It is the end of a long day, and you are beginning to feel tired. Alone in your room, there is one last thing to do before getting in bed. Holding a letter in your hands, you turn on the lamp and sit at the desk. In this quiet moment, when the day is over and night is drawing close, you slide the paper from its envelope once more.
The words on the paper are written with care, in handwriting familiar to you. Such a beautiful letter, one you have read so many times the folds are beginning to tear. Once again you unfold it carefully, your eyes following the lines of script that you have memorized by now. You treasure this paper. This letter from your loved one.
Each sentence is dear to you, especially the ones at the bottom of the page. For there at the end of the letter, when he was almost out of room with so much more to write, your dear one wrote his closing words to you. It is here, as time was running short, that he writes the most important things. Things for you to remember, to reflect upon, to carry with you in your heart.
There was a man who wrote such a letter to his loved ones. Sitting in prison, his body scarred from many beatings, he held a roll of papyrus in his hands. How he longed to go home to be with Christ, which was far better to him than life on earth. He also knew that the church needed him, and for that reason he was content to remain as he was.
How he loved the church! The roll in his hand was a letter addressed to the believers in Philippi. The church of the Philippians was his first European church, founded on his second missionary journey. The people there held a special place in his heart and in his thoughts. And now, as he neared the end of his letter, he had one more thing to tell them before closing with words of thanks for their gift:
"Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things."
In his parting words, Paul gives a list of things that we should think about, things to fill our minds with and dwell on throughout the day. Each word used to describe what our thoughts should be has its own meaning and impact on our lives. As daughters of the King of kings, we are to be "all glorious within." This phrase from Psalm 45 describes our inner character, which begins with our inner thoughts.
It is a convicting experience for me to look at each requirement and hold my own thoughts up to the standard set in these verses. I fall so far short. Rather than being condemned, I can remember that no one can even begin to grow and change old thought patterns until they learn about the new ones. So let's begin to learn new ways of thinking, be encouraged and press on to higher ground!
Whatsoever things are true...
As I run through this list in my mind, I always get caught on the very first item: Are the thoughts I am thinking right now true? Often I have to admit that they are not. What are true thoughts? True thoughts are not fiction, fantasy, or imaginary. We girls find it very easy to live in fantasy land. I suppose it is because we are emotional creatures by God’s design.
It is easy for me to begin daydreaming when I am doing something mindless. Washing dishes, weeding and stirring soup all could be perfect opportunities for praying to and worshipping the Lord; more often than not I find my thoughts drifting out of the true category. All those what-ifs can be so interesting, especially if you have a good imagination. What if I had that house, that unlimited budget with interior designing talent, that magazine-cover garden? Or beyond material things, there are the more dangerous what-ifs involving the heart.
I have realized more and more that this is a sad waste of my time and my Lord's time. All the days I have let my thoughts drift in a world of unreality, I was unable to listen to the Lord's voice as He tried to guide me refine me and draw me to Him. When I finally push those thoughts aside and listen to Him, I realize how silly I have been to waste even a moment of my life here on earth thinking untrue thoughts. Helen Lemmel wrote words in a song that voices my desire so beautifully; "Turn your eyes upon Jesus, look full in His wonderful face, and the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace." That is how I want to spend those times when my hands are busy but my mind is not: my thoughts turned to Him, turned to His glory, turned to His love and His grace that is true, and not turned to the things of the earth!
Whatsoever things are honest...
The Greek word for honest means grave or venerable. My thesaurus gave some more insight on what those words mean. It listed serious, reverenced, noble, dignified, sober. This second standard for our thoughts is one that probably affects me more than I first realized. When I started thinking about it, it was hard to visualize a dignified, noble, serious thought, or to imagine how I could always think that way. Then I started thinking about my actions. I realized that my actions are an overflow of my thought patterns. A good way to tell if my thoughts line up is to take a good look at my behavior. I know I have had times when I have been anything but reverent and serious. The opposite of these words would be silly, giddy, and foolish laughter. There have been many times that my actions did not leave the impression on those around me that I was a sober-minded, godly young woman. How can our thoughts line up to this standard when our actions do not? I was convicted about this as I pondered the meaning. I know God gave us all a sense of humor, but I can definitely tell when I cross that invisible line from pleasant humor to foolishness that doesn't glorify the Lord. I want everyone I talk to and spend time with to see Jesus in me. Is it not a blessing to have a patient, loving and forgiving Savior? Instead of condemning myself as I reflect on these qualities of godly thoughts and how much I still need to grow, I can thank Him for opening my eyes to the deeper truths in His Word. Every morning is another beginning and a chance to take His hand and follow Him on the upward way!
