Philippians might be characterized as a very positive book, one that speaks about joy and rejoicing over and over again. In chapter 1, Paul speaks of his imprisonment and his assurance that this will further the gospel, and he encourages the church to live in a manner worthy of the gospel, no matter what happens to him or to them: “let your conduct be worthy of the gospel of Christ…for to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake” (Phil 1:27a, 29).
In chapter 2, Paul points to Christ as the ultimate example of one who put the interests of others first, and the Philippians are encouraged to adopt that same attitude and live it out. “Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.” (Phil 2:3–4)
Chapter 3 warns the church to avoid teachers who would attempt to add works to the grace of Christ for salvation and then contrasts false teachers with true believers who, like Paul, put no confidence in the flesh. “Brethren, join in following my example, and note those who so walk, as you have us for a pattern. For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ: whose end is destruction, whose god is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame—who set their mind on earthly things.” (Phil 3:17-19)
In the final chapter, Paul gives a list of things he wants the Philippians to do, but this kind of admonishment has been evident throughout the whole letter, so that God’s peace will reign in their hearts:
– Stand fast in the Lord (verse 1)
– Rejoice in the Lord always (verse 4)
– Let your gentleness be known to all (verse 5)
– Do not be anxious about anything, but pray about everything (verse 6)
Then we’re told WHAT to think about: “Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things.” (Phil 4:8) The point is not to compare and contrast the various categories of things a Christian should think about, but to make a list covering everything good, positive, biblical, godly, encouraging, etc.—and exclude everything that is not.
We live in a world that is constantly bombarding us with messages, images, and worldviews that are incompatible with a biblical worldview and biblical guidelines for godly behavior. Even Christians can begin to think in secular, rather than biblical, categories if the popular, secular culture begins to inform their values. Paul reminds us that we must constantly reject those things that do not draw us closer to God and consciously focus on the things that do.
We have the ability to choose what we think about, which includes armor that is only from God: “For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ” (2 Cor 10:4-5). Sometime this includes choosing who to spend time with, and who we should stay away from. Pray to God for wisdom and discernment (James 1:5).
Thinking about whatever is true, noble or honorable, righteous, pure, lovely, of good report or virtuous, commendable, excellent, and worthy of praise applies to every area of life, but would seem to be especially appropriate for evaluating the consumption of popular media—music, TV, movies, and literature. This doesn’t mean that everything we watch, read, or listen to must be overtly Christian in nature, but it does mean that it should draw our hearts closer to God and increase our desire to obey Him, to fellowship with other believers, and to share the gospel.
If the subject of our thoughts does not do these things, then it does not pass the test of Phil 4:8. It seems likely that, if Christians took this verse seriously, our media consumption habits would have to change. The reason our thoughts are so important, is it is our thoughts to motivate us into action. If we want to act honorably, righteously, in God’s absolute truth, with pure motivations that are commendable and worthy of praise, then we must think in those terms.
Paul went on to tell them: “The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace will be with you.” (Phil 4:9) We are to do what the Word of God says, so that the world will see His light within us, because “faith without works is dead” (James 2:20), always holding onto the Lord who gives us His peace. “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” (John 14:27)