The Beauty of Right Thinking and Action

Fredy Peter

Right thinking leads to right action, which in turn leads to right consequences. Paul emphasizes this by saying, “Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things” (Philippians 4:8).

Philippians 4:8 isn’t just a good rule for questionable things, or a checklist for our leisure behavior, reading material, movies and TV shows we watch, and the conversations we have. Rather, this verse contains principles that extend to all areas of our life and are beneficial to all human beings.

Jean Koechlin asks in the Commentary Bible, “How can we avoid evil thoughts?” and delivers the disarmingly simple answer: “By cultivating the good!”

We should cultivate these good thoughts in all areas of life. Specifically, this means: to be mindful of everything, to consider everything, to reflect on everything, to ponder everything, to think everything over, and to consider “whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report.”

“True”: that excludes everything fake, dishonest, spurious. It means thinking about all that is true, truthful, faithful, real, and genuine. Where do we find it all? In God (John 3:33) and in Jesus Christ (John 7:18), and thus in the Holy Spirit-inspired Scripture—in our Bible. “Thy word is truth” (John 17:17b).

There is nothing better, more blessed, than to engage with His Word daily, to read and study it. “O how love I thy law! it is my meditation all the day” (Psalm 119:97). Only through familiarity with Scripture am I able to recognize and be prudent about everything that is “true” in this world. Is what we’re thinking about (he, she or it) “true”?

“Honest”: [Most translations render this “honorable.”] That excludes everything dishonorable, offensive, frivolous. It means being aware of everything that deserves respect, that is worthy and noble. The Elberfelder Study Bible with language key puts it this way: “Honorable, decent, respectful, venerable [. . .] It not only indicates the earthly dignity that someone possesses, but designates someone who owes his respectability and dignity to his higher civil rights (cf. Phil 3:20). [. . .] It refers to a quality that carries something majestic and awe-inspiring, but does not reject it, but attracts and invites it.” Who sets the standard for respectability? “Now unto God and our Father be glory for ever and ever” (Phil 4:20). Second Peter 3:18b speaks of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ: “To him be glory both now and for ever.” Is the thing we are intent on considered “honest”?

“Just”: That excludes everything wrong, unjust, unworthy. It means meditating on everything that is just, right, righteous, and, in a sense, responsible. Since the Lord alone is just and righteous (1 John 2:1), everything and everyone must measure themselves against this unchanging standard. Is the one, the circumstance, or the thing we’re contemplating “just”?

“Pure”: That excludes everything impure, immoral. It means to consider all that is morally and ethically clean: what is holy, chaste, and undefiled. Jesus is described in Hebrews 7:26 as the “high priest [. . .] who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and made higher than the heavens.” Ephesians 5:3-4 brings us the concrete application: “But fornication, and all uncleanness, or covetousness, let it not be once named among you, as becometh saints; Neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor jesting, which are not convenient: but rather giving of thanks.” Is he, she or it, what we are contemplating in our thoughts, “pure”?

“Lovely”: This word only appears here in the New Testament, and excludes bitterness, annoyance, resentment, and aversion. It means to consider all that is sweet, dear, costly, enjoyable, agreeable, pleasing, admirable, winning, and engaging. This word also includes the meaning of promoting peace and avoiding conflict. What does John testify about the Lord Jesus Christ? “And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). Is what we are thinking about lovely?

“Of good report”:

It excludes everything that has a negative connotation and causes offense. Like the previous “lovely,” “of good report” is used only in this one passage of the New Testament. It means to consider all that is praiseworthy, commendable, enjoyable, beautiful, respected, unobtrusive, auspicious, and enjoying a good reputation, name, and sound. To whom does this apply in a unique way? To Jesus Christ: “Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name” (Phil 2:9). Are the things that concern us of good report?

Thus, these six terms (“true, honest, just, pure, lovely, of good report”) precisely characterize the life, nature, and ministry of our Lord Jesus Christ. One could call this list “the shortest biography of Jesus.” It shows how much we need to change our whole thought process. But that’s not all we should be aware of.

The seventh term is “any virtue”: That is a wonderful term and excludes any vice. William Barclay says, “In classical thought it described every kind of excellence. It could describe the excellence of the ground in a field, the excellence of a tool for its purpose, the physical excellence of an animal, the excellence of the courage of a soldier, and the virtue of a man.” Is it virtue that we think about? We should be careful of that.

The eighth term is “any praise”: This last term in the apostle’s list excludes everything repugnant and despicable. It means thinking about everything that deserves praise, applause, and appreciation. Is it deserving of praise, what I’m thinking about?

Dear readers, let us ask ourselves: what are we thinking of? Where are we going? What are we engaged in? What do we read, what do we hear, what do we see? Is my pursuit in my married life, in family life, in church life, in my life within society, with all the possible leisure pleasures, as well as cultural and culinary activities, “true, honest, just, pure, lovely, of good report?” Do we recognize how current Romans 12:2 is? “And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind.”

We should aim for and develop such renewed thinking. Renewal comes through cleansing forgiveness by the blood of the Lord Jesus shed on the cross. Renewal happens through the workings of the Holy Spirit by the Word of God. And renewal also happens through our completely practical, day-to-day decisions. We must decide what we think about and which thoughts we allow.

Proverbs 4:23 sums it up as follows: “Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life.” As a man thinks, so is he. Or, as the second-century Roman emperor and philosopher Marcus Aurelius once said, “Our life is what our thoughts make it.”

As proper thinking leads to right action, so pure thoughts also lead to pure actions. Paul has aligned his thinking with what is best, and therefore recommends himself as a model: “Those things, which ye have both learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me, do.” What a Spirit-filled, sanctified life this man must have led, that he can recommend himself to the Philippians in this way.

“Learned”: The Philippians got to know God through Paul, and learned to lead a God-fearing, God-pleasing life. Yes, they were in the discipleship school of Paul.

“Received”: The Philippians received the authorized doctrine through Paul as he had received it. Paul, for example, began the words of the sacrament: “For

I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you…” (1 Cor 11:23).

“Heard”: The Philippians heard Paul’s proclamation with their own ears. Perhaps over time they also heard testimonies about Paul.

“Seen”: The Philippians finally had the privilege of being with Paul, and thus of having his whole life and struggle of faith in mind (Phil 1:30; 3:17).

We can see how the personal role model then and still today is an integral part of teaching.

Let us turn right thinking into right actions. Not a one-off, but continuous; it should become a permanent lifestyle. “But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only” (James 1:22). Right thinking leads to right action, and that has right consequences: “and the God of peace shall be with you” (Phil 4:9b).

Paul uses the expression “God of peace” in five other passages (Rom 15:33; 16:20; 1 Cor 14:33; 2 Cor 13:11; 1 Thess 5:23). “Peace [. . .] denotes the end or absence of strife [. . .] describes a situation of untroubled, undisturbed well-being” (Elberfelder Study Bible with language key).

Pure thoughts cause pure deeds, and these in turn have a pure effect: the presence of God in our lives! That’s the glorious effect of right thinking and acting. What a promise! Could we have a greater inner peace than the “God of peace” being with us? The reason why some Christians don’t experience these effects and have no inner peace, is perhaps the failure to follow these instructions about the goals and objects of our thinking. Let us therefore check ourselves, when peace is not there or is no longer there: what thoughts are robbing it? Which attitudes are preventing it?

Let us be mindful of everything, consider everything, reflect on everything, contemplate everything, think everything over, and dwell on “whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise...” What we have realized in the Word of God through reading, studying and listening, “do: and the God of peace shall be with you.”

Midnight Call - 01/2019

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