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We are closing out our series Masterpiece in Process, and I want to end with Paul’s encouragement to “Think about such things.” I think we would all agree that it would be great if our minds just naturally gravitated toward righteous thoughts. Phil. 4:8 says, “Finally, brethren 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.”
We want to think about such things, but this has been a challenging season for all of us. Everyone has had to adapt, sacrifice, and find extra patience. When we’re faced with so many challenges, it’s hard to keep our minds from seeing only the negative. It would be great to always think about the list that Paul describes, but life never seems to cooperate, and our minds get pulled toward fearful, stressful, anxious thoughts. When we try to think eternal thoughts, our minds drift. When we try to live for Christ, we face setbacks and challenges. It takes constant Christlike thinking to keep our fire burning, to keep our zeal for truth, to keep our heart fixed on purity, and to see things as lovely. It takes mental resilience to pursue God’s will and purpose. When Paul writes “Think about such things,” he doesn’t mean ponder them now and then, or mull them over when you’re bored, or reflect on them when you have nothing else to do. “Think about such things” means to fix them tightly in your mind; let them saturate your imagination. In my studies, one writer said, “Steep yourselves in them.”
I don’t know if you know this, but I steep my own tea. I make mulberry-leaf tea, green tea, black tea, grape-leaf tea and others. Each one has its own medicinal value. Mulberry tea, for example, is a great natural anti-inflammatory and can lower your blood sugar. Its leaves contain 25 times more calcium than milk and 40 times more than cabbage. It contains 10 times more iron than spinach. So, Popeye the sailor should have been drinking mulberry tea, not eating spinach. To steep means to soak (food or tea) in water or other liquid so as to extract its flavor; to surround or fill with a quality or influence. Paul wants us to soak our minds in righteous thinking so as to extract its flavor, its quality or influence. John 7:37-38 says, “On the last and greatest day of the festival, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.”
Jesus is saying, soak me in! Paul wants us to meditate on righteous thoughts until they become a part of our very soul, until they infect every part of our life. Why? Because you become what you’ve steeped in your mind.
We hear the same theme in the Old Testament: “These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the door frames of your houses and on your gates” (Deut. 6:6-9).
The thoughts that will guide you in every important life decision will be those thoughts that are steeped in your mind. The last thoughts you will ever have before you leave this world will be those thoughts that you have steeped in your heart. Let’s be honest, we humans live in our imaginations far more than we live in pure logic and reason. So, what are the words that flow through our minds when we have our daily thinking sessions? What are the images that we pour into each other and steep in ourselves? Paul knows that we live predominantly in our imaginations. That’s why he wants us to think about whatever is true and noble, right and pure. Because each word creates an image in our minds. God wants us to steep not only our logic and reason, but our imagination in these righteous thoughts because whatever thoughts saturate our hearts will find their way to our unconscious mind, and ultimately into our conscious mind, and shape us whether we’re aware of it or not. Paul realizes that abstract reasoning alone doesn’t govern our minds; concrete images—pictures—influence our minds and ultimately our actions.
Think about it: When we hear the word true or noble, what images come to mind? When I say the word pure or lovely, what image comes to mind? When I think of the word forgiveness, other than Jesus dying on the cross, the image that comes to mind is from a story I was told by a young man in Nigeria.
His family lived in a neighborhood that consisted of both Christians and Muslims. He had a Muslim friend and they grew up together, but in 2001 when they were teenagers, riots broke out in Jos and the neighborhood quickly divided. He tried to avoid the chaos and clashes but ended up coming face-to-face with his friend. As they stood a few feet from each other, at first, he wasn’t concerned, but then he noticed that his friend had a gun. Still, they were friends. He said, surely my friend wasn’t going to shoot me. Until he raised the pistol and fired a shot into his stomach. He said he was in the hospital for a while, all the time waiting to get out and exact revenge. The doctors recovered the bullet from his body; his plan was to use the same bullet to go back and settle the score. As he planned his revenge the Holy Spirit kept speaking into his mind, “forgive as I have forgiven you.” He fought the idea of forgiving the person who was once his friend but had now become his enemy. When he got out of the hospital, he got a gun and he carried around the bullet, waiting for his chance, but the Spirit continued to speak into his heart…forgive. The day came when he knew he was going to see his old friend again. Finally, they came face-to-face. He looked into the eyes of the other young man and could see fear. Then he reached into his pocket, walked toward the person who shot him, pulled out the bullet, and placing it into his hand he said, “In Jesus’ name, I forgive you
.”That’s the image that comes to mind when I think of forgiveness. Not a concept, not a definition, but an image.
When Paul says, “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,” he means, “Catch the vision of it.”
Corrie ten Boom, the famous Christian writer and speaker who survived a Nazi concentration camp, tells the story of her sister, Betsie, who didn’t survive. One day the two sisters were unloading boxcars when a Nazi guard beat Betsie because he was angry at her low productivity. At the time she was very sick. He used a whip that cut into Betsie’s fragile back. Corrie was enraged at seeing her sister being beaten and bleeding, but Betsie, trying to protect her sister, put her hand over the wound and cried, “Don’t look at it, Corrie; don’t look at it. Look at Jesus.”
“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.”
Think about such things. Steep your mind in them, dwell on them, fill your imagination with them, meditate on them, reflect on them.
And be transformed by them.