THE POWER OF POSITIVE THINKING Philippians 4:8-9 June 30th, 2020
Reflection | As his letter to the Philippians is drawing towards its conclusion, Paul offers his final encouragement to them. “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.” (v. 8) What Paul expresses is not overly complicated. It is a simple, sweeping charge that revolves around a single theme: one’s mindset.
Just a verse earlier, Paul assured us that when we find our joy in the Lord, as we regularly engage the Lord through a posture of prayer, God’s peace “will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus” (v. 7). However, at the same time, Paul now makes it clear, in the midst of such divine protection, we are responsible for the kind of thinking we cultivate. This is not doublespeak. If we survey not only the rest of Paul’s letters but the rest of the Bible, we will witness the same expectation being presented in this passage throughout the whole of the scriptures.
While the Lord initiates, while God remains involved and in control, we, as those who have been created in the Lord’s image, are commanded to live according to God’s ways. Yes, we are saved by grace. We are forgiven and ultimately transformed from our brokenness into our full and perfect selves through the work of Christ alone.
But we are called to exercise and live out of the grace we have been given. We are to live this way not to achieve or earn or merit anything in terms of our salvation. Only the Lord saves. We are to live this way, graciously, as a reflection of our relationship, our dependence upon and our gratitude towards God. Following Jesus is not a passive activity. We have work to do.
This work begins in terms of the mindset we choose to adopt. While the Lord protects our hearts and minds as believers, we, as believers, need to keep our thoughts aligned with God’s heart and mind for this world. Earlier, Paul explicitly urged the Philippians, “in your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus” (2:5). Now, he further unpacks what it means to think like Jesus. It is to dwell on what is good, that which is true and right. In other words, we are to center our lives on the things that reflect the character and will of God and thus, honor and please the Lord.
Adopting and maintaining such a mindset requires time and effort. While we all can have random thoughts now and then, the majority of what and how we think is a matter of habit. In other words, our thoughts are something we develop and feed. The way we think is similar to the way we eat. Whatever we consume ultimately shapes our physical health. Paul is challenging us to acquire a taste for positive thinking – to reflect on what is honorable, just, pure, lovely, and worthy of praise. Just like fostering a healthy diet involves discrimination and discipline in terms of what one eats, developing the same mindset as Jesus demands attention and practice in what one thinks about.
As followers of Jesus, it is crucial that we are conscious of our thoughts. What we spend the most time thinking about shapes, over time, who we are, what we see, how we feel, and as a result, ultimately determines how we act. Even more than this, our mindset affects what we can conceive and imagine in terms of what God can do both in and through our lives. If we’re not adopting a godly mindset, then our reflection and representation of Christ to others is going to be skewed and ultimately, false. We need to ask ourselves daily, what is shaping what and how we think. Is it the Word and the Spirit of God? Or is it something else – a news channel, a radio talk show host, a political party, our social network or our cultural perspective?
As with all the commands of God, this is as much of an invitation as it is a challenge. Paul is inviting the Philippians to meditate on that which will edify and enrich their life together as a community. Once again, Paul appeals to himself as an example. “Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me or seen in me—put it into practice” (v. 9). Unity has been a continued theme in this letter. Again and again, Paul has modeled for the Philippians that the pathway to unity begins by raising our sights beyond what divides us, to what we have in common in Christ. It is when we together widen our outlook and refocus on the view provided to us by the Holy Spirit, that we are inspired and transformed through a collective vision of what is best in this life – of what really matters and what honestly doesn’t.
It is easy to stay fixated on all the problems and negativity in this world. More and more we live at a time when division and contention have become more compelling and familiar to us, than the harder, slower work of appealing to common ground and seeking the wellbeing of everyone. Much of today’s thinking is framed in terms of “us versus them.” But Jesus has provided us with a different point of view – the God who is for and with us so that we would reach out to love and to serve, to invite and to include “them” – those who are strangers and even enemies to us.
When we commit to looking at ourselves, at each other, at the world, through God’s eyes, we see things not just as they are but as they will be, as they are becoming, thanks to Jesus. Instead of our thoughts being predominated by fear, they are infused with hope. Rather than giving into continual despair, we experience a peace that passes all understanding. Whereas once we could only perceive darkness and doubt, we now comprehend possibilities that are greater than what we could have ever imagined.
As we cultivate the mindset of Christ, we will not just be aligned with God’s heart, we will be able to sense, experience, and witness the Lord’s presence through the Holy Spirit more and more. We will tap into His strength and power at work within us. We will harvest the fruit of a life that abides in Jesus – fruit that we can share, the fruit of the Spirit that doesn’t just transform how we think but changes how we engage the world around us – filling and blessing it with what is true, what is noble, what is right, what is pure, what is lovely, what is admirable, what is excellent, and what is praiseworthy.
Consider & Discuss | When is the last time you thought about something that fits the description Paul gives here? What occupies the majority of your thoughts? What is shaping what and how you think? Is it Jesus? What are some personal guidelines you can establish to be more intentional about keeping your heart and mind purely focused on Christ? What do you need to stop focusing on in order to pay more attention to the voice of the Holy Spirit?
Prayer Focus | Loving God, You alone are good. You alone speak truth. You alone are just. You alone embody everything that is praiseworthy. Be thou our vision. Make Your thoughts, our thoughts. Teach us to focus our attention on way we think. Through Your Spirit, fasten our eyes on the beautiful work and will of Your Kingdom and allow these thoughts to shape our words and deeds throughout the day so that we may lead others to Christ and bring You glory. Amen.