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. Philippians 4:8
Can hatred produce love? Can contempt and condemnation produce reconciliation and understanding? Can name calling produce unity?
I started contemplating Philippians 4:8 simply in terms of my own thought life, but it has been impossible not to think about what happened in Charlottesville last weekend. The New York Times reports that neo-Nazi, white supremacy groups gathered Saturday, ostensibly to protest the removal of the Robert E. Lee memorial statue in Charlottesville. Counter-protesters also gathered to challenge the validity of the white supremacy message. The Times describes how “taunting led to shoving, which escalated into brawling.” As this continued, around 1:45pm a car, allegedly driven by white supremacy supporter James Alex Fields, Jr., crashed into a group of counter-protesters, killing Heather Heyer and wounding 34 others.
How does the mindset Paul is describing in Philippians 4:8 lead us to approach this hate-filled situation?
Is it too simplistic to say that on Saturday hatred was answered with hatred? Certainly in a crowd like the one gathered in Charlottesville there were people across a spectrum of mindsets. Yet, in the end, hatred escalated to violence and death. Who was it that was killed? Not ugly neo-Nazi rheroric. Not division in our country. A 32 year-old paralegal who, as the Times reports, “was a passionate advocate for the disenfranchised and was often moved to tears by the world’s injustices.”
In Philippians 4:8, Paul brings us to the intersection of our Christian piety and our community engagement. Picture one road as our own personal holiness as the gospel transforms our minds. Picture the other road as the mindset with which we engage the world around us. There is inevitably an intersection between our thought life and the way in which we relate to the people we meet in the circumstances of our lives. Whatever we think about prepares us for that inevitable meeting. There is a car is speeding toward that intersection.
It is worth noting that Paul, who is so centered on the person and work of Jesus Christ, does not frame verse 8 as “whatever truth you see in Christ, whatever honor you see in Christ, etc.” Instead he exhorts us to think about “whatever” and “anything” that is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, and commendable. If we follow this exhortation, it will create in us an expectation to be on the lookout for truth, honor, justice, etc., wherever it may be found.
This is not a Pollyanna type optimism: downplaying or ignoring the unpleasant things in this world in favor of focusing on the nice things. Instead, wherever we discover justice, we are reminded that there is a just God who is reflected in any evidence of common grace we discover in the world. And this is reason to value justice generally, treasuring it and searching it out.
Wherever we discover injustice, we also discover a longing for God’s character to be reflected in this world that falls short of thoroughly and consistently pointing us toward him.
Christ is present with us both in the evidence and the lack of justice. As followers of Christ we find ourselves,then, either in praise or intercession. We worship the Lord and give thanks for the true and pure and honorable things that we uncover. We lift our eyes toward heaven and ask for truth and loveliness where we uncover lies and ugliness. It is the worshiping intercessor, then, who can lift his or her voice in prophetic truth and love to establish peace.
And we need voices, and we need truth, and we need love. We don’t need more taunting and shoving and murder. So we need to think about whatever is true, and honorable, and just, and pure, and lovely, and commendable, even this week.