Whatever is true, noble, right, and pure
The world is so full of human conflicts, failure, and negativity. And personal problems and disappointments can assault our lives. How can we be free from the constant chaos that floods human existence? Is there a way we can rise above it all and live in peace? A good start would be to heed the apostle Paul’s practical wisdom in Philippians 4:8—thinking about whatever is true, noble, right, and pure.
Pleasing God in our thought life
God has sovereignly given humans the ability to choose what to think about. If he hadn’t, we would be at the mercy of all the powers of evil, since these powers can tempt us in our thoughts. What the mind dwells on, the heart follows, and actions are not far behind—thoughts lead to actions. So, it’s important we control our thought life. God is pleased when our thoughts are pure, but he is displeased with darkness and negativity.
The Lord detests the thoughts of the wicked, but those of the pure are pleasing to him. (Proverbs 15:26, 1984 NIV)
When our thoughts are always on the negative, our life is being used up and our time wasted. When we’re consumed by the problems of life, we can start to lose sleep, and our health can even suffer. A bad relationship or failed project can easily dominate our thoughts. It’s so easy to dwell on the person who has mistreated or cheated us.
Think about such things
The apostle Paul’s exhortation in Philippians is some of the most practical wisdom ever given on this subject:
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. (Philippians 4:8)
God’s words given through Paul exhorts us to “think about such things.” This means filling our minds and dwelling on things that are true, noble, right, and pure, rather than the chaos of the world. If we’re worrying about something or troubled and having a hard time falling asleep, we need to reject the thoughts that are causing anxiety, then replace them with thoughts that please God.
Many of the qualities in this passage relate to attributes of God. Of course, whenever we dwell on our Creator, we are thinking about all these. He’s the goal of our affections, and worthy of all praise. And note that these qualities are all interconnected. They all relate to each other in some way and can’t exist independently of each other. Each attribute lends strength to the others.
Whatever is true
In this passage what is true refers to truth as opposed to falsehood. Truth forms the basis for all the other qualities listed here. If something is not true, then it can’t be noble, right, or pure. Truth is one of the pillars of Christ’s kingdom. It’s truth that originates from God.
Of course, in our own lives, the Word of God is where we start. God’s words are truth, and they instruct us in we way we should go. A believer in Christ should spend time each day reading, studying, or meditating on God’s Word. We should immerse ourselves in what God says is true, especially what’s true about us as his children: that we are forgiven, redeemed, empowered, and blessed beyond all measure. When we fill our minds with God’s Word, lies the devil says about us will have very little room to settle.
For the word of the Lord is right and true; he is faithful in all he does. (Psalm 33:4)
Things that aren’t true
We should spend very little time thinking about things that, although they may be true, they are still not true. The things we worry about are frequently not true because they haven’t happened yet. Negative things that others say about us may not be true because they’re coming from their limited perspective. Things we accuse others of may not be true, because they’re only from our perspective.
News can inform us about world events and give us direction on how to pray for the world and our country. But not all news is truthful, balanced, or informative and can be biased or inflammatory. What news channels do I listen to? The news that I read or listen to may have provocative stories that capture my attention, but if it’s always negative about other people, or if it focuses on unproven or salacious stories or conspiracies, it doesn’t meet the standards of true and noble.
Whatever is noble
What is noble is of high standard, having fine personal qualities or high moral principles and ideals. It stands out among everything else and is recognized as being something to emulate, accept, or adopt. A person who is noble is honest, honorable, generous, self-sacrificing, and highly regarded.
What kind of literature do I read? Is it truthful, noble, and pure? And just because something is true doesn’t mean it’s worth repeating and dwelling on. Sometimes I have to admit that although this thought I am having may be true, it’s definitely not noble or pure.
Proverbs 31 defines noble as seen in an ideal woman of faith:
A wife of noble character who can find? She is worth far more than rubies. (Proverbs 31:10-12)
The passages that follow this describe her: she treats her husband well, she’s a hard worker and doesn’t waste time with frivolous pursuits, and she sacrificially cares for her family. She’s compassionate and generous to the poor, has strength and dignity, and is confident about the future. She teaches truth and wisdom to others, and most importantly, fears the Lord and demonstrates her faith by word and deed.
