Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.
There is a principle in these two verses that I think people tend to miss, one that is critical to healthy and happy living. These two verses are quoted often, I’ve even heard them quoted to “prove” that we shouldn’t use bad language, but to me, that sort of thing really misses the point. Let’s see if we can find a little more than meets the eye here.
Notice that verse 8 begins with the word “finally.” This should clue us in to the fact that Paul is summing up everything he’s been teaching in the letter, and this should tell us there is a larger context here. Paul tells us that we should take note of whatever we find along our life’s path that is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent or praiseworthy and think about them. Notice that excellent and praiseworthy are set apart so as to sum up the others. Notice also the way he says we should think about them: “Think about such things.” This tells us more that we should be focusing on these kinds of things, which rather expands the focus from the specific instance, to the category at large. To put it another way, we are to focus our minds and attention to things that are excellent and worthy of praise, rather than on things that are not.
Don’t rush through this, for it is very significant advice. Ask yourself what is not included in this, and I think you’ll end up with a list of things that we usually think about; our problems, our feelings about things, our little resentments, our little hurts and things that aren’t uplifting. Surely the kinds of things Paul wants us to be thinking about wouldn’t include our circumstances, illnesses and pains, but would instead include the kinds of things that would inspire us to greatness, and to service of humanity. Now you can see how Paul has been able to have such a positive attitude in his imprisonment.
He wraps up with this statement:
Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.
This is one of those “if – then” statements. Put into practice the things Paul has taught and God will be with you. By implication, if you don’t put them into practice, you’ll likely find yourself far from God. Now if I was to make such a remark, your eyebrows would surely rise, for who am I? But by the time he was writing this, Paul had proven himself as the Apostle of Christ, the things that he has taught the people have been from God and for the sake of His purpose; they are the things that will put each of us firmly within God’s purpose and will. Paul has taught us how to be in fellowship with our Lord Jesus Christ, and when we dwell in this place, His presence and peace are surely with us.
I have one final thought that I’d like to share with you in light of this discussion. In another place, in a similar discussion, Paul said this:
Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
I’ve heard people say that Paul’s injunction from Romans 12 is a goal that we really can’t attain in this life. Certainly, on our own power it would be a very tall order, but the fact remains that it is stated as an imperative, a command. Could it be that Paul has just told the Philippians how to accomplish this transformation, and that with help from the Holy Spirit that transformation of the mind isn’t so impossible after all?
In any case, it might be well worth our serious consideration.