In Philippians 4:8-9, the apostle Paul gives us a profound and powerful strategy for our thought life. He goes so far as to say that how we think can be transformative in the lives of others.
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.
What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you. – Philippians 4:8-9 (ESV)
The Mind Map below will help you process what Paul wants us to do with our thought life. The diagram lays out his seven step strategy that connects how we think to how the peace of God can come to others. Let us follow his flow of logic.
- Thought: You have a thought.
- Filter: You run your thought through Paul’s filter.
- Test: You then test your thought against excellence and praise worthiness.
- Example: Your thoughts become your behaviors.
- Effect: Your behaviors have an effect on your friends.
- Respond - Your friends respond to your behaviors.
- Result - If your behaviors are good, your friends will experience peace.
Seven step thought test
Steve is a mean-spirited man. He says unkind things to his wife, Kayrn. She is an insecure woman. After living with his insensitivty for the past decade, she is ready to throw in the towel. Her soul is dysfunctional. She has no peace.
A typical day that describes their marriage is when Steve comes home with the expectation of dinner being ready when he arrives. He walks in his home and Karyn is cleaning up one of their three children’s messes. Dinner is not ready.
Child maintenance is a normal activity for Karyn. Because Steve is away all day, he does not perceive the circus type atmosphere of their home. All three children are under six years old and Karyn feels like she goes from one catastrophe to another on most days.
Steve is a high demand guy, who is used to getting what he wants. The underlings in the office typically meet his expectations, which is something Karyn has not done well during their marriage.
As Steve is walking through the door, he can choose to put into practice Paul’s seven step strategy. If he chooses not to follow Paul’s advice, then you can guarantee there will be no shalom in the home or in Karyn’s soul.
Though his desire for an on-time dinner is not a bad or wrong desire, his way of thinking about that desire is wrong. It is not possible to get everything you want in life and how you think about those disappointments can either make or break your relationships.
Upon perceiving dinner is not ready the way he wants it, the wise thing for Steve to do is run his disappointment through Paul’s filter. He could do this by asking a series of questions about what is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, or commendable.
- Is what I am thinking right now a biblical representation of what Paul listed?
- Are my thoughts true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, or commendable?
What Steve does next will determine if their will be peace in his home, as well as his wife’s soul. All of our thoughts should be pushed through Paul’s filter to see if they can reach the next step, which is excellence and praise worthiness.
- True – Are my thoughts submitted to the authority of God’s Word, without any shadow of falsehood?
- Honorable – Are my thoughts dignified and do they carry a measure of humility?
- Just – Do my thoughts meet God’s righteous standard?
- Pure – Is there any impurity in what I am thinking?
- Lovely – Is there an intrinsic beauty to what I am thinking? Do my thoughts attract the love of holy souls?
- Commendable – Are my thoughts like little messengers who can inhabit and benefit others?
In Steve’s case, he should realize his thoughts are stuck in Paul’s filter and he would be foolish to press on with what he is thinking. If he does press on, it will be to his detriment, as well as the detriment of those who are the targets of his corrupting speech (Ephesians 4:29).
Because of our stubborn defiance and insistence on our own way, Paul gives us another opportunity to cease and desist from poor thinking. If you can make it through the first filter, then here is another test. Can your thoughts be carried forward because they are excellent and praise worthy?
- Excellence – Is there anything of value that can be attributed to what you are thinking?
- Praise worthy – Can you take your thoughts to God and wave them as though they were banners of praise?
If what you are thinking can measure up to Paul’s thought test, then by all means hold on to your thought because it is excellent and worthy of praise. Good thinking leads to good behaving.
The effect of behaviors
In Steve’s case, he needs to abort his thought for a better one that can stand up to the good requirements of God’s Word. The wisest thing he can do is repent to God before he opens his mouth.
If he does not abort his mission, then he will export a behavior to his wife that will have a disruptive impact on her. The logic is clear: thinking leads to behaviors and our behaviors will affect lives. This is why Paul said,
What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you. – Philippians 4:9 (ESV)
Paul knew how his thinking created behaviors and his behaviors created examples and his examples would be followed, which would lead to either good or bad results. How many times has this scenario played out in your life? It has happened often with me.
Last Wednesday night my computer was not meeting my expectations. Rather than responding humbly to what was happening, I chose frustration. Lucia was sitting next to me and thought it was a good idea to help me with my computer problems.