Whatever is right
Right means what’s fair and virtuous. Some translations say “just.” But this isn’t referring to justice as in punishing or getting even with someone. It’s loving what is right as opposed to the wrong. We all know in our hearts when something is right and when it’s not. We have a bad feeling about something that isn’t right or fair. Dwelling and thinking on things that are right helps us set our moral compass and helps develop our character. We get disoriented when we dwell on the wrong; our conscience signals that something isn’t lining up, but we’re too absorbed to notice.
In the 1800’s, Abraham Lincoln exerted considerable mental energy thinking about what was right. Slavery wasn’t right, and most of the citizens of the United States knew that. And after Lincoln became president of the U.S., he turned those thoughts into action and made incredible sacrifices to help correct this injustice. Although it ultimately cost him his life, he changed the course of history.
Whatever is pure
Pure means uncontaminated and clear of impurities. In Philippians pure refers to moral and spiritual purity. It’s easy to see impurities in a liquid when it should otherwise be clear. Likewise, it’s easy to see the moral and spiritual contamination in the world. And of course, we need to avoid the impure. But there’s also a lot that is good and pure, and we need to find it, highlight it, and focus on it.
We begin with God’s words because they’re the perfect example of purity:
And the words of the Lord are flawless, like silver purified in a crucible, like gold refined seven times. (Psalm 12:6)
Of course, Paul didn’t have access to the technology we have today. While technology is mostly a blessing, it also contains many well-worn paths of thought and behavior that dominate our lives. As we know, many of these paths don’t lead to peace, godly behavior, or pure thoughts and actions. We can easily see and avoid something that’s grossly contaminated, but we seem to get used to impurity when it’s below a certain level. So, we need to be vigilant and filter everything we watch and read.
The internet presents many opportunities to think on good things, but it also offers many temptations to evil. Most of us use the internet, so it’s essential to learn how to navigate around the negative and impure things that flood it. Learn how to delete ads that are impure or unwholesome. And delete any impure, slanderous, or untrue posts, articles, or images that appear on your social media sites. We don’t have to read or even see them! And as a rule, it’s good to set a limit on the time you spend on news sites and social media.
Whatever is lovely
Another word for lovely is beautiful. Beauty is one of God’s attributes—in fact he is exceedingly beautiful (Psalm 50:2). Of course, dwelling on God and his attributes will always bring us peace and joy.
But God’s creation also reflects his beauty. So many features in nature are lovely and uplifting: a flower, a healthy tree, a pond surrounded by vegetation. The sky is lovely, as it has so many different hues and shades of blue, grey, and even red and purple. It’s a known fact that being among trees, plants, greenery, and water refreshes us mentally and emotionally, and helps us relax.
My wife and I regularly take trips out into the country or into the mountains to hike to some beautiful place to enjoy God’s creation. It refreshes the mind and soul. God made such a beautiful world, it’s a shame that so many people don’t enjoy it.
Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul alike. (John Muir, naturalist)
Artwork can also be beautiful, especially if it accurately reflects the world we live in and displays the majesty of God’s creation. And there’s also no shortage of beautiful music readily available to almost anyone today. There is so much beauty in the world, it’s a shame to waste any time on the vile, base, and impure.
Whatever is admirable
In the English language, admirable usually refers to a person worth admiring or looking up to, but it sometimes refers to actions also. It may be someone that has sacrificed for a worthy cause or a person that suffered unjustly but didn’t retaliate. Heroes of the Christian faith who suffered persecution but endured are certainly admirable.
Stories about people who suffered greatly but persevered or who sacrificed for the good of others inspire us to live on a higher level than just for entertainment or pleasure. People that the world admires such as musicians, actors, or sports stars may be impressive but might not be truly admirable. What kind of person do I admire?
Biographies of truly admirable people are easily available in print or online. The following are just a few examples:
- Sir Ernest Shackleton, explorer who braved horrendous conditions in the Antarctic and saved his crewmembers from death after ice destroyed their ship. The book Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage recounts this amazing story.
