The apostle Paul gives you a profound and robust strategy to change your thought life. He goes so far as to say that how you think can not only improve your life, but it can change the lives of others.
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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
I have developed a mind map to help you process how Paul wants you to think about your thought life. The visual map lays out his seven-step strategy that connects your thoughts to how you affect the lives of 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 praiseworthiness.
- Example – Your thoughts become your behaviors.
- Effect – Your behaviors affect your friends.
- Respond – Your friends respond to your behaviors.
- Result – If your behaviors are biblical, your friends will experience peace.
The Map Practically Illustrated
Biff is a mean-spirited man. He says unkind things to his wife, Mable. She is an insecure person. After living with his insensitivity for more than a decade, she is ready to throw in the towel. Her soul is in turmoil, and their relationship is dysfunctional. Mable has no peace.
A typical day is when Biff comes home, expecting dinner to be ready upon his arrival. He walks in, and Mable is cleaning up one of the messes left by one of their three children.
Dinner is not ready.
Child maintenance is a regular activity for Mable. Because Biff is away all day, he does not understand the circus atmosphere of their home. All three of their children are under six years old, and Mable goes from one catastrophe to another.
Biff is a high demand guy, who expects to get what he wants. The “underlings” in the office typically meet his expectations, which is something Mable has not done well during their marriage.
As Biff walks through the door, he has the option to decide if he wants to put into practice Paul’s seven-step strategy. If he chooses not to follow Paul’s advice, you can guarantee there will be no peace in their home or Mable’s soul.
Though his desire for an on-time dinner is not an evil desire, his way of thinking about it is wrong. (It is not possible to get everything you want in life and how you process those disappointments can either make or break your relationships.)
Upon realizing dinner is not ready the way he wants it, the wise thing for Biff 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 taught?
- Are my thoughts true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, or commendable?
What Biff does next will determine if there 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 praiseworthiness. Let’s take a look at Paul’s “biblical thought filter.”
- 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 inhabit and benefit others?
In Biff’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 to the detriment of those who are the targets of his corrupting speech (Ephesians 4:29).
Because of our temptation toward stubborn defiance and insistence on our way, Paul gives us another opportunity to cease from poor thinking. If you do make it through his first filter, there is another test: Can your thoughts be carried forward because they are excellent and praiseworthy?
- Excellence – Can you attribute anything of value to what you are thinking?
- Praiseworthy – Can you wave your thoughts before the Lord as though they were banners of praise?
If what you are thinking can measure up to Paul’s second thought test, by all means, hold on to your thought because it is excellent and worthy of praise.
- Good thinking leads to good behavior.
- Poor thinking leads to poor behavior.
The Effect of Behaviors
In Biff’s case, he needs to abort his current thought for a better one that can stand up to the 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 “communicative mission,” he will export a behavior to his wife that will have a disruptive impact on her. The logic is clear: thinking leads to actions, and our reactions will affect others. This issue 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
Paul knew how (1) his thinking led to behaviors and (2) his acts created a personal example and (3) that “model” would have an impact on others, (4) which would lead to either good or bad results. How many times has this scenario played out in your life?
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 she thought it was a good idea to help me with my computer problems, which is a good thought if your husband is mature.
My frustration then turned on her. Rather than canceling out my thoughts, I chose to push my way through Paul’s filter even 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 toward his next “test of excellence and praiseworthiness.” Of course, there was nothing excellent or praiseworthy 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 at that moment was disrupting the shalom in her soul, as well as our relationship. 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?
You must filter all of your thoughts through Paul’s steps, regardless of what they are. His 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 common thinking that we all have had.
- Assurance – A person doubts 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 Paul’s filter.
- Anger – Anger is one of the most common, quickest, and easiest sins to choose when the heat is bearing down on our lives. If anger has become a person’s habit, they need someone to teach them how to run their thoughts through Paul’s filter.
- Addictions – Another wrong response when the heat is turned up is addictive behaviors. This matter can be anything from overeating to spending too much time on social media like Facebook. Once wrong thought responses become habituated, you do not have to think about it any longer. It is your 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 persist in them?
- Are you holding on to unforgiveness?
- Are you bitter toward another person?
- What about regret over 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 by heart, we still refuse to practically humble our minds and lives to the authority of God’s Word.
This problem is where the power of the gospel gives us another opportunity. We are not forever stamped by poor Adamic thinking. We can repent. We can change by choosing to renew 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.
What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.
Paul is telling the people in Philippi that all they need to do is observe and emulate his life to have peace. Do you want peace? If you do, 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 thinking does not appropriately mirror God’s thoughts, your life will hurt those who are closest to you. In my two illustrations, both Biff and I had the opportunity to change our thinking. It’s not necessarily bad to have wrong thoughts. It is wrong if we choose not to turn them to right attitudes, words, and actions.
(1) Persisting in wrong thinking will lead to (2) wrong behaving, which (3) will tempt others to respond wrongly to you, and (4) this will cause a disruption of peace in their lives, as well as yours.
One final point on the Mind Map: You reap what you sow (Galatians 6:8). If you plant dysfunction in others, what you have sown will come back and bite you somehow.
If Biff continues to be harsh to Mable, her soul will be disrupted, which will tempt her to think, say, and do unkind things to him. It is not right for her to do this, but it will happen. And her sinful responses to his sin will then disrupt his soul. This problem is the cyclic effect of relationships. What we export to others is usually similarly returned to us.
Biff is reaping what he has sown in his wife. Now he has another choice: Will he fight fire with fire or will he be mature enough to lead his wife? If he does not repent, the chances are high that the cyclic harming of each other will continue ad infinitum.
The most useful thing a person can do in a situation like this is to find outside intervention–someone who can help them see what they are doing wrong and how to change. If they are humble enough to receive that kind of care, then they can transform. What about you? What do you need to do after reading this article?