Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.
We tend to enjoy remembering happy experiences, loving people, and triumphal achievements. Something I love to do is to look at pictures and videos of my ancestors, of my childhood, of trips, holidays and celebrations, of houses and places I can no longer visit, of people I can no longer be with and of people with whom I can and need to reconnect.
Memories can also be painful. Like words left unsaid or amends not made; valued relationships lost to time and distance. Some of our strongest memories are of failure, foolishness, prideful and selfish moments -- regret.
I get lost in memory sometimes. I travel over time and space. I return to people, places and experiences. I relive the past almost as though it was now. Old feelings and emotions return. My body changes. My mood changes.
When I return to “now,” I’m not the same. I’m different. Maybe temporarily. Maybe imperceptibly. To whatever degree and duration, memories change me.
Memories can inspire and encourage. They can cripple or make one cynical or bitter. They often remind us of what is important and precious. In profound ways, they shape and mold us. Today. Here. Now. No matter how old our memories are.
In the midst of a hostile world, Paul encouraged believers in Philippi to “stand firm in the Lord” (Ph. 4:1). “Do not be anxious about anything,” (v.6) he told them, and then he gave them the instruction in today’s versus.
Think about that which is true, honorable, just, pure, pleasing, commendable, excellent, and praise-worthy, he told them. While those are all nice, positive things to think about and which typically make us less anxious and feel more at peace, I think Paul’s suggestion has to do with more than feelings.
In Romans 12:2, Paul tells us: “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will” (NIV). I tend to think that today’s verses from Philippians relate.
By thinking on things that are true, we become better able to tell the difference between truth and lies; with the Spirit’s help, we better understand and are inspired to live more honestly.
By thinking on that which is honorable, God’s Spirit can give us understanding of what honors and what dishonors God, others and ourselves.
The same is the case when we think on that which is just: we come to more honestly and clearly see past and present injustices and their consequences, and we become dissatisfied to passively tolerate them. We become animated to act.
And so on and so forth. By “thinking on these things” seriously and regularly, we allow God’s Spirit time and space to work within us, to transform us to become less like our natural, dirty, selfish selves, and more like the renewed, the reborn, the risen Christ. By “thinking on these things”, God can help us shed the weight, filth, dust and dirt of our sinning nature, freeing us to run the race he has lain for us with fleet feet and renewed, discerning, peaceful minds.