My frustration then turned on her. Rather than canceling out my thoughts, I chose to push my way through Paul’s filter. Though there was nothing about my attitude that was true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, or commendable, I pressed on anyway.
Being more stubborn than the average person, I continued on to his next steps of excellence and praise worthiness. Of course, there was nothing excellent or praise worthy about what I said to her. Nevertheless, I persevered and would not repent of my sinful thinking and behaving.
What Lucia was learning, receiving, hearing, and seeing in me, in that moment, was disrupting the shalom in her soul. It was like the God of peace was not with her because of the noise I was creating in the room.
What are you thinking?
Every thought you have should be filtered through Paul’s steps, regardless of what it is. This process should not take long. The Spirit of God can illuminate you in seconds, especially if you are willing to submit your thoughts to Him. Let me give you a few examples of ordinary thoughts.
- Assurance – A person is doubting her salvation to the point of living in fear and anxiousness. The best thing that could happen to her is for someone to come alongside her to help filter her thoughts through Philippians 4:8.
- Anger - As in the illustrations above, anger is one of the quickest and easiest sins to choose when the heat is bearing down on our lives. If anger has become a person’s habit, then they need to be taught how to run their thoughts through Paul’s filter.
- Addictions - Another sinful response when the heat is on is to turn to addictive behaviors. This can be anything from eating too much to watching porn. Once wrong thought responses become habituated, you do not have to think about it any longer. It is your auto-habit.
- Anxiety - Fear is something we all struggle with to varying degrees. Worry or anxiousness can grip our hearts in a moment and if we are not vigilant over our thoughts by taking them captive (2 Corinthians 10:3-6), we will become exporters of broken shalom to our friends.
What are some of your recurring thoughts that do not measure up to Paul’s test, but you still persist in them anyway? Maybe it is un-forgiveness that you are holding against someone. Maybe you are bitter toward another person.
What about regret about a past mistake? How about how someone who has wrongfully hurt you? All of us are susceptible to harboring wrong thinking and even though we may know Philippians 4:8-9, we refuse to humble our minds to the authority of God’s Word.
This is where the power of the Gospel gives us another chance. We are not forever stamped by our poor thinking. We can repent. We can be changed by the renewing of our minds (Ephesians 4:23). A little humility can go a long way (James 4:6).
- Can you identify your poor thinking?
- Write down some recurring thoughts that cause you to stumble.
- Talk to a friend about these thoughts and share this article with them?
- Begin mapping out a strategy to take your thoughts captive by subjecting them to the obedience of Christ.
Cyclic effect of relationships
One of the most powerful verses in the Bible is Philippians 4:9. For me, it is the hardest verse to live out on a day-to-day basis. I think it is bold and in your face.
Paul is telling the people in Philippi that all they need to do is observe and emulate his life in order to have peace. Do you want peace? If you do, then I want you to replicate me into your life.
Everything you have learned, received, heard, and seen in me, I want you to do and if you do those things, I will make you this promise: the God of peace will be with you.
Warning – If your thought life gets this far in Paul’s logic, then you had better make sure your thoughts are aligned with God’s Word. If your thinking does not appropriately mirror God’s thoughts, then your life will have an adverse impact on those who are closest to you.
In my illustrations above, both Steve and I had the opportunity to change our thoughts. It’s not necessarily wrong to have wrong thoughts. It is wrong if we choose to not change them into right thoughts.
Persisting in wrong thinking will lead to wrong behaving, which will tempt others to respond wrongly to you. This will cause a disruption of peace in their lives, as well as yours.
Note the final point on the Mind Map: you will reap what you sow (Galatians 6:8). If you sow dysfunction in others, then what you have sown will come back and bite you somehow.
If Steve continues to be harsh to Karyn, then she will have a disruption of the soul, which will tempt her to think, say, and do something unkind to him. Her sinful response to her husband’s sin will then disrupt his soul. This is the cyclic effect of our relationships. What we export to others is usually exported back to us in some undesirable way.
In a way, Steve is reaping what he has sown in his wife. And when he does, he will have to make a choice. Will he fight fire with fire or will he be mature enough to repent? If he does not repent, then the chances are high that the cyclic harming of each other will continue ad infinitum.
The most effective thing a person could do in this situation is to acquire outside intervention–someone who can weigh their thoughts, while helping them to see what it is in their thinking that does not meet God’s standard for communication.
If they are humble enough to receive this kind of care, it would be possible for their thinking to change. This kind of biblically re-calibrated thinking would impact their behaviors and, in time, it could have a positive impact on their relationship.