Question: "What does it mean that we should think on whatever is true (Philippians 4:8)?"
Answer: Paul writes to Philippian believers, encouraging them to “stand firm in the Lord” (Philippians 4:1), and one important component of standing firm is that we should think on whatever is true (Philippians 4:8). In fact, Paul introduces this concept by saying, “Finally, brethren,” meaning that thinking on whatever is true is set apart as the last critical piece needed for a believer to stand firm in the Lord.
In this exhortation Paul expands on the idea of truth. Not only should we think on whatever is true, but we should also think about what is honorable, what is right, what is pure, what is lovely, what is of good repute, what is excellent, and what is worthy of praise (Philippians 4:8). Here Paul helps his readers understand that there is an important relationship between truth and these other qualities—honor, rightness, purity, loveliness, good reputation, excellence, and praiseworthiness. He adds that the Philippian believers had learned from him about these things in the past, and he challenges them to practice these things (Philippians 4:9).
Not only should we think on whatever is true, but we should also practice the things that are connected to truth. Paul’s encouragement that we should focus on certain things and then practice those things helps us to understand that, in order to have a practice based on truth and the wholesomeness that comes from truth, we have to have our minds set on truth and truthful things.
The outcome of thinking on whatever is true and having a walk or practice that reflects truth is that the God of peace will be with those who think and walk that way (Philippians 4:9). Of course, the Bible makes it evident that God is already with those who have believed in Jesus—Ephesians 1:13–14 and Romans 8:9, for example, explain that the Holy Spirit is with and in believers. So Paul is not saying here that God will be with those who think and act according to truth—His presence with and in people who have believed in Jesus is already a reality, and He says that He will never leave or forsake them (Hebrews 13:5). What Paul is saying is that the peace of God will be with the person who thinks and acts according to truth.
In Philippians 4:6 Paul exhorts his readers to avoid anxiety by constant prayer and thanksgiving. Those who focus on truth are immersed in these things: who God is, His ability to provide, and His trustworthiness to carry us through—and His peace guards our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. When we think on what is true, we will recognize the Lord’s role in our lives, we will be prayerful and thankful, and we will have peace.
God’s peace is based on truth, not circumstances. Even in the most difficult of circumstances we can still have God’s peace by following His recipe. In order to stand firm in Him and have His peace, we need to think on whatever is true. In order to do that, we must access the truth He has provided to us. This truth is found in the Word of God (Psalm 119:160; John 17:17). If we are allowing His Word to dwell richly in us—to be at home in us (Colossians 3:16)—then we will experience the kind of peace He intends for us to enjoy (Colossians 3:15).
Allowing His Word to dwell richly in us, thinking on whatever is true, being prayerful and thankful—these are all related ideas for how we are to think and act, and they are vital components to help us to stand strong even in difficulty and to enjoy His peace even in the worst of times.