“In conclusion, dear friends, let your minds dwell on those things that are wholesome and worthy of praise: things that are true, noble, upright, pure, lovely, and honorable.” Philippians 4:8-9
In this concluding remark Paul identifies a way of living that will permanently alter the future of all who take it seriously. It sounds just a bit like the school of positive thinking whose representatives say such things as, “You are the master of your destiny. You can make your life what you want it to be” (Napoleon Hill) or, “You are essentially who you create yourself to be” (Stephen Richards). The idea is that since you become what you decide to be, why not choose the positive.
So is there anything wrong with positive thinking that is at home in the secular world as well as the believer’s world? I believe the answer is No. In fact, some scholars think that in this verse Paul is quoting a list of virtues gathered by some Greek moralist. The difference in how they are heard is that the secular mind would hold that practicing these virtues would earn you the appropriate reward, while for the believer they would be the result of God at work in the human heart. A related point is that the people understand a word in terms of their own life context and this determines its specific meaning for them. For the believer, the word “true” is understood in a setting that includes God. For the secular mind, the word “true” would not be limited by any absolute but would represent the general understanding of the majority. However, the overlap is sufficient to allow both to be understood when someone says, for instance, that a statement is true.
The basic point underling Paul’s statement is that we are being molded by whatever dominates our thought life. This has significant importance for believers because they correctly understand that the old nature consistently does its best to influence how we think and what we do. It has its own detrimental leverage on life. The answer, of course, is to allow God’s Spirit to maintain complete control of our life. The Spirit always wins when he is allowed to. And that is why it is so important that we fill our minds with such virtues as listed by Paul. We will choose and do that which is honorable if in fact our minds are filled with honorable thoughts. We will reject impurity if we regularly fill our minds with that which is pure. But if angry thoughts fill our minds, then when the occasion arises there will be little opposition to an angry outburst.
We live in a day when culture exhibits its dark side without restriction. On the TV screen are episodes that 20 years ago would have been banned. Media and entertainment would have us think about what they have chosen to promote. And that is why, especially in today’s world, we need to take control of what we think about. Let us honor God by allowing what is noble, right and pure to determine the inner world in which we live.