For as [a man] thinks in his heart, so is he.
In our culture today it is far too easy for our minds to wander aimlessly. Even when we are supposed to focus on a particular project or subject, our minds tend to have a “mind of their own” and go wherever it wants to. And in today’s world of endless distractions, it is increasingly difficult to have our minds set on things above, not on things of the earth (see Colossians 3:2).
Yet despite the depravity of the culture about us, we are called to live and think Biblically. Romans 8:5-6 says, “For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally [worldly] minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.”
In a very real sense, how we think determines our actions. Our actions flow out of what we think we should do, what we think is right, how we think we should respond. It is of utmost importance for us as believers to have a diligent and guarded mind.
Now before you write it off as nearly impossible, let me give you great news!
Paul says in Philippians 4:7 that “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” Jesus is going to be the sentinel of your soul, the border guard of your heart, the gatekeeper of your mind. As we find our position IN Him, filled with His Spirit, He keeps watch over our hearts and minds. We obviously participate with Him, but we are not left to fight on our own!
Paul continues in Philippians 4:8 and gives the boundaries or the framework for what our minds are to dwell upon. He says at the end of the verse “meditate on these things.” Again, the idea of meditate is to think or have one’s thoughts dwell upon, to mull something over in your mind, to ponder, to reckon, to weigh or turn something over in your mind. It is similar to how a cow chews its cud: after chewing and swallowing, the cow regurgitates the food in order to chew on it some more.
As believers, there are some things that should not have access to our minds. We are not to mull it over or entertain it for a moment. How do we determine what we should and should not dwell upon? Paul says to think about anything within a particular framework. The beauty of a Godly life and mind are found by allowing your mind to think and meditate within a set of boundaries. As odd as it may sound: freedom is created by the boundaries.
What are our boundaries as believers? Paul tells us we can think about whatever is
Lets examine the final two “boundaries” in his list, which serve as a summary of the previous six.
… is virtuous
According to my dictionary, virtuous means: moral goodness, righteousness, morality, integrity, dignity, rectitude, honor, decency, nobility, excellence, or purity. In many ways this is the summation of what Paul said previously on what to dwell upon (true, noble, just, pure, lovely, and good report).
My friend Eric Ludy once defined this word to mean:
“The growl for purity, love, and honor. The vigorous exertion towards moral excellence within the soul. A throwing off of an old behavior and the putting on of a new one. A swallowing up in the efficacious merits of the shed blood of Jesus. A newfound thunder and strength within the soul, campaigning on behalf of the new King’s way of doing things in the body. [In other words it is] the grace for overcoming sin and walking in triumph.”
Interestingly, the word virtue is not a common word used in the New Testament (only 5 times), perhaps because of its pagan understanding to mean a life that had moral goodness. But the New Testament writers give it a deeper spiritual meaning.
Outside of Philippians, only Peter uses the word virtue (aretē in Greek). In 2 Peter 1:5-7 Peter writes: “But also for this very reason, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love.” Peter is talking about what the life of the Christian contains. It is not merely faith but also virtue, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness, and love.
1 Peter 2:9 may give us greater detail to this understanding of virtue. It reads, “But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light…” The word translated praises is aretē. God has called us and set us apart so that we might proclaim His virtue. We are vessels that are to demonstrate the virtue of God. Obviously, the concept of virtue in the New Testament goes far beyond some mere human moral goodness. It is His excellence, His righteousness, His integrity, His honor, His nobility, and His purity that we are to demonstrate.
As believers, we are called to the virtuous and excellent life, which is the life of Christ. This life is impossible to live in our own power, but Peter gives us the secret when he writes, “His [Jesus] divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue …” (2 Peter 1:3). We are called by His glory and virtue to live out His virtue. What a profound thought. God is giving us all things that we need for life and Godliness—the Spirit of God who indwells us is going to take His virtue and produce it through our surrendered lives. And it is His virtue, His life, that my mind is to dwell upon.
… is praiseworthy
Is there anyone who deserves praise outside of Jesus? We may give commendation, encouragement, and recognition to one another but praise alone belongs to our God. Our heart, mind, soul, and strength is to be focused upon the love, greatness, power, beauty, and life of our King. The Psalms are full of such declarations:
- I will bless the LORD at all times; His praise shall continually be in my mouth. (Psalm 34.1)
- And my tongue shall speak of Your righteousness, And of Your praise all the day long. (Psalm 35.28)
- O Lord, open my lips, And my mouth shall show forth Your praise. (Psalm 51.15)
- My heart is steadfast, O God, my heart is steadfast; I will sing and give praise. (Psalm 57.7)
- I will praise You, O Lord, among the peoples; I will sing to You among the nations. (Psalm 57.9)
- So I will sing praise to Your name forever … (Psalm 61.8)
- Because Your lovingkindness is better than life, My lips shall praise You. (Psalm 63.3)
- Enter into His gates with thanksgiving, And into His courts with praise. (Psalm 100.4)
- You are my God, and I will praise You; You are my God, I will exalt You. (Psalm 118.28)
- Praise the LORD! Praise God in His sanctuary; Praise Him in His mighty firmament! Praise Him for His mighty acts; Praise Him according to His excellent greatness! Praise Him with the sound of the trumpet; Praise Him with the lute and harp! Praise Him with the timbrel and dance; Praise Him with stringed instruments and flutes! Praise Him with loud cymbals; Praise Him with clashing cymbals! Let everything that has breath praise the LORD. Praise the LORD! (Psalm 150)
As one Godly man once stated: “The key to Godly living is Godly thinking.” If we are to live Godly in this perverse and crooked world (Philippians 2:15), then our minds must be guarded by the Spirit of God. We must “put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:22-24). We must as Romans 12:2 declares, “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.”
What is it that men and women of God are to dwell upon? Simply: Jesus—His heart, mind, nature, attitude, and life is to be the center and consumption of our focus. The boundary around our mind and the content within that boundary is Him. He is true, noble, just, pure, lovely, of good report, virtuous, and praiseworthy. Whatever is Him, whatever is according to His nature, whatever pulls us into greater intimacy with Him, is to be what our minds dwell upon.
Think upon such things.
Check out the other articles in this series: