Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. —Philippians 4:8
Not many people like to be told what to do. But it’s a necessary part of life, and there are authority structures that most accept: supervisors require a certain kind of work, parents require obedience, generals command the military, and so on.
However, certainly no one can tell us what to think. Can they? Although this consumer age is filled with social media, consumerism, entertainment, modern influences, and those seeking to sway our opinion, our thoughts are uniquely our own and beyond even the reach of dictators. Aren’t they?
Many will find it astounding that God does indeed command the nature of our thoughts and even our emotions. Not only that, but he is the decisive enabler of those thoughts and emotions.
Thoughts of Unbelievers Are Hostile to God
The thoughts mandated in today’s verse are ones that are true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and praiseworthy. They are “things of the Spirit” that are uniquely from God, things that he must reveal to us, things that we cannot conclude on our own. But before true belief, the things of the Spirit are foreign to us. Rather, we are under wrath, hostile to God, and unable to obey or think as God wants us to:
“You were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience … carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind” (Ephesians 2:1-3)
“For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot.” (Romans 8:8)
“Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things.” (Philippians 3:20)
“The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.” (1 Corinthians 2:14)
As unbelievers, we were once enemies of God, harboring rebellious thoughts and carrying out those thoughts in acts of disobedience. Unbelievers are morally unable to submit to God because it is impossible for them to sense God’s worth. Even the most commendable thoughts of an unbeliever are not motivated by love for God.
God Enables Right Thoughts by Transforming Our Minds
So how can God require what we are unable to do? Thankfully, the Spirit through faith in Jesus Christ transforms the minds and hearts of true believers. True believers are so changed and liberated in their thinking that they are enabled by God to see his true worth and so to treasure him above all else.
“You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.” (Romans 8:5-7)
“Put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and be renewed in the spirit of your minds.” (Ephesians 4:22)
“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 12:2)
The Heart and Mind Are the Battleground For Your Soul
Even though the Spirit has done an initiating and transforming work, God still expects our effort, even as it pertains to our thought life. We must exercise our will to pursue with all our might the renewal of our minds as we fight sin. And God is there to help us by enabling our will: “Therefore my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:12-13).
God is the will beneath our will, the work beneath our work. We are working out the salvation that we already possess as we grow more like Christ in the process of sanctification. The heart and mind are at the front lines of the battleground in the believer’s fight against sin. So we can fight the good fight. And God, with supernatural power, helps us to take thoughts captive: “For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:4).
In other words, believers have supernatural means to destroy wrong thinking. And the resulting right thinking allows believers to do (obey) what is right. Instead of being enslaved to works of the flesh, we are freed to do good works.
It is no wonder that the “fruit of the Spirit,” the outward expressions of a changed life, align so closely with the thoughts believers should be thinking: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law" (Galatians 5:22-23).
Consider your thought life. Does it reflect that you treasure God above all else?
What particular thoughts and feelings do you need to submit to God for help as you fight sin?
Of the thoughts commended in Philippians 4:8, which one do you struggle with the most? Can you ask God to transform your thinking in this area?