Not long ago, I read, with fresh eyes, the piercing words of Philippians 4:8:

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 does it really mean to “think about these things?” This very familiar passage is used as a guideline for the media we intake.

I have friends who fix this verse to their televisions or computer monitors. I think this is wise application, but I wonder if reading this Scripture only as an entertainment filter limits its power. There is more here. He’s asking a rhetorical question:

How does Jesus’ life, death and resurrection reorder our thought life?

There is much to lament about the world, and the Spirit’s work awakens us more fully to the depth of brokenness at every level of society.

Yet should negativity be the sole focus of our mind’s eye? Does the Gospel make us angry reactionaries? Or do Paul’s winsome words point our thoughts higher?

Let’s review Paul’s state as he applies ink to parchment:

He’s in jail.

He’s been unjustly treated.

He’s lost his religious freedom.

He’s in the Roman Empire, governed by one of the most sadistic, authoritarian madmen in the history of human government.

His Christian friends have mostly betrayed him.

He’s physically frail.

Yet Paul, without denying the misery of life in a fallen world, seems to say to followers of Jesus everywhere: “In light of what we have in Christ, let’s think on these things: truth, honor, justice, purity, loveliness, what is commendable and what is praiseworthy.”

In other words, let’s not focus solely on the evil in the world. Let’s not live as negative, apocalyptic reactionaries. There is time for lament, certainly.

But given that we know the Man of Sorrows who has borne our grief, let’s train our minds to glimpse the beautiful, the unbroken, the rays of heaven’s sunshine upon the earth and the people Jesus is redeeming.

Paul could say this, not because he was a Pollyanna escaping reality, but because he had a greater grasp of reality than anyone who lived.

A reality that says while yes, the world is broken, a man from Galilee lived, died, rose again and is now the rightful King. A new Kingdom has dawned, and light has broken in the darkness. There is a city coming whose builder and maker is God (Heb. 11:10).

Paul’s words don’t simply give us permission to smile when things are upside-down. They are a mandate to rejoice in the often barely perceptible pinpricks of grace that penetrate our canvas of evil. So let’s, without guilt:

  • Rejoice in the stunning hues of a sunset.
  • Be enraptured by the beautiful laughter of our children.
  • Appreciate the best artistic expressions, regardless of their source.
  • Enjoy our favorite sporting events.
  • Pursue deep friendships.
  • Feel the grain a well-crafted piece of furniture.
  • Treasure every intimate moment with our spouses.
  • Laugh at good jokes.
  • Cry at the moments that catch our breath.
  • Allow the best music to flow through our ears into the deepest part of our hearts.

We can do these things, even in a world of suffering, heartache and toil. Not because we are ignorant of evil, but because we are part of his story of redemption, renewal and grace. We can do all these things to the glory of God.

Why? Because anything beautiful or lovely or good can catapult our hearts into worship of the creator who made it.

Every time your child laughs and gives you joy, you can silently worship God, the giver of good gifts. And you can do this with a delicious meal, a glorious soundtrack, a delightful conversation or anything that brings you wholesome pleasure. You can do this because every glimpse of beauty is a reflection of the one who is beautiful.

To “think about these things,” I believe, is this: Don’t be cynical. Be grateful. If ingratitude turned man’s heart from creator to creation, then it is gratitude that paves the road to renewal. Because when we think long enough about what is good and lovely and just and commendable and praiseworthy, we’ll find Jesus.

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