Have you ever had heart issues? I’m not talking about a hole, or a heart attack, or anything to do with your cardiovascular system. I’m talking about your spirit. Have you ever felt the stab of your own critical spirit, or felt the strain of depression or discouragement? Have you ever felt the wild, out-of-control rhythm of complaining or bitterness?
Those are major problems that every Christian has struggled with or will struggle with at some point in time. It’s only a few heartbeats away. I struggle with complaining and being too critical. My husband pointed that out to me in a very kind and gentle way recently. He was SO right– I was showing signs of “heart failure.” So how do we fix it?
Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.
Toward the end of his letter to the Philippians, Paul wrote the above verse. Philippians is a powerful book preaching joy, contentment, and the pursuit of Christlikeness in the midst of desperate trials and terrifying persecution. It makes sense that if this verse could help the Philippians who were in such a state that it can do wonders in our own hearts too! This verse implies that a changed heart starts with changed thinking. So here are eight questions from Philippians 4:8 that can change our bitter, critical, depressed, complaining hearts into hearts that are joyful, content, and Christlike.
- Are your thoughts true? In this passage, “true” means exactly what it looks like: the truth! When I want to complain, or when I start to become critical, etc., I think the worst of things, or people, or situations involved. My fleshly heart twists each perceived wrong into a shadowy exaggeration! If I took the time to step back and think with the mind of Christ, I would find that my thoughts have become dishonest. The situation isn’t really that bad, that person honestly didn’t intend to hurt me, and I have so many other things in Christ for which to be grateful!
- Are your thoughts honorable? “Honorable” is a more literal rendering of the word “honest” in this verse. When I hear the worst about others and want to believe it, or when I cut myself down, are these thoughts that God finds honorable?
- Are your thoughts just? The terms “just” and “righteous” are synonymous in this case. When you ask yourself if your thoughts are just, you are asking if your thoughts are aligned with God’s character.
- Are your thoughts pure? Purity pertains to every aspect of life, not only to sexuality. Another good word would be “holiness.” If my thoughts were published in a book or projected on the big screen, would they be holy, clean, and chaste? How holy is my own inner dialogue?
- Are your thoughts lovely? When my thoughts are discouraged or bitter or critical, they’re so ugly. Jesus wants us to think about beautiful, lovely, friendly things– thoughts of kindness, charity, selflessness. He wants us to give others the benefit of the doubt, or to be confident and grateful for who we are in the Savior. Beautiful thoughts are never self-focused, self-deprecating, or self-harming; they focus on the Light, on the good– in God, in situations, and in others.
- Are you thinking of good reports or bad reports? A good report has the idea of something commendable or reputable. Barnes’ commentary says this: “There are actions which all people agree in commending, and which in all ages and countries are regarded as virtues. Courtesy, urbanity, kindness, respect for parents, purity between brothers and sisters, are among those virtues, and the Christian should be a pattern and an example in them all.”
- Is there any virtue in your thoughts? Virtue is moral excellence. If I take inventory of my self-talk and find that there is no virtue, nor moral excellence, then my thoughts are displeasing to God and noxious to my soul.
- Are your thoughts praiseworthy? Is praise apart of my thought-life? Or how about this: could God praise any of the things I’m thinking about?
I don’t know about you, but I want my thoughts to fit the mold laid out by these questions. It takes a lot of work, but I want to try to meditate on this verse and apply it line by line in an attempt to cure my heart of its ailments. A murmuring heart, a critical spirit, and a depressed soul cannot fester in a mind controlled by this verse, which, incidentally, describes the very character of our Lord Jesus Christ.