Lots of young people are graduating from something right now. I remember my final month of high school – it was the longest month of my life. It seemed that the teachers were just trying to fill time and space when all of us seniors had already checked out and preparing for college or whatever was next.
Then there was that feeling of “finally” at the end of it all. The relief that the hard work was over. I could move on to what was next.
In Paul’s letter to the church at Philippi, he also says “finally” towards the end of the letter (Phil 4:8). But he uses a different nuance of it than a graduating senior would. Sure, he is wrapping up his letter and finishing the hard work of composing heart-felt didactic letter.
I believe the nuance Paul has in Phil 4:8 is that of a summarization of most (if not all) of what he has said up to that point in the letter. Here is what he says:
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. (Philippians 4:8 NIV)
This is not just a stand-alone endorsement of having good thoughts. This is Paul “bringing it home” by summing up the whole letter and saying “in view of everything I’ve said thus far, think about these things…”
What has Paul discussed in the letter so far? A lot. Here are just a few highlights:
Chapter 1 – Paul writes while in chains (I’m assuming it was tough to always have positive thoughts); Paul’s prayer for the Philippians; “to live is Christ and to die is gain”
Chapter 2 – The humility and emptying of Christ; the exhortation for his readers to also be humble and to “shine like stars
Chapter 3 – “Whatever was to my gain I now consider loss for the sake of Christ”; pressing on towards the heavenly goal of perfection in Christ and becoming like HIm
Chapter 4 – “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6, 7 NIV)
I am especially struck by the fact that Paul was writing while in prison (or at least while chained up if not physically behind bars). Yet he still encourages the church to think about things that are noble, right, true, and pure. He surely had first hand experience struggling with bad thoughts. But he learned through that process that when we think about God rather than on earthly things, there is a promise – “the God of peace will be with you” (Phil 4:9).
I’d like to explore the different words that Paul uses in this list of virtuous things to think about. I’ll do so over the next few posts.