Are there things that we can do to enhance the presence of the peace of God in our lives? R. Kent Hughes says yes! In his commentary on Philippians in the Preaching the Word Commentary, he unpacks Paul’s exhortation to think on the types of virtues that will increase our experience of God’s protective and preserving peace. Let’s see what these virtues are and learn how he applies them to the church.

Thoughts that Invite the Peace of God

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

Philippians 4:8

Paul exhorted the Philippians to embrace exalted thought patterns and practices that would enhance God’s presence and peace, as he promised in verse 9: “What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me — practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.”

It is important to note that these six rhythmically arranged virtues are qualities that the Greco-Roman culture itself held high. “Paul now offers a cross-cultural Christian exhortation in the language of Philippi” (Bockmuehl). Paul took terms that were current in moral philosophy and pressed them into service for Christianity. This was moral language that the surrounding pagan culture could understand. Christian virtues are consonant with the general goodness non-Christian cultures recognize. However, at the same time, as Peter T. O’Brien points out, Paul’s “appeal is not to some pagan religious ideal, nor to an acceptance of Stoic presupposition lying behind the ideas, much less to some wholesale acceptance of the norms and values of the world.”

The six parallel clauses are high-sounding in the Greek and together evoke a stately impressiveness. We will briefly touch on each of these six elements.

Virtue #1 – Whatever is True

First, the Philippians must contemplate “whatever is true,” which here means truth in the broadest, most comprehensive sense. For followers of Christ, truth begins with his divine person as God the Son, the embodiment of truth. He is all truth, and his gospel is truth — “the word of the truth, the gospel” (Colossians 1:5). God’s word, he says, “is truth” (John 17:17). Everything that is true is from God because all truth is God’s truth.

Therefore, a mind that contemplates what is true not only sees Christ, the Word, and the gospel but also rationally engages his creation, rejects irrational thinking, and speaks the truth. This mind seeks “whatever is true” in every avenue of life, from faith to science to relationships to public life to business.

Virtue #2 – Whatever is Honorable

Second, Paul’s readers must focus on “whatever is honorable.” The Greek word here translated honorable is used variously in the Pastoral Epistles to teach what those who are older and in leadership must be like (cf. Titus 2:2; 1 Timothy 3:8, 11). So the word signifies a personal moral excellence that is dignified and worthy of honor. This is the meaning here in Philippians 4:8 — a noble life of spiritual gravitas that evokes honor. It is the opposite of ignoble. The Philippians are to focus on whatever is dignified and noble and honorable and to aspire to such character.

Virtue #3 – Whatever is Just

Third, they were to concentrate on “whatever is just.” For Paul, that which is “just” or “right” is defined by the character of God. But he also used “just” or “right” in the sense of right thought or action (cf. 1:7), and this broad sense was in view here. The Philippians were to contemplate the things that make for just living — doing the right thing.

Virtue #4 – Whatever is Pure

Fourth, the readers were to focus on “whatever is pure.” This is not limited to sexual purity but extends to all areas of moral purity in thought and speech and actions. They were to focus on that which is not tainted with evil.

Virtue #5 – Whatever is Lovely

Fifth, the Philippians were to contemplate “whatever is lovely.” By “lovely” Paul means those things that put themselves forward by their attractiveness. “Lovely” includes not only what is morally lovely but what is aesthetically lovely — “all that is beautiful in creation and in human lives” — from a sunset to a symphony to caring for the poor and powerless — all things beautiful.

Virtue #6 – Whatever is Commendable

Sixth, Paul’s readers were to consider “whatever is commendable,” which refers to the kind of conduct that other people speak highly of.

Summary Command

These six qualities together form a stunning rhythmic portrait of the mental focus and aspirations that Paul desired for his readers — “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable” — a truly stunning portrait of how we must think, which Paul then framed with a comprehensive summary and command: “if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (v. 8b). Nothing of moral excellence and nothing that would earn the praise of God or man must be left out of the Philippians’ contemplation. And the command is ongoing: “Think [continually] on these things” — let your mind continually dwell on these things. Ponder them without ceasing.

As we apply these truths to ourselves, we must understand that this text has always been relentlessly demanding. The sheer weight of Paul’s six positives demands the rejection of negative input. Listen to their inversion: “Finally brothers, whatever is untrue, whatever is dishonorable, whatever is unjust, whatever is impure, whatever is unlovely, whatever is uncommendable, if there is anything not morally excellent, if there is anything unworthy of praise, do not think about these things.” Paul’s command calls for a life of conscious negation. Thinking as we ought demands the discipline of refusal.

Here again Paul’s charge to think about whatever is “true” and “honorable” and “just” and “pure” and “lovely” and “commendable” is powerfully phrased because “think about these things” uses the word logizomai, from which we get the mathematical word logarithm. Paul commands the same deliberate, prolonged contemplation of these virtues that it takes to weigh a mathematical problem.

Preaching the Word Commentary

The Preaching the Word Commentary is an expositional commentary with R. Kent Hughes as the editor. This series features commentaries by well-known pastors known for pursuing faithfulness and excellence in their preaching. Additionally, each volume illuminates the text in light of God’s final revelation in Christ. Get your copy today through the link below!

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