“Finally, brothers, 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. 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” (Phil 4:8-9).
The presence of the Holy Spirit in our life should affect our sensibilities. Growing in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ and his Kingdom should gradually affect our desires. I remember a rather sudden awakening of new desires, passions and sensibilities when I became an active disciple of Jesus in college. (I still don’t know if this was the moment I was truly “born again.”)
- I quickly developed an new interest in reading and relishing God’s Word. I was bored stiff prior this experience.
- I became acutely aware of lukewarm Christians who were going through the motions but lacked a genuine passion for the things of God. I grew very lonely because I knew very few people who shared my newfound obsession with God. (I went through a funny phase where I spent my Friday nights alone in my apartment watching every Bible-related, Jesus movie I could find. I was baffled why my college roommates weren’t really interested in joining me.) Unfortunately I also became quite impatient and even judgmental during this season.
- More to the point of this particular passage, I quickly grew more sensitive to what the Bible calls “worldly” behavior and all the ways we’re prone to “gratify the desires of the flesh.” My conscience was awakened and began to take seriously such teachings as Ephesians 6:3-4: “But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving.”
I remember one particular crisis of conscience like it was yesterday. A bunch of my college buddies went to see a movie together. This happened to be a the 3rd part of a comedy trilogy. I had watched the first two movies in high school and loved them. I thought they were hilariously funny and didn’t have any problem with their content. (They are rated PG-13.)
Now, three years and one radical spiritual transformation later, I was watching the same crude, sexual humor that characterized the previous two movies, and now I suddenly felt very uncomfortable. The obscene nature of the plot that was driven by “coarse joking” and made me feel dirty and sick to my stomach. I couldn’t even conjure up artificial laughter to fit in with the rest of my friends.
I almost walked out. I wrestled within myself thinking such thoughts as: “Am I some kind of a prude?” “Am I slowly becoming a Bible-banging, legalistic, fundamentalist Christian who will soon boycott all movies, outlaw dancing and cards?” “Am I the only one of my Christian friends who is sensitive to this crude content?” One thing I was quite sure of was that I couldn’t envision Jesus himself eating popcorn and laughing at this stuff.
I remember processing this whole event in the car on the way home that night. The Bible passage that seemed to jump out at me and affirm that my feelings of distaste during the movie were truly “of God” was Philippians 4:8. Here Paul urges believers to “fix their thoughts on”, “think on”, “keep thinking about”, “fill their minds with” or “dwell on” things that are “true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. . . excellent and worthy of praise.” That’s it. God’s Spirit within me was beginning to conform my desires and appetites, my sensibilities and conscience, to things that are befitting of a Spirit-filled follower of Jesus. I knew deep in my bones that this particular film I was filling my mind with the very opposite of all such things.
We live in a culture that is constantly filling our minds with all kinds of filth and debauchery — whether we want it or not. The internet is a hot-bed of temptation with all sorts of ungodly things to fix our minds — and eyes! — on. The Christian who desires to honor God and obey his Word will be forced to row against the cultural current and need to make an intentional decision to instead fix our thoughts on the things of God. As Jesus puts it: “Seek above all else the Kingdom and his righteousness” (Matt 6:33).
When we begin to feed ourselves — our eyes, our minds, our hearts — with a healthy diet of things true and honorable, right and pure, lovely and admirable, excellent and praiseworthy; we’ll soon be gagging on the junk food the culture tries to shove down our throats. We won’t be able to (or at least want to) stomach it.
But, as Paul reminds us in the next verse, you have to make a conscious choice to “put into practice” all that “you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me” (v. 9a). And if we do “the God of peace will be with you” (v. 9b). I, for one, think this is something worth striving for with the power that God gives us.