Whatsoever things are just...
The word just, in this instance, means righteous rather than according to justice. In the Bible Jesus is referred to as "the Just One" and "the Holy One and the Just." The word used in those verses is the same Greek word meaning righteous. The book of Proverbs gives some insight to what a just person is like. It says "The tongue of the just is as choice silver...the mouth of the just bringeth forth wisdom...the path of the just is as the shining light, that shineth more and more unto the perfect day."
This gives me a glimpse of what our Lord wants our thoughts to focus on. I picture just thoughts as being pure, holy, upright and blameless. As the verses in Proverbs shows, when our minds are full of just and righteous thoughts, our speech will also be just. "Out of the overflow of the heart or mind the mouth speaks." We girls can have our minds full of thoughts that envy others, find fault or judge what some one else is doing. This too often gives us away when it comes out of our mouth. The words of that famous consecration song are fitting here," Take my lips and let them be filled with messages for Thee...Take my voice, and I will sing always, only, for my King." This is a high standard: to have my thoughts and speech be just and righteous at all times; to think of and speak to others as my Savior would have done. He is the Just One. The more I fill my mind with just thoughts, the more like Him I will be.
Whatsoever things are pure...
This word is used in other places in our Bible, and sometimes means clean, sincere, or clear. In this verse it means chaste. Our dictionary had a good definition of this word, which I have slightly modified: "Chaste implies moral excellence made evident by avoiding acts or thoughts that are not in keeping with godly maidenhood." Each one of us young sisters has some idea of how this standard should affect our thoughts.
Chaste thoughts are difficult to keep up while reading romance novels, for example. I know that the books I read greatly affect my thoughts, usually long after I put the book down. It can be so easy to fall into a habit of daydreaming -- of putting myself in place of the heroine in the story and reliving each scene in my mind. For this reason I try to be careful about what I read, knowing it has a real impact on my growth as a Christian.
The Lord Jesus wants to be our life’s joy and fulfillment. He wants our thoughts to be centered on Him, on His love and desire for closer fellowship with us. "Blessed are the pure in heart." How undeserving I am of such love! It makes all other earthly loves pale in comparison. My Savior waits with open arms to lead me ever closer to Him, to continually open my eyes to more wonders of His love, until I can turn aside from what is not pure and delight in Him alone.
There is a song that is an inspiration, which I want to be able to sing with all honesty.
"I can never tell how much I love Him
I can never tell His love for me
For it passeth human measure
Like a deep, unfathomed sea
‘Tis redeeming love in Christ my Savior
In my soul the heav’nly joys begin|
And I live for Jesus only
Since the fullness of His love came in.
Eliza H. Hewitt
Whatsoever things are lovely...
I spent time last spring looking at landscaping books from the library to help plan a flower garden. I wanted it to be a delight to look at and a joy to spend time in. Coordinating colors in delicate pastels, varying heights, textures and scents would make it a truly lovely garden. I wanted a bench among the flowers with a view of the hill that rises out of the west, beyond the prairie dotted with wildflowers and the rolling farmland. Doesn't that sound like a lovely place to spend time in?
The spot where I hoped to plant this garden was covered with dead weeds. There were a few stacks of old snow tires nearby, and a propane tank among patches of mud. This place was not one that anybody would choose to spend time in.
Which garden is more like my thoughts? Would the Lord enjoy spending time among them? As a young lady, I like to imagine Him joining me in my thoughts and delighting in their loveliness. This is a good way to picture lovely thoughts: they are thoughts the Lord would be pleased to see. I want so much for my dear Savior to enjoy being with me. I know that it grieves Him when I choose to dwell on thoughts that are not lovely. He is so patient, loving and gracious with each one of us. What a blessing to have a Savior that came to such an unlovely earth to redeem His children!
Whatsoever things are of good report...
This makes me think of a grade-schooler with her report card. She knows what it says, how it reflects her attitudes, and how much she has learned. Is she eager to show it to her parents, or would she rather hide it? Is it a good report? As young ladies we can relate this to our thoughts. Rather than showing how I am doing in math and spelling, my thoughts reveal my character and how I am doing spiritually. Are all of my thoughts ones that I could share with my parents? Or would I rather hide them?
Aside from our earthly parents, our Father in heaven hears every word we speak and every thought we think. How do we feel about His opinion of our thought report card? Does it matter? I know His love for each of us is unchanging, regardless of our own actions; but I would love to have Him approve of my thoughts.
