Monday, August 20, 2018
Philippians 4:8 Finally, brothers, if anything is excellent…think about such things.
2 Peter 1:3 His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence.
Let’s review. So far in Philippians 4:8 Paul has mentioned six things we are to be thinking about so that our lives are in line with the nature and character of God. As Paul lists each of those things, he uses the exact same phrase in each case – whatever. I’ve heard that word used a lot by the youth of our culture, but it seems to have a different context. It is usually used as an expression of disgust and disagreement. When someone is done discussing something and it appears they are not going to get their way, they end the conversation by saying emphatically, “Whatever!”
If I were to meet you personally today and tell you that I thought there was one of these six areas that was not being fully developed in your life, and you were not ready to listen to me, you would probably end the discussion by turning away and saying, “Whatever!” How ironic that the very word that means to open one’s mind to consider every item and option is now being used to express a closed mind that will not consider alternatives.
When Paul uses the word, he means we are to look for absolutely anything and everything that is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, or admirable. Then, in the middle of his sentence, he changes his emphasis from whatever to if anything. Why the switch? Why couldn’t he just go on saying whatever is excellent and whatever is worthy of praise?
I don’t think he changed just because he was tired of writing whatever. The reason is that Paul’s perspective changes from challenging us to think about the value of things and people’s actions, to thinking about the intrinsic value of a person. When he uses the word whatever he is referring to things, which includes the actions of people. When he changes his word to if any, he brings the focus onto the very nature and character of a person.
Some translations state it this way – if there be any virtue, or if there be any praise. Why is this so important? Because God looks at the heart of people to validate their actions, so we need to look at people in the same way. Our thinking process needs to be more like Christ by moving from the things people do to the realm of the real heart of a person.
Paul states that the first thing about a person that we should consider is their excellence. The word excellent means manliness. Ladies, that is not to say that only men can be excellent. But in this context, excellence is illustrated by the use of a word that literally means the valor and strength of a man. It refers to the very nature of a man who is born to conquer.
Peter uses this word in our other Scripture reference above when he tells us we have been called to God’s own glory and excellence. The glory and excellence of God are first and foremost His nature and character, not His activity. That is to be how we think about other people as well. It is obviously important for us to think about the actions of people, or Paul would not have listed the first 6 items as things to think about. But now he sets two items apart from the rest and emphasizes them as most important, and they both refer to the nature and character of the person. When our thinking is truly conformed to the way God thinks about people, we will be more interested in who they are than what they are able to do.
Unfortunately, it seems to be so easy for us within the community of Christ to look at the flaws and failures of people before we consider their excellence. As our thinking is transformed to reflect the nature and character of God, we will become more sensitive to the virtues of people and less offended by their weaknesses.
Every one of us has been given divine power to live life with Godly excellence. We have each been given unique gifts to complement our natural personalities so that the expression of God’s glory is as diversified as God Himself. It is our privilege as followers of Christ to focus our thoughts on the unique ways the glory and excellence of God are being expressed in one another’s lives. I suspect that our natural tendency to look at the flaws and failures of others is based on our need to validate our own lives by bringing others into conformity with ourselves. We have not been called to conform to one another, but to the glory and excellence of Christ.
So, if there is any excellence in another person’s nature and character, we are to think about that and not the negative. The highest form of God-like thinking is to dwell on the glory and excellence of God in a person rather than on their actions. You know what? Every person who is in Christ has the glory and excellence of God in them. So think about those things.