As mentioned in the article “Got Peace?” the book of Philippians is the Holy Spirit’s effort (through Paul) to get the brethren at Philippi on the same page, of the same mind. That one mind is one of utter humility with others above self. The previous article discussed the background, so we won’t spend much time going over that again. Instead, we’ll dive in at Philippians 4:8-9.
Some commentators see this as an entirely new section from the previous four verses, but Paul gives the same result as he did before; the two sections are logically connected. Verse six commands prayer as a solution for anxiety, resulting in peace beyond comprehension (4:7). Verse eight gives specific instructions for one’s thought life with the result that “the God of peace will be with you” (4:9). The command here in 4:8 is to “dwell on these things” or “ponder these things.” The Greek word here is one used primarily of mathematics or accounting. I don’t know about you, but math takes serious concentration for me. It’s not the kind of thing I can just keep in the back of my mind. It’s something to really think on. This is what Paul is saying we need to do with the things in his preceding list. Let’s examine this list just a bit.
Whatever is true. This is a word that speaks of truth and honesty. Our minds ought to be dwelling on things that are wholly true. Sometimes, especially as women, we have a tendency to put on an act, so to speak. We put on the face we think we are to wear in order to get what we want or think we need. This is not truth, it’s not honesty. Our minds should not be dwelling on how to play this role or that role in order to get our needs met. Rather, we need to focus our minds on truth
Whatever is honorable. This is the same word Paul used in 1 Timothy 3:11 to say that women are to be dignified. In that passage, he goes on to describe a bit of what he means. We are not to be gossips, we are rather to be self-controlled, level-headed as well as trustworthy and dependable in all things. It has often been said that we are what we think. Buddha put it this way, “We are shaped by our thoughts; we become what we think. When the mind is pure, joy follows like a shadow that never leaves.” If we are to be dignified (1 Timothy 3:11), then it makes sense that we ought to think on things that are honorable.
Whatever is right. This word is most commonly translated “righteous.” It speaks of uprightness, fairness, justice. Again, when we are thinking of what is just, we will be fair. When we are thinking of what is the upright, we will be women who do what is right.
Whatever is pure. Arndt & Gingrich say this originally referred to “an attribute of the divinity and everything belonging to it.” This is another word used by Paul with specific reference to women. In Titus 2:5, he commands that the young women should be “sensible, pure, workers at home…” Peter also uses this word to describe a woman’s behavior (1 Peter 3:2).
Whatever is lovely. When I hear the word “lovely,” I think of something or someone’s appearance. She wore a lovely dress. The flowers are lovely this time of year. We also use it of someone’s demeanor, and this is more where Paul is going. We say someone has a lovely spirit, tell a friend that her daughter is a “lovely child.” We mean just what the translators of the NASU said in their footnote: loveable and gracious. It speaks of being agreeable and amiable and this is just what we may choose to ponder when we wish to dwell on something lovely. Think of a lady you know who has that lovely spirit, or that daughter who is a lovely child. Think of those qualities which make you assign this word to them.
Whatever is of good repute. This word is translated variously by other versions: commendable (ESV), praise worthy (NRSV), of good report (KJV). What things are your brethren doing that are worthy of commendation? What is going on that deserves some praise? Think on these things and, even better, offer the commendation and the praise that is due (Romans 13:7).
Any excellence. When we say that someone excels in an area, we are saying that they are above the rest. They do particularly well at the task given them. They’re better, they’re stronger, they’re superior, they’re excellent. If we’re going to think on things that are excellent, we can choose these kinds of people to emulate. Think of a task you would like to excel in and seek out someone who already does. Perhaps you would like to improve your evangelism skills. Is there a brother or sister who sets up studies left and right? Ask them to show you how. Maybe encouragement is an area you feel pulled toward. Find the Barnabas in your congregation and get with him/her (Acts 4:36).
Anything worthy of praise. This is a general and common word for praise. Paul used it in 1:11. He has prayed that their love will abound, one of the reasons being that they may be filled with the fruit of righteousness, resulting in glory and praise for God. Paul here says that if there is anything out there worthy of admiration, of honor, of acclaim, that we ought to think on it.
Paul goes on to bring our actions into the picture. He says in verse nine, “The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things…” For us today, we have not physically learned or received or heard personally from Paul, but we do have his letters. Paul is responsible for each book from Romans on through Philemon—the bulk of the New Testament. So for us in the modern day, we hold this verse by putting into our lives the record we have of this incredible servant of God. It’s not an easy task, true. Paul suffered greatly in his life, but even as he sits a prisoner for the sake of Christ, he pens this promise: “the God of peace will be with you.” He promises that if we will do as he has instructed not only by his words, but by his example, we will be accompanied by the God of peace.
By Erynn Sprouse
Erynn and her husband, Jeremy, have been serving with the West Side church of Christ in Muskogee, OK since 2007. Her husband is the pulpit minister and evangelist. Erynn is a stay-at-home-mom to their four boys (Jaden, 5; Isaiah, 2; Isaac, 2; Ean, 6 weeks). They are 2003 graduates of the Bear Valley Bible Institute of Denver.
 Arndt, W., Danker, F. W., & Bauer, W. (2000). A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature (3rd ed.) (13). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.