How to Obey Philippians 4:8 and Fill Our Minds with the Right Things
Between the pandemic, the elections, and just the general increased volatility of the internet in the last few years, I’ve been pondering Philippians and asking the Lord to show me where He wants my time and attention. But there is so much vying for my attention. I think there are no less than 6 different forms of technology that family and friends use to communicate with me on a daily basis. And most of them contain ads.
More than my attention, there is so much around me vying for my affection, demanding my heart. Friends and family are, rightfully, wanting mutual love and admiration. We were meant to be in community.
But of course, it’s not just family and friends asking for my attention, it’s also news organizations, ad networks, strangers on the internet eager to agree with anyone and everyone. And their demands are not as honorable as those of loved ones. They want my sole affection. They draw clear lines and say in no uncertain terms, “If you’re not for us, you’re against us.”
They want all of my being. Either by asking to pop up on my phone throughout the day, reminding me they’re there, or by asking for me to eat, drink, and breathe with ideology and products. They’re not satisfied with my money or time, they want me to become a raving fan.
In this life, the things demanding my attention are temporal. This year’s trends will become passé before my clothes have worn out. Political powers will pass away and make way for a greater, truer kingdom. The news that is so pressing in this 24-hour news cycle, more than likely, is something we all will have moved on from in a week’s time.
But it is easy to focus on these things. Without care, I default to focusing on these things because in a culture that is grounded in the temporal, not the eternal, what else would we focus on beyond today?
In his letter to the Philippians, Paul instructs Christians on what should occupy their thoughts and attention.
Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. – Philippians 4:8, RSVCE
Paul gives us a clear outline of what should occupy our thoughts. And it bears very little resemblance to what I see scrolling down my Facebook page.
Often, I hear Christians say that Scripture about behavior, speech, and the things we choose to think about are good guidelines but ultimately, don’t apply to our times because the stakes are too high and the persecution is too intense. I would humbly submit that it is, because of intensity, not in spite of it, that Paul gives these instructions.
The Christians Paul was writing to live in tumultuous times. Aside from just the general rigor and luck needed to survive in that time, the Christians also faced intense persecution. Paul was, ultimately, martyred for his faith after a long imprisonment. These words were written while Paul was literally in prison for his faith.
So, no matter how bad you think things are or are not in our current society, the inspired words of Philippians 4:8 apply to you and your day.
True, honorable, pure, pleasing, commendable, excellent, and praise-worthy things are what should be occupying your thoughts. Doom-scrolling, seeking quarrels, duplicitous, impure, unworthy things should not.
No matter which end of the political spectrum you fall on, this should be a gut check.
We need to realign our priorities and shift what is pouring into our days to focus on the 7 attributes Paul says should guide the Christian’s thought life.
Here are a few starter questions to evaluate if something is meeting these standards:
- True – Is this factually true or speculation? Is it gossip? If it is factually true, is it being presented in an inflammatory or biased way to imply something that isn’t factually true?
- Honorable – Will this help or hinder the pursuit of righteousness? Is it encouraging the morals and virtues laid out in Scripture?
- Pure – Is this free from impurity? Is it something that makes me fearful or confident in the Lord’s work? Is the end goal focused on eternity and the coming Kingdom of God or temporal circumstances?
- Pleasing – Is this something that brings me joy or angst?
- Commendable – Is this something I would share with others? If so, would I do so confident that this would further my Christian witness and the hope I have in Christ?
- Excellence – Is this well done? Has this been crafted with care and a proper stewarding of the gifts of God?
- Worthy of Praise – Does this stir my affections for the Lord? Does it make me rejoice in His work and the giftings He has lavished upon the people He created?
While this is not an exhaustive list, these questions help me determine what I’m focusing on throughout my day.
But there’s another little word at the start of the sentence that always reminds me that this verse doesn’t stand alone, “Finally.”
“Finally” reminds me that there was something previous that Philippians 4:8 is building upon.
In this case, I see a couple of things we need to look back to when studying this verse.
First, this is near the end of the Book of Philippians. While we have the epistles split into chapters and verses for easy referencing, it was written as a single letter to be read as a whole.
Secondly, there are a few instructions in the immediately preceding paragraph. The paragraph begins by encouraging believers to always rejoice in the Lord and to make their gentleness evident. It ends by imploring Christians not to worry about anything but to submit our requests to God and let His peace reign in our hearts.
Again, this was written by someone in prison awaiting trial for his faith. He was suffering for the faith and, ultimately, would suffer more.
But I think the guidance on what we should fill our minds with is actively connected to the worry and peace mentioned in the paragraph before it.
We’re directed to focus on these things for a reason; we’re naturally inclined to focus on other things. But if we want to let the peace of God reign in our hearts, we need to follow this instruction. We can’t fill our minds with the things of the world and then shake our fists at the sky wondering why we’re not peaceful. If we want peace, if we want to be able to trust in Him regardless of our circumstances, we need to live out Paul’s teachings in Philippians.