Paul gave wonderful guidelines for how the Christians in Philippi should direct their thoughts:
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. ~~Philippians 4:8 (ESV)
As I considered writing this article, I couldn’t help picturing that scene from The Sound of Music when Julie Andrews comforts the children by singing about her favorite things. She teaches them that simply remembering her favorite things keeps her from being overwhelmed by negative circumstances. And, to an extent, her philosophy actually does resemble the principle in Philippians 4:8, doesn’t it?
If we look carefully at Paul’s list of what we need to think about, however, raindrops on roses seem pretty trivial. Should we distill this beautiful verse of Scripture down to a mere slogan for positive thinking that Oprah Winfrey would embrace?
There’s an element of positive thinking in the verse. No honest Christian would deny that fact. But let’s see if Paul doesn’t get at something deeper.
Paul wrote the letter to the church at Philippi from a prison in Rome. First Century prisons were a far cry from the prisons that people in the United States know today. In particular, sanitary conditions were, to put it delicately, sadly lacking, so the smell was… well, you get the idea. Additionally, Paul was always chained to one guard or another, giving him no privacy. In such horrendous conditions, I very much doubt that thinking about whiskers on kittens would have done a while lot to cheer Paul’s heart.
It’s interesting, therefore, that Paul’s overarching theme in this epistle is joy. In Philippians 1:4, for example, he tells them of the joy he feels in praying for them. He calls them his joy and crown in Philippians 4:1, instructing them in Philippians 4:4 to rejoice in the Lord always.
As we marvel at Paul’s joy despite his imprisonment, let’s read a portion from Chapter 1 that describes the most compelling reason for his joy.
12 I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, 13 so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. 14 And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.
15 Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. 16 The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. 17 The former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment. 18 What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice. ~~Philippians 1:12-18a (ESV)
Paul took tremendous joy, according to this passage, in God’s sovereignty to use both his imprisonment and the malicious intentions of his rivals to spread the Gospel. In his prison cell, he filled his mind with thoughts of people coming to faith in Jesus Christ because of his incarceration.
Okay, ladies, let’s return to Philippians 4:8 now. Based on the things that gave Paul joy, we should find it hard to believe that this verse is merely an exhortation to positive thinking. Oprah may believe she alters the universe by thinking happy thoughts, but Paul makes a much richer point.
As adopted daughters of God, our minds must be set on the Lord and His kingdom. What could possibly be more honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent or praiseworthy than Jesus and the things that pertain to Him? If we serve Him, we must focus our thoughts on the joy of His kingdom.
Filling our minds with Jesus Christ and His kingdom isn’t about making ourselves feel better. These thoughts do produce joy, yes, but they shouldn’t be used as an emotional pick-me-up. Joy happens when we honestly seek His glory rather than our comfort.Follow my blog with Bloglovin