Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you. Philippians 4:8-5
I have often read these words from Paul’s letter to the Philippians like the sentiments of a get well or birthday card you’d find at the store. It’s a lovely thought, a bit romantic, and helpful to those who practice its advice. It’s a “feel better” passage. Times may be hard, but if you think on these things you’ll feel better. At least that’s how I’ve felt about the passage until recently.
Paul is writing this letter from prison. His fate is uncertain. The church he helped found in Philippi seemed to be falling apart. These were bleak and disheartening circumstances for the Apostle. I imagine he practiced this way of thinking (meditating/praying), not so he might feel better, but so he might stay alive. Paul’s life was at stake and this is how he survived imprisonment, torture, betrayal and uncertainty time and again. This practice worked for him and he was sure it would work his friends in Philippi: not that they might feel better in a hostile world, but that in a hostile world they might experience the presence of God.
Like Paul and the church in Philippi we live in a world that easily distracts us from God’s presence – and understandably so. Folks are hungry around the world and in our own community. People are losing their families to hate and violence around the world and in our own community. People like us are numbing themselves to the ever-present trauma experienced around the world and in our own community…..and I could go on and on.
I don’t believe Paul is suggesting we ignore the scary state of the world. He’s inviting us to see God at work in it. There are people telling and living the truth. Honorable folks are working for justice. There is much that is pure, pleasing, commendable and excellent deserving praise. And if nothing else, remember the cross upon which Jesus hung is empty. God raised Jesus Christ from the grave and is saving the world as I write.
Once I attended a wedding reception at an outdoor venue. It was beautiful. The sky was pure blue, not a cloud. The music, the view across the river, the food and the community gathered to witness and support the couple; all made the occasion a sign of God’s coming realm. And then there was the uncle who had too much to drink. Rudeness turned into harsh and profane language, the tirade continuing until one of the groomsmen ushered the uncle away. A dark shadow now hung over the party. His behavior had sucked the joy out of the celebration. The music continued but very few were dancing. Then the bride walked over to the band who then began to play This Will Be (An Everlasting Love) by Natalie Cole. This was true, they had an ever-lasting love, and the hostile spirit was banished from the party. God was still present. Beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable….think about these things.
In Hopeful Expectation of God’s Coming Realm of Love and Justice,