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In our series Masterpiece in Progress we’ve been studying one verse the entire summer. In Phil. 4:8 Paul writes, “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.”
Before we move into the heart of our talk we need to pause and reflect on an interesting change in the text. As we look at Paul’s exhortation to think about Excellence, there is a shift in his wording. What’s the shift? Well, we’ve been in a list of “Whatever Is” statements, but now Paul changes to an “If Anything Is…” statement. It’s a way of challenging his readers to exercise their own wisdom and discernment and to choose to meditate on, reflect on, that which is excellent and praiseworthy.
So, let’s look at the meaning of excellent. The word that is translated “excellent” in this verse is all-encompassing. It’s purposely general and can be applied to a wide range of thoughts. In other places in the Bible this word reflects moral excellence, goodness, redemptive acts, and God’s power. So, when we apply that to our minds, we’re trying to avoid thinking that is undisciplined, questionable, or mediocre. Paul is saying we need to think only excellent thoughts! I believe the best way to define excellent thinking is “thinking that honors Jesus” or asking, “What would Jesus think?”
Second Corinthians 10:4-5 says, “The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”
Colossians 3:2 reminds us, “Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.”
Proverbs 23:7 says, “As a man thinks in his heart, so is he.” Or, put another way, where the mind goes, the person follows.
People, including believers, seem to spend much of their time thinking inferior thoughts. We are satisfied with mental mediocrity. Our thoughts are lazy.
We settle for thoughts that fall far short of what God would consider excellent.
Romans 12:2 says, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”
Renewal is an ongoing process. It takes discipline and thoughtful consideration. First Peter 1:13 says, “Gird up the loins of your mind” (NKJV). That’s basically saying get all the junk, the worldly thinking, out of your mind, so you can think and walk as Jesus did. One way we can accomplish Paul’s challenge is to have a think session every day. Spend some time thinking about Scripture that renews your mind with the truth. What does God say about His love for you, His plan for you, how He wants you to live each day? Your feelings shouldn’t determine what you think about yourself; God’s truth should. Your value, purpose, and identity come from Him, not from your feelings or someone else’s.
For many, your way of thinking is leading you away from Him. I believe part of the problem is that most people don’t think. I remember Ravi Zacharias saying that instead of having the courage to think through their opinions or worldview, people take the soft-pillow approach. When thoughts become spiritually or intellectually challenging, they go to sleep. I shared this a few weeks ago, but it’s worth repeating: we live in a culture that listens with its eyes and thinks with its feelings. We have lost the ability to decern what is true from what is false. What’s right from what’s wrong. We’ve become intellectual and spiritual cowards. We won’t tell others the truth if we believe it will hurt their feelings, even if their eternal destiny is on the line. We define love and kindness as telling people what they want to hear, instead of telling people what they need to hear.
The phrase “if anything is excellent” calls us to constantly move forward, toward Christlike thinking. It calls us to put our best thoughts, our best ideas, forward. As we reflect on God’s word, we come to realize that God’s people seem to have always struggled with mediocre thinking, which has led to mediocre serving and mediocre living. In Malachi 1:6-8 we read:
“A son honors his father, and a slave his master. If I am a father, where is the honor due me? If I am a master, where is the respect due me?”says the Lord Almighty.
“It is you priests who show contempt for my name. But you ask, ‘How have we shown contempt for your name?’ By offering defiled food on my altar.
But you ask, ‘How have we defiled you?’ By saying that the Lord’s table is contemptible.
When you offer blind animals for sacrifice, is that not wrong? When you sacrifice lame or diseased animals, is that not wrong? Try offering them to your governor! Would he be pleased with you? Would he accept you?” says the Lord Almighty.
We need to ask ourselves, are we giving God our best? Do we give Him our best worship? Do we give Him our best tithes and offerings? Do we give Him our best service? Do we give Him the best of our time and talents?
If the answer is no, we can assume that we are not giving Him our best thoughts. Paul is saying to let your mind be filled with only the best thoughts, thoughts that glorify God. Anything that is morally and spiritual excellent, and causes us to praise our God, is fertile ground for our minds to graze.
I was talking with Christin from the farm where we will be fishing today, and one of the first things she showed us were their cows. “Smell,” she said. I didn’t smell anything. I was amazed that it didn’t stink. She said, “It’s because of what they eat.” Why is that so important? Because what a cow grazes on affects the quality of the meat. And because the quality of meat is of supreme importance, they give careful attention to what goes into their cows.
If we’re being honest, I think many of us would have to say that we are eating sewer-fed beef. Putting it another way, we are allowing our minds to graze in a Rumpke landfill. And so, we have what I call stinkin’ thinkin’. The only foundation we have for our thoughts are our feelings. That is so lazy and dangerous it boggles the mind!
Romans 12 tells us to offer our bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God. Put in an Old Testament way, our lives, our thoughts are to be an aroma, a sacrifice pleasing to God. But our thoughts often stink! Today we have an opportunity to change that. We need to repent and ask God to forgive us for our lazy, worldly thoughts. We need to admit that our thoughts are not aligned with God’s Word and we need to begin to live and think in a way that honors Christ.
Pastor Jeff Greer