- Hudson Taylor, missionary to China, who over 51 years founded China Inland Mission, established 20 mission stations, trained hundreds of Chinese Christian workers, and baptized thousands into the faith.
- Amy Carmichael, missionary to India who over 55 years authored many books and founded and operated an orphanage, rescuing hundreds of girls and young women from forced prostitution and introducing them to the Savior.
- Billy Graham, Christian evangelist who during his lifetime shared the gospel message with millions of people throughout the world. Because of his noble character, he was able to preach in some of the most inaccessible countries.
- Dietrich Bonhoeffer, German pastor, theologian, and author who resisted the Nazi regime and eventually paid the ultimate price for his godly life and speech. One of his greatest works was The Cost of Discipleship.
If anything is excellent
Excellent means exceptional or outstanding. It’s what is best and not just “good enough.” Our society values exceptionalism in our careers, in sports, and in performances of any sort. But is this what Paul is referring to? Not necessarily. What he’s referring to must also be noble, right, pure, and admirable, in God’s eyes and not just human eyes.
When we think about the life of Jesus, we see someone who was excellent in all his endeavors, in the quality of his relationships, commitment to his goals, and in his prayer life, speech, and treatment of others. Jesus emphasized what was truly important, and ignored what wasn’t.
What do we consume in the way of entertainment? What kind of movies do we watch? A movie may be excellent technically, but the message may not be pure or uplifting. What TV shows or podcasts do I watch? Are they truthful and God-honoring?
Music is one of God’s gifts to lift our hearts and spirits. But not all music is excellent in his eyes. Music may be really well-done but the lyrics are not lovely, pure, or praiseworthy. Music that is pure, excellent, and praiseworthy has the potential to lift us out of negativity and despair. What kind of music do I listen to? There’s so much good music available that we really don’t need to listen to what’s impure.
If anything is praiseworthy
The word praiseworthy is similar to admirable but it refers mostly to the life, actions, or behaviors of someone. Of course, there is none more worthy of praise than God himself. He is to be praised and worshipped above all. Even though we shouldn’t praise people like we do God, the actions of humans can also be praiseworthy.
Something is praiseworthy when it’s worthy of recognition—an act of kindness or heroism, or a great sacrifice by someone who can ill afford it. It’s uplifting to read books about heroes of the faith, or courageous men and women who braved dangers for a worthy goal.
I recently attended a memorial service for Don Burgess, who had dedicated his life to Bible translation. He had completed 57 years of service to the Lord in a remote area of Mexico, focusing on the Tarahumara Indians. People who were close to him shared about his life of humility, dedication, patience, and persistence. Just spending those few hours dwelling on this man’s life was so encouraging. It brought back many memories when my wife and I were missionaries with the same people group for 8 years. Don’s life and ministry were certainly praiseworthy, as he left a good example in how to purposefully serve God with perseverance.
Following Paul’s example
Paul then finishes his discussion in Philippians with this exhortation:
Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you. (Philippians 4:9)
Paul wanted believers to imitate him in his walk with God. He wanted us to abandon worthless pursuits and then restructure our thoughts and interests around things that are true, noble, right and pure. Paul lived in an age where violence, debauchery, and godlessness were just as prevalent, if not more so, than what we experience today. He definitely had credibility on this topic. So, we can’t excuse our negative thoughts just because “Our society is so evil and corrupt.”
Our character and walk with God will grow as we think on things that are true and noble. The effect of these thoughts together is cumulative, freeing us from the negativity and impurity of the world and giving us peace.
So, when negative thoughts from the world dominate your thinking, and your mind starts to wander into uncharted territory or random thoughts about dark and negative topics, make it a practice to stop. Then apply these tests: Is it true and noble? Is it pure? Is it good and uplifting? Then change gears and refocus your thoughts on whatever is true, noble, right, pure, admirable, lovely, excellent, or praiseworthy. God will then give you his peace and your life and faith will bear spiritual fruit that will be pleasing to him.
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