I did a lot of things last week, but I didn’t write a devotion. There were lots of meetings, Bible studies, a webinar, and even a big party that required my attention. It wasn’t just the time it takes to organize my notes and write. Frankly, I didn’t feel inspired or qualified to write something that would meet the criteria of the passage I want to consider. “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. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.” (Philippians 4:8-9) It’s doubtful that my devotion will resemble these characteristics; Paul’s admonition reminds me of the Law, that drives us to Christ in our weakness. However, the webinar reminded us of the necessity of mentoring others by our godly words, behavior, and consistent lifestyle. So we can’t escape our calling to practice that which is honorable, commendable and worthy of praise. Knowing that the gospel of Jesus Christ is a pure pursuit, and he, being God is the most excellent One helps tremendously. Besides, there are virtuous and commendable practices that result in peace in this life alongside the gospel, for God-centered shalom. One life, two realities—our eternal hope and our earthly peace—not to be separate but lived in unity. Only a biblical worldview will enable us to do live a life of excellence, as described by Paul.
There are many things and people in this world that meet five of the six criteria of Paul’s statement, that are true, pure, honorable, just, lovely, and commendable. Great art, excellent music or writing, of any genre, and theater may meet these criteria. However, truth is relative when it comes to the Arts since most of them are subjective. In fact, I love good fantasies (science-fiction), which are never entirely true, although they may be based on historical events and science. Material purity is found in precious metals, chemicals, and other things, such as clothing that is one-hundred percent cotton or the breed of an animal as pedigree. It’s harder to think of human purity, but perhaps sexual virginity and confession best represent it. We could spend days discussing which things meet Paul’s criteria, but that is not what the apostle instructs us to do. He is concerned with our thoughts relating to God. So we can begin with this: we who are in Christ have are pure positionally. “You are altogether beautiful, my love; there is no flaw in you.” (Songs of Solomon 4:7) (2) “Being justified by the righteousness of Christ, washed in his blood, and sanctified by his Spirit; this is said to show her completeness in Christ, as to justification; not that the saints have no sin in them; nor any committed by them; nor that their sins are not sins; nor that they have no spots in them, with respect to sanctification, which is imperfect; but with respect to their justification, as having the righteousness of Christ imputed to them, and covered with that spotless robe, they are considered as having no spot in them; God sees no sin in them, so… they stand unblamable and unreproveable in his sight.” (1) It is good to think about this truth, as it is lovely, excellent, and worthy of praise. Does this not supply peace to our otherwise fretful minds?
James Boice has this to say, “[the] words [of Philippians 4:8-9] do not occur in the great lists of Christian virtues, lists that include love, joy, peace, patience, and so on. On the whole, they are taken from Greek ethics and from the writings of the Greek philosophers. In using them Paul is actually sanctifying, as it were, the generally accepted virtues of pagan morality. He is saying that although the pursuit of the best things by Christians will necessarily mean the pursuit of fellowship with God, the will of God, all means to advance the claims of the gospel, and other spiritual things also, it will not mean the exclusion of the best values the world has to offer…Consequently, Christians can love all that is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, and admirable, wherever they find it. They can rejoice in the best of art and good literature. They can thrill to great music. They can thrive on beautiful architecture…They should do it. You should do it. Christians can thank God for giving us the ability even in our fallen state to create such things of beauty…When we pursue the highest things in life, both spiritually and secularly, then the God of peace will be with us. And we shall have the confidence that he will bless and guide us as we seek to please him.” (3) In other words, as we desire the best possible quality of life through our best practices we become more conformed to God’s character, and therefore, more peaceful. I believe that I tried to have the best quality of life possible (in my choices of activities) last week, and I had peace in spite of missing my writing deadline. That peace has driven me to want to post my devotion late, rather than missing the opportunity completely, so we can together consider the excellence of God’s Word in Philippians 4:8-9.
“What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things,…” writes Paul. What we have learned, received, heard, and seen in godly people is important, but we are not to worship them or put our saving trust in them. This is definitely not the best practice of coaching or disciplining others. There is a wrong way, a better way, or the most excellent way to practice anything in life. Discernment is crucial if we are to have the best thoughts. I relearned this a couple of months ago when I saw a movie without checking reviews first. Now I am reading reviews for movies, books, TV programs, new devices, and virus software. We live in an age when reviews are easily accessible and innumerable, so we have no excuse for not reading them, and to compare them with the criteria in Philippians 4:8. God and his peace show up when we practice the best things to have the best thoughts and the best witness. Excellent and commendable practices result in greater peace, which will, in turn, help us to speak more graciously about the gospel, which is uniquely praiseworthy.
What earthly things do you enjoy that can be said to be all these: true, honorable, just, pure, and lovely? Which you can incorporate in your life? Do you have a mentor or someone to guide and counsel you, whom you can imitate? What is your greatest challenge in practicing virtue, excellence, and the gospel? How does this affect your peacefulness?? Have you considered discipling someone, knowing that you aren’t perfect but directing them to Christ for his perfection? “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.” (1 John 3:1-3)
(1) Gill, John, “John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible,” Song of Solomon 4:7, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/songofsolomon-4.html
(2) And consider Ephesians 5:25-27 “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.”
(3) Boice, James, Boice Expositional Commentary Series, Philippians 4:8-9, Baker Books, Software version, 1998.
September 17, 2019