to both questions is absolutely not. In this life we will continue to battle with sin and with those things that grab our focus and attention away from the things above. There is no amount of personal effort that can lead to a life lived according to God’s perfect standard. What then are we to do given the pursuit of holiness remains God’s expectation of His people?
1. Have a passion for God’s Word. Meditating, reading, studying, and most importantly applying the truths found therein, is a fundamental key to uprooting and mortifying sin in our lives. As we engage in persistent and consistent study of God’s Word, the Holy Spirit takes his pick ax and starts to dig out those sinful desires which so easily entangle us, replacing those desires with a passion for the very things Paul notes in Philippians 4:8.
2. Devote yourself to a life of prayer. In Colossians 4:2, Paul exhorts believers to “Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.” Praying without ceasing is a life lived in constant communion with God. An active prayer life focuses our attention on what God would have us do rather than the clamor and selfish desires of the world around us. Prayer is more than sending a few words heavenward at the dinner table and then moving on with life. Prayer is communication, a two way conversation between you and God. This means that prayer involves active listening on our part, letting our requests be made known to God and then doing what Paul noted in Colossians 4:2 – watching and being thankful.
3. Surround yourself with godly people. The old saying “bad company corrupts good morals” is as true today as it was the day it was penned. If you are not involved in a local body of believers, now is the time to find a place where God would have you establish roots. Part of how we spur one another towards love and good deeds is by not forsaking gathering together (Hebrews 10:25). God never intended the Christian life to be lived in isolation from fellow believers. The very sense of the people of God being called a body is rooted in the reality that we all play an important part in this thing called the Church. We need each other so that we may pray for one another, study God’s word together, and to come along side our fellow believers so that we may together strive to do that which pleases God and brings Him glory and honor.
4. Put on the new self. Finally, we must put on the new self. Paul exhorts us to do this in Colossians 3:1-3 – “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.” Cast off the old man with its fleshly desires and put on the new man, devoted to things above. This is a hallmark of a mature believer who is growing in the grace of God. By devoting yourself to the Word of God, living a life of prayer, and connecting with godly people within the body of Christ, we can begin to see the Holy Spirit work in our lives, ripping out that cantankerous old man and replacing it with a passion for truth. The new self is not a mask. It is a lifestyle that reveals a life devoted to God.
Let us think on these things not out of mere ritual or to appear holy, but rather out of a heart of love for God in thanksgiving for what He has done for us. Set your mind on these things!
 Gerald Hawthorne, Word Biblical Commentary: Philippians (Waco: Word Books, 1983), 188.
 Homer A. Kent, Jr. “Commentary on Philippians” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol.11: Ephesians through Philemon. Edited by Frank Gaebelein. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 152.
 Donald Fee, The IVP New Testament Commentary Series: Philippians (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 1999), 179.
 Hawthorne, 188.
 Kent, 152.