By Mike Willis
We continue to examine Philippians 4 to learn principles of spiritual health which enable us to enjoy life’s best moments and to endure its adversities. We have previously emphasized that good spiritual health requires the following: (a) Rejoicing in the Lord; (b) Letting your moderation be known to all men; (c) Living with the awareness that the Lord is at hand; (d) Being anxious for nothing. Good spiritual health also requires that we think on those things described below:
Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things (Phil. 4:8).
Let us examine the teachings of this verse.
Mistaken Concepts Drawn From This Verse
In the last century, as the science of psychology developed, men began to study the power of thought over physical health. Mary Baker Eddy and several others reached the conclusion that thoughts control the body’s physical health. Christian Science taught that all disease was the result of wrong thinking; if man could quit thinking wrong thoughts, he could heal his illnesses. Others have developed similar, but less excessive, aberrations by teaching that “anything a person can think he can do” (see books on positive thinking) . If a person can control his thoughts, he can change his living conditions and his accomplishments. Believing this, efforts were made to control the subliminal thinking of man through various mind control techniques (such as listening to tapes played over and over) . The religious book stores are flooded with motivational books and other materials which teach the positive mental attitude philosophy. These authors have tried to “sanctify and cleanse” the positive mental attitude doctrines of its philosophical origins by the quotation and misapplication of several Bible passages, such as Proverbs 4:23 and Philippians 4:8. The positive thinkers have a philosophy toward life which was developed outside the Bible, is laced with false teaching, and leads to doctrinal consequences contrary to the revealed word of God. These philosophers write as if their philosophy was found by a careful study of the Bible when, in reality, the philosophy of uninspired men has been sugar coated with a few Bible platitudes to make it acceptable to the unsuspecting.
We will do well to avoid the excessive claims made from this verse in understanding what it is teaching.
A Scriptural Principle
The Bible truth which is recognized and expressed in this verse is that sin in one’s life springs from sin in one’s heart. If a person will keep his heart from meditating on sinful conduct, he will keep his life free from sin. (Notice that the passage is saying nothing about financial success, achieving promotions on the job, or other physical achievements.) Sin comes from the heart (Matt. 15:19). By keeping one’s heart pure, he can avoid the temptations of sin (Prov. 4:23 -“Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life”).
The heart should meditate on the word of God. Notice these verses which command us to fill our heart with God’s word:
But his delight is in the law of the Lord; and in his law doth he meditate day and night (Psa. 1:2).
Mine eyes prevent the night watches, that I might meditate in thy word (Psa. 119:148; cf. 119:15,23,48,78).
Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee (Psa. 119:11).
Paul specifically commands Christians to think on things which are:
a. True, in contrast to that which is false, a lie, whether it be with reference to God or man. H.A.W. Meyer says that “true” refers to “that which is morally true; that is, that which is in harmony with the objective standard of morality contained in the gospel.”
b. Honest, from the Greek ward semna, refers to things that are revered or venerated. The adjective describes persons in 1 Timothy 3:8,11 and Titus 2:2, where it stands opposed to double tongue, to intemperance and avarice, to slander and unfaithfulness. The AV follows the old English use of the word honest as derived from honorable. It is opposed to that which is mean, frivolous, indecorous, and unworthy.
c. Just are things which are in accordance with eternal and unchanging rectitude.
d. Pure points to that which is free from all debasing elements, clear in nature, transparent in purpose, leaving no blot on the conscience and no stain on the character.
c. Lovely describes “whatever modes of action tend to endear him that does them, to give him with others not simply the approval of their judgment, but to open for him a place in their hearts – whatever things breathe the spirit of that religion which is love, and the doing of which should be homage to Him who is Love.”
f. Of good report describes “things on being seen lead all who behold them to exclaim – ‘Well-done!’ – or indicate on the part of the actor such elements of character as are usually admired and well spoken of; deeds that sound well on being named, whether they consist of chivalrous generosity or meek condescension – a great feat or a good one – noble in idea or happy in execution. “
g. Virtue describes “moral excellence.”
h. Praise may be used of anything worthy of praise or of praise itself. (Note: the definitions given in this list are largely cited from John Eadic’s Greek Text Commentaries: Philippians).
Some Dangers To Avoid
Good spiritual health will be destroyed when we allow our minds to grovel in moral filth. With that in mind, we call attention to some dangers to good spiritual health.
1. Television. Television programs use sitcoms to undermine our moral values, whether it be through conversations which make moral righteousness look absurd and unattractive (think of the conversations which undermine moral righteousness regarding abortion, homosexuality, safe sex, etc.) or by desensitizing our conscience through repeated exposure to ungodly conduct (usually ungodly conduct is presented in such a way that one sympathizes with the ungodly and those who are morally upright are put in a repugnant light). Television displays nudity and other forms of lascivious conduct (dancing, heavy petting). One’s thoughts are exposed to moral filth if he has a steady diet of television.
2. Music. The music of today, whether it be rock or country western, glorifies drinking, fornication, drugs, and other forms of immoral conduct.
3. Literature. There are many pornographic magazines which are popular on the college campus. Many romance novels are little more than erotica.
To allow one’s mind to be filled with morally debased conduct will weaken his resistance to the temptation to sin.
Things Which Stimulate Good Thinking
There are some things which encourage higher thoughts more conducive to purer living. Here are some of them.
1. Reading the Bible. This should go without saving.
2. Considering God’s works. The psalmist wrote, “I will meditate also of all thy work, and talk of thy doings” (Psa. 77:12). We should meditate on God’s work in creation and in redemption.
3. Read good literature. If we can understand the need to warn brethren not to read such periodicals as Playboy, Penthouse’ Hustler, and other salacious literature, we should also see the need to recommend good literature to brethren, such as Guardian of Truth, Searching the Scriptures, Gospel Anchor, Gospel Truths, etc. We should recommend to our brethren good books which help them understand the Bible better and encourage them to read good literature.
4. Associate with good friends. Our friends have a powerful impact on what we think, through their conversations and deeds. We should avoid friends who tempt us to do things which God condemns (1 Cor. 15:33).
5. Listen to good music. I enjoy the good tapes of religious music which have been produced by the Favorite Hymns Quartet, the Guyer Brothers, and Florida College, as well as some produced by our liberal brethren. Our thoughts will dwell on a higher plane when listening to these good songs, rather than the country western and rock music played on the radio. One also can listen to the Bible, sermons and Bible classes on tape recordings as he travels.
Christians need to be reminded that they cannot fill their minds with moral filth and not expect the devil’s allurements and temptations to affect them. For this reason, God commanded that his children think on things which are pure. Conscious of this, David prayed, “Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, 0 Lord, my strength, and my redeemer” (Psa. 19:14).
Guardian of Truth XXXV: 17, pp. 514, 532-533
September 5, 1991