God already knows, and our parents should be able to know, all of our thoughts. If they were all projected onto a giant screen for everyone to see, would I be hiding under a chair in the back row? Or would my thoughts be of good report? This is a convicting question for me. I want to be transparent, open and real before God and my family. It is hypocritical to speak and act one way, then let my mind produce thoughts that I would never want anyone to know about.
God will always be faithful to remind me if I ask Him, "Please show me when my thoughts are not right." When I begin thinking thoughts that are not of good report, He will prick my conscience. I can say, "Oh, that's right! This isn't good. Forgive me Lord. Thank you for reminding me."
"O Lord, thou hast searched me, and known me... thou understandest my thought afar off...and art acquainted with all my ways." I do not want to be ashamed of the Lord listening in on my thoughts.
If there be any virtue...
The word virtue is a powerful word. Its meaning is force, strength of mind or body. Most of the verses that speak of virtue are in the Old Testament. Proverbs 31 and Ruth 3:11 both speak of virtuous women. The only time this word is used in the New Testament, besides our passage, is in the book of 2 Peter. Twice in the first chapter Peter uses this word saying, "...His divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue...And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue..."
In these verses we can see that we are called to a life of glory and virtue. We should strive to add this quality to our faith. How does it apply to our thoughts?
Remember the literal translation from the Greek: strength of mind or body. When I think of someone who has strength of body, I think of all the hours of exercise and hard work it took to achieve that strength. Strong muscles do not just appear overnight. Strong people are self-disciplined, doing only those things that would help them to reach their goal. To build muscle, they would never indulge in chocolate fudge brownies while lying on the couch all afternoon. They would go jogging, eat healthily and stay in shape. People like this can run marathons and win.
We need that same kind of self-discipline in the area of our thoughts. Just like a man preparing his body for a race denies himself those things that are not beneficial, we should strengthen our minds by refusing to think those thoughts that are not beneficial to our spiritual health.
Those ‘strength of mind’ muscles may be weak at first. I have found it so easy to slip back into old ways of thinking, but each time that I use those muscles to push bad thoughts away they become even stronger for the next battle. This requires determination and diligence, guarding my mind from thoughts that have no right to intrude and not letting even one slip through for just a minute.
Even if I am using those muscles regularly, my own strength is not going to be enough. If I do not have the power and strength of the Lord in my life, I can never gain victory over my thoughts. The Lord is my helper, and He has said, "Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness." What a blessed promise.
If there be any praise...
In this verse, the word praise means commendation. The same word is used in other verses implying a job well done. 1 Peter 2:14 says: "For the praise of them that do well..." and that is the way I relate this word to our thoughts. Are they commendable, or worthy of praise for a job well done? 1 Corinthians 4:5 is a verse that ties in with this thought. It speaks about the Lord who will "bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts: and then shall every man have praise of God."
This brings to mind the picture of God sitting on His throne on judgment day. He opens the book in His hand and suddenly all hidden things of darkness— perhaps the thoughts I dwell on as I lie in bed at night —are there in the light for all to see. The counsels of my heart, all my thoughts and dreams and hopes, are made manifest. The Lord then looks at me with a smile and says, "Well done, good and faithful servant."
This is what I want with all my heart, to have the praise of my Lord when all my thoughts are brought before Him. This is the reason to strive for thoughts that are true, honest, just, pure, lovely and of good report.
It seems difficult sometimes to keep constant vigil over my thoughts, but what a small trial compared to so many others. If there is such reward at the end, it will be worth it.
Think on these things
The standard Paul gives for our thoughts and lives is a high one. After thinking about this verse, I noticed that each word has an impact on different areas of my life. Not only are my thoughts important to God, so are my actions, speech, reading material, fellowship with Christ and my relationship with my parents. So much in one verse.
What do we think about? If each thought quality listed here were a different strand of colored thread on a loom, the picture that the Master intended to make would not look right if one of the strands were missing. All of them must be used together to make the beautiful tapestry. What is the picture on that tapestry of our minds? What are we to think about?
The Lord was speaking through Paul as he gave us this list. I can almost hear His quiet whisper speaking each word, "Whatsoever things are true...honest...just...pure...lovely. Think of Me."
What or who else could ever fill all of the qualities listed here? After all of my earthly thoughts are examined and found lacking, when everything untrue, foolish, evil and impure is taken away, what is left to think about? Only Christ.
Here is an incredible verse: "How precious also are thy thoughts unto me, O God! How great is the sum of them! If I should count them, they are more in number than the sand." My Lord is thinking about me. His thoughts toward me are so numerous they cannot be counted.
"Think of Me." He whispers. "I am thinking of you."