BRIEF INTRO: Now that Paul has addressed the issue of disunity within this local church and especially the two women at its heart, He signals that he is coming to an end of his writing. Yes, he appeared to signal this before (3:1), but with approximately (according to one commentator) 40% of his letter yet to come, it seems logical to deduce that he does not mean to signal “finality,” but rather is using the term in the sense of “furthermore,” or “adding to that.” In our text, he is using the exact Greek phrase to signal the true final words of his epistle to them.
In our previous study, we observed the apostle exhorting this church (Rejoice, be anxious for nothing, and make known, are all in the imperative – commands) to practice specific positive biblical virtues. Today, in our study, he continues with this appeal by directing them to the things their minds should be dwelling on. Paul desires that these Christians “keep on thinking and doing what is morally and spiritually excellent.” This involves meditating on such higher and nobler things and then putting them into practice. And, as we will observe again, they are encouraged to follow his example.
8 Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is [a]lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, think about these things.9 As for 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.
FOCUS ONE: In these verses, we find six adjectives that are to lead Christians into a higher, more reflective sense of thinking, introduced by the word whatever. Some view these things as “old-fashioned ideas,” while others view them as a “Charter for Christian Thought.” Either way, Paul is reminding them AND us “that careful, logical, and noble thinking produces noble living; high thinking produces high living; and holy thinking produces holy living,” as a man thinks in his heart, so is he (Proverbs 23:7). Such things were exemplified in Jesus Christ (2:5-11) and are produced within us by the working of the Holy Spirit, who indwells each believer.
So, let’s put them in order, and I will give a brief definition of each that I hope will help us grasp the greater sense of each and help us engage the obvious battle for the mind that such thinking elicits (Hebrews 5:16-26).
We are to dwell on:
- Whatever is true
- Whatever is honorable
- Whatever is right
- Whatever is pure
- Whatever is lovely or lovable
- Whatever is good repute or attractive
We should notice that Paul changes the sentence structure to conditional clauses at the end of the verse (if there), so those things are not included in this list but will be discussed later.
Truth is reality, in it is a sense of validity, reliability and is the opposite of what is not. It exemplifies God’s character and should characterize the Christian as well. Honorable is dignified, worthy of reverence, and seems to combine a sense of gravity with dignity. Paul used this word in his pastoral epistles, referring to the qualifications of a church leader.
Right refers to what is upright, conforming to God’s standards, and worthy of His approval.
Pure emphasizes moral purity, that which, in KJV language, is “unsullied.”
Lovely is used in the sense of what is pleasing, agreeable, or amiable. Not to be confused with what is pleasing to the flesh, but the Spirit!
Good repute directs us to what is praiseworthy and rings true to the highest standards—God’s standards, not ours or our cultures.
Some people become discouraged when they read things as we have in this epistle. “have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ” (2:5).” “Work out your salvation with fear and trembling” (2:12). And, “let your mind dwell on these things” (4:8). But we shouldn’t because, in all these exhortations to Christ-like-ness, God is actively working within us to conform us into the image of His Son (1:6; 2:13; 4:7,9)!
FOCUS TWO: Paul has changed his sentence structure at the end of verse eight to conditional clauses (if there), “A rhetorical device that forces the reader to exercise his own discernment and choose what is excellent and praiseworthy.” It appears that the apostle would have these believers, and us secondarily, focus our minds on these things because when we do, we will be living in obedience to Gods Word, we will be walking in unity, and we will “appear as lights in the world” (2:15)!
Dear reader, these are things that should occupy our minds. These are things that occupy our Lord’s mind. How can we grow in holiness, serve one another, be effective witnesses for Christ, or have intimate, powerful prayer lives if we allow our minds to be engrossed with things that are opposed to the things the inspired Word of God teaches us?
We often struggle with applying the knowledge we acquire, so our loving Heavenly Father provides us godly examples to imitate (3:17; 4:9). No, we are not to imitate men who walk in the flesh, but we are graciously encouraged to emulate those whose lives are imitations of Christ! Such people exhibit the application of such truths in their daily walk, which, in turn, helps us visualize what conformity to God’s word looks like when it is fleshed out.
9 As for 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.
FOCUS THREE: Paul had become their teacher shortly after his arrival in Philippi (Acts 16). What they had learned, what they had observed in his life, took place in the short period he was with them (Acts 16:40), and he wanted them to continue practicing these things.
He uses four verbs that are formed into two pairs (Exegetical Commentary). The first pair, “learned” and “received,” describes the Philippian’s instruction by Paul. He is the person who taught them Christian doctrine and Christian living. The next pair, “heard” and “saw,” depicts their personal observation of the apostle – both his speech and his conduct.
In my meditation on these things, it became clear to me just how much we need both. As Christians, we can’t lead balanced lives if we only have one avenue of personal growth absent of the other. Preaching and teaching are essential, but if it is lacking any application to my daily life, to my walk of faith, it will serve to wound me more than aid me. Let me explain my thinking: I can fill my head with all kinds of bible facts, doctrine, and theology, but if that “knowledge” sits in my head, if I don’t know what it is supposed to look like in applying it in my life, or I’m not encouraged by observing it in others, what use is it to me?
Real-life illustration: Many years ago, I was a member of a small local church in my hometown. I was a member there for many years and also preached and taught there often. I often overheard a few gentlemen express their disgust at the topic the pastor would be preaching or teaching on that Sunday. Many times I would hear one or the other say: “Why doesn’t he teach on Romans 7 and 8 or Hebrews 5,” I already know all about 1 Corinthians 13.”
Do you see the problem? What good was the “knowledge” about Christian love to them? I observed their rudeness, pride, and self-focus all too often while I was there. They didn’t need more knowledge; they needed to apply what they knew in their own lives and relationships with others.
Paul lived what he preached. His life spoke more eloquently than his lips, I read somewhere. Life examples like that are models that we can follow, confidently trusting that “the God of peace will be with you!”