Recent research concludes that “taking time to think kind thoughts about yourself and loved ones has psychological and physical benefits”. The study set out to discover why this could lead to higher levels of wellbeing and better mental health. Participants were given an audio tape that either encouraged them to think positively or negatively. There was a positive physical benefit for those in the first group. Yet the most important thing is not merely our physical but our spiritual wellbeing. We can think thoughts that make us feel good. But the most important question is: are they true? Only what is true and right will lead to spiritual wellbeing. What sort of things should we think about? The Bible of course, has the answer.
The Bible does tell us that we ought to think kind thoughts but that is not enough in itself. Rather, it begins by emphasising that they must be true. Philippians 4:8 tells us we must think about things that are virtuous, just, pure and lovely. We also ought to think on things that are praiseworthy, of good report and that commend others for the right things. It’s an attractive list but how do we go about putting it into practice? In the following updated extract James Fergusson reflects on what this means for us. He shows that Paul’s concern is that the Christians in Philippi would make the truth and the Christian faith attractive to the non-Christians around them by the way in which they lived. They had to be careful in such a society not to be drawn away with things that were impure, dishonest
1. Think About How You Live
Think on these things means literally (in Greek) to search out something diligently, by comparing one thing with another like accountants. Christians have a duty to think about how they live, especially when they live among those who hate religion and seek every opportunity to speak evil of it. They must set themselves to search, find out and draw up accounts of what means and conduct may adorn religion most and make it lovely unto others. This is how they are to conduct themselves in all things.
2. Think About Everything True
Christians are not to be so scrupulous that they reject things which are in themselves true and good. Even though they are professed and practised by those who are otherwise extremely bad. He exhorts them to think on and imitate everything true and honest, even among the heathen.
3. Think About Nothing But the Truth
Christians have a duty to discern truth from error, rejecting the latter and adhering to the former (Ephesians 4:14-15). They are to speak nothing but truth in their ordinary communication (Ephesians 4:25). They are to do what they promise to do (Psalm 15:4). Thus, they are to think on whatever things are true.
4. Think About Things that Are Honourable
Christians have a duty to live in a way that by the whole tendency of their conduct they may gain respect from others for themselves and their profession. Their whole life must be characterised by nothing but gravity. They must be far from vulgarity, superficiality and vanity in their clothing, words, actions and all their behaviour (1 Timothy 2:9-10). Paul exhorts them to consider those things that are honest (or grave, dignified or honourable as it is in the original Greek).
5. Think About Things that Are Just
Christians ought to consider (and do accordingly) things that are just. This means whatever we are bound to do to others what we owe:
- to God or man (Matthew 22:21);
- by the law of nature (1 Timothy 5:8);
- by national law (Ruth 3:13)
- by our position of responsibility (Nehemiah 6:11);
- by agreement e.g. a sum of money or an amount of grain (Colossians 4:1);
- by the rules of prudence, equity or charity (Colossians 4:1);
- by respect, fear or honour (Romans 13:7);
- by goodwill (Romans 13:8).
It may be something additional to these so that none are defrauded of that which is their own. Paul directs them to think on the things that are just.
6. Think About Things that Are Pure
Christians who seek to adorn the gospel must strive for purity and chastity in every part of their conduct. They must be far from anything in words or action which may tend to obscenity or any bitter root of uncleanness within (Ephesians 4:29). Paul exhorts them to think on the things that are pure or chaste.
7. Think About Things that Are Lovely
Christians are not, however, to venture into things that are sinful to please those whom they live among (2 Peter 2:7-8). Yet they are bound (so far as they can with a good conscience) to make themselves and their profession commendable, even to wicked men. They do this by their lovely, amiable and accommodating conduct (Titus 3:2-3). Paul directs them to think on those things that are lovely.
8. Think About Things that Are of Good Report
Christians are not to hunt after the applause of others (Galatians 1:10). Yet, they are to live in such a way that they may be spoken well of deservedly, lest others speak evil of the gospel because of them. They do good to others according to their ability and responsibilities. They avoid everything which may tend to make their names stink and be repugnant to others (1 Peter 2:2). Thus, he commands them to think on things that are of good report.
9. Think About Things that Are of Praiseworthy
A Christian cannot immediately embrace everything that is well reported of. Nor seek everything that may gain praise for themselves among those with whom they live (Luke 16:15). Unless something is virtuous in itself and truly worthy of praise, they are to reject and abhor it. Even though it is praised by others as much as possible. Paul exhorts them to think on those things which are of good report: but with this caution, if there be any virtue or praise in them.
What we focus our minds on matters a great deal not just physically, but spiritually and morally. It matters not just for us but for those around us and above all it matters to God. Just like the participants in the research, what we listen to matters and has an influence on us. The voices that we listen to in society, the media and around us can influence us too much. We need to take care that we are not listening to instructions that are negative and harmful in a spiritual and moral sense. Discernment is able to take whatever things may be true and virtuous and leave the rest. We have to be intentional about our minds and habits so as to live in the way most glorifying to God and that makes the gospel most attractive to others.