Question: "What does it mean that we should think on whatever is noble (Philippians 4:8)?"
Answer: Instead of allowing our minds to be weighted down with anxiety and worry, the apostle Paul teaches us to guard our thought life by focusing on several wholesome and uplifting virtues. Listed among eight worthy virtues in Philippians 4:8 is “whatever is noble.”
How can we devote our minds to thinking about whatever is noble? The original Greek word translated as “noble” means “honorable, anything worthy of being honored, or entitled to honor and respect.” One Bible commentator submits that whatever is noble “refers to lofty, majestic, awesome things, things that lift the mind above the world’s dirt and scandal” (Anders, M., Galatians—Colossians, Vol. 8, Broadman & Holman, 1999, p. 262).
Paul understood the extraordinary power of one’s thought life. Our inner thoughts and heart attitudes directly determine how we feel and influence the way we live. The heart is like a fountain from which our emotions, inspirations, and feelings spring. “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it,” imparts Proverbs 4:23. When we guard our hearts with correct thinking, everything we say and do in life will be affected.
Our society is constantly bombarding us with things to think about that are not noble. Celebrity scandals, dirty secrets, immoral entertainment, pornography, sexual promiscuity, godless living—all of these things drag our thoughts and eventually our actions and lives down into the gutter of this world.
Paul tells us that ungodly, ignoble thinking will “suppress the truth” in our minds (Romans 1:18). He goes on to detail the sad outcome of wallowing in unworthy, unholy thinking: “For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator” (Romans 1:21–25, ESV).
If we fail to fill our minds with noble thoughts, we run the risk of substituting Satan’s lies for the truth about God. Thinking on whatever is noble involves constantly filling our minds with God-honoring thoughts.
The most honorable thing we can contemplate is the Word of God. Psalm 1:1–3 extols the blessings and joys of the one who rejects the ignoble “counsel of the wicked” but “delights in the law of the Lord,” meditating on it “day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers” (ESV).
Isaiah 32:5–8 asserts that a wise person pursues what is noble. Such a person seeks godly wisdom. But the fool “speaks folly” and fills his heart “with iniquity.” Wise people of God don’t follow the counsel of the world. Their primary concern is not with earthly matters, but, instead, they concern themselves with things that pertain to God Himself—things that are lofty, honorable, and noble. “But he who is noble plans noble things, and on noble things he stands” (Isaiah 32:8, ESV).
To think on whatever is noble means to fix our minds on things that cultivate dignity, godliness, and moral excellence. Paul phrased it this way: “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things” (Colossians 3:1–2). As we ponder the noble, honorable things of God, our thoughts will influence the way we live, steering us away from sin and the pleasures of this world and closer to the heart of God.