Philippians 4:8-9 Devotional
Philippians 4:8-9. Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. 9 Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.
Reflection. The last reflection concluded on the note of peace. Paul teaches that those who bring their anxieties to God in prayer receive from him a peace that “transcends all understanding,” and can, “guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (4:7). I concluded that devotional with a call for Christians to seek out the personal presence of God in their search for peace—for comfort and rest, for an incomparable anchor amid the chaos and anxieties of life. So, Christians ought to be those who pray. It is therefore not a platitude to suggest prayer to the anxious. We would struggle less with the many worries this world brings if only we believed that God meets us in prayer.
Interestingly, after exhorting believers to pray, resulting in this peace that transcends understanding, in the next two verses he offers two more sources of peace—we might call these supplementary sources to prayer. Note how 4:9 ends, “the peace of God will be with you.” According to 4:5-7, peace is inseparable from God and pray. Without taking away from the peace that transcends understanding as we receive it from and in the presence of God, in 4:8-9 Paul offers two more ways to cultivate peace in our lives. These cannot be pursued apart from God and must come after or alongside prayer.
The first means to peace comes in 4:8, “think about such things.” What things, exactly? Everything that is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy. I want to develop two aspects of 4:8 by way of application. The first is to focus on the word: “think.” The Christian life, indeed the believer’s peace, results from contemplation, deliberate thoughtfulness, and meditation. We should not be those who float through life like butterflies, occasionally touching down on the odd leaf or flower. In some ways this is the obverse of 4:7, where we read that God’s peace transcends understanding. Our peace is said to be buttressed by thinking deeply.
But, and this is the second aspect of our first point, this mindfulness is not empty-headed meditation. It has an object. In some senses, prayerfulness involves losing ourselves in the presence and person of God. Only now Paul says, “think about such things.” Instead of going into the list provided by Paul I want to make a slightly different point of application: discernment. What do you consume? I am not asking about your diet but what you allow your eyes, mind, and heart to consume. Can you really say you devote time to thinking about those things that could be called pure and praiseworthy? Are you committed to consuming what is admirable and excellent, noble and true?
This point is worth further reflection. In our social media age - not to mention the supposedly glorious and so-called golden era of television and series - we rampantly consume content. It’s safe to assume that today our screen and unending scroll time is soaring at unprecedented heights. Recently, with the help of Friedrich Nietzsche, I argued that the staggering volume of media we consume means we barely contemplate anything. We are distracted. But I want to make one more point regarding discernment below.
What we consume, and inadvertently consider or think about, however shallowly, is for the most part utter rubbish. Much of it could be described using the antonyms to Paul’s list: false, base, unjust, immoral, disgusting, deplorable, shady, and disgraceful. Do we wonder why the peace that God offers is so elusive and fleeting, when we spend our lives consuming everything that contradicts who he is? How can we complain that our lives are restless when we pursue and consume so much content that is miles away from what Paul lists in 4:8? We need discernment. God calls for deliberate, reflective, and discerning consumption. It is here that we are promised peace.
The second avenue to supplement the peace of God comes in 4:9. Paul writes, “Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice.” Peace is found in service, selflessness, and sacrificially giving of ourselves for others. Service, as we have repeatedly seen, is a central theme to Philippians. Costly service is Christlike. But here Paul does more than call for imitation of Christ, or himself as he followed Christ; he says that there is peace in spending ourselves in service of others. Indeed, it is more blessed to give than to receive. Put another way, giving ourselves in service of others contains the promise of a blessed peace from God.