Question: "What does it mean to "think about these things" (Philippians 4:8)?"
Answer: Philippians 4:8 is a well-known verse that admonishes believers to think about “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable, . . . excellent, or praiseworthy.” This command suggests that believers can control their thoughts and that their thought life should be characterized by what is good and uplifting.
Philippians might be characterized as a very positive book. There are some rebukes for a couple of individuals and hints that the church might not be as unified as it should be, but most of the book is a positive statement of what the church should do rather than a rebuke of what they are failing to do or an exhortation to stop doing something.
In chapter 1, Paul speaks of his imprisonment and his assurance that this will further the gospel, and he encourages the church to live in a manner worthy of the gospel, no matter what happens to him or to them.
In chapter 2, Paul points to Christ as the ultimate example of one who put the interests of others first, and the Philippians are encouraged to adopt that same attitude and live it out.
Chapter 3 warns the church to avoid teachers who would attempt to add works to the grace of Christ for salvation and then contrasts false teachers with true believers who, like Paul, put no confidence in the flesh.
In the final chapter, Paul gives a list of things he wants the Philippians to do, but this kind of admonishment has been evident throughout the whole letter:
– Stand firm in the Lord (verse 1)
– Rejoice in the Lord always (verse 4)
– Let your gentleness be evident to all (verse 5)
– Do not be anxious about anything, but pray about everything (verse 6)
– And then, verse 8: “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.”
Paul could probably have gone on for several more chapters admonishing and encouraging the Philippians to right living, but he sums it up with a catchall that encompasses every positive thing that he could have listed. While it might be valuable to analyze the meaning of each term that he uses in the list of things to think about, the desired effect is cumulative. The point is not to compare and contrast the various categories of things a Christian should think about, but to make a list covering everything good, positive, biblical, godly, encouraging, etc.—and exclude everything that is not.
We live in a world that is constantly bombarding us with messages, images, and worldviews that are incompatible with a biblical worldview and biblical guidelines for godly behavior. Even Christians can begin to think in secular, rather than biblical, categories if the popular, secular culture begins to inform their values. Paul reminds us that we must constantly reject those things that do not draw us closer to God and consciously focus on the things that do. We have the ability to choose what we think about.
Thinking about whatever is true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and worthy of praise applies to every area of life, but would seem to be especially appropriate for evaluating the consumption of popular media—music, TV, movies, and literature. This does not mean that everything we watch, read, or listen to must be overtly Christian in nature, but it does mean that it should draw our hearts closer to God and increase our desire to obey Him, to fellowship with other believers, and to share the gospel. If the subject of our thoughts does not do these things, then it does not pass the test of Philippians 4:8. It seems likely that, if Christians took this verse seriously, our media consumption habits would have to change.