I’ve been deeply convicted lately, about my own writing and interaction on social media. I enjoy keeping up with current events, politics, and movements in the Church. I like writing in reaction to news stories, helping people think biblically about what is going on in the world. I’d like to think I do a fair job at doing this, but I know that because I see “through a glass darkly” even at my best, my view of the world is tainted by sin. It’s a good thing to help people size up the world biblically, but if we’re not careful (and by we, I mean me), people can assume that the Christian faith is all about cynicism, negativity, and opposition.
I recently read, afresh, Philippians 4:8:
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.
We typically use this verse as a guideline for what kind of entertainment we allow ourselves to view. Some tape this to their television set or computer. This is a good application of this verse, but I wonder if seeing this only as a sort of entertainment filter limits the application. I think there is more here.
Think on these things. Paul is repeating a theme common to his writing. He’s applying the gospel message to the way we think. God has given us minds with which to love him. And Paul is asking a question, “How are we stewarding our thought lives?”
There is a lot of bad in the world. There is a lot of sin. There are many injustices which demand the prophetic voice of God’s people. There is a lot of bad in the Church. There is a lot of sin. There are injustices, even in the Church, which demand the prophetic voice of God’s people.
And yet . . . should the negative occupy all we speak and write about? Should we be primarily reactionary? Or, does Paul counsel us here to operate our ministry from the position of what is beautiful instead of what is ugly? Let’s review where Paul is write now as he’s writing these words:
He’s in jail.
He’s been unjustly treated.
He lost his religious freedom.
He’s in the Roman Empire, governed by one of the most sadistic, authoritarian madmen ever put in power.
He’s got friends, Christian friends, who’ve betrayed him.
He’s probably very sickly.
And yet Paul says, to paraphrase, “In light of what we have in Christ, let’s think on these things: truth, honor, justice, purity, loveliness, what is commendable and what is praiseworthy.”
In other words, let’s not singlehandedly focus on what is bad in our world, let’s not simply react to everything negative. Even though this world is so tainted by sin and there are evil people and tragic circumstances, there is still a lot of goodness and beauty and joy in this world. Let’s find those things and rejoice in them. Let’s ponder them. Let’s revel in them.
Yes, there is time for lament and sorrow and weeping. But given that we know the Man of Sorrows who has born our grief, let’s train our minds to find what is beautiful in this world, what is lovely and pure and wonderful. Let’s rejoice in a golden sunset. Let’s revel in the beautiful laughter of our children. Let’s appreciate good art, regardless of the source. Let’s enjoy a sport event without guilt. Let’s revel in deep friendships. Let’s love our spouses and enjoy their company. Let’s admire a well-crafted piece of furniture. Let’s laugh and cry at a good theatrical production. Let’s let the best music run through the ears into the deepest part of the heart.
As a Christian, we can look at what is beautiful and we can do it to the glory of God. Why? Because anything beautiful or lovely or good can catapult our hearts into worship of the Creator who made it. Every time your child laughs and gives you joy, you can silently worship God who is the giver of all good gifts. And you can do this with a delicious meal, a glorious soundtrack, a delightful conversation, or anything that brings you wholesome pleasure. You can do this because you know each and every glimpse of beauty is a reflection of the One who is beautiful: Jesus.
What Paul is really saying, I think, is this. Don’t be cynical. Be grateful. If it was ingratitude (according to Romans 1) that turned man’s heart from Creator to creation, then it is gratitude that turns man’s heart the other way. For if we listen to Paul and think long enough about what is good and lovely and just and commendable and praiseworthy, we’ll find Jesus.