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)
I could be wrong here, but personally I see Paul becoming more personal in this verse. This is certainly evidenced in the next verse where Paul takes a very personal stand and says, “Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me, put into practice. And the God of peace will be with you,” and that fact influences my interpretation. But understanding this verse as personal is based also on the verse itself. He has left the particular and concrete issues that verses 4-7 were related to and has now launched into a more philosophical point of view. Rather than speaking about worrying and thanking God, in verse 8 he addresses transcendent values: truth, honor, rightness, purity, beauty, etc.
Quite often in Scripture we see such things, where the inspired author is addressing how to handle certain circumstances. And then he turns more introspective and moves from particular earthly circumstances into the eternal values of God. This is the pattern of John 14-17, where Christ begins by addressing the fear of death (14:1-3) and ends with the glorious statements of the eternal love of God (17:24-26) – moving from specific earthly concerns to the eternal values of God. In fact, this is Paul’s repeated pattern of Philippians, moving from dealing in practical but spiritual ways with earthly circumstances that troubled the church to emphasizing the eternal truths of God. And he states clearly that this is his goal:
And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to test and prove what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God. (Phil. 1:9-11)
So I see Paul sharing from his heart here, saying basically, “This is how I get through this kind of behavior among Christians.” In the preceding verses he spoke directly to us when we are involved in issues of life and service for Christ. Here he seems to have taken a deep breath, perhaps with a bit of a sigh, because he knows that conflicts among people, even among Christian servants, will be ongoing as long as we are on this earth. And draws back from the conflict itself, from the drama associated with it, from the petty gravitational pull that each side has as they each see to win people to their sides, and speaks of eternal values.
The Holy Spirit knows that conflict can never be entirely resolved and personal peace can never be possessed by merely being wise in dealing with people. We need to be focused on the eternal qualities of God to avoid being personally sucked into the spinning vortex of these petty conflicts in churches. The people who are like Euodia and Syntyche inevitably seek to build their supporters, and are divisive in nature. They live by the credo that either you are with me or against me, and no matter how fair one might try to be, it is very often simply impossible to get anywhere close to such conflicts without getting a little bit of dirt on you – at least in the minds of some.
If you and I cannot avoid getting slandered by some, and I really don’t believe we can avoid this, then we need to be focused on the eternal truths of God for our own personal peace. We need to avoid seeking our sense of peace and of self worth from the kind words that others say about us. The good reputation that we spend a life time of building up can be lost in a few minutes at the loose tongue of an immature and bitter brother or sister in Christ. So we should not worry too much about it, because we cannot control it. We may deal wisely with everything and every circumstance but still be blamed at someone’s whim for something we never thought about – either not doing enough or meddling into an affair we should have left alone.
But there is a way to have God protect our hearts with His presence, and that is to set our minds on God and on those eternal things that are above. I believe there is a difference, even though it might be only slight, between the peace of God (Verse 7) and the God of peace (Verse 9). The first is an attribute of God and the second is God Himself. We may have the peace of God from knowing that we handled circumstances wisely, but even handling circumstances wisely does not mean that we will come out unscathed. Look what happened to Stephen the deacon.
Having the God of peace in our hearts and lives speaks of a more profound experience. In verses 4-7 Paul has guided us through how to handle the difficult issues of life, how to deal with the negative, how to have peace in the midst of the storms, but we need a deeper experience of God’s grace to go the distance. And if we do not grasp this truth here, then the Christian life can merely become living a mediocre spiritual existence while fending off the most negative of experiences. God, however, wants us to know His holiness and His greatness and it is that positive knowledge of the eternal truths of God that keep us going and give us a reason to live.
Trouble brings us down, but what lifts us up? “Hook your wagon to a star!” That old saying spoke of having great ambitions and to not be satisfied with paltry paybacks. Here we are looking at the ambitions God has for our hearts. Wherever we live on this earth, if we are not tied into the eternal values of God will be a mundane, ho-hum spiritual state.
Get to know the beauty of God! These traits describe His heart. The words are described as “pregnant” by some scholars, meaning that they contain more than just one singular idea each, and when placed side by side they grow ever greater in meaning. How can we describe God? It is impossible for He is beyond our greatest efforts and even beyond what the Spirit has inspired for our own edification.
- Whatever is true: alethes is the Greek and it means literally “what cannot be hidden.” It speaks of the eternal facts of God’s heart and calls us to keep our thoughts on God’s eternal nature.
- Whatever is honorable, right, honest, noble, or venerable: semnos in Greek and it means literally something weighty, serious, worthy of worship, an attribute of God that, when properly understood, takes us to our knees in worship.
- Whatever is just: dikaios, meaning what is righteous according to God’s eternal laws. Rechtbeschaffen in German, it means to do and think the right things of God.
- Whatever is pure: hagnos meaning what is holy, undefiled, unsullied by the fallen world. This is a call to know God in His holiness, as Christ said: “Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God” (Matt. 5:8).
- Whatever is lovely: prosphiles meaning pleasing, agreeable to the new redeemed nature of the Christian. Space and time do not allow much comment here, suffice it to say that beauty and symmetry are important to God, as the story of creation attests. The fallen world has taken this value and gone the wrong direction with it, but make no mistake about it, God is a God of beauty. The eternal life with God will be filled with beauty – moral and visual beauty.
- Whatever is commendable: euphemos meaning “good report” or laudable. What do the angels speak of? What are those truths that are important to God? To be practical here, Do not fill your thoughts with insults and put downs on how to hurt others, rather fill your mind with the things that God will say to each in His love and grace. That does not necessarily mean that there is not a time to rebuke someone, but even then we are commanded to rebuke in patience. “Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching” (2 Tim. 4:2).
- If there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise: “Excellence” is arete meaning moral goodness or virtue. “Worthy of praise” is epainos meaning commendable or worthy. The idea is to look for those things that are virtuous and praiseworthy. Jesus encouraged this value in the Parable of the Good Samaritan – that though most Samaritans had a very confused theology, they were capable of doing good deeds. Think on the good, and do not dwell on the evil.
Think about these things: Logizomai in Greek (logic) and this means that we can control our thoughts. The Spirit bears the fruit of self control in our lives and we can choose what to think about. If we want to live in peace and to know the God of peace, we must choose to put our minds on things above, on Him, on His eternal attributes, on beauty and truth and goodness.